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Anger to Grace

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 6/23/2019

Welcome to Week 2 of our, “I’m not Okay” series. Last Sunday we talked about the problem of Pride. In Luke 18:14, Jesus commends a man who went to the temple to worship God. But instead of entering the temple, “he stood far off. He wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven, but striking his chest cried out, ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner!’” How many people never darken the door of the Church because their afraid they’ve failed too many times, afraid they’ll never measure up, afraid nobody will give them a chance, afraid they’ll be judged, afraid they’ll be rejected? The very last place most people would ever dream of being vulnerable is in a church among Christians.

The other guy in Luke 18 is rebuked for thinking he needed God’s mercy far less than the next guy. He was so arrogant! “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—the greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or _______________.”

Aren’t there times when Christians make you want to scream? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” Eugene Petersen, “Blessed are those at the end of their rope.” Dallas Willard, “Blessed are the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, the deprived, the deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion.” Isaiah 66:2, “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

Brokenness is a prerequisite, it’s the cornerstone, to any/all transformation. Grace flows to the broken. James 4:6 says, “God’s grace is greater (i.e. than anything we can imagine). He opposes/resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” You pray when your broken. You seek, you knock on the door, you ask for help. You open your heart, mind, body, soul. You stop justifying yourself. God fills the empty with his Holy Spirit power.

But when we’re so full of pride, that not even God’s Holy Spirit can gain a foothold, one of two things happen: If you’re Christian, God disciplines you (Read Hebrews 12). □If you aren’t a Christian, God opposes you in your pride. Your sin becomes its own punishment… in fact, your sin becomes an ever-escalating punishment (Read Romans 1). The road of sin gets harder and steeper. The fruit you reap grows more bitter.

It ought to be okay in the Church to say, “I’m not okay.” The sooner we humble ourselves the better. God’s grace is so powerful to meet us no matter how great the sin, no matter how great the pain. The most natural thing in the world ought to be that people run to God, and God’s people the Church, for mercy. You need not stand far off.

Of all the topics we’ll talk about in this series, Pride is the toughest, because it’s the most deceptive. Never once in my years of ministry had a person confess, “I’m so proud…” We’re far more apt to confess other things! Take anger for instance. We’re far more attune to our anger, than our pride. I doubt last week many of you prayed, “Lord, I’m so proud, break my pride.” But this morning some of you will confess admit, “Lord, I’m not okay, I’m so angry with {myself}… {some circumstance}… {some person}.” Of the two, anger is infinitely more self-evident. You can see/feel anger. Pride? Not so much!

I’ve shared this before; I’ll probably share it again. But I grew up very feeling very angry. If you look at my childhood pictures, you’ll sense it. By the way, I was also filled with pride, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, sloth, and fear. And even to this day, these things have a way of rearing their ugly head. But from the youngest age, I was very aware of my anger.

They say that by the time you are forty, you have the face you deserve. I think it’s actually age twelve! There is this thing that happens. Lara and I will be at some restaurant, and inevitably, the food will be late, or our order will be messed up. And I’ll be sitting there relaxed, resting my face, and Lara will say, “It’s okay Jon.” And I’ll be like, “I know. I’m good Why are you saying that?”

And then the staff will start coming by every few minutes, “Sir, your food being cooked… Sir it’s coming up next. Sir, it’ll be right on its way sir… Just check, a few more minutes, promise… Sir, those other people’s food didn’t take as long to cook… Sir, the chicken takes longer to fry, because its extra-large and delicious… Sir, I just checked, the chef is still alive, no one is on break, can I get you a refill?” Then the manager will sometimes come over, and I’ll be like, “Hey, if you all feel so bad, can I have a discount?”

I finally figured out the problem. I have a face for carry-out! I have that Hostile Resting Face Syndrome. I’m far more joyful and content then people give me credit for--it’s just that smiling makes my face hurt! It’s like going to the gym and working out! Can’t I just sit here and relax my face? Nowadays, I get a to-go-bag before the meal. I just put it over my face, so people don’t think I’m upset.

Some thoughts on anger...

First, Anger Ensnares.

