Do You Recognize Five Faces of Anger?

Someone has said a baby’s first cry is an expression of anger. Whether or not that is true, anger is a feature of our humanness. None of us is born without the capacity to be angry.

This is important to know because in our fallenness every aspect of our beings is marred by sin, and this powerful emotion can be legitimate and appropriate but when misused, is often destructive.

Upon returning to the Israelite camp after being absent for many days, Moses found the people indulging in pagan practices. In a show of legitimate anger, he smashed the sacred tablets upon which were written God’s law — the very law that they were breaking.

As recorded by Mark, when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees arrogantly condemned him for “breaking” the Sabbath. Jesus saw their great lack of compassion and he looked around upon them “with anger” — but with complete and holy control.

His anger was the right emotion for the situation, but is probably the emotion hardest to manage well. Sadly, it can wrongfully destroy property or human relationships. In the extreme, for example, consider the terrible consequences of road rage, air rage, or domestic abuse.

Consider five faces of anger.

Sullen Anger. This anger is kept below the boiling point; face muscles are taut; the air seems charged. It’s better than an explosion but not as good as words that could convey meaning or a good walk to dissipate the emotion and regain perspective.

Nice Guy Anger. Some call it frozen smile anger. Kathleen and I took a short trip into the mountains in California on a narrow gauge railroad. The car was open on all sides, and seating was arranged around the edges. A couple with a child boarded at one of the stops and took more spaces than needed.

At the next stop another couple with several children boarded and chose to sit next to the first couple. Seating was tight and the first couple made no effort to give up space for the family. After the exchange of a few unpleasant words, the second woman sat with her back to the other couple. On her face was a fixed smile that appeared to say, “I’m too nice to be angry.”

Misdirected Anger. A cartoon in four frames first showed a boss talking harshly to his employee. The next frame showed the employee at home chewing out his wife. The third frame showed the wife talking harshly to her little girl. The fourth frame showed the little girl angrily scolding her rag doll. To pass on the emotion of anger to an innocent party rather than owning it and dissipating it is unfair and hurtful.

Anger Used to Punish. Insults, loud talk, swearing, or slamming doors do the work here. The abuser may walk away relieved by a kind of catharsis but his or her victim must deal with the aftermath. Anger used to punish that is not acknowledged can make ongoing relationships cautious and superficial.

Denied Anger. Children who, for example, grow up in the home of an alcoholic parent may be left with unrecognized anger that never goes away. This sort of anger is smothered in an unhealthy way, sometimes denied by practicing a three part mantra — “don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust.” I have met adults who were surprised when counseling helped them to discover they were living out this mantra and were encouraged to seek professional help.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Ephesus: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Anger is clearly acknowledged. Indeed anger is a strong and sometimes necessary emotion but tainted by sin needs to be managed in the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s why the Apostle goes on to say, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). By God’s grace, destructive anger does not need to be a feature of the Christian life.

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Photo credit: Muneef HameedPhoto/Nashad Abdu (via flickr.com)

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Did the Eclipse Prompt You to Reflect?

Recently, the moon totally eclipsed the sun even though the far more distant sun is 1000 times larger than the moon. It was a rare spectacle.

Advance notice of this phenomenon brought people from far and near — tens of thousands of them — to be under the total eclipse’s charted path all across America, and to witness the phenomenon.

How could it be known almost to the second where the total eclipse would manifest itself at any particular time of that day? And that the total eclipse in every case would last for two minutes?

The moon performed magnificently.

One telecaster, microphone in hand, moved among a crowd of viewers sprawled across a large area in Oregon, asking: What word describes it for you?” One after another said with enthusiasm, “Awesome.” “Awesome.” Awesome.” Awesome was the only word that seemed adequate.

Awesome: “Causing feelings of fear, or wonder, or awe.” Or “causing overwhelming feelings of reverence.”

For Christians, our awe at the mystery and magnificence of the heavenly bodies is amplified dramatically by the opening words of the Scriptures: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).

