Sermon: Dangerous Anger

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Sermon: "Dangerous Anger"

6th in the "Wisdom: Tools for Living Well" series.
Delivered June 5, 2011 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Sermon Text: Proverbs 14:16-17; 15:18; 19:19; 22:24-25; 29:11, 22

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Abstract: Who hasn't dealt with their own anger, or had to deal with the anger of others? Probably among our earliest memories are the times our parents got angry at us. Anger is an inescapable part of life, and it seems clear that there are productive and destructive ways of handling it. If we don't master anger in our lives, it may hurt or destroy our friendships, our success at work, our marriages, and our children. Let's look to the Book of Proverbs for some answers about anger!

Well, let's pray. God, we thank you for your Word. We thank you for an opportunity to worship. Thank you for an opportunity to be with friends, and now we ask that you open up your Word, and open up our hearts to your Word, for we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Got an easy question for you. Don't have to actually respond out loud, but what is it that sets your anger off? What is it that sets you off in life? I've got a list here. Some of them are true for me; some of them aren't. Is it aggressive drivers? That's one that's true for me. I go crazy. I go ballistic. I wish I had big hooks that I just hook onto them. Anyway, we won't go into that. We don't have enough time to go into that. Okay, traffic. Is that one of the things that sets you off?

Is it your job? Feels dead end, or maybe you don't have one. Is it being the object of a joke that really sets you off? Feel like that's unfair. Is it being misrepresented by someone? That's even maybe more serious. Is it sitting on hold for 30 minutes only to get no answer at the end? Is it when your child comes home with a tattoo?

I need to admit that when I was preparing for this, Debbie and I went to Starbucks to have a conversation about the sermon. We often do that, and we get to Starbucks, and she had this coupon sort of situation where we could get some, two free cups of coffee. So we get to Starbucks, and I find out that there's no decaffeinated coffee. Now come on; this is Starbucks. What other work are they supposed to do apart from ordering the decaffeinated coffee and having it there? I mean, you know, if you don't do that, what are you doing?

And I'm ready, and then I realized it's free, and it's three o'clock in the afternoon. So I checked myself, and I say, "Okay, it's okay." But was it okay? Was it okay that I was that ready to get angry and lay everything on this poor barista, or whatever they call them?

Okay, we're in our series on Wisdom: Tools for Living Well, and we're talking about anger this week, dangerous anger. Anger is dangerous because if we don't express it appropriately, there's going to always be a cost to ourselves and to our relationships.

Weeks ago, we talked about one of the overarching characteristics of a foolish lifestyle is this belief that you can do something that's going to hurt somebody else, but if you do it, somehow you'll escape, whether it's drugs, whether it's anger, whether it's the way we relate to other people. Where we do something, we think, "You know, I'm going to get away with it." That's a characteristic of foolishness. There's a cost to evil. There's a cost to anger.

So to live as if our anger doesn't have serious consequences, as if we can somehow continue on without getting our anger under control, if that's an issue in our lives, is utter foolishness Biblically. Since anger is such a universal experience, we all struggle with it, our ministry partners have to deal with anger too as they minister to other people, just like we do as a church.

One of our ministry partners is Acts4Youth, and they make a special commitment to investing into the lives of young boys that are in a place of life where they need more input into their lives, and these young men who is shaping their lives, one of the areas where they need help is learning how to deal with their anger. This ministry works in the Guilford School. It works with primarily in the Pen Lucy area, and let's take a look at how they deal with this issue of anger.

[Video]

Boy: Anger is a really frustrating thing that makes a person just want to go off like a bomb on somebody.

Male 1: Within Acts4Youth, we see boys sometimes putting each other down with words, very hurtful words, getting upset and hurting themselves physically because maybe they punch a locker, and just a damage of relationships. Unfortunately, they've seen that within their homes a lot in terms of violence in their own homes between parents, family members, and within their communities there's a high rate of violence as well. So that's what we just think. It's crucial that we try and intervene and help equip them, especially in the area of learning how to calm down and express your anger in a lot healthier ways.