Like most any emotion, the stronger our anger grows, the less rational we become. I used to hate it whenever the Chicago Bulls played against Dennis Rodman. But when the Bulls acquired Dennis Rodman, I’d roar with laughter. His whole strategy was to make people angry. Coaches, players, and fans would get so spitting mad at him, they couldn’t focus on the game. And he’d just stand their smirking. I’ve noticed how politicians, cable networks, sycophants also use this strategy. Anger drives ratings, it makes us irrational and reactive, a shell of our better selves.

The first recorded instance of rage in the Bible is Genesis 4. God was displeased became Cain presented a lesser offering than Abel. Genesis 4:5 tells us how “Cain was furious, and he looked despondent.” It isn’t all that clear what Cain’s angry about. Was he mad at himself? Was he embarrassed God called him out? Did he feel rejected? Was he jealous of Abel? God even warns Cain in Genesis 4:6, “If you do what is right won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door: Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” No matter what the reason for anger, beware, sin isn’t far behind… regret, self-destruction, even murder, isn’t far behind.

Second, Anger Escalates.

In Genesis 4:8 Cain says to Abel, “‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” O.S. Guiness says, “Anger simmers, boils, sparks, smokes, smolders, explodes, blazes, scorches, devours… it’s the “devils’ furnace.” I think of James 3:5-6 which warns, “Though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.”

There was a story last week of a guy who received a huge fine for flicking a cigarette butt out his window. He was cited under the wildfire act and given a $575 fine “for mishandling a burning substance.” Maybe you can think of a time in your life when you mishandled your anger, and a cigarette butt grew into a forest fire? What if we were just as vigilant about extinguishing our anger? I bet if you spoke to Cain after he murdered his brother, he’d say what any other murdered would say. He’d say, “It happened so quickly. I didn’t mean for it to go that far. I surprised even myself.”

Third, Anger Boomerangs.

In Genesis 4:10-12 the Lord says to Cain, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed, alienated, from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood you have shed. If you work the ground, it will never again give you its yield. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” There is a deception to anger. When we act in anger, we imagine we’re solving some great problem. But in the end, we’re the ones who end up paying the greatest price. In Genesis 4:13-14 Cain complains, “My punishment is too great to bear! Since today you are banishing me today from the soil, and I must hide from Your presence and become a restless wanderer on the earth, whoever finds me will kill me.”

Fourth, Anger Self-Justifies.

Anger and Pride walk together hand-in-hand. You’re never more self-deluded with pride than when you’re filled with anger. I thought it would be interesting sometime to preach a sermon called, “The Case Against Victimhood.” It’s to fashionable these days to be a victim. Men/women, Husband/wives are victims of one another. Parents/children are victims. Black/White are victims. Our godless culture keeps reaching new lows. Not a week goes by when a person feels so victimized, so depressed/angry, so enraged, they feel justified killing so many others.

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he gave no shelter to anger. Be meek. Be a peacemaker. Don’t just endure insults, persecution, and false charges—be glad and rejoice your reward in heaven will be so great. Be salt and light. Do not murder. Do not even be angry. Do not say, “Raca” or “You fool.” {“Raca” was sound of clearing throat to spit on someone.} Be the first to go and be reconciled. Settle matters quickly with those who litigate you. Do not return eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Do not be an evil doer. Turn the cheek, go the extra mile, be generous, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Be just like God who causes his sun to rise and rain to fall on the righteous/unrighteous. Greet those who hate you. Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Point #1 in the case against victimhood: If you fashion yourself a victim, Jesus never justified/endorsed evil actions.

Point #2 in the case against victimhood is this: Jesus never justified/endorsed evil attitudes. We never imagine ourselves more self-righteous than we're angry. It’s not just the extremist or the revolutionary who does this. It’s the person who has been hurt, battered, bruised who is also quite proud. If you fashion yourself a victim, you need just as much justification as your enemy. This is why Jesus taught us to pray in a most peculiar way (i.e. not like the proud Pharisee in Luke 18, but like the broken Tax Collector in Luke 18). In Matthew 6:12 were to pray, “And Father forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” It’s pretty impossible to forgive others unless we first have a sober assessment of our own debt. This is whole point of the parable of the unmerciful servant Jesus told in Matthew 18. Go read it!

