Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Effects of Anger

The Effects of Anger
James 3:3-12
            I came across a story recently while cleaning out some files.  I have no idea who the author is.  I suspect this came in an email with no indication as to who wrote it.
            There was a little boy with a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and a hammer and told him that every time he lost his temper he was to hammer a nail in the back fence.
The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence.  Day by day the number dwindled as he discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into that fence.  Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  When he told his father about it, the father suggested the boy pull out a nail for each day he was able to control his temper.  The days passed, and the boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. 
He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  This fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger they leave scars, just like these.  If you stick a knife in someone and draw it out, no matter how many times you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ the wound is still there.  A verbal wound can be as bad as a physical one.”
A wise father!  He taught his son a valuable lesson, one we can all profit from.  I believe angry words have torn apart more families, more business relationships, more friendships—more churches—than any other force.  And as the father pointed out to his son, the wounds can be impossible to heal.
James understood the power of temper.  His metaphors for the trouble an angry tongue can cause are spot on.  As one little spark can ignite a huge fire, as a small rudder can turn a much larger ship, as a small bit in a horse’s mouth can make it do the rider’s bidding, so can the tongue change the course of affairs—for good or evil.
Most of us don’t have a fence we can hammer nails into.  Especially if we live in close quarters with our neighbors such a practice might not be convenient or welcome; but we can do two things to control our tempers.  First, we can erect a mental fence, and see ourselves pounding in a nail whenever the temptation strikes to let our anger loose.  The time it takes to visualize that fence might prevent us from saying something we will regret.
Second—and infinitely more important—we can make our temper a matter of prayer.  We should begin praying about our anger issues when they are not imminent.  Daily prayer asking for God’s help to curb our temper is hugely beneficial.  The more we pray the more God will give us strength to resist setting the spark that will ignite a destructive fire.  Also, if we pray about our anger issues when they are not an issue, we will be more likely to ask God for help when they threaten to become an issue.
Paul also understood the power of the tongue to cause trouble.  He often listed anger along with murder and adultery as sinful behaviors.  In his letter to the Ephesians (4:31-32) his instructions are even more pointed.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”


Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Failure to Communicate

A Failure to Communicate
John 3:1-21
            Recently I had the chance to perform with a local theatre company.  Although I began the process with fear and trembling (I don’t do much acting), I had a great time.  I also learned a lot from the other actors, many of whom were far more experienced performers than I. 
            During performances we sat backstage in what is known as the Green Room.  It’s a space where actors wait for their next entrance.  Our green room was an open area close enough to the stage so we could hear what was going on.  There was a TV monitor so we could see what was happening onstage, thus able to gauge how long we had until we went on.
            The cast got along beautifully (those of you who have ever performed in a play know that this is not always the case).  We supported each other, complimented each other on our performances, and had some interesting discussions on a wide range of topics—when we talked.
            Many times, when I came offstage, I found people staring at their phone screens.  What they found so interesting I’ll never know.  I should point out that they weren’t talking on their phones, they were just staring at them.   
Perhaps they were communicating with someone, but I couldn’t help feeling they were passing up great chances at live conversations with the people around them.  As I said, when everyone put their phones down, we learned a lot from each other and shared some meaningful dialogue. 
The Bible is full of meaningful communication, right from the start.
·        In the beginning God spoke—and creation happened.
·        God had meaningful conversations with Abraham,
·        And Moses,
·        And the prophets,
·        And David.
·        Paul was a great communicator, as were Peter and the other apostles.
And then there was Jesus:  the Master Communicator.  He healed often with a touch, but sometimes with a word.  He taught.  He challenged the religious authorities and slipped out of every verbal trap they laid for him.  His words echo down over two thousand years, telling us how we should live and what ought to be important in our lives.
Nicodemus, who John tells us was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night.  Perhaps he wanted to avoid criticism from his fellow Pharisees.  Perhaps he wanted Jesus’ undivided attention.  Perhaps, like anyone visiting a counselor he needed the privacy of a one-on-one encounter.  Whatever the reason, he was there, and from what we can gather, the two were alone.
Jesus presented what at first seemed to be a conundrum.  He confused his listener with words Nicodemus couldn’t understand.  He didn’t get the concept of being born again (I’m not sure we always get it either).  When Jesus explained in words Nicodemus could understand, the answer rang down through the ages to us and beyond.  John 3:16-17 is often called “the gospel in a nutshell.”  I have seen these verses written on a piece of paper sticking out of a walnut shell.  Pretty ingenious.
Shouldn’t we sharpen our communication skills so we can, like Jesus, help others hear the gospel in ways that will help them respond? 
Cell phones won’t help.  We have to talk to them.