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It’s Time – Good and Mad

The angriest pro in the history of golf is one Tommy Bolt. The story is told of a time when he was giving a group lesson on how to hit a ball out of a sand trap. Calling his eleven-year-old son over, he said, “Show the people what you’ve learned from your father when your shot lands in the sand.”

His son picked up a wedge and threw it as high and as far as he could.

Tommy Bolt was really good at getting angry. Let’s talk today about how to be good and mad. Since we’re close to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we’re going to let the image of driving steer us in how to get good and angry, how to navigate anger in ways that get you where you really want to go.

Anger is an inescapable part of life.

It can either fuel us in good directions, or it can slam the brakes against a spouse, against a brother or sister in Christ, or against a coworker. Anger carries tremendous octane to either damage or advance needed change.

Let’s start with a case study in misdirected anger, the case of a fractured family. Turn with me to Genesis chapter 4. As you’re turning there, I want to give credit that Bruce Wilkinson’s study on anger paved the track for what we’re covering this week.

Genesis chapter 4, it’s just the fourth lap in the long race of humanity, yet already there comes a blowout of misdirected anger. Two brothers, Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve bring offerings to the Lord. The Scripture says without explanation that The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain became very angry.

It’s worth noting that the first mention of anger in history is anger in the family, between family members. Police tell us the calls they most dread are reports of domestic violence, out of control anger in a family. Here in Fishers, the two murders this year have both been cases of domestic violence, murder-suicides. Husbands and wives fighting can get ugly fast. Brothers fighting can get violent fast.

It’s a strange thing that the people we often get angriest toward aren’t strangers, but the ones we’re closest to—as happens with Cain against Abel. And that brings us to the first leg in our GPS for navigating anger. Keeping with the driving image, here’s the first thing to realize about anger:

Anger is a dashboard warning that something is wrong.

Anger isn’t always wrong. Anger is a warning that something is wrong. Do you catch the distinction there? Some of you grew up in a home where anger wasn’t allowed. The unspoken but very clear message was that ‘we don’t get angry.’ That’s ridiculous.

Others of you grew up in environments wracked with anger, and that continues to shape how you deal with anger. We’ll talk in a moment about the two most common ways we deal with anger, neither of them healthy. Then we’ll move on to ways to get good and angry.

But at its most basic level, let’s start by agreeing on this: anger is a dashboard warning light that something is wrong.

  • You work hard at your job, but a coworker doesn’t pull their weight, adding to your workload. Up pops the dashboard warning light.
  • Money is the most commonly cited cause of marriage conflicts. When one is a saver and the other is a spender, no surprise when the dashboard warning light comes on. Anger.
  • ·And certainly on a national level in the U.S. lately, the marches and protests and push for reform are a dashboard warning light that something is wrong. Anger springs from our God-given sense of fairness, of justice. That is hard-baked into us from birth. Just give a treat to one toddler while another watches but doesn’t get the same goodie. The dashboard warning light—actually a siren—immediately flips on.

Let’s keep driving. If, first, anger serves as a dashboard warning light giving us a heads up that something is wrong, second…

Anger is a fork in the road where I choose which route to take.

Look with me at the Lord’s response to Cain in his anger:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” – Genesis 4:6-7

What a visual! Anger can be directed or misdirected. But we have to choose which way to go with it. For Cain, the image is that sinful anger is like a lion crouching at the door, just waiting to pounce on him and wreak death and destruction. “You must rule over it,” the Lord says. Meaning, you are responsible for how you direct your anger. No room for claiming that you can’t control your emotions. It’s what we do with anger that determines whether we careen into sin, or navigate toward finding your voice and bringing about needed change.

Consider an example of choosing what direction to take with anger. From Ephesians chapter 6, the apostle Paul instructs fathers…

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

What’s driving that instruction is the instances when our kids need to be disciplined, when they need to change—change their attitude or something they’ve been doing, or how they’re speaking. The caution for Dads is to be careful. Choose ways of discipline that motivate the needed change. Don’t provoke your kids to resent you for being a hot head. Be the adult.

There are times and ways to be good and mad.

When 18-year-old Marcus Brown was killed by a drunk driver his Mom channeled her grief and anger into action. She formed a coalition of parents who had lost their children to drunk driving. She started a campaign to increase awareness and prevention of drunk driving. That group became Mothers Against Drunk Driving—MADD.

Rightly directed anger has, over time, saved lives by changing laws. Beckie Brown got good and mad. Think about Jesus, twice, rushing into the Jerusalem Temple’s Court of the Gentiles, the only place people like you and me, non-Jews, could come into the Temple to pray and sing and be taught God’s Word. But that wasn’t happening because the greedy had taken it over and turned it into a religious version of Walmart. That enraged the Son of God. He flipped over tables, sent their cash flying, and drove them out with a whip. Jesus…was good and mad. Anger in itself isn’t wrong or sin. It’s a fork in the road where you have to choose which way you’re going to go with it.