God exists, and the universe he spoke into splendid order exists. Both sun and moon are his doing. Verse one of Genesis 1 is like the topic sentence of the Bible.

The Bible quickly takes us beyond the heavenly bodies themselves to insist that a Divine Mind creates and sustains the order of Nature and He, maker of sun and moon and everything else, is to be worshiped.

The prophet Jeremiah prays, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). Think of that!

Or turning to the hymnbook of the ancient church, the Psalter, we come across these words to guide us in our reflection: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

We cross into the New Testament and find the call to reflection on God’s creation becomes even more revealing. Consider, for example, a portion of the Apostle Paul’s hymn to the supremacy of Christ:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:15,16).

The crowds that gathered all across America on August 21 of this year with their special glasses and picture-taking devices dispersed as quickly as they gathered. I assume some will reflect again and again on what they viewed. It was spectacular. Others will perhaps soon forget the wonder of the moment and go on to other things.

May those who enjoy the wonders of nature also treasure their Creator and his revelation to humankind through the coming of our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, recalling with awe that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3)

Photo credit: Bernd Thaller (via flickr.com)

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions – How We Make Good Ones

A two-month-old infant tastes the first spoonful of baby food. His tongue touches the tip of the spoon and his face reports his decision. A one-year-old child meets a grandfather for the first time and again, facial expression and body language show she is deciding whether or not to trust herself to his arms.

Decision-making begins early in life.

All the way from infancy to the end of life, we are daily faced with scores of decisions. Shall I study or surf the web? Is there time to stop for the yellow light or shall I continue through the intersection? Shall I go on with the relationship or ease out of it? Do I blow a whistle or just quietly leave this organization?

Our grandson, Zachary, told me about a talk he heard on this subject at a Christian Medical Fellowship meeting. The speaker’s outline was simple enough: To make good decisions there are two reference points that should always be reckoned with.

The two reference points are righteousness and wisdom.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). If we are true believers we want to honor God by making our decisions demonstrate moral uprightness. We are tested every day.

God actually “guides us in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake” the psalmist tells us (Psalm 23:3). But we must be concerned that our life-shaping decisions grow out of our openness to and awareness of his directions.

So, where do we discover this core of the righteousness to which God calls us? We visit the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-17). Commandments one through four tell us how we are to relate to God, and six to ten, how we are to relate in our social settings — family, church, and state.

But we are often confronted by a dilemma that may not have one explicit answer or a particular verse of scripture to hold onto, such as shall I speak my mind on a certain issue or shall I remain quiet?

That calls into play the other reference point: wisdom.

According to the speaker Zach heard, we must depend on the application of common sense in concert with our understanding of righteousness. That is, we apply the two together to the specific decision we must make.

This wisdom may be given to us by God through his Word, or in the form of our prior life experience, or the insights of others, or our own instincts. This righteousness + wisdom formula helps us to choose our friends wisely, to avoid reality-distorting drugs and other harmful activities, to make good vocational decisions, and yes, even to speak or not to speak.

Wisdom helps us to maintain our commitment to righteousness as we wrestle with the uncertainties and perplexities of life. When we face life’s decisions with righteousness and wisdom guiding us to the best of our ability, always asking for God’s blessing, we are saved from the paralysis of second-guessing ourselves.

We believe that the Lord God can take our decisions and bless their outcomes because we have used the best resources at our disposal — righteous standards to which we are clearly committed with the help of his Spirit, and wisdom for which we earnestly pray (James 1:5).

Photo credit: Dennis Hill (via flickr.com)

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Is Regular Church Attendance Good for My Health?

An article on the internet this week makes reference to “hundreds if not thousands” of studies that have been done to explore connections between church attendance and health and longevity.

The findings are positive. For example, one study indicated that people who attend church regularly show lower stress in their lives and tend to live longer.

From infancy onward I was in church twice on Sunday with parents and sister. At 16 years of age, I tried to win freedom to make up my own mind about church attendance but my disciplinarian mother insisted that attending church was non-negotiable as long as I was at home.

