Prescription for Unhealthy Anger

“Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.”
Romans 13:14 (Common English Bible)
“Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger.”
Ephesians 4:26 (Common English Bible)
            If you are like most people, you were raised with the old maxim, “feed a cold, starve a fever.” Writing for Scientific, Mark Fischetti has traced this maxim to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever. The belief is that eating food may help the body generate warmth during a ‘cold’ and that avoiding food may help it cool down when overheated.”[i]But recent medical science says that that old wisdom is wrong. It should be “feed a cold, feed a fever.” Naturally, doctors advise meals that are balanced and nutritious for optimal support of the body’s struggle to overcome the illness. Apparently, what still holds true is the value of a simmering bowl of chicken soup.
            That old maxim has been disproved by modern medicine but a portion of it – “starve a fever” – is precisely the spiritual prescription the Apostle Paul advises for unhealthy anger: “don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.” Anger is one of the most common sins when it stirs within us a passion of fury that can result in threats and violence. The world has witnessed this anger in the increased level of violence often done in the name of religion. Fear occupies the thoughts of many simply because they may be found to have a different religion or point-of-view. Broken relationships and estrangement from loved ones due to anger also rips at the fabric of God’s good intention for all of humanity. Paul offers counsel: let the selfishness of anger be destroyed by the withholding of appropriate support – “don’t plan to indulge.”
            There is no method more efficient and assured of victory over the sin of anger than destruction by neglect. As another maxim goes, “deny the fuel, you exhaust the flame.” In practice, what Paul urges in all of his letters is that we redirect our thoughts from those things we disagree to the one conviction that holds each of us together, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Dwelling on the things that divide us results in aroused feelings. Unchecked, those feelings boil over and scalds and destroys the more gentle places of our spirit. We can control our passion by wisely directing our thought to our unity in Jesus and a common striving to love our neighbor as ourselves.
            Paul is clear than anger itself isn’t sin. Anger often signals that something is wrong, requires attention, and calls for a measured response. At the deepest level, anger demonstrates that we are awake, aware, and care deeply about the world we live in. “Be angry,” writes Paul to the church in Ephesus, “without sinning.” Those last two words must not be glossed over. We are not to sin whenever anger is present. There is no consideration given to whether the anger is justified or not. And when we do experience anger, resolve it quickly before it arouses those passions that lead to destruction. We have been baptized into the life of Jesus Christ. At its most basic meaning, that means that Christ is placed first in our lives, not our ideology, our prejudices, and our convictions. If we keep our eyes on what our baptism means, we will make no provision for the care of selfish desires. And, an unhealthy anger withers.

[i] Mark Fischetti,, January 3, 2014


Where to Begin

The following is from Doug Hood\’s 
Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ.

“Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:8 (Common English Bible)
When the king in Alice in Wonderland was asked where to begin, he said gravely, “Begin at the beginning… and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Begin at the beginning. Naturally, that guidance seems reasonable. That is, until you have to actually open your mouth, and speak. With thoughts racing from one place to another, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many fine places to begin. Jesus tells his disciples, here in Acts, “you will be my witnesses.” Where do the disciples begin? Where are we to begin? Sharing our faith in Jesus seems reasonable until we actually confront that moment – that moment when we are asked, “Who is Jesus?”
That moment came to me one Easter morning. I was enjoying breakfast in a Doylestown, PA diner, looking over the message I would preach in just a few hours. Mary, the waitress assigned to the table where I was seated, approached with coffee and said, “I guess this is your big day, pastor!” “I guess so,” I remarked. Then Mary asked, “What is Easter all about anyway?” Initially, I dismissed her question, not thinking she was serious. But I was mistaken; Mary was very serious. It was then I took the time to really notice her, to look into her eyes and really see her. I will not forget those eyes – eyes that betrayed her silence; silence of considerable pain. “Where do I begin?” I thought. I began with her pain. “Easter means that you can stop beating yourself up. Whatever guilt you may have now, whatever mistakes you have made in life, Easter means that you are to stop immediately from beating yourself up. God has removed it all.”
“But there is more,” I said to Mary. “Easter is an invitation to pay attention to Jesus.” I shared with Mary that as she paid attention to Jesus, by reading of him in the Bible, she will discover that she will want to be more than she is now. “Pay attention long enough to Jesus and you will experience a compulsion to be something more; you will begin to live differently.”  Mary needed to hear that Jesus doesn’t leave a life unchanged. Any significant time spent with Jesus always results in a desire to be made new. “Your whole world will appear different. You will want to be different.”
“Finally, Mary, begin to follow Jesus as you learn about him.” I shared with her that what that means is to “do what he asks in his teaching.” Imagine Jesus as a mentor in life and do everything that is asked of you. Something inexplicable happens when someone commits to doing all that Jesus’ asks: they receive an uncommon power to do so. People who obey all that they understand of Jesus’ teachings receive a power from outside of themselves; a power that actually makes them something so much more than what they were. Mary began to cry and asked how to begin. That is when I knew I had come to the end. And there, in a diner in Doylestown, PA, Mary gave her life to Jesus.