  • ·So when you fight for a better marriage instead of smoldering in resentment or running to divorce, you’re doing right, as God called Cain to.
  • When you fight to protect your child against being bullied, you’re directing anger toward what’s right.
  • When you fight to get aging parents the best health care, don’t be surprised if there come times when you get good and angry.

But as with Cain, so often in our experience, our anger is usually misdirected. James, one of Jesus’ brothers, famously put it this way:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” – James 1:19-20

He’s saying when anger revs up like crazy, immediately do three things: listen up, shut up, and cool off. (repeat)

Or to stay with our driving image, he’s saying when your engine’s about to blow, do three things: take your foot off the gas, hit the brakes, and hold the wheel straight. Our anger is usually harmful, misdirected. Let’s talk about that.

Which am I when angry?

  • Rhino
  • Porcupine

People tend to respond to conflict in one of two ways: like a rhino or like a porcupine. Some of us are like rhinos. When you feel threatened, you attack. You go on the offensive. When rhinos sense danger, they charge, horn first.

Others among us are more like porcupines. When a porcupine senses danger or threat, they withdraw. They curl up into a ball and depend on their defensive quills to take out the opposition.

  • Which one are you?
  • When you think about the home you grew up in, which one was your Dad more like? Which one is more like your Mom?
  • If you’re a parent, as you consider your children, which are they—rhinos or porcupines? You help them when you enable them to discover which is their natural tendency, so they can learn how to be good and angry.

Let’s talk about this on this week’s after-worship call. This alone can improve a lot of marriages, and parenting, and work teams. Cain was a rhino, and in uncontrolled anger murdered his brother. The apostle Peter was a porcupine, one day welcoming invitations to dine with Gentiles, the next day shrinking back out of fear that fellow Jews would oppose him for doing that. Not an issue in our day, huge issue for first-century Jews. The apostle Paul, who was younger in the Lord than Peter, got good and angry, and rebuked Peter directly for being so wishy-washy. In that case, anger directed Paul to confront his brother with the need to consistently love. There it is, love and anger hand in hand—getting good and mad.

Alright, let’s head toward the finish line with the most important thing you can do when you’re angry. Then we’ll finish with three good choices for how to direct your anger.

The single most important thing you can do when you’re angry…is pray. Have a little talk with Jesus. Let’s be honest: sometimes God is the last one we want to talk to when we’re angry. Anger gets caught up in all kinds of feelings like shame: “I shouldn’t be feeling this way, so I can’t go to God right now.” That’s a myth. God welcomes you anytime. Speaking with Cain, God pleaded with him to do right.

To continue our driving image, the first step in getting good and angry is pull over. Don’t take a flash of anger and immediately post, yell, text, or otherwise confront. When you’re angry, don’t start by acting out of anger. That’s how kids and wives get beaten. It’s how people burn themselves out of a church and out of a job. First, pull over. And pray.

If you’re thinking, “What am I supposed to pray when innocents get murdered? What am I supposed to pray when my marriage is circling the drain? What am I supposed to pray when my kid is getting bullied, or my boss is a jerk, or a mess of other wrongs are taking place?” If you’re asking that, you’re well-positioned…to pray.

All of the Bible heroes prayed…when they were angry. They got good and mad…and prayed.

Jot this down: Numbers 11. Read it sometime, Numbers chapter 11. Moses is called by God to lead the Israelites through the wilderness and on to the Promised Land. They are nothing but a bunch of ungrateful whiners. They make his days miserable. Moses gets good and mad—and prays. You need to read his prayer sometime. He’s mad. He prays essentially, “God, what did I do to deserve being put in charge of these babies? All they do is whine. If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!”

You know what that is? Godly redirection of anger. The people are all angry at Moses—misdirected anger. Moses is angry at God—misdirected anger. But he redirects it by praying honestly about it. And you know what happens? God answers, and lightens Moses’ load by implementing a change in organizational structure, very practical solution to an overwhelming problem. Moses got good and angry, prayed about it, and God came through.

Try it. When you’re ticked off, have a little talk with Jesus. Get honest with God. Keep it real. God is waiting, willing, and well able to bring about change.

Elijah got good and angry—and prayed. And God came through for him, powerfully and personally. “Here’s some food, Elijah. Take a nap, Elijah. You’re not the only good one around, Elijah.” It was good that Elijah pulled over and prayed.

