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I Love Angry Jesus

Don’t be angry because you want to. Be angry only because you must.

Studies show that anger is the most powerful of all emotions. It is called “the dynamite of the soul” because it destroys things. What makes you angry? Angry as in irritability or things that really bug you. Or the boiling explosion, steaming mad.

Those idiot drivers who don’t use their turn signal or they park in your spot. Your spouse—those gargling/chewing/snoring sounds he makes when you’re trying to sleep or the covers she steals and claims she doesn’t. You have only 15-minutes for lunch, it’s a 5-minute commute each way to Chick-fil-A and the drive-thru line wraps around the building. Ugh! And the weather, for crying out loud, can it please figure out what it wants to do?!

Breaking news: not everyone who experiences idiot drivers or uncontrollable weather gets angry. Some people shrug it off and get on with their day.

One perceptive little boy, sitting in his car seat and stuck in traffic with his mom driving, watched her contently humming to the radio, smiling, and asked, “Mom, why do the idiot drivers only come out when dad drives?”

Being angry is your personal response. Outside things are filtered by your inside things—thoughts, beliefs, past injustices or mistakes—and your inside things tell you to get angry. You are responsible, not other people, not frustrating circumstances.

If you pay more attention to your inside things and worry less about all those outside things, you take one step closer to managing your inappropriate, sinful reactions of anger. The Bible insists, “Rid yourselves of …” and then gives a list of sins, including “anger [and] rage … because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6-8).

There it is. God’s anger. But his is managed anger. Jesus demonstrates this in the temple courts on “Angry Monday” of Holy Week. Jesus tosses out the temple merchants, who should have been angry with their own greed that exploited the poor and distracted from faith. Jesus rebukes the religions leaders who should not have been angry at the children shouting and the sick being healed. “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (vv. Matthew 21:14,15).

Managed anger means not being angry at what you shouldn’t be angry at, and it means being angry at what should rightly anger you. Your own sin, for starters. And anything that gets in the way of God’s righteous work in your life.

Anger, in its essence, is a good thing. It is designed by God as a security system, to defend something valuable that is being threatened. Ask yourself, “What in my heart makes me most angry, most often? What is it that I’m defending?” and you’ll find the answer to what you love the most.

For God, the answer to the question, “What makes you most angry?” is: sin and unrighteousness. A zealous and jealous God gets angry when sin which he hates threatens sinners whom he loves. Instead of dropping an anger bomb, however, which would disintegrate the person, God performs a precision operation on the problem. That’s what the Bible means by “slow to anger,” an expression that appears numerous times describing what God’s righteous anger is (Exodus 34:6 sandwiches God’s anger in between statements about his incredible love and faithfulness—they work together), and what ours can be (Ephesians 4:25-32).

So Jesus continued his Holy Week, slowly, deliberately striking at the blind disgust, entitlement, and pride of the Pharisees making them and us so angry. He took up his cross, mad as hell—literally. A laser-guided sacrificial mission into the holy wrath of God. A determined conquest of sin’s shame and Satan’s rage. Angry at anger. For good.

Unmanaged anger is based on lies we believe and idols we trust. Leaving room for God’s wrath means first believing that it covers ours. All of the simmering frustrations and each boiling explosion. It also means that we believe Jesus can handle whatever irritations and anxieties in life we want to be angry at, but must not. Jesus can manage those. Jesus can make the decision about if and how much and where to express his righteous anger. And we will follow his lead.

Don’t be angry because you want to. Be angry only because you must.


You’re Out of Control

Thank God that you control less than you think.

More than a few Bible verses urge anyone who wants to live a godly life to practice self control. It is listed as one of the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22. Married couples must practice it (1 Corinthians 7:5), so must spiritual leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:2), and so must older men, older women, younger men, and, well, everyone (Titus 2). The disciple Peter knows the challenge of wrestling the stubborn bull of self control (2 Peter 1:6).

We recoil at the condemning truth in the first chapters of the Bible that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). And the wisest man in the world taught us, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). Much of the drama and danger in Jesus’ parables speaks about those swept away from God by the hidden current of their inner desires. And what about your own friends and family constantly battling addiction?

And then there’s you. You must control yourself because you are your own worst enemy. You better believe this.

The ease and enjoyment of blaming your problems on everyone else and everything else is the opposite of self control. It is trying to control your circumstances. Trying to control the people around you. This behavior reveals two false beliefs—two lies. First, that you should be in charge. Second, that you are in charge.

In our blind pride we love thinking that if we could just control everyone and everything around us, we’d be happy forever. That’s pure ego, and you know what E-G-O stands for? Edging God Out.

In a study of young men ages 19 to 29 years old, researchers found that these guys are three times less likely than young women of the same age to wear seat belts when driving a vehicle. Here’s something astonishing: before they reach the age of 19, these same guys are more likely to wear their seat belts than teenage girls. How do you explain that? Simple. Once they reach the age of owning and driving a vehicle, they develop a greater sense of control and power. Invisible machismo. “I’m in control now.”

