Angrier than we need to be

engine-lightAre you an angry person?

Amid all of the potential issues that we humans can grapple with, is anger near the top of your list? I certainly have my share of issues, but anger isn’t usually one of them. Overall I’m pretty patient and laid back—except for those times when merging drivers try to sneak past me on the freeway shoulder and then cut in front of me…or when drivers are driving too slow…or when today’s aggressive political culture starts infecting me…and then I realize that I’m not quite as anger-free as I like to think I am.

I’m actually quite a bit angrier than I usually admit. I’m angry about more things than I realize, and when I feel the angry I probably feel more of it than is warranted.

What should I do with my anger? What should you do with yours?

The Bible says, “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) so there is certainly a place for “righteous” anger, but how do I know if my anger is righteous or not? How do I know if my anger is justified or not? Anger isn’t something I choose to feel—it just emerges in me—so what do I do with it?

Perhaps a helpful metaphor could be the imagery of your car’s dashboard. Anger is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. The light itself is neither right nor wrong; it is simply an indicator of a deeper issue. Yes, your oil light may be blinking but the issue is not the light it’s the lack of oil in your car. So too with us, our emotions of anger are indicators of a deeper concern.

Perhaps we are reacting to injustice…perhaps we are defensive for another human being…perhaps a situation is being poorly or dangerously handled in front of us…or perhaps we are just being selfish, and we are angry at whatever is interrupting our way.

Our anger must be judged, that’s the first step to dealing with it appropriately. We need to identify whether the underlying issue is valid or not. Then based on our assessment—valid or invalid—we respond appropriately. Anger can guide us to justice and relational repair, or it can fuel selfish, self-destructive patterns. Let’s follow it to the deeper issues and then harness it for our good.

And while we’re at it, let’s please stop driving slower than the flow of traffic on the freeway!

Identifying with Princess Leia

lukeswingingNearly every great adventure film has a scene where the hero/heroine grabs a rope and swings across a dangerous chasm. They are usually running for their life, with their enemy bearing down upon them, and yet they still find a way to look beautiful while they dodge bullets and float gracefully to the other side.

The best chasm-swinging scene in all of movie lore is the epic moment from Star Wars Episode 4 when Princess Leia clutches Luke Skywalker’s neck, kisses him for luck, and then swings away with him to safety.

I never forgave Luke for getting that kiss instead of me, but now years later I find myself identifying a little more with Leia than with Luke. Don’t get me wrong I still want to be a hero, and I want my wife and daughters to be able to hold onto me during tough times. However, as I review my life I realize that I haven’t survived my dead ends solely because of my own heroism—I’ve been carried more times than I can count.

King David (a hero of Skywalker proportions) understood this too. In Psalm 63:8 he wrote to the Lord, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Even though this life of faith is an epic adventure that pulls the courage, toughness, and valor out of us, we will never survive it by our own grit and determination alone. Some chasms are just too wide for us to cross, and our souls need something larger than us to cling to. We need to be like Princess Leia and learn to lean and rest and allow God’s right hand to carry us through.

Satan’s favorite babysitter

under-my-umbrellaSelf-pity is Satan’s favorite babysitter. At least that’s what my pastor used to say when I was growing up, and now that I’m a grown man with a few years of experience under my belt I can conclusively say that he was right.

Self-pity—with its accompanying self-loathing and victim mentality—has NEVER helped me get ahead in life.

I have certainly been filled with self-pity before, and I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about how unfairly and unjustly I was being treated. And I was right—I was being treated unfairly, and it was wrong. However, it still didn’t help me. Whenever I’ve made self-pity my friend, it has only pulled me down deeper into anger, defeat, and despair.

I think my pastor called self-pity “Satan’s babysitter” because once we start indulging in it we take ourselves out of commission and Satan can simply walk away. We don’t need any external spiritual warfare to oppress our beleaguered minds; we do a fine job of it on our own. Our own bitter rumination locks us into a state of anxious inactivity.

You and I are too big for babysitters, especially destructive ones like self-pity. It is true that sometimes we are wronged, and the wounds from those wrongs can really hurt. In some ways we probably have a legitimate right to quit the fight and hunker down for a good pouting session. Indeed, nearly every one of God’s preachers and prophets had their share of pouty moments. However, once we’ve cried, vented, pouted, and complained we need to get back up. We need to take the keys away from our babysitter, pick up our battered shield and head back to our post.

God’s compassion and gentleness will heal us and make us great, but our self-pity never can. It will only lock us into a negative, ineffective state. Let’s do whatever it takes to shake ourselves free and carry on in what the Apostle Paul called “the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Politics: Hold your nose and hold your nose tighter

Stuffed nose: boy with clothespin on his nose, simulating cold. Undated B/W photograph. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Hold your nose and hold your nose tighter.”

That’s how some sociologists describe the game of American politics today. Even when people fervently support a particular nominee or political party they usually do so in spite of certain inconsistencies, flawed voting records, or general character issues or deficiencies. They support their candidate…mostly.

This has probably never been truer than it is today in our current presidential election, with national polls revealing widespread, general distrust of both candidates. Additionally, this current election cycle is probably the most combative, aggressive, and divisive campaign that I have witnessed since I voted in my first presidential election in 1992.

If I may I would like to share a pastoral perspective on how Christians should be processing and approaching this current political cycle.

First, we need to NOT allow this round of politics to become a divisive issue in our churches. Our churches contain representatives from both sides of the political aisle. Let’s transcend the political chaos, remain firmly attached to our higher citizenship in God’s Kingdom, and not allow our national political circus to cause division and broken relationships within our congregations.

One of the ways to do this is for all of us to humbly acknowledge the flawed elements of our chosen candidate. There are legitimate questions and concerns to be raised with each of the presidential nominees. Rather, than ignoring those concerns and becoming defensive and belligerent with one another, let’s recognize that fair, wise, thinking people can come to different conclusions from us.

Second, let’s vote as closely as we can to our values. As followers of Christ, we must ask, “What are our core, animating principles?” What issues of life, liberty, and international concern most closely align with our deepest-seated values and the teachings of Jesus Christ? Which candidate aligns the closest to our most cherished values? We must take the time to find out and then vote accordingly.

Third, we can never stop praying about all of the issues, problems, and opportunities in our world today. Remember that the Apostle Paul placed prayers for leaders and authority figures near the top of our prayer lists (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Fourth, let’s live our faith. This is an amazing time in which to live courageous, noble, God honoring lives in our generation. Let’s do so for the glory of God and for the future of our world.