Anger Management

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19, NIV.

Most Christians know the above passage from James and I’m sure many non-believers have heard it too. Regardless of your beliefs, it’s a powerful passage and I think most would agree that it’s good instruction for living our daily lives. All three aspects of instruction are good and worthy of discussion; for the purposes of this post, I will focus on the last one.

I have struggled with anger, more specifically my expressions of anger my whole life. I spent most of my adult life justifying angry outbursts – “why can’t I show my anger by shouting, slamming, throwing things, etc.? Other people do it and I’m not hurting anyone.” I used to tell myself this all the time – in my weaker moments, I still do. There’s a lot wrong with this. True, there is nothing wrong with anger – even God gets angry, but there is a difference between what I describe above and God’s anger. Angry outbursts make people feel uncomfortable, even unsafe. Also, for me and I suspect for others if we’re being honest, most of what sparks an outburst has more to do with frustration over unmet, self-imposed, self-centered expectations. God’s anger is always righteous, having to do with injustice toward others – what we are called to care about. So next time you feel an outburst coming on, think about its source – is your anger righteous? If so, will an outburst serve the party in need? My guess is no.

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It’s A Miracle!

God is supernatural. He is all knowing and all seeing, He spoke the universe into existence, He made everything including us; in fact, we human beings were made to be in a special relationship with Him. All of this should sound rudimentary to Christians, but I think some of us live our lives as if this is not completely true.

Speaking for myself, but I suspect others have experienced this, I have come across confessing, long time Christians, even members of the clergy, who sometimes seem unenthusiastic about or even sceptical of apparent supernatural acts of God in people’s lives. Stories of salvation, (mine included), physical healing and life transformation are occasionally scoffed at by those who say that they believe in the God of the Bible. I realize that people in need of a “miracle” are vulnerable and often fall prey to unscrupulous, indeed heretical people who represent themselves as agents of God, but are really working only to make themselves rich. This is a black eye on our faith that gives many non-believers a reason not to believe. Fortunately, these charlatans are not the norm in Christianity.  

My point is this; we Christians, especially our leaders, need to remember that we believe in things that the world thinks are impossible. We believe in a God that can do anything – He can and He does, every day! We have a responsibility to encourage those whose lives have been touched by Him. As (non-Christian) Albert Einstein famously said, “There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”

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God and the Art of Happiness

“God wants me to be happy.” I have heard this phrase often, applied to many different sets of circumstances – in fact I have said it myself. Most of the time, when I have said this or heard someone else say it, it’s regarding a failing marriage, a challenging job, a financial crisis, etc. This sounds reasonable and there is some truth to it, but what is happiness? Happiness means many things to different people but it’s often applied to feelings of contentment, security, self-esteem and the like. It’s safe to say that almost all humans strive for those things and they are good things, but what God provides goes much deeper.

By focusing on our personal happiness as the solution to our problems and our ultimate goal, we are missing what God has for us and what he has for us to do. In surrendering our lives to God, we take our place as children of the omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the Universe – He can do and see anything and everything. He knows our hearts, He loves us more than anything and will answer our prayers. We worship Him and serve Him in everything that we do, which brings, among other things, the joy of the Lord. I understand that “joy” sounds like another word for “happiness”, but as applied here, it is so much more. It is indescribable delight in God, what He does for us and what we do for Him. When you accept God, you will likely find that what you thought would make you “happy” before is no longer important.

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A Generous Heart

The Bible is clear on its directive for us to be generous (Matthew 5:40, Luke 6:30, John 3:17, et al) and I think the vast majority of us sincerely try to be and believe that we are generous. In modern society, expressions of generosity are often defined by donations of money or goods, often publicly and sometimes for reasons other than for the good of the receiver (a tax deduction, to benefit one’s public reputation, etc., see Matthew 6:4). My point in raising these issues is not to diminish the value of such donations or to deride those that regularly make them; I simply think that God has a lot more in mind when He commands us to be generous.