Tell that to the mother whose son, driving home from college and not wearing his seatbelt, was killed by a drunk driver. Get real. It’s humanly impossible to control others, their choices, and the circumstances around us. Even weather forecasters don’t create or control weather, but react to weather patterns already existing “upstream.”

So, stop trying to control everything and everyone else, and focus on yourself. That’s one of the most helpful pieces of advice you can give to someone who is at the mercy of pain, or company cutbacks, or consumer trends, or the poor decisions of others. Stop trying to control what you can’t control, and control what you can. Control yourself. Control your response to circumstances. Control your hope in the future. Control your words, your thoughts, your own actions.

Control your own seat belt. You may not be able to control others’ bad driving choices. You may not be able to control the forceful jolt of your own body in a collision. That’s what your seat belt is for. Wear it. All the time.

See how your best control mechanism comes from the outside, not the inside? And that control mechanism is Jesus. He is your seat belt.

He controls not just circumstances around you. But you. After rejoicing that God has given believers the gift of self control, the apostle Paul says this, “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8). It was Nero and his anti-Christian bullying who arrested Paul and chained him in a cold, damp prison cell.

But, no, Paul is not Nero’s prisoner. He is the Lord’s prisoner! Nero is not in control here. The prison cell and all of Paul’s other circumstances are not in control. Paul himself is not in control. The Lord Jesus Christ has control. The Lord Jesus Christ has chained Paul to the grace and peace of God and will not let him escape. The Lord Jesus Christ has captured this man who formerly captured Christians, and Paul never tires of it.

Don’t be ashamed when you lose control of yourself; Jesus’ forgiveness controls the curse of sin and has killed it on the cross. Sin cannot shame you! Don’t be afraid when you can’t control your circumstances; Jesus’ peace gives to you what all the circumstances in the world cannot give.

Be amazed, every day, that Jesus has captured your heart, and appreciate when he kidnaps your circumstances so that you learn not to rely on them but on him. Gladly serve him as his eager prisoner.

Victory Is Sure — But…

…Not without a Fight

There is a battle you are not fighting—don’t give up, don’t be afraid, don’t back down.

With my stomach in a knot, I remember dreading the final school bell each day. It meant I’d have to cross the street where he would be waiting. I really don’t know why he targeted me but he’d chest bump me, get in my face, and threaten me. It terrified me. I felt like running but didn’t because that would make me look wimpy to my friends.

Looking back at that situation, I wish I had confronted that bully instead of just passively taking his abuse or pretending it didn’t hurt when it really did. I felt like a coward. Every day over 160,000 students stay home from school to avoid being bullied.

You’re being bullied a lot more than you realize. Ephesians 6 tells us that when we see possible bullies among our peers, or even authorities like a verbally abusive coach or corrupt cop, we’re watching the wrong channel. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Dark powers of evil forces. Spiritual bullies. The devil himself. These are your real enemies.

So on what level are you struggling against the dark powers of evil in your life right now? Is it intense? Do you just have to get up an hour early or head to the bedroom an hour earlier to spend some quality time tuning into the Commander-in-Chief of the Lord’s army? Is your struggle constant—dropping bombs and firing flaming arrows so that your spirit looks like the 4th of July sky filled with never ceasing fireworks? Is your struggle here and there? Or maybe, life is pretty good and the biggest problem really isn’t some spooky spirit world but your Netflix account didn’t renew or your phone is acting up or you need to file your taxes?

“Take your stand against the devil’s schemes … so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:11,13).

Now is the day of evil. You will stand. But you must not run from the fight. You must not shrink with fear. You must not be deceived the the enemy’s lie that there’s nothing dangerous going on. You must not be distracted by the enemy’s diversion that your biggest problems are out there when they’re really in here. You must fight!

Every man is a warrior, but the choice to fight is his own. I backed down from a bully, and it made him stronger. And me weaker. I’ll never do that again.

God doesn’t ask you to win. That’s Jesus’ job. God doesn’t ask you to conquer Satan. That’s Jesus’ job. God doesn’t ask you to save people. That’s Jesus’ job. God asks you to fight. To get in the arena with the lions of your fears and to fight. To step into the fires of uncertainty and insecurity and to fight. To stare evil in the face and when it roars like the devil himself and to “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand” (Ephesians 6:11).

Isaiah 59:17 tells us about God’s very own gear he uses for the battle against evil. “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.” Do you see Jesus in those words of prophecy? The righteousness of his character protecting his heart, refusing to give up or give in. His helmet of salvation had wooden thorns before it had golden spires; there is no resurrection without a crucifixion and he did both for salvation. His garments were ripped and stripped, then new garments wrapped him tightly to be buried in the tomb where his death destroyed death and Satan. The Father’s zeal had had enough, and raised him from the tomb as a wounded hero. He won the victory for us. It is ours! But not without a fight.