Even after leaving home to work in another community I continued the practice into my late teens and young adulthood and then, of course, also during my years as a pastor and overseer. Throughout these years, gathering with God’s people on Sundays has been a joy.

Seven months ago, at age 91, I found myself in the hospital diagnosed with a smouldering form of leukemia. It took a few months to get back on my feet, and two setbacks interrupted my regular church attendance.

In those months I missed more Sundays than I attended. But the love to meet with God’s people in the worship of God in Christ remains unabated.

Last week, and again this week, we have reinstated our regular attendance. When our pastor begins the service with, “Let us stand for the call to worship,” I hear that call with greater intensity. I hear it as a summons to believers of diverse backgrounds, occupations, ages and ethnicities, to worship the Almighty — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as one people.

We sang hymns and spiritual songs with fresh awareness. The prayers of the people were led by a layperson. Announcements were made to bring the congregation up to date on activities and interests; the children sang for us jubilantly; we presented our offerings, and the pastor gave a message from God on the power of Pentecost.

She had obviously spent significant time preparing it. As a pastor I had prepared fresh Sunday morning messages for many years. I knew the cost of preparation. I knew of the pastoral heart behind it. Her message was biblical. It was Christ-honoring.

There was something in it for me and I assume for others who had come to the gathering with their joys, perplexities or even sorrows. Anyone present who needed salvation would sense the call of the Spirit.

By the time the service was over, I felt in fresh touch with God my Creator and Sustainer of 91 years. The service was dismissed and there were handshakes and hugs. Worshipers showed evidence of joy as they dispersed.

Was this all really health-giving for me? For others in attendance? It appears that statisticians would say yes, and I would agree drawing on my own experience.

Jesus spoke to all people of all ages when he said, “For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). How inviting! How could public worship weekly giving thanks to God and shared with a company of his followers mean anything but health to both body and soul?

Photo credit: John Twohig (via flickr.com)

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How Our Worries Are to Give Way to Peace

We grieve in the night over a relationship broken irretrievably decades ago. We imagine a long-range missile flying from North Korea towards Los Angeles. We also stress about looming mortgage payment deadlines, the threat of unemployment, street shootings in a nearby city, the meaning of campus unrest, and even political corruption. Such worries rob us of the peace of God.

There is a formula in the New Testament that addresses such debilitating fretfulness and offers an assurance of God’s care and protection. It is written by a man who is in jail. He knows that even as he writes the authorities may be deciding whether he should be released — or executed. His name is Paul.

Here’s his formula and its promised result as found in the New Living Translation: 

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace which is far more wonderful than the human mind can fathom. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Consider a breakdown of his advice.

First, we take inventory of the issues that hold our minds hostage. The operative word in Paul’s instruction is “anything.” We must leave nothing out lest what we omit becomes like “rust” that keeps the prayer wheels from turning freely.

Second, turn every worry into a prayer. Tell God what is on your mind, and what you need. This can be in a quiet, worshipful way, or it can be intense as you cry out from a heart in anguish.

We can do this in our times of devotional prayer, during a bout of insomnia, or as we drive the highway to work. The more constant our prayers, the greater our reliance on God and his response to us.

Third, make sure that thanksgiving is the unifying attitude. Giving thanks tempers our anxieties. We give thanks even as we present our petitions. Thanksgiving is to be like a prayer rug that underlays all our prayers from beginning to end.

And now for the result: Paul assures us that our prayers will be followed by the peace of God, beyond our comprehension!

However, he does not promise that this peace of God will necessarily obliterate or remove what assails us. When we open our eyes the threats may still be there. But he does promise God’s peace will post a guard around us, like an army of angels. This peace will at the same time clear our thinking and calm our hearts.

Paul offers this gift of peace to us in Christ Jesus who is our Savior and Lord. It is from our blessed position in Christ that we inventory our worries, pray them out to God, and receive his peace.

Photo credit: Jason Lander (via flickr.com)

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The Fruit of Our Faith May Live on Past Our Lifetime

Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli, ca. 1665. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Public Domain

Elkanah, a man in ancient Israel, had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had sons and daughters, but Hannah, Elkanah’s favorite, lived with the intense emotional pain of childlessness.