In the well-known “God loves a cheerful giver” passage in 2 Corinthians (9:6-8), the apostle Paul alludes to a generous heart. What is meant here is that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we should be transformed into generous people; it should be part of our internal make-up. This means that, yes, we should share our money and goods, but we should also share our time, our talents, our ears, encouragement, joy, hospitality, etc. Further, opportunities for generosity are not always pleasant. Often, we are called to give of ourselves in situations where the receiver does not understand their own need and/or do not express any gratitude. It doesn’t matter – if we are truly generous we give anyway. Put simply, generosity must not simply be the sum of our charitable donations at tax time, it must be who we are.

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Off Center

We are all self-centered. We can’t help it. Those that think they can help it are self-centered in thinking so. The reason for this is that though we are created in God’s image, we are not God. Our tendency is to place our sense of self-worth in things that we do, things that we have, how we act, what we say, what others think of us or perhaps more precisely, what we think of ourselves compared to others, which all sounds reasonable. Problems arise when those things inevitably fail to deliver; we fail at our job, we lose our temper and spoil the day (or longer) for others, we say something offensive (either intentionally or not), we put our needs ahead of others, etc.

So if we are truly helpless to cure our own self-centeredness, what do we do? The answer is that we do nothing…God does. God knows we are helpless sinners and that we deserve death. What we think of ourselves or what others think of us cannot compare to what the Creator of the Universe thinks of us – He loves us so much that He died to erase our transgressions. This is who we are now, beloved sons and daughters of a merciful God and nothing can or will ever change that. With the help of the Holy Spirit, everything we do is for Him, in His name and in the service of His Kingdom – when viewed through that lens, we don’t need our own sense of worth – we have His.

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Note: Though I did not use any direct quotes, much of this post was derived from Tim Keller’s amazing book, “The Freedom Of Self-Forgetfulness”. It’s only 47 pages long and costs five dollars – it will take most people about an hour to read and is essential reading for all Christians; indeed, even for non-believers.

The Power of Encouragement…and God

The Bible is full of examples of God’s command for us to encourage each other, especially those who are weak, needy or afflicted (Thessalonians 5:11,14, Isaiah 35:3, Proverbs 12:25 et al). I think, at least for me and I suspect this is true of many, that difficulty arises from our expectations. In their great book The Love Dare, Stephen and Alex Kendrick note, (in referring to our spouse but can be applied to any human relationship), that when we live by our expectations of how someone should act, we are doomed to fail; we should instead “choose to live by encouragement rather than expectations.” They add that we should let our loving encouragement and God’s intervention work on the other person and that we should focus on improving ourselves*.

Too often, we look at the needy and say, ‘why don’t they just get a job? I would.’ Or ‘why don’t they just go to rehab? That’s what I would do.’ We must not forget that their backgrounds, examples and circumstances are different than ours and doing those simple things may not be that easy for them.

The good news is that Christ came for all of us and there are millions of stories, including my own, where God intervened and transformed someone. We must have faith that He will do that for the needy. We must encourage them to have faith too.

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*Kendrick, Stephen and Alex, The Love Dare, 2008, 2012, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, Pages 130, 131

I Am Probably the Most Humble Person Ever!

Humility is described both in the Bible and in the dictionary as the lack of pride. God makes it very clear in dozens of verses in His Word that He favors the humble over the proud and that pride is indeed sinful (Proverbs 11:2, Isaiah 4:12, James 4:6 and many others); in fact, in Proverbs 11:2, God tells us that humility leads to wisdom.

So where does that leave us? Many of you may be able to relate to this – I am involved in a charity that helps the neediest people in my community. Since I have been doing this and people have become aware of it, I hear all the time how wonderful what I’m doing is and that more people should be like me, which I really appreciate and I don’t want to seem ungrateful for those kind words – it does feel very good to hear those things. The thing that I struggle daily with is whether I am doing this out of gratitude for what God has done for me and out of obedience to His commands or am I really doing it because people think better of me for it. Is it because it feeds my ego (pride)? Most of the time, I feel like it is.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, true humility will come only through our conversations with God (prayer and the reading of His Word) and unblemished obedience to His command to serve Him by serving others. As for me, I’m still working on that. What about you?

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