Even righteous anger isn’t always wise

I don’t get angry very often, but it usually happens when I’m driving. Bad drivers make me angry. Aggressive drivers make me angry. And when I get angry, I tend to be a little more aggressive in my driving than normal. Of course, I’m ashamed to admit it. I’d much rather let people think that I never lose my cool, but that’s not the case.

The difficult thing about anger is that it’s subversive. It can make you think it’s useful because it gets you off your backside and makes you engage in conversations or events taking place around you, but if you let anger become your only motivation, you’ll end up hurting people, whether you mean to or not.

anger_steamToday’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

Jesus understood the danger of anger, and it can be dangerous. Anger by itself isn’t sinful, but it’s what you do when you’re angry that matters. There are stories in history of reformers who saw the inequality in our society and got angry about it, but they didn’t stay angry. They were angry about the injustice, and then they got busy doing good things to fix the problem. But they were too busy to be angry.

What’s important to note here, though, is that the intention of your anger is just as important as what you do with it. Jesus says you don’t have to have killed someone to be guilty of murder. In your mind, if you hate someone enough to kill them, you’re guilty. If the act is wrong, so is the intention.

In our world right now, everyone is angry. Everyone. And we’re all staying angry, and it’s not helping anybody.

The anger Jesus talks about here is “seething, brooding bitterness” that eventually leads to hatred and violence and emotional stress. It’s dangerous to feel this kind of anger, and it can make us do things we will regret if not kept in check. People will write off their anger as righteous indignation and in some cases that’s true, but righteous anger never leads to hurting anyone.

There are many, many things in our world to be angry about. I can think of five or six just from this past week that got my blood boiling, and that initial anger at people flipping God off may have helped me make some decisions about what I’m going to do with my life. But I didn’t let my anger continue. And I didn’t let it turn into something I couldn’t release.

If you hold on to your anger, regardless of who it’s focused on, you’ll eventually lose control, and you’ll do something horrible that will hurt someone else and that will hurt you and the people you love. Anger is dangerous.

So don’t be angry. I know it isn’t always that simple, but start by recognizing that anger isn’t a solution. It’s a reaction that can get you moving, but when you make a decision, you shouldn’t make it because you’re angry. Anger may be righteous sometimes, but I’m not sure it’s always wise.

If you’re angry, choose to stop. Let it go and trust that God is going to resolve the situation in His time. Sure, there may be something you can do about it in the interim, but I guarantee you aren’t going to see it as long as you’re seeing red.

Nobody is a lost cause

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in this life alone? Like you know that God is there, but He seems content to watch you struggle through frustration after frustration just so that you’ll learn something? I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve been there before. Deep in my heart I know that it’s not true and God will always take care of me, but in the dark moments when I’ve had enough, I’ve definitely felt abandoned. Or even targeted.

But is that really who God–and by extension Jesus–is? Is He really the distant, unfeeling deity in the clouds who would subject His followers to challenges and obstacles and stand back and watch them stumble and fall without interceding? Wouldn’t it be nice if He’d just offer some means of figuring out why you have to go through all this crap? Wouldn’t it be awesome if He’d just show you what you need to learn?

Guess what? He has.

Hanging-off-a-cliff-edgeToday’s verses are Matthew 4:18-20.

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.

When I was little, I thought it was really odd that these grown men would just leave their jobs and follow after this random guy who called out to them. It didn’t seem very practical to me. After all, if they didn’t know the guy, they couldn’t know if he were leading them into some kind of trap … you know, like where they’d be knocked out and have their kidneys stolen or something.

But Jesus wasn’t just some guy. And Peter and Andrew had already heard of Him (honestly I think there were few in the area who hadn’t heard of Him). But Andrew, Peter’s brother, had already met Jesus and decided that He was indeed the Messiah. So they knew who Jesus was and what He was up to when He called them out.

This passage tells us a lot about Peter and Andrew, but it also tells us a lot about Jesus. Jesus called the disciples by telling them He had something to teach them–something different than the trade they already knew. How to fish for people–how to lead others to know God.

It’s not that they were joining a super secret club where only the elite have access. You realize what these men did for a living right? They were blue collar workers, to put it mildly. The Bible actually calls them “unlearned, ignorant men.” Jesus wasn’t calling the brilliant. He was calling the everyday people, and He still is, because we still have a lot to learn. And fortunately He has a lot to teach. And everyone is invited.

He wanted to teach these men how to live life with Him, how to see God in the everyday moments, how to trust God in the tough times, and how to seek God first with everything in their hearts. And we have an example of how to live and what to believe through what these men learned in following Jesus. We have the Bible, God’s own Word handed down to us through the generations.

The truth is that we aren’t alone, and God isn’t just lounging around in heaven watching our struggles like Earth is one giant reality TV show. Neither is Jesus. And neither is the Holy Spirit. All three of Them are active and alive, vivid participants in our world and our universe.