A man had a recurring nightmare. He’d be chased by a pack of lions, baring their fangs, roaring, and eager to pounce. He’d run, and while running his dream would end. After years of this recurring nightmare he saw a therapist who told him next time to ask the lions who they were and what their purpose was. In his next dream he did that.

He stood, scared, while the lions came near. He didn’t move. They came closer and stopped. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Their leader replied, “We are your courage. Why do you keep running from us?”

There is a fight God wants you to fight. It may be your greatest fear, but if you are willing to stand strong it will become your greatest courage. There is a battle you are not fighting—don’t give up, don’t be afraid, don’t back down. God hasn’t given up. God isn’t afraid. God won’t back down. Fight the good fight. And victory will be yours.


That’s Your Problem

“Not responsible for gravel projectiles smashing your windshield.”

That’s what the sign on the back of the dump truck said. Or something like that. All I know is that every time I read those warnings on trucks hauling gravel — which is harmless when nicely landscaping your yard, but deadly when bouncing on the interstate at 70 mph — I have this discussion with myself:

Could it really be true that if any gravel from that truck damages my vehicle, the owner of the truck would not be responsible? Maybe I should slow down (or zoom past) to avoid that bad scene. Hmmm. Maybe I could hang a sign on my backside when I’m having a bad day that says, “Not responsible for sarcastic putdowns or rude behavior caused by anger, irritability, or stress.”

As unfair as we think it is for a gravel trucker to claim that we are responsible for his unsafe hauling, well, we do the same thing when we make others responsible for our bad habits, hangups, and hurts. After the very first sin when Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, she blamed Adam. And it’s been going on ever since.

Nobody is responsible for your sins, your mistakes, and your problems except you. The sooner you admit that, the sooner you’ll be free from them.

How does that make you free? When you make your sins somebody else’s problem, you think you’ve dealt with it. You’ve released the responsibility to another person. But that poses two problems. First of all, they may not know about this handoff. Secondly, even if you both know about it, that person can’t remove the responsibility of your sin. The guilt. The shame. The price to be paid. “No one can redeem the life of another” (Psalm 49:7).

When you own your own sins, then you quickly realize they’re too much for you to handle. The burden is too great. So very true! God didn’t create people with the ability to bear such responsibility.

So, if my friends, teammates, neighbors, coworkers, parents, or other drivers on the road can’t take responsibility for my problems … and if I can’t handle my problems … where is the hope? how can I be free?

Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree … by his wounds you have been healed.” Jesus is the only one who can make your sins, mistakes, and problems his responsibility. And the only one who will. All the time. Whether gravel or a pebble or a boulder that just won’t move, Jesus will take it. And break it. Just like his tomb when he burst out of it alive.

You’re free! Now what? “Die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Find a way to haul your gravel more safely. Take necessary precautions as a way to honor Jesus and love others. Smile when there’s a sweet little grandma driving too close behind you, but you know she’s safe.

No need for any signs making others responsible for your problems. They’re already taken care of by Jesus. And you’re going to show others how true that really is.

Small Changes

Little things make a big difference.

Seeds growing. Learning to use a Mac. Maturing in faith. Understanding another person’s love language. Hearts mending. Fixing up a house.

These things take time. And God has a lot of it (thousands of years) compared to us (a day). So take a step back during this season of New Year’s resolutions, take a breath, and take an inventory of how God has worked in your life so far.

More by spoonfuls than truckloads, right?

More by the 10,000 small moments you experienced, small decisions you made, and small promises you believed than by the magnanimous, life altering drama. Even if tragedy struck you, or you got married or moved or made a baby, that drama is encompassed in the thousands of little things.

Moses saw the burning bush and led 2 million people to the promised land, but only after the small moments like his mother repeatedly whispering in his ear the promises of the Lord. David conquered Goliath, but only after the small moments like knocking a lizard off of a log with his slingshot, and then a coyote, and then a lion and a bear—small change compared to a pagan giant mocking God. You might be missing God’s whisper if you’re waiting for his thunder. You might be scared of the giant because you haven’t dealt with the lizard.

At the turn of the year, we say to our God, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom … Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:12,14). That sounds a lot more like God’s constant dripping of grace than a mountain top experience, doesn’t it?

As you contemplate goals or resolutions or life changes for the new year, I want to challenge you with this question: what kept you from making that change during the last 30 days? And a follow-up: what is something so constant, so unchanging, and so incredibly powerful that you don’t need to wait another moment for life change?

Run those numbers. Remember the words of Psalm 90. And may the wisdom of your 10,000 mini-resolutions surround your mega resolution with success.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15,16).