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How to Handle Anger

In Jesus Christ we have all the necessary resources to bring about complete reconciliation

My thesis this morning is this: That in Jesus Christ there is available all the necessary resources to bring about complete reconciliation. May I say that again. In Jesus Christ there are available all the necessary resources to be perfectly reconciled. I did not say that every circumstance, every alienation, every brokenness is going to be healed. I said the resources are available. Some choose not to use those resources, and thus go through life alienated, bitter, distanced from others.

The reality of anger is a reality for everyone of us. There is not one of us that does not have anger, rightly or wrongly, some time in his or her life, and the reason is easy to understand. Anytime you come into a relationship with somebody else, the more intimate that relationship is, the deeper your desires, longings and your agendas are. And nowhere in human relationships does one person perfectly meet all the needs and desires and dreams of another person, and those desires are deep and real to you. You are going to be frustrated and feel deprived if those needs are not met. Now that's a primary level of emotion. If your desires and needs are truly basic to your human personality, something necessary for life, that's going to be a driving motivation that isn't going to give up. And if it's not met, there's going to be frustration, and that frustration is going to led to a second level of emotion. And part of that experience is going to include what? Anger. You said it, and so did I. Anger is a real part of all human existence.

Some people might say, "Well, Louis, I've been told that persons should never be angry." Well, there are a few isolated passages from Paul's letters that might be interpreted that way but not if you take the totality of his writings. And God also has been angry at times, and Jesus Christ has been angry. But you say, "Yes, but that's God. That's Christ." What about Paul? There were times when he was angry. If you're never angry at anything you may be morally dead. If nothing raises your ire, if there's no righteous indignation, God help you and the society in which you live. Placid, phlegmatic, flabby, that's not the kind of Christianity we're talking about. When there is injustice or unrighteousness and oppression we should be angry.

Now there are other times when our anger is quite invalid. We're angry for the wrong reason. And if you've never had that experience, come to me. I'll give you some personal experiences. But whether it be valid anger or invalid anger, all of us experience anger. Now, what are we going to do about it?

King Saul had a very basic need in his personality. Once he was appointed king he desperately desired to be at the epitome of people's respect and love. Now that desire came from a deep personal need.. As we look back into the (psycho?) biography of this man we see that when Samuel found him in the field, the prophet to anoint him king, although he was a tall man physically, he was head and shoulders above everybody else, there was an insecurity, a lack of ego worth in his heart, and he tried to demure from the anointing. "You must be talking about my brothers." "No, it's you." And that said something about Saul's basic sense of insecurity and unsureness about himself. He carried that right into his kingship.

So one of his young, loyal citizens led a of host of soldiers against the Philistines and won a great victory, that young man's name was David, the people in the streets began to sing the songs to David. "Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten thousands." And that basic desire of Saul's to be at the epitome of their respect and loyalty was frustrated and he carried that out in jealousy and anger. And he refused to be reconciled. He sent posses out after David to kill him.

He entered into that search and destroy effort himself. One night he and his colleagues were bivouacked on the side of a creek And David's men came upon him there and quietly, stealthily snuck into the camp that night, and David stood over Saul with his sword and instead he cut off a part of his garment and took it back in his waistband. The next morning at dawn he called across the stream, "King Saul, why do you persecute and come after your servant? You are God's anointed. I could have killed you last night. Here to prove it is a remnant of your garment. Why do you pursue your servant?" And Saul refused to be reconciled.

Notice the dynamics that happened in Saul's life and it will happen in many lives today or something similar to it. Where there is that basic lack of security and anger and mistrust with it, it soon goes through the chemistry of becoming paranoia. And that emotional and spiritual sickness took the kingdom right out of the hand of Saul and destroyed him and those who were close to him. His own beautiful son Jonathan was killed with him, and David lost a blessed covenant brother.

Well, how do we handle anger? I say there are three things you can do with anger. I know this is an oversimplification, but we Presbyterians like things in threesomes.