The thing about Jesus is that He never changes, and if He wasn’t exclusive back then, He’s not exclusive now. He doesn’t play favorites, and He won’t ever turn anyone away who comes to Him. Jesus was open to those who were seeking, to those who wanted answers, to those willing to hear the truth. He doesn’t see status, wealth or education. He just sees a willing heart.

That means no matter where you’ve come from or what you’ve done, Jesus wants to hear from you. No matter how you’ve screwed up or how many people you’ve heart or how many times you’ve let people down, you can’t commit a sin too deep that Jesus blood can’t wash away.

That means nobody is a lost cause.

Nothing that happens to you is wasted

Jury duty is something I’d always wanted to do, but I didn’t want to do it this month. I just had too much to juggle. Between leaving my old job and starting my own business, plus now having two novels I need to promote and more novels to start working on, February wasn’t a good time.

So when I got the jury summons, I was tempted to come up with some excuse as to why I couldn’t do it. I had legitimate reasons why it would be problematic for me, but I decided that if I were supposed to be on a jury, it would happen.

After all, most people who are called to jury duty never get picked to actually sit on the panel, right?

Right. So, I reported for the selection process on Tuesday morning, and I came back on Tuesday afternoon as one of twelve jurors in a criminal case of theft and falsifying identity. The case finished on Wednesday, and, frankly, I didn’t expect to learn so much. I learned a lot and not just about the legal process.

I do believe that God allows everything in our lives for a purpose, and even though jury duty certainly wasn’t what I had planned for two days out of my week, I had decided to make the best of it. And I came away learning valuable lessons about business practices–lessons I’m not sure I would have learned for myself unless I’d see the consequences played out in court.

jury-box-doneToday’s verse is Proverbs 18:15.

Intelligent people are always ready to learn.
    Their ears are open for knowledge.

Everyday, we face situations and circumstances that aren’t ideal. I don’t enjoy everything I have to do on a daily basis. In fact (as my parents can tell you) there are some things I will do almost anything to avoid doing–like the dishes. 😉

But if we can get our attitudes in the right place, if we can keep our perspective right, we can face those less-than-ideal circumstances with confidence and courage knowing that God is allowing them for a reason. And if God intends for us to experience something, there must be a lesson we need to learn.

The Bible tells us that a mark of wisdom is being willing to learn–not automatically assuming you know everything already. People who live that way usually make really terrible mistakes in their lives.

Maybe there’s something you have to do today or this week that you don’t want to do. Maybe it will make you uncomfortable. I hear you. It’s never fun to be pushed outside your comfort zone, but I can tell you every time I’ve been pushed outside the realm of my experience, I’ve learned something.

So just because you may have to do something you won’t enjoy, don’t automatically discount it as a wasted day. Nothing that happens to you is wasted if you are always willing to learn something.

We make our choices, but God determines our steps. He knows where we’re going and what we need to go through before we get there so that we’ll be ready. So pay attention and don’t let opportunities to learn pass you by. You might regret it down the road.

The tricky little bitty sign in my very strange hotel room, Las Vegas, NV

Hotel fridges and the tricks they play

My hotel room has waist-high black grass painted on the wallpaper and floor-to-ceiling mirrors at all corners of the room. This is one of the strangest hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and I’ll tell you what–these folks are sneaky.

As is normal for hotels of this caliber, there’s a fridge, and it’s full of alcohol, along with some juices and other things. I went ahead and picked up a bottle of water and a bottle of pop for dinner last night, intending to drink half for dinner and half when I woke up…. because there’s no coffee pot in the room (this place is weird). So I pulled out a bottle of juice and a can of Red Bull and set them on the counter, replacing them with my own drinks.

Didn’t even think about it. A little while later, I spotted a sign that said the fridge is full of sensors. And anything you move will be charged to your room. Of course, the sign is tiny and not on the fridge at all.

So, I replaced the drinks and drank my own stuff last night, and I’m going to talk to the desk people today and see if they will make an exception for a Kansas farm kid who missed their teeny tiny sign.

What really irks me, though, is that I’m pretty sure the girl who checked me in told me that taking anything out of the fridge will be charged to my room. I just wasn’t really paying attention.

The sign that says not to move stuff (if the word "sexy" bothers you, please ignore it; it's a label for marketing; this is Las Vegas, and you can't get away from it)

The sign that says not to move stuff (if the word “sexy” bothers you, please ignore it; it’s a label for marketing; this is Las Vegas, and you can’t get away from it)

Today’s verse is Proverbs 9:9.

Instruct the wise,
    and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
    and they will learn even more.

If you’ve ever tried to teach anyone anything, you know that wise people learn easily and foolish people don’t learn at all. That’s a principal you’ll see over and over again in the Bible.

When God is trying to teach us something, people who are wise will listen, and people who aren’t will just do their own thing. What’s nice about being wise and being foolish, though, is that you can choose which one you’ll be.