David got good and angry. Read what’s called the imprecatory psalms. They’re violent. They’re fierce. And…they’re honest. They’re the prayers of people who were good and mad about injustice and violence. They didn’t know what to do. So they pulled over…and prayed. We don’t talk about the imprecatory psalms because for most of us, life is pretty good. We haven’t experienced what Syrians have in recent years, or Venezuelans, people for whom the imprecatory psalms give voice to their anger, and redirect their anger toward prayer, toward One who sees them, cares about them, and hears their cries. Never let your own experience cause you to reject parts of the Bible that don’t match your experience.

When we talk about getting good and angry, let me be very clear what we mean by that.

Righteous anger is about doing what’s right while keeping relationships right.

This is very hard to do. But it is worthy work. It’s worth trying your best to listen more, talk less, and pull over when you’re angry, to pray first.

Righteous anger is about doing what’s right while keeping relationships right.

It’s worth praying when you’re angry, to ask the Lord to fill you and direct you to address the issue at hand with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians chapter 5. Is that natural? No way. Is that available? Absolutely. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, if you are trusting in Jesus Christ. So call on him. When you’re about to explode, pray.

Righteous anger is about doing what’s right while keeping relationships right.

This is what the Lord pleaded with Cain to do—but he would not have it.

Let’s cross the finish line with three good choices to direct your anger. Once you’ve pulled over to pray, what then? Here are three good options. You can ask God to help you discern which is the right one for that time and issue.

·       I can speak my anger so that the problem comes to light.

Before a marriage crashes and burns, it’s good to voice the problems. Problems ignored always become problems magnified.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, he was good and mad. He gave voice to his anger in that lengthy letter to bring to light something that white Christians weren’t seeing.

So there’s one good option for directing your anger: speak it—at the appropriate time, in the right place, with the right tone, to the right person or group. A second option is that…

·       I can channel my anger so that it accomplishes good.

When you fight for your marriage by arranging and paying for counseling—whether your spouse comes along or not—good can come from that redirecting anger toward possible help. I can tell you, with Karen’s full agreement, that at several points along the way in our marriage, we chased down finding good marriage counseling. We participated in several marriage retreats and conferences. And it was always worth it. It was our concrete way of saying to each other, “I choose us.” We commend the same to you. You can channel anger so that it accomplishes good.

I can release my anger by forgiving whoever has wronged me.

Christians from Rwanda, from South Africa, from Iraq and elsewhere show that as long as there are reasons for anger, you can’t let anger consume you. Nothing good comes from that. The cycle of hating just keeps on racing around the track. Instead, choosing to forgive, to release the one who has wronged you, can free you from anger eating you alive.

William Willimon’s book Sinning Like A Christian concludes a chapter on anger with the true story of a woman from Belfast, Ireland, whose husband, a good man, had been murdered in cold blood, right in front of her eyes, by revolutionaries trying to make a point.

There we see someone who has every reason to be angry—angry at God, angry at the political and religious war that took an innocent man from her, angry at her husband’s murderers.

And yet Willimon found her to be one of the most committed and compassionate Christ-followers he had ever met. So he asked her how she was able to not be consumed by anger.

She described how as she stood over the lifeless body of her husband, overwhelmed with grief and anger, the only thing she could do…was pray. And the only prayer she could muster up was the one Jesus taught us to pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Matthew 6:9-15

In that moment, as she prayed the prayer that Jesus taught us, she knew the only way she could deal with what had happened was to forgive the people who had done it. She asked God, then and there, to help her every single day to do that, to forgive. And God answered that prayer. Choosing to forgive gave her the freedom and the passion to devote herself to Christ and his people and his mission.

William Willimon wondered how she could forgive such a thing, until he remembered another good man, also murdered in cold blood by people trying to make a point. That man, with his dying breath, prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do know what they are doing.”

Willimon realized that there, on that cross, God’s righteous anger was on display—punishing sin and forgiving sinners; administering justice and extending mercy.

God cared enough about us to get angry at our sin, angry enough to punish it and forgive it in one dramatic and decisive act, the crucifixion.

As I invite you to sing in a moment, “Till on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied. For every sin on him was laid, here in the blood of Christ I live.”

If God could be angry at our sin in a way that actually accomplished our salvation, he can most certainly show you the best choice for what to do with your anger.

It’s up to you to figure out whether you’re naturally a rhino or a porcupine.

It’s up to you to realize that in this life, there are lots of things you could get angry over.

It’s up to you to decide, when the warning light of anger pops up, what you will do in that moment.

You can go the way of Cain, and smash your way ahead, leaving carnage in your wake.

Or you can go the way of wisdom: take your foot off the gas, hit the brakes, and hold the wheel straight. Pray first. Pull over to pray about what’s got you so ticked off. Have a little talk with Jesus. Ask God to help you discern which way to go for that issue, with that person—and always with the aim of doing right, while keeping the relationship right.

It’s okay to get angry. But let’s commit ourselves to being good and angry. Let’s pull over and pray. We’ll project the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s make this our prayer today. Pray with me.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. Amen.