Yesterday, July 1st – was Canada Day… in a couple of days, the United States will be celebrating 4th of July – a day of celebration of independence. Choosing whom to serve. It seems very appropriate then, that today we consider Romans 6: 12-23 that Phil Edmonstonread for us: freedom or slavery, discussing who we choose to serve.
For my example today, I’m going to use “anger”, because it is such a controlling emotion. How many have not felt controlled by their anger, rather than in control of their anger. But the reality is that you could replace anger with any sin, because there are so many to which we can be slaves. Proverbs 6, verses 16 to 19 caution us:
16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes (pride of the heart – arrogance, someone who is holier than thou, looking down on others because someone is better than…), a lying tongue (deception in speech, a lie is a lie – no matter how white or little),
and hands that shed innocent blood (while it’s talking about murder, it even applies to gossip & character assassination),
18 a heart that devises wicked plans (remember – “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is”, this is premeditation, planning)
feet that make haste to run to mischief (they have gone from machinations to execution readily – from planning to doing without restraint. But it’s more than that! It is also when we know what to do and we consciously choose NOT to do it! It could be not participating in gossip – when you listen avidly and fuel the fire; it could be character assassination),
19 a false witness who breathes out lies (knowingly speaking falsely about another person, not simply lying – and that, once again, could include circulating rumours and gossiping),
and (this is the worst one of them all, the 7th) one who sows discord among brothers (this is basically the sum of the previous 6… and we are back again to gossip & slander, speaking ill of another behind their back, creating divisions rather than unity).
But, unlike animals, humans suppress anger, and more importantly we have anger problems because we forget the purpose of anger. Instead of using anger to protect our “cubs”, life, loved ones or friends, we have started to use anger to protect our ego!And the reason that I want to talk about anger, is that it is so closely related to many of these sins mentioned in Proverbs. You know, that emotion that you feel: fury; wrath; rage; mad; ticked off; peeved… whatever you want to call it! However much we may value loving kindness, we still get angry. But what happens when anger controls your life? Let me clarify what I mean: there is a healthy and normal anger. It is part of our fight/flight/freeze response, in which many species, not just humans, get a driving force of adrenaline that helps them escape from danger. With this, we respond to a perceived threat, whether to our children, our self, or our home. We also see in animals, the same as in humans, the anger that arises from frustration, when we are trying to do a task, and confront failure in our performance. I’ve watch more than one horse kick the bucket to get the water out!
And by ego, I mean our perception of our ego, which is partly how we want to regard ourselves (internal) and how we want others to perceive us (external). Ego is our sense of “I”, the way we differentiate ourselves from others. For some, it is an intoxicating sense of self-importance, something that must be protected. But it is interesting that the Western view of ego is so different from the Eastern view of ego. For us, our ego is the self, the conscious part of me (my mind, my being) that knows the experience. But, in Eastern tradition, ego is simply a part of the mind, a trait, a characteristic – but it isn’t actually WHO you are. And this is important to differentiate when we are talking about anger, especially anger that is directed at protecting the ego! And this kind of anger is poisonous to us.
You all know the story about the boy with the bad temper, whose father sent him out with a bag of nails, and to hammer a nail into the fence every time he lost his temper, right? The first day, he had to drive 37 nails into the fence. Over time, he got control of his temper, and it gradually dwindled down. He discovered that it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally, the day arrived: the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father, and for a moment they celebrated that he had finally learnt to control it. The father than suggested that for each day that the boy was able to hold his temper, he pull one nail out of the fence! It took a long time, but finally the boy was able to return to his father and tell him that all the nails were finally pulled out of the fence.
The father took the son by the hand, and they went to look at the fence. And here they saw all of the holes that the nails had left. The fence would never been the same. And the father told his son: “When ou say things in anger, or lash out at another person, the words leave scars like these. You can put a knife into a person and draw it back out, but the hole remains. Saying “I’m sorry” will not fix the wound. It is still there.”
Many of you may think that you handle your anger well: “I don’t express my anger, I hold it in and don’t say nasty things.” But bottling the anger up inside, if you are not actually addressing it, leads to problems also. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, verses 21 and 22, Jesus said:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
So, a small question: how many of you know how a worm gets inside an apple? You may think that the worm burrows in from the outside. But scientists have discovered that the worm actually comes from the inside. What happens is that the insect lays its egg on the apple blossom. The blossom becomes an apple, and when the worm hatches, it is already INSIDE the apple. This is how our ego works on our thoughts, words and actions. It is already inside of us, and we are busy protecting it!
But, like I said, our “ego” is not “us” – it is our perception of how we “see” ourselves and how the world “should see” us. It is only when we are able to not identify with our ego, that we are able to stop protecting it against every attack and begin to look rationally at our anger! Many of ous think “that made me so angry” or “if so-and-so hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t have reacted that way”. But the truth is: they didn’t actually “make us” do anything. They may have been a source of temptation, but the reality is that they simply EXPOSED us and how we relate to our ego! And what comes out of our mouths when we are angry, is simply an expression of what is in our heart!
If we would take a moment, and “listen” to the thoughts in our head when we are angry, our self-talk, you might hear:
- I can’t believe they would say that me!
- How dare they think they could treat me this way!
- They aren’t going to get away with this!
- Karma will teach them a lesson!
- This isn’t fair!
And so our mind and thoughts escalate it… IT controls us! How many times have you been angry about a perceived injustice and your mind just won’t let it go? You know you need to relax and stop thinking about the situation or the words, but it keeps playing over and over in your head. It’s as if there were a recorder stuck on replay! And you decide you’re going to forgive, and the anger just keeps welling up inside of you. You start praying, and the thoughts interrupt and keep side-tracking you. How long are you a slave to these thoughts and this anger? How long does the replay keep popping up in your mind?
Think about it: how many times is this anger about getting our own way, self-centered desires. You feel righteous indignation – but how righteous is it really? Wasn’t it really about getting your way? Being right? Having your needs met? Ephesians 4:26 warns us:
Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
The whole purpose of the Bible is to draw us closer to God: the same God that is LOVE! God is love and we are called to draw near to God, draw near to LOVE. How do you draw near to love when you are controlled by anger? And what happens when you hold onto that anger past nightfall? You push it aside, deeper down, put a lid on it and ignore it. But it’s still there. You haven’t actually dealt with it, you’ve just covered it up. And when you try to draw near to God, you feel that there is something blocking you.
The truth is anger is a powerful emotion that deceives us into using it to demand our own way, and then we arrive in front of perfect love and we don’t know how to accept it, because perfect love drives out fear. Our ego can’t handle us letting go of our fear! It has been protecting itself for so long, that it can’t afford to let us let go of anything! It has to be right! It has to be protected! It cannot be vulnerable. It cannot be open and accepting. It cannot be forgiving.
If you want to get a handle on your anger, anger is not the problem you must address. Your temper is a symptom of what’s going on in your heart. If you gain self-control over your temper that’s great, but the deeper problem that causes your anger is what needs to change. How we act and live flows from what is in our heart – what we desire or want the most. So, who do you serve this day? Are you a slave of your ego and your desires? Or do you have the freedom to love others? To see their interests, their point of view, and weigh what they want or need as well as your own wants and needs?
Freedom is being open to love – no longer under the yoke of EGO, but rather under the yoke of LOVE. Choose this day whom you will serve!