Antoine: Personally I'd been a very sensitive boy growing up. I didn't like confrontation well, so I avoided arguments. I only fought when I had to fight or I felt like I had to fight. So there was many times that I would feel hurt or I would feel offended or I would feel some other emotion, and rather than talk about it, I would bury it. In fact, that led to me committing a crime that almost took the lives of two people. It led me to going to prison to serve a 30-year prison sentence because I had anger issues.

I didn't have a quick anger, but I had one of those subtle, deadly angers that just lies beneath the service, that just builds, and builds, and builds, and builds, but I never dealt with it. I never talked about it. I never knew to talk about it. We have to deal with our anger. We have to talk about it because it does deal with you. It does destroy you at some point, and the thing I learned in a right real way is that if we don't control our anger, our anger will control us.

[End of video]

Anger is a universal experience, but that doesn't mean that anger is going to look the same in everybody's lives. It's going to look a little different in my life than in yours. Certainly, some of us are set off more easily than others, but everybody at some point or another has to deal with that deep, visceral feeling inside when we've been hurt or slighted, when things are just not fair, but the way it comes out is going to look different.

Some of us are flash burn angry types. Flash burn people have a short fuse. It doesn't take much to set them off. They lose their tempers often. Most of us know a flash burn type of person. For them, anger is a frequency problem. They seem mad at the world because they're always getting angry. It might not be too intense, but they're unpredictable. You never know when they're going to explode.

Some of us are slow burn types. Slow burners don't show their anger every day. The anger is pushed down, but they're not dealing with it. Antoine talked about being a slow burn type and talked about it being deadly. When slow burners do let it out, watch out. It's going to be a major explosion. They lose control. They burn bridges because of the intensity of their response. There are verbal tirades. There's physical violence. These are the people that punch holes in walls.

Some of us are grudge holders. Grudge holders seldom have an outburst, but they seethe inside, and they plot revenge. They plot their counterattacks. Grudge holders wake up in the middle of the night with their stomach all in a mess, and it's not because they're worried about how to be reconciled. They're worried about how to make somebody pay.

And some of us are just resentful types. The resentful type may not have a specific thing, specific wrong on their mind. It might be very unfocused. They're angry at anything and everything. Resentful types are constantly negative, cynical about just about everything. Nothing ever measures up, and it might not result in many outbursts, but they're unpleasant people to be with.

Whatever way anger expresses itself in our lives, the Bible points out there's a very real danger of our anger doing damage to ourselves and to those people that we love. And so today, we're going to look at the cost of anger, we're going to look at some of its causes, and we're going to explore the real hope that we have for change.

So let's first look at its cost. The book of Proverbs is absolutely loaded with examples of the cost of anger. We're just going to hit a few of them.

Proverbs 14:29 gives us the big picture.

"Those who are patient have great understanding, but the quick-tempered display folly."

To get angry quickly here is labeled as foolish, and the reason for this is that it leads to actions that are foolish, things that we're going to regret later when we're not angry anymore.

Proverbs 14:17 talks about it.

"The quick-tempered do foolish things."

It leads us to foolish behavior, but take a look at the second line too.

"And those who devise evil schemes are hated."

This verse particularly points out to the pattern of the grudge to devise evil schemes, and what's the result? They destroy relationships around them. It says that these grudges are hated.

Proverbs 29:22 talks about how anger can destroy the relationships in a whole group of people.

"An angry person stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins."

Finally, Proverbs 19:19 emphasizes the cost for those people who are unteachable about their anger. If you don't take correction, if you don't deal with this.

"The hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again."

This is an important verse because what it says is there's no outside solution for you, for me, that if somebody finds a way of rescuing you, and you don't deal with the thing inside, you're going to get into trouble again, and this is totally in line with our whole emphasis at Central on discipleship, that we assume responsibility before God for our own lives.

