Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reeling in Moby Dick with a Disney Princess Fishing Rod

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4: 31-32.

This week, I was angry! I don’t get angry easily but when I do, it goes from mad to rage in seconds and it can last a long, long time. I’ve learned to compartmentalize my anger and put it aside instead of blowing up at unsuspecting people but sometimes my compartment breaks and it did this week.

Over the years I’ve developed some healthy ways of venting my anger to avoid the big blow up (which doesn’t always work as in the case of this past week). I do something physically active to expend the explosive energy fueled by anger. I write out the thoughts and feelings that play over and over again in my head like a skipping record and then try to let go and move on from them by destroying the paper in some creative way. I might share my thoughts and feelings with someone who isn’t intimately involved in the situation that set me off. Often the circumstance that caused the initial irritation passes by the time I do all these and the bad feelings dissipate on their own in time. But that was not the case this time.

I started wondering why God created anger in the first place. Especially after I typed “being angry” in my online bible search and found a multitude of warnings against being angry. After more research, I found that anger is a natural God-given emotion and in itself is not sinful. God created us so that when sensing a threat, our minds generates anger—the emotional energy we need to fight against a perceived threat of harm.

So why so many warnings against being angry in the bible? That same emotional response mechanism is triggered when the “threat of harm” comes in the form of emotional pain which occurs when one of our personally held standards, values or beliefs has been or is being violated by someone. A girl’s belief that she is worthy of love is violated when her boyfriend breaks up with her. An employee’s belief that he is an asset to the company is violated when he is passed over for a raise or promotion. We can become instantly incensed when we feel we are being treated unfairly because our standards tell us everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect.

Anger is power and powerful. It enhances our resolve, and makes us a force to be reckoned with. It is the armor that guards against attack and the muscle that strikes out in battle. Anger washes through you like a drug and like a drug can control your life behind your back. Venting takes the energy out of your anger momentarily but anger will build up again and blow up in someone’s face if you don’t diffuse it; if you don’t dig it out by the root. And what is the root? Pride. Our pride nurtures and sustains our righteous indignation. It our pride, and the sense of entitlement that comes with it which assumes that our standards, values and beliefs supersede all else.
The bible exhorts us repeatedly to deal gently with people, rather than in anger. We are clearly responsible for how we treat people in our anger. Too often we tell ourselves little white lies to minimize our responsibility like “He deserved it” or “I can’t help it.” This just give pride and anger a little stronger hold over us. Fear not. In Christ we can overcome.

So how do we overcome our anger?
  1. Admit to God that you are angry. Pour out all your thoughts and feelings to him. Admit that your own pride is at the root of your anger. Ask God to help you seek humility. Give up your worldly right to be angry and give back to God the job of judging what is right and wrong.
  2. Ask God to fill you with the Fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control especially for and toward all those involved. Ask him to help you see the situation through his eyes and hear through his ears and respond with his heart in his grace.
  3. When you lose your temper, apologize to the person(s) involved for the hurt feelings your words and actions caused. An apology does not mean you are saying that others did no wrong. It’s you, in God’s grace, offering a balm for the emotional wounds your anger causes. It means you are letting go of the moment and moving forward in peace and wanting to bring them with you.

Don't expect it to be easy. Do expect to fail a lot. Forgive yourself when you do. After all, swallowing your pride and giving up your "right" to be angry is like trying reel in Moby Dick with a Disney princess fishing rod. That's why we need God in the boat with us.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. James 4:1-2

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

The other night, I had a dream—my family and I were leaving for a spontaneous weekend getaway and as we were loading the car, we all realized that no one had made arrangements to take care of the dog while we were away. Without a moment’s hesitation I said, “No problem, we’ll stop by my friend C___’s place and drop off the dog on our way out of town.” Down deep, even in my sleep, I know that if I had a dog and needed someone to take care of it on the spur of the moment, this particular friend would be there for me without hesitation.

God has gifted me with so many good and loving friends, I am almost embarrassed at how rich and full my life is. These people, for some reason I cannot fathom, enjoy being with me. They care about and for me. They share their lives with me. They enrich my life, enhance my faith, and fill my heart with precious memories. These people are all so very different. Some are outgoing and spontaneous, others quiet reservoirs of grace and strength, and still others somewhere in between. The one thing they all have in common is that they all willingly share their busy, messy lives with me. We talk and listen to each other. We laugh and cry together. We share in our hopes and disappointments with each other. They influence me and I influence them. That’s what friends do.

Here is a bold statement:  Jesus is my friend. He’s my best friend. He gave his life for me and rose from the dead to bring me everlasting life with him. He pursued me and loved me and was patient with me. He wooed me and won me with his unwavering love. How can I say this with such confidence?
  

The Bible tells us that Jesus is a “Friend of Sinners.”  He ate and drank with them. He talked and listened to them and they him. They laughed and cried together. They shared their hopes and disappointments with each other. Actually it was the religious people of the time, we are told, who called him Friend of Sinners to discredit and shame him. They wouldn’t be caught dead on the same side of the street as these sinners and tried to imply that by hanging out with sinners, Jesus was just as undesirable and sinful as the sinners he befriended. But he wasn’t sinful and he was only undesirable to those who unfortunately couldn’t see their own sinfulness under the self-righteousness persona they paraded through the temple and in town.

