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Lord's Day Liturgy

Anger by Another Name

It’s an urban legend that Eskimos have fifty words for different types of snow. Even so, that’s nothing compared to how many different words a man will use to claim he’s not angry.

Can you be annoyed, irritated, frustrated, aggravated, upset, and not be mad/angry? Can you be any of those and not be sinning? Maybe. It’s not impossible, it is highly improbable.

Rather than parse feelings and draw thin lines between nuanced definitions, let’s ask some questions.

Is your increasing fellowship with your people? If your vibe is creating distance, doing damage, does it matter how you’re defining it?

Is your accomplishing the righteousness of God? The anger of man does not according to James 1:20, and while you can not be righteous of lot of ways other than being angry, is your response setting the room right?

Is your a good work? In Ephesians 2:8-10 we know we’re saved by grace through faith as God’s workmanship for good works that He’s prepared beforehand for us to walk in. So is your a beauty spot in God’s painting of your life? Can you honestly say, “This was written by God for me to perform as a glory for His gracious salvation”?

We want to save face by making sure that the person we’ve sinned against knows what we only sinned at Anger Level One instead of Nine, like it could have been, and maybe they should be a bit more appreciative. We weren’t angry, just frustrated. Well, yeah, good, but ones add up, and joy breaks down, no matter what you call it. Beloved, stop pleading the dictionary. Put away anger.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What It Really Means to Be Right

Put off anger. That’s a command (Colossians 3:8). The imperative follows a perspective adjustment, seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1), and those “things above” certainly include fellowship. Want true fellowship. Like reverse and forward, so anger and fellowship work in opposite directions.

Desire true communion more than a quiet room. Among other anger “hacks,” desire the better control. Raise your standard of what it means to be right.

We get mad when something happens that we don’t like. We get irritated when someone doesn’t do what we wanted them to do. It helps to see how our responses of anger, wrath, and malice reveal that we want to be in control.

Such a desire would be silly if it weren’t so destructive. And also, it is a foolish want because it’s lesser.

A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
(Proverbs 25:28 ESV)

One of my favorite illustrations EVAR is from Doug Wilson on this passage.

“self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall.”

What’s the standard? What is truly glorious? My self-control. My acting right. My repentance. My example. Self-control is not selfish; self-control is true and better control.

How many rounds can you go with your spouse, your kid, your boss, before you blow up? That is the measure of thickness of your “wall.” Is it stronger than the butcher paper held up by the cheerleaders that the team runs right through?

Identify your triggers, and ask yourself not only what response would strengthen the relationship, but also what response would make me really right?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Burning Desire

Why is anger so hard to put off? It’s as if someone mistook us for an escape artist like David Copperfield, knotted us up in a straight-jacket of irritation, locked heavy chains of hostility around us, nailed us shut into a box of exasperation, and then dumped us into class 5 rapids of rage, stood back and said, “Get out of that!” We feel trapped (see also Proverbs 22:24-25).

As Christians we know anger is a sin. We know it’s foolish. We know it’s destructive. We know we shouldn’t.

But “brute force” attempts to stop anger usually only succeed temporarily. Any time “off” is better than always on, and also, “I’m not going to get angry (this time)” needs more support.

As usual in the Christian life, an imperative (Colossians 3:8) depends on the indicative. We really need to remember that we’ve died with Christ (Colossians 2:20) and we’ve been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). We have a new identity, a new life in Christ. Then we’re to “put to death what is earthly” (Colossians 3:5), and we “put off” more of the earthly (Colossians 3:8), starting with anger, wrath, and malice.

I bring this up to say that what is “earthly” here is not steak, but sexual immorality. What is earthly is not art, but anger.

With that in mind, by contrast we’re supposed to seek “things that are above,” we’re to “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The “things that are above” are what? It’s not angels. It’s not pearly gates or wispy clouds, not big harps or wings on our backs. What characterizes things above? What’s above includes presence not isolation or division, joyful peace not distress and conflict, harmony not tension and cacophony.