You Can Try to Repress Anger.

First of all, you can try to repress it. But we know enough of psychology to know that doesn't work. You can stuff Fibber McGee's closet so full that somebody opens the door one day and that delicate balance is disrupted and what happens? It floods out at the most unexpected, inopportune moment. You can try sweeping things under the rug. God help you if you come in the dark or somebody else will stumble all over what's been left unattended to. As you try to repress your anger, it may appear successful. She doesn't know. He doesn't know. No, you can't hide it. It's going to stretch itself in one or more of four different ways.

Spiritually. If you refuse to be reconciled, if you refuse to forgive, then, my friends, do not count on the forgiveness of God. And you know that deep in your heart. And you have all this unprocessed guilt just building up like a feted fermenting mass, and it's going to erode your spirit. There has to be a way of processing that and getting rid of it.

Now in your automobile every time you fire up the car when the engine is cold you'll notice that vapor comes out the exhaust pipe either as vapor or in the forms of drops. A lot of water is going into your crankcase. Later on as the conduction gets hotter that does not happen, but that mixed with the sulfur dioxides, which forms sulfuric acid, you leave that unattended and processed in your crankcase and what's going to happen? It's going to corrode a part of your engine. It will never be the same. So either you run the car long enough and get it hot enough to burn off that stuff, notice heat, or you're going to change your oil.

And we Christians must do exactly the same thing. When was the last time you changed your relational oil and got rid of all that built up stuff that was in your heart against somebody else? And that lack of love, that lack of forgiveness is going to radiate from you like a blinking light. It can't be hidden.

Second, it's going to show itself physically. There are people who are in hospitals today who are physically ill because they will not forgive somebody else or they will not accept forgiveness. They refuse to be reconciled in an alienated relationship. Anger and hostility are just built up inside them. Peptic ulcer, some forms of colitis, some forms of arthritis, chronic bladder and kidney infections, migraine headaches, some respiratory problems. I don't think that's my problem this morning. Many physical disorders. Hypertension can be caused by this. You leave it unresolved and it's going to affect your body because we are whole entities, and the psyche and the spirit are not separated from the soma.

Thirdly, it's going to affect you psychologically. Have you heard anybody say to you "He's blind with rage," "I was so mad I couldn't see"? That's exactly what happens. Persons absorbed in a hostile relationship miss, they are blind to the creative alternatives going by. They don't see them. The way out of this mess goes by unnoticed because they're blind with rage. Unresolved anger causes a deprivation of motivation. Your energy level is sapped tremendously. Anger eats up energy like a jet in afterburner. You'll be tired with anger unresolved. It can lead to depression. It is one of the major causes of depression. It can lead to withdrawal from society.

There's a fourth way in which it's going to express itself, and that is socially. If you try to repress anger and leave it unresolved it's going to show up in your human relationships. It's going to show up in always being critical, always resisting something that's creative and new. A story is told about a Scottish elder going off to the kirk for the session meeting. And somebody asked, "Angus, what you going to talk about tonight?" He said, "I dinna' kin but whatever it is I'm a giv' it." And some face life like that. The first response to anything is no opportunities are lost.

It will show itself in that goading of other people, gossip and slander. You know you wouldn't pick up a physical weapon, but, oh, how people slash with their tongue. It's a form of unresolved anger. We Presbyterians believe in predestination. Sometimes I think we believe even more in procrastination. You know that procrastination is a socially accepted form of anger? They call it the command resistance syndrome. It's going to lead to those snide cutting remarks in a social occasion that belittles somebody else or some other race. No, you can't repress anger and expect it to go unnoticed. It's going to show itself one way or another.

You Can Try to Express Anger.

All right. If repression is no good, what's the alternative? Oh, you say, "Express it." That's right. Now here we come into a double trap. Expressing can go two ways. It can go off in a destructive manner, or it can go off in a constructive manner. Now what's the difference? I'm going to make four parallels today, four comparisons.