Yes, you have a choice whether to be wise or foolish. It’s not just something that happens. You aren’t born one way or the other. You are wise or foolish based on what choices you make in your life.

The verse right after this one says: Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. So if you want to be wise, you need to start fearing the Lord. Not the kind of fear that keeps you cowering under your covers at night. That’s not what this fear means.

Fearing the Lord is reverence. It’s recognizing His authority and His sovereignty, which is basically His right to do whatever He wants with the universe. You understand, don’t you, that God doesn’t have to explain Himself to us? He made us. He made everything. And if He wanted to start over, He’d be within His rights (even as we understand them) to wipe everything out and begin again. We do it with our own creations all the time.

We need to recognize that God can do that if He wants to. But He doesn’t. And He even chooses to tell us about His plan and teach us how to live. It’s up to us whether to accept it or not.

If you fear God, you will learn how to be wise, and if you are wise, you will grow wiser every day. If you don’t, you’ll be foolish, and you’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And that’s how you end up with a sky-high hotel room bill, because you move the things in your fridge after the girl at the desk told you not to.

So don’t be foolish. God has showed us how to be wise, and it’s so much better (and much less expensive) to be wise.

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Being safe means getting dangerous

The greatest stories of all time came from some of the darkest moments in human history. If you want to tell a good story, you have to have conflict. Story is conflict. That means if nothing goes wrong, you don’t have a story.

Say Billie Sue went to the grocery store and found the exact kind of cheese she needed to make her famous lasagna. She had just enough money to pay for it, and she made it home just in time to whip up a beautiful dinner. And she as able to really impress her future in-laws.

That’s a story, sure. But it’s not a very engaging story. I happen to know for a fact that in some parts of the world you can’t find the kind of cheese you need to make lasagna. Other times you don’t have enough money to buy what you need, or something goes wrong when you’re cooking. And, I’m sorry, but in real life you almost never get to impress your future in-laws with anything.

If you want to tell a great story, you have to talk about the dark moments, those times when life didn’t go according to plan but you kept hoping anyway. That’s where we find heroes. Heroes are the ones who persevere through darkness even though they have every reason to give up.

Without darkness, we’d have no heroes. Without danger, we’d have no bravery. Without fear, we’d have no courage.

Somewhere Christians get the idea that once you accept Christ as your Savior, your life turns ordinary. Christians don’t talk about the adventure of knowing Christ. We talk about going to church or singing in the choir. We talk about what we can do and what we can’t do and what we shouldn’t do–and what we do anything but don’t tell anyone about.

Is it just me, or does that life sound just like the ones other people lead? As Christians, we’re called to a different life. We’re called to live an abundant life. But the problem is, you can’t live an abundant life until you know what it is to have nothing. You can’t be courageous until you know what it is to feel fear.

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Daniel 6:12-16.

So they [the officials] went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”

Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.

In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”

So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

The story of Daniel and the lion’s den is probably one of the most famous Bible stories of all time. Even people who don’t know the Bible have heard about Daniel and the lion’s den. You can, of course, read the entire chapter in Daniel 6, if you want the details.

But this bit gives you the basics. Daniel broke the king’s law about praying to the true God, and he got himself sealed in a pit of lions for the night. Not exactly five-star accommodations, right?

Just about everyone knows the story. Daniel made it out fine. God sent an angel to close the mouths of the lions. But imagine what this story would be if Daniel didn’t have to face lions. What would have happened if the men never tattled on him to the king? What would have happened if the king never signed that foolish law into effect?

Well, there wouldn’t have been a story.

God gave us brains for a reason. We’re supposed to think and make wise decisions and sound judgments. But sometimes you have to do something that seems reckless. Sometimes you have to do something that might endanger you. Why would you do those things?

Why did Daniel get thrown into a pit of lions? Why did David go up against Goliath? Why did Joshua march his army around the walls of Jericho? Why did Gideon take 300 men with clay pots, torches, trumpets to face an army of hundreds of thousands? Why did Elijah call King Ahab out?

You do those things because God said they’re right. You stand up for what the Bible says. You obey even though you aren’t sure where you’ll end up or what you’ll have left when the battle is over.

Those times are hard because generally speaking we’re rational people. And every rational, logical bone in our bodies is telling us that we can’t do the impossible–no matter how hard we try. And that’s true. That’s so true. But God does the impossible all the time.

God wants to give us an abundant life, but we can’t experience abundance when we’re comfortable. What happens when you get uncomfortable is you stop focusing on things that don’t matter, and you cling to the things that do. And when you start holding on to the things that matter, you start realizing how wealthy you really are. If you know Christ, you are wealthier than any billionaire.

But you won’t really realize it until you let go. And in those moments when God tells you to do something that sounds dangerous, remember that there’s no safer place to be than walking with Him. Even if all the world sees is danger and threat and recklessness, if you’re keeping step with God, nothing can touch you.