And this is the vital paradigm shift. Putting off anger is a habit, a discipline, an obedience, all of that, yes. But men will struggle to put off anger without a burning desire for fellowship on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, give up wanting to make others pay for what you don’t like, and even more cultivate your great liking for the “bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). More to say.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Put Away Anger

There is a wicked triplet introduced in Colossians 3:8. It begins the “put off” part of the paragraph; put these things away, don’t leave these clothes on or pick them up. “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice.” The list continues, but these are like the three-headed dog, Cerberus (sərbərəs), who prevents men from leaving the underworld. There’s probably an analogy here, as in anger keeps men from really living.

I didn’t know how prophetic my favorite book as a kid would be for when I became a man: Boy, Was I Mad. And while I still enjoy the story, it took me decades to learn the lesson. If I had one sin in my vice wardrobe that I seemed to be wearing all the time, it would be anger.

Those of you who’ve known me longest have had opportunity to see much God-given progress; by grace I wear kindness, patience, and love more often. No one has been more burned by the brunt of my anger than my wife, kids next of course. Even when others outside our house couldn’t see it, it was affecting them. We’re all one body, and if one member is blowing up all the time, the body’s health is broken.

I’ve been trying to think about what helped me most grow in this sanctification. I had serious paradigm remodeling to do, and over the next couple exhortations I plan to share some of those truths.

But for now, know that anger often has the nuance of feeling like others should pay for something you don’t like. Wrath is anger intensified with feelings into rage and fury, and malice grows with feelings of hatred that even lead to plans to dish out your anger, not mere responses. None of those are righteous. Brothers, put away your anger.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Killing Anger

Last Sunday evening I addressed the foolishness of anger as described in Proverbs. Angry men (and women and children) give evidence of failing to fear the Lord. Angry men (and women and children) are also not walking in the Spirit.

There are more works of the flesh than one, but “fits of anger” is in between jealousy and rivalries in Galatians 5:20. These works are “evident.” It’s foolish, fleshly, and apart from repentance, those who keep getting angry will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).

By contrast, the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. In the Spirit we belong to Jesus and we kill the flesh, including anger.

With different imagery, Paul told the Colossians to “put off anger, wrath” and more (Colossians 3:8). Whether you’re accustomed to wearing anger, or if it’s the fashion of the day, take it off.

James told his readers to be slow to anger because the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness that God requires (James 1:19-20).

It matters for our worship.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. (1 Timothy 2:8 ESV)

Put anger to death (Romans 8:13). Don’t provoke the Father to anger with yours.

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A Shot of Encouragement

The Weight of Irritability

The author of Hebrews urged his readers to run the race of faith by first laying “aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). Jon Bloom wrote a series of articles that start with the idea of laying aside the weight of something, and I’ve had this particular post banging around my head since 2014: Lay Aside the Weight of Irritability.

He gives some examples of our selfish justification for being irritable:

  • When I’m weary I want rest, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m sick or in pain I want relief, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m preoccupied I want uninterrupted focus, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.

Then he reminds us that there is always a target of our irritability:

Jesus didn’t die for our punctuality, earthly reputation, convenience, or our leisure. But he did die for souls. It is likely that the worth of the soul(s) we’re irritable with is infinitely more precious to God than the thing we desire.

The entire exhortation is worth reading, and repenting where necessary.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Proverbial Nose Bleeds

How many ways can you have a bad day? I’m not sure, but I know for sure how to make one worse.

Maybe the “bad” is due to your body. It’s not traceable to anything foolish you did, it’s due to something in God’s sovereignty, and it causes you some amount of suffering. Maybe the bad is in your mailbox, or email inbox. Out of what seems like nowhere to you, God sent you a bill, or a criticism, or an “opportunity” that will take you a week just to decide what to do. People have had it worse than you, but this is bad.

I have come back from the land of attempted sanctification and can report a guaranteed way to multiply the problem. I’m going to tell it to you know, for free, it doesn’t take long to teach. If you want to make it worse, see what’s bad and then get mad. Anger will pour vinegar on the soda of your papier-mâché volcano. Eruption!