My prayer is that I will aspire to be the kind of friend Jesus was then to the tax collectors, prostitutes, the blind and the lame, the poor and unfortunate, and the regular people who were just trying to live life as best they could. I want to be the kind of friend Jesus is now to me. He said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend. I may never be asked to give up my life for someone else, but I most certainly will be expected to give of myself wholly, with love and grace as he does. I’m not always going to get it right (remember I’m a sinner) but I know that his grace and forgiveness are there waiting for me when I need it.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Vitamins

I feel like I’m coming out of a fog that I’ve been in for the last four months. I was tired all the time. I’d go home from work and take a nap just to have enough energy to cook dinner. Or I would pick up fast food on the way home from work, eat, and go to bed to sleep for 10-12-14 hours only to wake up just as tired. Even when I was awake, I was too tired to do anything. I knew I was mildly depressed when my home started to look like Oscar Madison lived there. Then my neck and back issues began to limit me even more. Life just seemed to be gradually getting worse for no reason. I turned 48 last month and wondered if this was all part of getting older.

Then two weeks ago, I heard a vitamin commercial say that a very large majority of Americans don’t get all the nutrients they need from the food they eat. I used to take a daily mega-multivitamin until about six months ago. The company stopped making them and I had to choose another less mega-supplement to replace it. Well, I didn’t. Sometimes the first step to downslide is the choice to not make a decision. It’s usually followed by the second step of not putting action to a decision finally made. At first I didn’t know enough about the other brands to make a decision and then I found that there was nothing to really set them apart from each other enough to make a choice. Then after several weeks of indecision, I decided why waste money on them—clearly I was no worse off for not taking them. Finally, I just forgot about it. When I was reminded that I probably wasn’t getting all the vital nutrients my body needs, I wondered if that was why I was feeling so poorly and went right out and picked a multivitamin at random and started taking it. Two days later, I decided that my inactive couch potato lifestyle was probably adding to the lack of energy I was experiencing and I forced myself (bad back and all) to begin exercising again. It’s only been a week and already I’m feeling much better. I’m not overly exhausted anymore. My home looks like less like Oscar and more like Felix lives there. I’m not hurting as much and I am becoming more active in everything again.


Isn’t it funny how one seemingly insignificant decision can really be the game-changer in our overall health. When I think about some of the excuses I’ve made for not reading my bible, or putting aside time for prayer and devotion, or making it to worship on a Sunday morning, or not taking the time to reach out in love and grace to another human being, it’s kind of like the multivitamin thing. At first it just a little thing I don’t even notice—maybe even reasonably justifiable. I don’t have time. I’m not feeling well. There is so much else to do. I don’t know where to start. My inaction doesn’t seem to be affecting my spiritual health until one day I’m walking around in a fog wondering what happened because the lack of these vital nutrients to my spiritual well-being has taken its toll. And just like the vitamins, all I have to do is start somewhere—anywhere. I have to make a choice and put action to that decision, whatever it is…like taking 5 minutes in the morning to pray over the scripture of the day I find in my email inbox. And that decision might lead to another like reading a Christian living book. And then I can look up the Scriptures in sited in the book and dig into the commentaries gathering dust on my bookshelf to learn more that will bring up things to talk to God about. And then all of sudden I will notice that I God’s peace and joy are inside me pouring out again in today’s blog.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Who, What, Where, Why and How

I recently watched a movie that kept asking the questions:  Do you believe? And if so, what are you going to do about it? This sparked a whole lot of other questions for me—the who, what, where, why and how of my own Christianity. Who is Christ and why am I a Christian? Where am I a Christian and what does it mean to be a Christian and how does being a Christian affect me, my life and my decisions?

Anyone who is seriously considering the nature of Christianity, their own or others, must first ask who Christ is. The correct and widely accepted answer among Christians is God, the second Person of the Trinity, our Lord and Savior. But you know by now that I never stop with the rote answer to anything. I started with asking it another way. I am a Christian and as such am called to be a reflection of Christ in the world. So if I were to ask others who Christ is based solely on the reflection of Christ they see in me, what would they say? Would they say he is inviting, forgiving, loving? Would they see the great peace, hope and wholeness he’s brought into my heart and life for the extraordinary thing that it is and maybe even want it for themselves? Would they see that being in relationship with them and bringing the hope and healing that only he can bring is more important to him than religious rules and rituals? Would they see that where we lack in perfection and holiness, he more than makes up for in grace and acceptance in his sacrifice on the cross?

I’ve told my story before about how God found me in a department store and introduced himself to me through my own personal reading of his Word. For twenty years I floated between atheism and agnosticism. I’m sure I met plenty of Christians during that time. A few stand out in my memory as having that something special, that deep down overwhelming peace and joy, I so wanted but which seemed to be eluding me. When I began to read the bible, I found the peace, joy, love and acceptance I had been looking for all of my life in Jesus. It didn’t matter to him what I did or didn’t do and he couldn’t have cared less about my potential. He loved me just as I was sinfulness and all. He accepted me as I was and offered himself unreservedly to me as he was. My story is the narrative of why I am a Christian, but his unashamed, unhindered, unconditional love is the reason why I am a Christian.


Is my Christianity confined to a limited space on my calendar? If I were a secretary outside of the church, what part would my Christianity have in the secular work place? In the line at the grocery store? Or do I carry my Christianity everywhere I go in my heart, my mind and my soul, letting it seep in my actions and interactions, reflecting Jesus from my inside out. Is being a Christian about what I do and don’t do or about the attitude and sincerity in which I act? If I act with love, grace, and acceptance towards others though they are sinful, even if they are unrepentant, am I misrepresenting Jesus or am I treating others the way he treated and treats me? Hebrews 10:14 tells us that “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This give me the freedom to treat my brothers and sisters with the respect, understanding and acceptance that his sacrifice and their resulting eternal perfection demands even as they are still being made holy in their ever deepening relationship with our God. We plant seeds of our actions wherever we go. My only question now is—what kind of seeds do I want to plant? Seeds of grace, love, joy, and invitation into relationship with Jesus or seeds of condemnation, religious elitism, unforgiveness and shame?