Monday, August 31, 2009

"How Come I Lose My Temper?"

“I blew it again!” Doug writes. His daughter was visiting him in prison, and he lost his temper, so she left. “She makes me so mad! I said some really terrible things! Totally lost control! Can I even call myself a Christian?”

Wow, three questions in one! Why the temper? How do people make people angry? And does losing one’s temper mean someone is not a Christian?

Proverbs says:

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”

16:32

Other than King Saul “losing his temper” at his son Jonathan, Paul’s letter to Galatians calls such outbursts “fits of rage.” Fits of rage are acts of the sinful nature, and must be repented of, because it says, including other actions of the sinful nature:

“. . . that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:21

Doug apologized and does not intend to “live like this.” That’s the good news. He’s agreeing with God. But, why these outbursts?

Doug wants to display the “fruit of the Spirit:” which contains “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” (Galatians 5:22,23) “Fruit” of the Spirit here is singular and not plural. It is one fruit with many characteristics; all of which God intends to work into the lives of His children. Impossible for humans to produce this fruit, the Holy Spirit can work these into our lives.

“Losing one’s temper,” sounds nicer than “fits or rage.” Doug’s daughter is fourteen, using drugs, and making his mistakes. Despite his love for her, he cannot protect her physically, while in prison. With a father’s love, he’s forfeited any visible means to protect his child. Frustration is understandable. But blowing up sure doesn’t help! Tempers are lost, when we feel cornered. Doug feels parental responsibilities, with no means to accomplish them. Kaboom!

Still, Doug had a choice. His daughter is not “making” him angry. Sure she is risking her life! But Doug’s aiming his anger at her instead of its proper target. When sin is expressed in “fits of rage,” misbeliefs are exposed. Doug has misbeliefs that need clearing up. Junk feelings of guilt, helplessness, powerlessness, pride, etc. were exposed by his tantrum. When we blow, it’s time to realign our thinking: discover what is wrong and get rid of it. In his book, “Learning To Tell Myself the Truth,” William Backus calls such dross, “misbeliefs.” God both shows us our misbeliefs, and eliminates them by speaking the truth in their stead! Our part is to continue speaking these truths.

“She makes me so mad!” is fine English, but bad anthropology. It is a “misbelief.” In fact people don’t make people angry. Anger is a choice. Instead for example, by simply saying the truth, “I’m angry,” we can then isolate the feeling, and ask God, "why?" Then our anger can become productive. God can direct anger energy into prayer. And sometimes, once spent in prayer, He may direct us to spend what energy remains, solving the problem, or perhaps to speak the truth in love. Sometimes!

Eliminating “fits of rage,” God calls us to self-control: which is possible with His help. Sometimes our own English language weakens us, if we constantly tell ourselves lies like, “Peggy-Sue makes me so angry!” or “This crummy weather gets me down.” Not so! We have a choice! We can blame others or situations, but scripture teaches us that we can “be angry and sin not.” We can receive self-control. God gets angry, and He never sins. He expects us to not sin when angered. (Ephesians 4:26)

Had Doug not gone to prison, he’d be there for his daughter. Down on himself, he blew up at her. But her actions don’t make him guilty. Her bad choices don’t sully him. It isn’t prison making him unfit. It was the unmentionable things that he said to his daughter that made him unclean and feel so distant from God. Jesus tells us:

“Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.”
Mark 7: 15

Doug’s horrible words fit right into that list that Jesus then gives, of things that make people unclean. But Doug got right back on track. He apologized to his daughter and to God. That is taking responsibility for his actions. Then repenting, He’s asking God, ‘how can I stop this sin?’ God promises to help, but He doesn’t clean us instantly, using some magic wand. He purifies progressively with fire:

“These I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
And test them like gold.
They will call on my name
And I will answer them;
I will say, “They are my people,’
And they will say, “The Lord is our
God.’”

Zechariah 13:9

Here, God is talking about people who He’s transforming. We in Christ are His “royal priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:9) When Doug was born again into God’s family, he became a royal priest. The Holy Spirit in Doug won’t leave him full of misbeliefs that lead to frustration. God works with us diligently to become people of peace.

Anthropology 101: If we consider the trichotomous view of man: that is, that we are three parts: body, soul, and spirit, salvation can be seen working itself out in all three parts. Once born again in Christ, our spirits are immediately regenerated from the dead state that sin had left us in, since Adam. Now spirit alive “in Christ,” we’re forever reconnected with God’s Spirit. The spirit is “saved.” Our bodies however continue the dying process. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5) We are not gradually gaining our glorified bodies. (Believe me, I just looked in the mirror!) When in death, our spirit and soul is released from our crumpled carcass, we will be given new and eternal bodies, which will never decay.

Our souls however, are being changed from corrupt to Christlike. What Christianese dubs “spiritual growth” is actually soul growth. We are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Christ is formed within us. Our “Make me like Jesus” prayers are being answered, but it’s in process. That’s where all this, “If I’m a Christian, how can I still be doing this?” lamenting comes from. You can be doing this, but in Christ, you won’t be doing it for long. You and God agree it’s wrong; and the Spirit of God will free you of it:

“- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Philippians 2:12,13

So Believer: Your spirit is saved, your body situation will be saved after you die, and your soul is being saved. God is, “The Refiner’s Fire.” You are like silver or gold. But you being still in your carcass here on planet earth, your soul contains lots of dross. Dross makes unrefined metals impure. When believers mess up, we prove Jesus true; that it isn't what goes into a man, but what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. Sin expressed is like dross that surfaces, when fire is put under us. A sinful response to life’s trials is like dross surfacing on top of molten gold or silver. Our saved spirit agrees with God’s Spirit, hating the sin! We then cry out to God! Soon thanking Jesus, as God Himself skims off more dross.

Refining gold and silver takes many such skims. But God promises to bring us through this. You have probably prayed for Christ-likeness. You just didn’t think it would hurt so much. "Surprise!" Prepare to be refined again and again, being thankful in the process:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4

When misbeliefs about our selves or about God get skimmed, what remains is a clearer reflection of who Christ is in us. Sin again and we’ll ache again, look to God again, and again see Jesus skimming more of our junk off. With each skimming, more of His reflection in us will be seen. I'm not saying go ahead and freak out on people. Bit if you do, go right to the Lord, so you can get yourself smelted proper.

I’ve been getting skimmed for nearly 28 years now. God has never left me. He hears my prayer to become like Jesus. He hears yours too:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6

Meanwhile:

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites (priests) and refine them like gold and silver.”
Malachi 3:3

Whenever trials come our way, may the Spirit of God remind us that:

“These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
1 Peter 1:7