And so somebody might be able to help you out once, but you're going to get in trouble again unless you respond to God and start dealing with some of those habits, some of those ways you behave.

There's a cost to anger. It strains relationships, or it breaks them entirely. We have divorces, we have estranged children, we have lost promotions, we have lost jobs, all because of anger. So a word of advice, a word of wise advice: Don't kid yourself. If anger is a problem for you, don't excuse it. It's too costly.

Second point: What are some of the causes behind this anger? Now this is a deep and complicated part of who we are, and I'm not competent as an authority to speak on this in the deeper levels. I'm just going to hit the obvious things.

The first cause is a violation of our perceived rights. We think we deserve a better standard of treatment or a better product, then we don't get it. "No decaffeinated coffee! It's my right. I should have had that promotion. I've been robbed. They shouldn't treat me this way. I deserve more respect."

Irritations fit into this category. Long lines, loud kids, people who talk too softly. "It's too hot. It's too cold. I'm in a draft. I just shouldn't have to put up with this." But some of our anger is really caused by fear. We really want something important in life, and we're afraid we'll never get it, and we fear that, and it starts to get us angry because we don't have power to get it to happen.

We feel misunderstand, and we try to make ourselves clear, but it seems that the key people just don't get us. We're afraid that people will think less of us because of something someone said about us. We fear, and so we get angry.

We get mad at our kids when they do something wrong because we worry about them. They did something wrong, and so we feel an intense relief that they're safe, but then all this anger. "Why did you put yourself in such danger?" I can remember one friend's mother, wasn't necessarily the most eloquent way of saying it, she said, "If you go out and do that and get yourself killed, I'll beat your dead body!" Fear.

Lack of self-control is another cause. Proverbs 16:32 says it this way:

"Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city."

Inappropriate outbursts of anger are prime examples of our powerlessness to control ourselves. We may want to be better people; we may want to do better. We know we shouldn't be as angry as we are and show it these ways, but we do anyway, and sometimes this pattern grows out of a bigger pattern in our lives as a lack of self-control.

A final cause I'll mention is pathological or psychological problems, and this is the person who has some deep, deep hurts in their lives, special brokenness or abuse, emotional disorders, chemical problems, a problem of brain function or injury, and those are special cases that require special help.

But in almost all the cases when we are showing inappropriate anger, it's usually reflexive and very often out of proportion, and so I want to take a little side right here. If you're in one of those situations where you're a victim of anger that's out of proportion, when there's verbal, emotional, or physical abuse happening, get help. Talk to somebody. Sometimes things can be so bad that we need the protection and the support and the help of a broader community in order to deal with what's happening and seek solutions.

And that brings us to an important point. When is anger sin? This is a deep one here. Usually. It's usually sin. So often, our responses just kind of well out of us, and at those moments, very, very often it's not an appropriate response.

Phyllis gave me this quote. "Anger equals energy that destroys. Kept inside it destroys me. Let loose it destroys relationships. Focused constructively at a problem it destroys the problem." So certainly there are times that anger is justified, but usually those are times where we're not reflexively acting, but where we've actually thought something through and we're responding to a deep sense of injustice or inappropriateness about a situation, and we think about an appropriate solution, and we focus that on the problem.

It's a thoughtful and passionate response. That's when anger is right. It's thoughtful and passionate, and it applies to the problem. But more often we simply fly off the handle, so learning to deal with anger is an important part of maturing. So let me talk a little bit about the fact that change is possible. There's real hope.

Proverbs paints a picture of lives that aren't dominated by anger. Proverbs 14:16.

"The wise fear the LORD and shun evil, but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure."

We can have the wisdom and power to turn away from evil responses. The Proverbs wouldn't present a wise way of life if we couldn't live a wise way of life. So we can shun the evil responses.

Proverbs 14:29:

"Whoever is patient has great understanding."

We can be patient.

Proverbs 19:11:

"A person's wisdom yields patience; it is to one's glory to overlook an offense."

We can be the kind of people who forgive easily.