Back then, married women were expected to produce children. Otherwise, people wondered what they might have done to invite God’s disfavor. Childlessness brought anguish and humiliation.

Peninnah, the second wife, was particularly cruel to Hannah. She scorned her to her face and made snide comments and stinging verbal jabs at every opportunity.

Elkanah tried to console Hannah. He asked her, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” This reassurance did not ease her sadness.

Each year, Elkanah, Hannah, Peninnah, and her children would travel to a place called Shiloh, to worship. At one of their visits Peninnah’s abuse was particularly disturbing. During one mealtime Hannah wept, left her food uneaten, and went to the tabernacle nearby to pray. She would pour out her distress to Jehovah.

“Jehovah,” she prayed, “if you will look with mercy upon me and give me a son, I’ll return him to you for all the days of his life . . .”

The aged priest, Eli, sitting nearby, saw her lips moving but heard no audible voice as she prayed. He rebuked her, thinking she was drunk. She corrected him, and he blessed her.

Returning to the table she had left, she ate and her spirits lifted. She believed that the Almighty God of Israel had heard her prayers and that he would answer them.

In time, the special son, Samuel, was born. And so, in keeping with her promise, soon after little Samuel was weaned she surrendered him to the care and training of Eli for temple service “all the days of his life.”

Every Sunday School child has heard the outcome of Hannah’s vow to Jehovah: Samuel grew up and became a prophet and Israel’s last and finest judge. He served the nation with integrity and two books of the Old Testament carry his name. His long life of service was exceptional.

Hannah, on the other hand, is named in only two chapters of the Old Testament. But her story will never be forgotten. In a way that may have been little-noticed at the time, the fruit of her faith made a great contribution to the unfolding story of redemption, and for that we honor her memory. To this day, many women carry her name.

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What Makes Sunday A Special Day for Christians?

The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd, 1877

Last week I explained to two of my great-grandchildren why the day of rest and worship shifted from Saturday for the Jews to Sunday for Christians: Sunday was the day our Lord rose from the dead.

I then reviewed for them, and other family members around the table the following Christian certainties under-girding the Lord’s Day:

On Friday of Holy Week our Lord’s brutalized body was hastily placed in a tomb because the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, and the work of his burial was forbidden from then until after sundown on Saturday.

Thus for a part of three days: Friday, all of Saturday and the early part of Sunday, our Lord had been entombed.

At daybreak Sunday morning the Jewish Sabbath was over and several deeply grieving and devoted women, all followers of Jesus, went to the tomb with spices, in order to finish the burial rites.

Adding to their grief and distress, they found the tomb open and empty. Two of the women rushed back to Jerusalem to report this to the disciples.

Mary Magdalene stayed behind. As she stood weeping beside the tomb, she was addressed by ‘someone’ standing near the tomb. She rebuked him, thinking he was the gardener and that perhaps he had moved the body elsewhere.

But when the Lord Himself answered back, “Mary,” she fell at his feet and cried out, “Rabboni” — Teacher!

This is why Mary was the first witness to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

After that first early morning appearance to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appeared in the afternoon to two disconsolate men walking the Emmaus road leading away from Jerusalem. At nightfall he appeared for the third time that day, this time to frightened disciples huddled within a locked room in fear for their lives.

Of course he subsequently appeared to many more before his ascension into heaven. But that first Sunday was Resurrection Day, a day unmatched by any other in history.

Our Lord’s resurrection from death on Sunday makes that day, rather than Saturday, the Lord’s Day of rest and corporate worship.

Whether in cathedrals, storefronts, sod huts, or even secret hiding places, Christians raise their voices together in song and prayer to celebrate Jesus’ living presence with his people.

That conversation with family was short but memorable. The children learned about the special reason for the Lord’s Day, perhaps for the first time, and the adults reviewed the conviction together with them.

Sunday is a day to rest from our labors, to gather for worship with a company of his people, and to say again with conviction, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

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