Hungry for God

“Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God.”
Psalm 42:1 (Common English Bible)
            On a recent vacation, my wife, daughter and I climbed the Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica. This world famous waterfall cascades 600 feet down a giant rock staircase to the Caribbean Sea. Visitors to the falls are divided into teams of eight, join hands, and follow a guide up the natural stepping platforms as they are showered with cool, clear water all the way up. There are various places on the way up that we stop, let go of one another’s hands and rest, splash each other, and take photos. But movement toward the top always requires holding onto one another to assist a secure footing on slippery stones. Naturally, each person experiences moments of awe at the tropical beauty around us and laughter as we struggle together toward the top, firmly holding onto each other. Yet, at a deeper level I experienced something of God’s Kingdom surrounding the whole experience. We were joined together – by hands – in a common quest to reach the top without any consideration of the other’s political, educational, or ethnic identity.
            Similarly, all people are possessed by a common quest which has taken hold of the human heart. It is a quest that leaps across the borders of religious affiliations, races, and nations. It cuts across generations and continually challenges women and men. What I speak of is a deep and increasing desire to know God. Every person, atheists or religious, experiences a desire to connect with someone or power greater than their individual self. We may disagree on much and desire different things in life. But, in the last analysis, behind every search in life there is one, eternal, common quest. It is a quest driven by questions such as, “What are we here for?”, “What is it all about?”, and “Is there one, singular purpose in life”. Those who are honest admit to an inescapable yearning for fellowship with the one who is above and beyond this life.
            This quest is driven by disillusionment – disillusionment with striving for more stuff, disillusionment with political activism to correct social ills, and disillusionment with charitable organizations’ ability to meet increasing human need. At one time believing that human power, intellect, and resourcefulness was sufficient for every need, all things spiritual were neglected. That abandonment of the spiritual has shown-up in the Christian pulpit. The pulpit is asked to support ministries that address homelessness, hunger, addiction, and broken relationships rather than proclaim the presence and power of God. What has been experienced is little contentment and even less peace of heart. What eventually dawns upon the church is that all alone, we are not sufficient. The revolt against God has not turned out very well. We need God
            Episcopal pastor and author, Barbara Brown Taylor once heard from church members that they were hungry to know the Bible. She hired professors from a nearby seminary and offered regular courses on the Old and New Testaments. The classes were small and sporadically attended. After multiple starts and failures with various Bible studies Taylor finally realized that “Bible” was a code word for “God.” People were not hungry for information about the Bible; they were hungry for an experience of God.[i]Naturally, Bible study is important. Also important is housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, caring for the addicted, and helping people mend broken relationships. But these are on the circumference rather than the center. It’s like tinkering with a sprinkler system without watering the grass. Without water, the grass dies. Without God, our faith withers.

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (London, Chicago, New York, Toronto, and Plymouth, UK: Cowley Publications, 1993), 49.


Filled By Christ

The following meditation is from Doug Hood\’s book,
Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ.
“All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body. 
And you have been filled by him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.”
Colossians 2:9, 10 (Common English Bible)
     This simple truth, that we have been filled by Christ, directly impacts the nature of our Christian life. Guidance for our decisions, the pattern of our behavior and inspiration for the common tasks of life each comes from our communion with Christ. This is what the New Testament means by, “walking by the Spirit” – the glad and spontaneous response to the love of the risen and living Christ. Jesus desires to have the same quality of relationship with us as does a good friend. The best of friendships are those that gently but courageously work in the depths of our hearts to change our habits and shape us to be better. It is this influence upon us that Christ seeks.
     Unfortunately, there are some people of faith that never understand this. Their faith is one lived according to the law – a code of religious or moral duties which are accepted as binding. With a clear set of rules in hand, such people strive to please God by sheer effort of self-discipline and restraint. They seek to “get it right” by their own strength, convinced that this is what God wants in a relationship with us. What’s more, they do their best to impose their rules upon others. No one really wants to suffer alone.
     Naturally, there is nothing wrong with living a disciplined life. The exercise of faithful obedience to the teachings of our Lord is an important part of following Jesus provided such a decision is freely accepted and not imposed upon others. But we must never substitute faithful obedience for a loving, grateful and direct relationship with the person of Jesus. God’s call to us has always been one to a relationship with God’s Son, not a rulebook.
     With our primary attention directed to building a relationship with Jesus rather than learning the particulars of a rulebook, life is filled with wonder and mystery and delight. The joy of discovery that is characteristic of any relationship always trumps the experience of being observed by a watchful eye ready to pounce when we stumble. As our relationship with Jesus grows, life is lived with the confidence that one day we will be complete, not because of anything we have accomplished but because of what God has promised to accomplish in those who love him.