Proverbs 20:22:

"Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you."

We can be people who don't seek grudges, who don't seek revenge. It can happen.

But none of this victory happens in the heat of the moment. You can't do everything just as you're doing it right now and expect, "Well if I just think about it a little bit and I try real hard when I get into that situation, it's all going to change." It won't. It's not a matter of trying harder. That's part of it, but a much bigger part lies in cultivating a deeper relationship with God. We have to change the whole of who we are to effect the peace of anger.

Perhaps the hinge verse for the whole book of Proverbs comes in the ninth chapter. It summarizes the whole of what it means to be wise.

Proverbs 9, verse 10, says this:

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

Relationship with God.

Control of our anger will be won first of all far away from the moments that set us off as we deepen our relationship with God. Remember that one of the causes or triggers for our anger is protecting our rights. Well if we go through life always feeling deprived, always thinking about what we deserve, we're setting ourselves up for anger. You're bound to be angry if you're always thinking about what you don't have. To counteract that, you need to cultivate a heart of contentment; eyes on God and you do that by learning how to give thanks.

It says this in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5:

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

When our eyes are on all that God has given us and all that God does, our sense of being deprived starts to wane, and a deep contentment starts to take its place. We have a change of perspective, and a change of perspective is a powerful thing.

In a book called Good and Beautiful Life, James Brian Smith talks about a time he was in some serious traffic in Burbank, California. He needed to get to a retreat center where he was speaking, and since he had been traveling so much he needed to get there early enough to rest before all the responsibilities of the evening, and his brother was driving him. His brother lived there, and his brother was driving him to the retreat center.

And they got into an incredible traffic jam, hardly moving at all, and inside he's thinking, "Did I take the right flight? That darn airline didn't offer flights earlier. Why didn't they tell me about this from the retreat center? Why didn't my brother take a different way of getting there?" He has all these things going through his mind. He's getting all wound up, and his brother is just sitting there.

And finally, his brother notices how wound up he is, and he says, "What's wrong? What's wrong, James?" And he said, "Mike," he said, "I'm angry because we're in this traffic and we're not going to get there. I'm not going to get rest, and maybe worse, I won't even get there in time to speak."

His brother says, "Look, relax, pal. I know this road. I drive it all the time. It's bad here, but it's always bad here. It'll get better in a mile or so, and we'll get there in plenty of time." And they did get there in plenty of time. Mike had a different perspective than Jim. Mike had a bigger perspective, a more accurate one. In this case, it had to do with the immediate situation. He lived in California, and he knew about the traffic.

But we always have a bigger perspective available to us, bigger than the immediate thing that's setting us off and it grows out of our trust with God. So gratefulness, contentment, a sense of God's provision over all of our lives is the change of perspective that gives us a new place to face the frustrations of the problems that we have.

But this change of perspective happens in quiet moments, not when we're provoked. It's a discipline of life, a habit. So here's the question: Is it your habit to thank God for your life in great detail? Thank God for your friends, for your family, for your house, for warmth in winter, for air conditioner or fans in summer, for your yard, your garden, your car, for your church, your school, your job. Do you do it? Why refuse to do something that's so full of joy as giving thanks?

When we have a habit of giving thanks, it sometimes becomes the most wonderful part of the day. That change of perspective that you realize you're in the center of God's provision and care, and when you have that change of perspective, you're touching reality.

Another one of our causes for anger is fear. We fear because there are dangers we don't control. We feel alone. If we don't do something, no one will. Again, the hope is in our relationship to God. You are not alone. Jesus has said he will never leave you or forsake you. There is no one that can pull you out of his hands.

Paul puts it this way: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" But we don't experience this security automatically, and so we have to replace the fearful, angry tape going on our heads with a new narrative. The tape we have in our heads is, "I'm alone. God doesn't care. God does more for other people. I'm no good. God is out to get me." That's the tape that's going through our heads, and we have to replace it with a more accurate one that says, "In love, in love for his own glory, God is working for us in life." Redemption, eternal security, joy, fruit, peace, healing, wholeness are in God's plans for you.