First of all, anger becomes destructive if it's expressed to a decoy and not to the real situation or person. Jesus said if you know that somebody has ought against you, you leave the most important tasks of life and you're talking about religious ceremony, and you go and be reconciled to that person if at all possible. As far as in you lies, be at peace with all people. As far as in you lies, take the initiative. Move out and try to be reconciled to this person. Make every effort you possibly can. Don't express it to some decoy.

Let's say you've had a disappointing time at the office. You've done a marvelous piece of work and your boss has taken the credit for it and hasn't even put your name on the paper, and you come home just seethingly angry. Somebody has left the makings of a peanut butter sandwich all over the place. Half of the peanut butter is out on the bread but the rest is on the counter or elsewhere. In fact, they've even gotten some peanut butter in the red raspberry jar, and there's no excuse for that in your book. You don't like peanut butter, but you love red raspberry. You can hardly wait to find that person. You find him and loaded up with this anger of what happened to you at the office you unload all this excessive anger upon this poor, unsuspecting future generation, who of course can't handle this big person standing over against him or her, so this one goes after the dog and tomorrow the dog bites the mailman. Everybody expressing anger to a decoy. There's nothing creative about that at all.

Go to the person and be reconciled. I know that will mean leaping into arenas and wrestling with dragons. And it's difficult. It's painful. You're going to suffer pain one way or the other. You can choose your pain. One of them is going to end victoriously, most probably, and the other is a sure dead end.

A second parallel that we want to compare is that of pride. A destructive expression of anger is out of timeframe, out of reasonable timeframe. You know there are some people that are the fastest guns in town. As soon as they're angry they're shooting at everybody in sight. If you were to take in a glass and mark the rise and anger it might go like this. Here you are at a nice low level of peacefulness. Something happens and all of a sudden a spike of anger comes up, then it comes back down and finally settles out to some level of anger but nearly as high as that spike. And if you communicate at the moment of the spike it will be excessive without any mellowing of insight.

They say count ten, do more, think. What were the dynamics of this anger? What was my part in it? What was the other person's part in it? There are many times when I've been very angry and then I've seen where I did something that stimulated or was part of the anger, and I had to go not only in and count it. I had to go in confession. Wait until you get clarity, then go. And don't wait too long.

Those of us, those of you who have been in our home know that we have a lovely golden retriever named Brie. She's a beautiful dog, smart about many things and not so smart about others. She loves turkey breast. And on several occasions we have been foolish enough to leave it within reach of that long, tall dog. I remember one day we put the turkey carcass back on the kitchen counter where I thought it was safe. The next morning Colleen came down and that in for her cup of coffee and slipped on the turkey grease on the floor. Didn't take long to find the carcass or Brie, who looked very chagrined.

Now, what if I waited a year and then out of timeframe completely gave that dog a good spanking? What would be the affect? She would not ? at all with eating turkey breast. Instead she would begin to doubt my relationship with her and cower every time I raised my hand. If, on the other hand, with that half consumed turkey carcass there leaving us only the thighs and the drumsticks and if disciplined at that point, she knows what it's all about. I don't guarantee she's never going to do it again. I'm not going to tempt her. We now put it on the top of the icebox, but at least she doesn't cower. And at times I will raise my hand in mock gesture of a spanking and she won't move. She'll just stand there licking and wagging because she knows she hasn't done anything wrong. The relationship is secure.

Do it at the earliest reasonable timeframe. Paul says don't let the sun go down on your anger. The longer unresolved anger stays within you the more that becomes fermented and rancid. Don't let that happen. Paul says don't give the devil that opportunity.

Thirdly, a destructive expression of anger disregards and is insensitive to both the intensity and the mode of expression. Not everybody responds to encounter the same way. Some all you need to do is look at them with a furled brow and they become molten butter. Others you have to hit with a 2x4, not literally, to get their attention. Now what's the proper intensity of communication? Also, what's the proper mode? Learn somebody's personality well enough to understand what's going to be acceptable and effective.

