"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Anger: Every Man’s Other Battle

Lust is often called every man's battle, and for good reasons. Wired with strong responses to the presence of the opposite sex, most men struggle with their thought life and behaviors in this area. No wonder this is the squeakiest wheel in our parade.

However, there is another battle that wages against us. It threatens to divide our churches, our friendships, our families and our marriages. We can even be at odds with ourselves, waging war against our own failures, refusing to forgive ourselves, withholding the grace we would gladly offer to others. This battle is to manage the force of anger that surges within us.

This post is not intended to slight the female readers. They may relate to it very well. They may also glean some insight into the inner workings of the men in their lives. Why am I considering this as an issue men may struggle with more than women might? I believe men reflect that part of God’s nature carrying his propensity for wrath, jealousy, power, might and anger. Men carry an inner warrior who is ready to rise up and destroy. It is a kind of default mode that most men go to when feeling threatened or vulnerable. It may come across in normal circumstances as grumpiness, abruptness, or coldness. Under enough stress, uncharacteristic anger and even rage may emerge. Some have suggested that there may be some kind of a decision (conscious or unconscious) that takes place in his mind. He begins to feel weak or vulnerable, so the inner warrior rises up to greater or lesser degrees. He looks angry. He feels powerful. The weakness is hidden behind the curtain. The mighty Oz thunders and postures, and the little man behind the curtain hopes desperately that nobody will notice.

Ephesians 4 echoes Psalm 4, “In your anger, do not sin.” The anger itself is not the sin, but what we do with it might be. Psalm 4 elaborates, “ …on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” I think that anger is like the temperature gauge on my dashboard. When I am feeling it, I need to pull over and look under the hood. I need to “search my heart and be silent.” A heart check is in order. A heart check might include such questions as: Why am I really angry? Is it anger or something else (fear, sadness, sorrow, fatigue, jealousy)? Is it selfish or Godly (about me or the Kingdom)? Can I make a reasonable request that would remedy the situation? Can I make changes on my part that would help or remedy the problem? Can I let it go? Would Jesus want me to? Is my anger driven by my own unreasonable expectations? Can I alter these? Asking the Spirit to shine a light into the dark corners of our hearts is not a painless process, but the rewards are worth the discomfort. While I am sorting it out, silence is a great policy. Slow to speak and slow to anger…sounds familiar.

In the next chapter (Ephesians 5), Paul transitions from this discussion to the treatise on marriage (love and respect) with this covering statement: “ Honor one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). I often use this verse, with a visual of Jesus looking over the shoulder of a challenging person, watching to see if my response to them will honor (or dishonor) Him.

The ones who love Him are the ones who keep his commands. What is his command? Love one another.

“In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search you hearts and be silent.” Psalm 4:4

“My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26-27

"A new command I give you: Love one another." John 13:34

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dry Seasons

When seasons of drought come upon us, our bodies and souls cry out for relief. We long to know that God has not abandoned us. We seek reasons for the dry seasons that come upon us without explanation.

Seasons of plenty, from our point of view, do not require much explanation. We seem to see them as our due. At the very least, we see them as what God does. God is good and benevolent and delights in blessing people, so it is natural that seasons of lush greenery and plentiful fruit should come upon us. Who would question such a thing? Well, maybe we should. Such seasons are actually NOT our due. If Isaiah of Old and more recent Paul are correct, no one seeks after God, and all fall short of his glory. What we deserve is not blessing, but its radical opposite. Seasons of blessing are actually what we should question, but do not. At times, I fear we are like tourists who have grown accustomed to first class treatment on our cruise, and now have found reason to complain about the melting ice in our water pitchers. We feel entitled to heaven on earth when we do not even deserve earth.

So, by contrast, dry seasons leave us challenged beyond our resources. Facing the raw realities that life is sometimes cruel, and bad things happen, even to good people, we look toward God and ask, “How could you?”

America is going through a dry season of late, and yet a strange denial prevails. Our economy has taken a major hit. The automotive, real estate and construction industries have seemingly grinded to a halt in recent years. Yet, turn on your television, and the three-ring circus, replete with smoke and mirrors, continues. However, tell the construction worker, the real estate agent, the automobile salesman that life is normal these days, and see what they say. The money these industries would normally generate has created a vacuum in the economy. It affects us all. Economically, we are in a dry season.

Dry seasons come in many shapes and sizes. Usually, they involve loss of some kind: loss of a person we have loved; loss of career; loss of position; loss of a home; loss of income; loss of health whether physical or emotional. The world we once knew has suffered a drought. It has gone dry. The lush greenery we took for granted has died and blown away, and taken our hope with it. If we sink into despair, our fear becomes-- this is more than a season. This is our new reality.

For the child of God, the challenge is often to look beyond the desire for immediate relief. Larry Crabb, in Shattered Dreams, tells of an incident when, as a boy, he became stuck in the upstairs bathroom of an old country house with no ventilation. His desire was relief, to be set free to frolic in the green shade of the lawn below. His challenge to us is to leave such childish desires behind us, to grow up. He encourages us to learn to quiet ourselves, to seek God and his lessons, even while still enclosed in the hot confines of our discomfort.

In these dry seasons, God reveals some of his richest lessons, his greatest treasures, to those who persistently seek Him. Find them amidst the rubble, diamonds in the dirt. There, buried in the shards of junk we once held dear, we discover how little those things really mattered. We unearth a greater truth-- the one thing that matters more than anything in the world is the thing that no one can take from us.

"Spiritual seasons of dryness and the desert teach the soul to listen to and embrace God's will in its impenetrable mystery. They are signs of progress...and in the process, we surrender control, and by personal abandonment to God we find Him afresh not for his gifts but for Himself."
Kenneth Boa (Conformed to His Image)

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

"...We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:3-5

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” Philippians 4:12

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or nakedness or danger or sword?" Romans 9:35