Friday, December 4, 2009

5. Irratibility~
The second commandment of “loving others” can be a difficult journey. Conflict is as old as the rivalry between the first siblings, Cain and Able. Genesis 4:6-7 uncovers the essence of the issue, “Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Like many of us, Cain dismissed God’s warning. His jealousy grew into wrath and he murdered his twin brother. Sin separates us from God; and so, as a result, Cain was ostracized from his family. The motifs of conflict, jealousy, and wrath are ever-present today. A wise friend states it so eloquently: Opinions are like body parts; some stink, some don’t. It is human nature to fear new situations and people who are different than us—often times our reaction to fear is distrust, envy, and rage. WE ALL BELIEVE OUR OPINION IS THE RIGHT OPINION. Again, our human nature is self-importance—we are irritated that others aren’t as “perfect” as we are. The evil one destroys humans by focusing our attention on what other people have and think. In the heat of the battle, we loose focus of what is really important—our relationship with God and how we honor others!
Conflict is inevitable; so what does the Bible instruct us to do about it? Anger isn’t a sin. After all, more than once Jesus speaks righteous anger against the Pharisees, “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…” Mark 3:5 We must be careful how we ACT upon our disapproval and irritability, “In your anger do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26
How do we deal with “righteous anger”? For years people had violated my emotional and physical boundaries. Figuratively, there were mounds of toxic trash in my emotional yard. I’m the one who had to either live with it or clean it up. Were they going to admit their role in my personal life becoming a landfill and help me clean it up? NO! Was it fair? NO! During the aftermath of my hospitalization, I was forced to confront the issues that lead to my feeling suicidal. I was like an exposed nerve. What would upset a “normal” person, infuriated me. For several months, I drove erratically, acted irrationally, and was hostile with my family and God. Did I have reasons to feel victimized? Absolutely, but how I dealt with the emotional pain only deepened my wounds and increased my shame. Letting anger fester causes bitterness and violence.
On the other hand, ignoring the “trash” causes suppressed emotions, depression, and isolation. When a violent attack occurs, neighbors and co-workers are interviewed; puzzled they shake their heads and state on the evening news, “I never imagined this. He was always quiet and kept to himself.” Ignoring the situation obviously doesn’t solve the problem, and more importantly, creates an emotional pressure cooker. As a child my southern grandmother wouldn’t even let me in the kitchen when she was canning. Numerous children have been scalded, hit with shrapnel, or worse. How many more children bare the invisible scars of the emotional pressure cookers? The cliché of “Letting off some steam” literally means to cautiously push down the pressure valve and let some pressure escape. The Bible encourages us to manage conflict in a timely manner, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:27 Furthermore, Jesus advises the disciples to have wise timing for their words, “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove” in Matthew 10:16. When confronting someone who has offended you, graciously speak the truth in love.
“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry… Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.” Ephesians 4: 25-30
The Bible clearly advises us to not hold in our anger, but to keep short accounts and settle issues with gentleness and compassion.
One of the devil’s strongest deceptions is that words will never hurt me. Proverbs 18:21 cautions that the “power of life and death is in the tongue.” God spoke the world into being. The Bible is The Word—words are so powerful and revealing. The wise King Solomon gives sound advice throughout Proverbs; for example Proverbs 21:23 declares that “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from troubles.” If you want to bridle your tongue, you must hand the reigns over to the Lord. The Apostle Paul exposes his personal struggle, “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong…Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:21-25 The flesh is corrupt; we are unable to control our sinful nature without God’s help. Each and every one of us has said things we wish we could take back. Correcting the damage is like filling up pot holes; it may patch for a while but it is always a bump in the road. That is why Colossians 3:8 declares “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” He doesn’t say start tomorrow, but NOW. More importantly, Matthew 12:36-37 forewarns us that “men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Simply put, we need to weigh our words carefully before we speak them. James 1:19, 20 explains, “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.” Be mindful of how your words impact those around you.
Luke 6:45 reminds us that words often mirror what is in the heart, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Many women struggle with truly hearing what we are told. The boyfriend that belittles and abuses her becomes the husband that sends her to the emergency room with a shattered wrist and concussion. In the passion of the argument when his guard is down, the true feelings come out of his mouth. No matter how may times the words, “I love you…I’m sorry, but you…Trust me, I’ll never let that happen again…” the abusers actions speak volumes about his fear, control, and anger. Maya Angelou writes and speaks from experience when she says, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them." Many women overlook the sweet, good guy to pursue the handsome, rebel; then wonder why he can’t keep a job, does drugs, and has multiple affairs. Ladies, match up what he is telling you with what he says—if there is a discrepancy, start believing what his words and actions are telling you.
Lastly, the example of James shows us what God can do with envy when we let Him master our lives. The half-brother of Jesus, James, reminds us to keep our ego under control. I suspect that James dealt with resentment and pride first-hand… imagine having the Messiah for a brother! James 3:2-11 reprimands us, “We all stumble in many ways…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” Over our families we can speak either blessings or curses. Proverbs 31 describes how a noble wife should be treated, “She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life… Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her:’ There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.” As Christians we need to speak blessings over children, “It is thus evident from the whole spirit of Biblical ethics that the parents' good-will and blessing were regarded as the greatest happiness that could come to children, and it is well known to those who are at all familiar with Jewish domestic life that this sentiment continues to the present day.”¹ One of my favorite blessings is the one Zechariah speaks over his newborn son who will become known as “John the Baptist”, And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” Luke 1: 76-79 Often times the words we say to our families become self-fulfilling prophesies. When I taught I had the poem Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte on my wall as a reminder, “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight….If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.” James summarizes Chapter 3 with the fruit from living with a bridled tongue,
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts,
do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure;
then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
verses 13-16

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