Solomon wrote a lot about anger, and about how fools get angry. It starts with too high a view of the man in the mirror.

If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
or if you have been devising evil,
put your hand on your mouth.
For pressing milk produces curds,
pressing the nose produces blood,
and pressing anger produces strife.

Proverbs 30:32-33

Anger starts when you’ve decided that you are doing things God’s way, or rather that what you’ve decided is as good as God’s way. If God’s way isn’t happening, which by this point you’re seeing very clearly from your perspective on high, you get angry. Anger never dances alone for long. It wants a partner, or rather, a target, and so it “produces strife.”

Now your bad day, which may have been God’s plan to get glory (as in John 9), has you hot and your wife in fight or flight and your kids (or coworkers) questioning if you are as #blessed as your bumper sticker claims.

But, good news, Jesus already bled for the proverbial nose bleeds you’ve caused, and His grace is like cool milk to a heart on fire.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Driven by Jealousy

Last week I pointed out that God’s call to love one another started in Genesis not with Jesus. The apostle John wrote that this message was “from the beginning” and illustrated how not to do it via Cain’s example. “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12a). Getting mad and murdering is an old story.

Cain killed his own brother. The second half of verse twelve asks and answers: “And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” More is happening than bad guy versus good guy. Cain’s evil deeds came from Cain’s evil heart, but not because evil is simply absurd and unpredictable. Sometimes sin is senseless, but more often it has an explanation.

John is not making an argument based on the absurdity of Cain’s murder. “He was of the evil one, so of course he would kill.” John answers the Why? question with a reason, a “because.” Cain’s deeds were evil when he looked at Abel’s. Cain’s hatred was driven by jealousy not by stupidity. Cain wanted Abel’s blessing from God but without the hassle of Abel’s sacrifice to God.

Envy-killing is serious business. John is warning all his readers, meaning that he’s warning the Christians. Watch out especially for envy, even envy of believers who are blessed by God. “I wish I could be [adjective] like him.” “I wish I could have [noun] like her” are dangerous desires. They take the life out of fellowship, unity, gratitude, and joy, even if they don’t put a brother in his grave.

Do not let roots of bitterness grow up into a harvest of jealousy, hatred, and death.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Raking Face

I was listening to a message a few days ago that dealt with our need to repent from sin rather than adjust our definition of sin in order to protect our sin. I paused my run, got off the treadmill, and gathered all the kids together, along with Mo, for a confession.

I know that it’s important to show our kids how to respond, not merely tell them how. I know that yelling at them to stop yelling is an ineffective, let alone ironic, approach. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, yet we keep trying to paint pottery with sledgehammers. Sledgehammers do do something.

Earlier that morning I was in my study preparing the liturgy for our worship service–obviously a very important job–while the oldest three were playing outside in the leaves near that end of the house. Within a few minutes I heard loud, long wails of blood-curdling catastrophe. I pushed myself out of the chair, marched outside, and convened a meeting to find out what could possibly be so terrible.

Apparently there had been an accidental raking of someone’s face. One wasn’t paying attention, one got in the way of said leaf rake, and one gave a muttered explanation of the sorry event. It was all quite inconvenient (to me), quite a big problem (to me), and quite an inappropriate response (from me).

Yes, leaf rakers should pay more attention, and so should I when I approach a situation of little people who are learning how to live with each other, even when one of them hurts another one. Yes, there is no need for dramatic, excessive crying for a small scrape on the face, just as there’s no need for my dramatic, excessive anger about the crying. Yes, explanations should be clear and to the point, and I should show an eagerness to listen.

So I gathered the troops and asked for forgiveness for reacting wrongly to their wrong reactions. None of them had sinned; that was me. I was not loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, or gentle, which means that I was parenting in the flesh. The family granted forgiveness, and we learned that we don’t tolerate bad attitudes because we’re parents/fathers, we confess sin. By God’s grace, hopefully our kids will learn to do the same.