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus goes still further saying, “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” C.S. Lewis says of this verse, “I’m not telling you what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I didn’t invent it. And there right in the middle of it, I find ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ There is not the slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it!”

So, what we see is this. Jesus never gave shelter to anger. Evil actions are never justified, nor are evil attitudes. So yes, it’s okay to say, “I’m angry.” But Jesus isn’t going to leave us there very long! We must let anger beget pride, beget self-justification, beget a victim-based identity. We must not let anger isolate us from other. We must not let it cause us to strike out in revenge. To be perfect like our Heavenly Father is to always be moving toward redemption and healing.

Fifth, Anger is Overrated.

Few passages on anger are so practical as James 1:19-21, “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. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

Human anger doesn’t fix anything! I can speak to this personally. I wasn’t just angry as a young person. I’ve been angry as an adult too! There have been many times when that pattern of anger grew and started to wreak havoc on a relationship. Humility is infinitely more fruitful than anger or pride. I can speak to this pastorally. I’ve sat with hundreds of angry people, angry husbands, angry wives, angry parents, angry kids, angry citizens. Anger never brings about healing. Only humility brings about healing. And that humility must begin with you, not the other person. Humility must start with the victim, the weaker, offended party.

I want to leave you this morning with some practical advice. So often we think we can abide in anger for life. But there isn’t anything life-giving about anger. Nor is there anything redemptive/healing about anger. There are however three things that will usher healing into the most broken relationships. If you find yourself angry this morning, God invites you to embrace three life-giving choices.

Life-Giving Choice #1: Embrace Faith.

C.S. Lewis said it best, “I’m not telling you what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I didn’t invent it.” We have to resolve who to trust more—our God or our anger. We have to resolve who we will obey—our God or our anger. Several years ago, a kind of perfect storm unfolded at the church. Several men I dearly loved, started sharing false accusations about this church, and mischaracterizing my ministry. It was so agonizing. So many relationships got damaged. People left. One night I went to HyVee and I read the entire New Testament. My question was, “Lord, what would you have me do.” The Lord said, “Be quiet. Humble yourself. Forgive. Wait. Leave room for God. I’ve got this.” I found so much peace trusting God over my own anger.

Life-Giving Choice #2: Embrace Love.

Love is the single most proactive thing you can do to bring about healing. Love isn’t weakness, love is true strength. Romans 12:14-21 summarizes the teaching of Jesus quite well: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

“17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

Life-Giving Choice #3: Embrace Hope.

The Bible is pretty clear that our hope isn’t found in this life, but rather beyond this life in heaven. Our hope enables us to live above, and beyond, and through our pain. A couple more great verses are Romans 12:9-12: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Scripture Verses

Genesis 4, James 3:5-6, Matthew 6:12-15, Luke 18, Matthew 18, Romans 12:9-21

Worship Playlist

  • This Is Amazing Grace
  • Tremble
  • Scandal of Grace
  • Lord I Need You

Study Questions

Psalm:

"8The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.9 The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.14 The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down." Ps. 145: 8-14

Proverb:

"Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends." Pr. 17:9


Apply It!

Prayer:

"O my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. You are my God and you are my all and you are my grace. You have made me and remade me. You have bestowed on me all the good things that I possess; all I have is by your grace. Teach me to seek you. I cannot seek you unless you teach me, or find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in my desire, let me desire you in my seeking. Let me find you by loving you; let me love you when I find you." - Anselm of Canterbury

"Give me only your love and your grace- It is enough for me."


Practice:

Write down a list of the offences you are carrying. Offer them to God for His perfect resolution. Search your own life for areas where you have caused offense. Ask for forgiveness and make amends. Each day this week, find an instance where you can extend grace. 

Resources

Pick up a "I'm Not Okay" Summer Prayer Booklet for adults and students. It includes a weekly Prayer, Psalm, Proverb, Practice and Breath Prayer to go along with every sermon.

Pick up an Emoji Prayer Guide for children. It includes a weekly Prayer, Scripture, Application and Connect to help parents discuss the week's theme with their children.

Downloads & Resources