You Can Try to Reconcile Anger.

A creative expression of anger seeks to remove a barrier from a relationship; a destructive expression of anger seeks to wound or destroy, to wreck revenge. And it doesn't take a superior mentality to recognize the difference.

I've had people come to me in criticism and I knew their intent was to belittle and wound. I'll have to admit to you. I rejected and became defensive in the presence of such critique. On other times Colleen has come to me and said, "Louis, our relationship means too much to me. You know how I love you, but you did something that hurt me or somebody else." Now again, in both there's going to be pain.

John the apostle very sensitively records this fact, that when Jesus encountered Peter after his threefold denial Jesus asked him twice using the Greek word, or at least John records it in the Greek word agapao. Do you love me with a , unconditional love? And Peter cannot answer that with that same word "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." Even though it sounds like it in the English, he uses another word phileo, which means to love as a friend, but that's got some limits to it. Why did Peter say that unless somehow Jesus had disappointed Peter's expectation of the Messiah's identity? He didn't fulfill what Peter wanted. Lord, you frustrated me. I've got some anger with you. And Jesus, living out his premiseif you know anybody has anything against you, go to that person to be reconciledso he asks Peter the first two times "Do you love me?" The third time he uses Peter's word. "Peter, phileta me?" Do you love me as a friend with limitations? Is that the kind of love we're talking about?

Peter answers back: Lord, you know everything. You understand how I feel. Yes, you did disappoint me. Phileote, that's how I love you.

And then Jesus in a beautiful statement of reconciliation says, "Peter, I want you to feed my sheep. I leave you in the job as shepherd of the flock." Reconciliation, a functional relationship working fully as before. The pain was there but so was the healing.

You say, "Louis, if I'm going to have to go through pain I want some payoff." I don't blame you. I don't want to go through pain for no reason. What's the payoff? I'd like to give you two promises.

The first is this. Your relationship when this is over is going to be stronger than it was beforehand. As a boy in Pittsburgh I grew up loving to look across from the Monongahela River to the blast furnaces. And in the old days they would pike up. They'd start out with a layer of coke and then some limestone and then some ore, crushed ore, and then they'd repeat this and then blast air up through that thing, and molten pig iron would come out. They would take that pig iron and some of it they would take over to Bessemer converter it. Now, pig iron is all right for certain things. You can make waste sewer pipes out of it. You can cast stoves out of it and some old utensils, but it doesn't have that strength. It's brittle. Now if you put it into a Bessemer converter and put some other alloying steel in there, and then you force through a shot of pure oxygen, the heat rises tremendously and suddenly the metals are amalgamized and the impurities burned out. And what comes out is steel with tremendous tensile strength or spring capability able to do special top functions.

Now if you've never gone through a reconciliation process you may have a good relationship but it's going to be limited. It's going to be like pig iron. You can do some good things with it, but when God is finished with this process of honest reconciliation there will be a special steel in your life that will be able to handle even the most rugged circumstances and treatments in life. I promise you that.

And second I promise you this. That if you do everything you can to be reconciled to another person and that reconciliation has not worked, God will give you a peace even though admittedly there's going to be an unstitched relationship somewhere in the past. Jesus said if they will not listen to you then shake off the dust from your feet and go to the next town. In other words, don't let that past experience hold you down from your present and future actions. Shake that dust of that relationship off your feet. It is not that you were careless. You're simply recognizing the dynamic of reality. Another person has not chosen to make use of those available resources in Jesus Christ, but you can go at peace, peace, wonderful peace, and live for tomorrow.

My friends, the world is waiting to see the results of being a Christian. Let's show them this thrilling dynamic of having made use of those necessary resources available to us in Jesus Christ.

Louis Evans Jr. served as the Senior Pastor of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C..

(c) Louis Evans Jr

Preaching Today Tape # 6


A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


I. You can try to repress anger

II. You can try to express anger

III. You can try to reconcile anger