Wednesday, August 17, 2016

17 August 2016
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect”. (Romans 12:2, NRSV)
“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15, NRSV)
“He loved to curse others;
now you curse him.
He never blessed others;
now don’t you bless him.
Cursing is as natural to him as his clothing,
or the water he drinks,
or the rich food he eats.
Now may his curses return and cling to him like clothing;
may they be tied around him like a belt.” (Psalm 109:17-19, NLT)

            Good afternoon, and thanks for joining me. Yesterday we looked at anger as a heart condition. Today we will look briefly at three ways to keep anger from gaining a foothold in our lives-how we think, how we serve, and how to vent when the anger just will not go away.
We will begin with our thought life.
            Yesterday we considered anger as the result, more or less, of the way we see ourselves in relation to others, and to God. Now, I realize this is a huge oversimplification, but how we think about things is something we have some control over, which makes it a good place to start. We begin with the idea of going through life, or most of our life, not being fully aware of the present moment. The idea is we go around in a sort of semi-conscious state, filling our minds with what we need to do, where we need to be, where would like to be and what we would like to be doing there, anything but where we actually are and what we are actually doing at any given moment. We are not so much in reality as we are in our version of reality.
            In Wherever You Go There You Are (1994, MJF Books) Jon Kabat-Zinn relates this concept nicely to the idea of our place in relation to others by encouraging us to ask ourselves if we are really seeing other people, or merely our thoughts about them (p.26). This idea of mindfulness as an antidote to distracted living is not new, nor is it opposed to Christianity or Biblical theology. Think of mindfulness as the careful observation of people and events in our lives, seeing them as they are, not what we think they are or should be.
            Mindfulness requires focus, a centering point to help settle the mind. Scripture memorization is, among other things, a helpful focusing tool, to teaching us to center the mind on God, directing our thoughts toward Him. The repetitive nature of memorization becomes a mental habit, eventually producing the behavior our mind is focused on. This is how, as Paul says, we “…put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NRSV; see also Jer.17:9; Col. 3:8-10; Rom.6:6).
            The common thread here is making new habits, learning to shut out-indeed, discovering that it is in fact possible to shut out-unwanted distractions and false realities, not to mention past sinful behaviors. We are becoming in practical experience new creations, replacing all that old stuff with God’s thoughts, God’s truths, and (hopefully) discovering signs of His presence all around us. We are not frustrated because we cannot manipulate people and events to our liking; rather we are learning work in harmony with God, discovering His active presence in our day to day affairs. This isn’t as difficult or far-fetched as it sounds. It is simply learning a new way to think about and respond to people and events. It works in whatever field you happen to find yourself in. In today’s digital age there is, of course, an app for that. Just be careful not to let the process overtake the result. Remember, we are working on finding and being content with our place in God’s creation, as an antidote to anger.
            Yesterday we mentioned the frustration that comes from not getting our own way as a root cause of anger. There’s a cure for that, and it comes in the form of serving others. In Celebration of Discipline (1988, Harper and Row) Richard Foster makes the important distinction between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. Servanthood (and, by the way, servant leadership) is modeled for us in John 13:1-17. The humility we see here in Jesus is the result of His choosing to be a servant. The difference between serving and servanthood, according to Foster, is being in charge of what you choose to do (serving) verses being available for whatever the need of the moment might be (servanthood; see p.132). It is setting your own terms or being willing to be taken advantage of. My experience has been it is very refreshing to walk into a situation and simply say ‘put me wherever the need is’. It frees me up to enjoy whatever I am doing and whomever I am doing it with. It also markedly increases my tolerance levels.
             Final point. Sometimes anger just will not go away. There’s a way to deal with that too-just take it to God in all its (and your) inglorious spender. God’s people have been doing it for centuries. The Psalmists did it and they made it into the Bible. By the way, the psalms are an excellent place to learn how to vent, to discover-give yourself permission, if you prefer-how to vent to God; how to whine and cry about our circumstances. I guarantee He can take it. In point of fact, He already knows, so why try to hide it? Some theologians will refer to imprecatory Psalms-Psalms that call down curses on our enemies. Others see them as pleas for God’s righteous judgement. Either way works. Remember, the Psalms are our prayer book. Here is a partial list of imprecatory Psalms: 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, and 140. Speaking of the Psalms, I have found it to be good practice to read at least one every day, first thing in the morning whenever possible. Sort of sets the tone for the day.
            I hope you found this helpful. As we move through The Sermon we will find some overlap, as far as attitudes and antidotes go. I have found that practicing the things we talked about produces a subtle change-not that I’m there yet as far as anger management or humility goes, but it does change things for the better.
            One quick word about the books I referenced. I have been reading Richard Foster for the past 25 years. I never realized how deeply he influenced me until I started taking classes at Geneva. If any of you are familiar with his work you will probably see the influence here. Jon Kabat-Zinn is new to me. For years I believed this type of thing-mindfulness meditation-was opposed to Christian teaching, even of the Devil. I no longer believe that to be true. Here’s the reference list.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (1994). Wherever You Go There You Are Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday     Life. New York. MJF Press.

Foster, Richard J. (1998). Celebration of Discipline The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco. Harper and Row.

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