And so we have to fill our minds with truth to counter the lies we inherit in our heads. We need to fill our minds with the truth of the Bible, to read it slowly, to listen to what God is saying in it to us about our fears, to capture the phrase that speaks to our need, and to memorize it or to write it down, to keep it in front of us, to share it with friends.

Because it's not like taping over a VCR. With a VCR you have the old thing, you tape the new thing, and the new thing is there as long as you have a VCR machine. It's more like you've painted a sign in front of your house, and somebody has put graffiti on it overnight, and you have to paint it again today knowing that tomorrow you might have to paint it again.

It's something that has to be a habit in our lives as we meditate and see what God reveals about who he is, who we are, how he loves us, how he is with us, and as we do this, we'll win more in the anger. Now let's take a look at how this is worked out in some of the lives of people in Acts4Youth.

[Video]

Male 1: We have seen boys. We've been here to intervene. There was one incident about a couple weeks ago. Two boys were at recess, and we turned around, and they were just ready to fight. I mean, they were enraged, and they were ready to just start punching each other, and we were there. We pulled them aside, and we sent them to meet with our student mentor, Mr. Wallay, and he spent probably the next couple of hours while they were here working through a peacemaking process and praying with them.

Boy: You should just try to find somebody and explain to them what's going on with you so they could help you.

Male 1: They were able to learn peacemaking skills. They were able to learn some methods to calm down, and then they were able to discuss what happened, and ask forgiveness from each other, and continue that friendship, and later on that same day they came back to recess, and they were able to play.

Antoine: I just knew that what happened to me, some good had to come from it, you know, and I really believed that God was going to use it for his glory, and when I was paroled, the Lord allowed me to come home with such a passion, such a hunger, such a zeal to make my life count, and I knew that I had to go back to some of the same places that I come from, the same broken homes, the same broken communities to share the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be there for boys in a way that I had hoped my dad was there for me, but he wasn't.

Male 1: And that's one of the exciting things about working inside a traditional public school. We are a faith-based ministry, and as we all know, that true character change cannot happen unless God allows that to happen and works in a person's life, and we have the opportunity to share that message with the boys on a regular basis.

Antoine: One of the greatest lessons I've learned is from the Lord Jesus Christ while on the cross, while they were beating him and spitting on him and plucking out his beard and mocking him and doing all that they were doing to him. He was able to look at them and say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

[End of video]

Antoine looked to Scripture, at the mightiest example of what it means to face great injustice in the most godly possible way. The Scriptures speak to our anger. Did you notice in the book of Proverbs in the things we said today that some of the words were familiar when it talked about what life looked like when you weren't living in inappropriate anger? Did you notice some words like patience, gentleness, self-control? Did they sound familiar?

These are what God promises to work out in our lives along with things like love, joy and peace as we submit to him and draw closer to him. These are the fruit of the Spirit. It's the character of God mediated through the Holy Spirit inside of our lives so that we start to reflect the very character of God. God is in this with us so that we can draw close to the image of Christ, to move towards Christ. That's what we're all about. God can do it in us.

Next week is Pentecost, and we'll learn more about the power of the Spirit then, but now we need to remember as we seek God and God works in us, his character will become more evident in our lives. So we can have hope, even hope over our anger. It doesn't all depend on us. So let's pray.

God, we thank you that it doesn't all depend on us. We thank you that you have entered into life through Jesus Christ, and through him have provided a way that we can escape all the weight and momentum of sin in our lives and be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we can receive forgiveness for the things where we fail, and yet actually begin to change and live a new life.

And this table, Lord, is part of it, where we remember the cost to you of our anger, the cost to you of our sin, and it also represents to us the way that you dealt with your righteous anger, and yet provided a way for us to be with you forever. So thank you, God, for this table. Thank you, God, for Jesus. Thank you, God, for a way out, for it's in his name that we pray, Amen.

© 2011, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org