Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are You The Hulk Or Nehemiah?

Last night I had youth at church and prepared what I thought was a bang up lesson on anger.  I found it on line and modified it to fit Rock Mills and Me.  You see, anger is something I don't seem to have the best control of....thanks to my Irish and Native American heritage....but I work on it....all the time.  My scripture text for them was rather lengthy and came from the New International Version in Neh. 5:1-13.  I want you to read it so I printed the text for you. 
"Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. [2] Some were saying, "We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain."  [3] Others were saying, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine."  [4] Still others were saying, "We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards. [5] Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others."  [6] When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. [7] I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them [8] and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. [9] So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? [10] I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! [11] Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them--the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil." [12] "We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say." Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. [13] I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, "In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!" At this the whole assembly said, "Amen," and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
So now let me ask you like to shop at Costco or SAMS?  Frank and I love to. Where else can you buy 320 rolls of toilet paper, 20 pounds of Doritos and an entire pallet of dog food? As fun as the store is though, something happens when you finish shopping and walk to the front of the store to the checkout counter. Everything changes. Just minutes ago out in the oversized aisles of the store, everyone was happy with big smiles on their faces….sampling stuff…..looking at all the products…but…. Now, as everyone nears the front ... they change. Their smiles disappear and their grip tightens on their cart as the competition begins: "Which is the shortest line?!!" Old ladies that looked like sweet little old grandmothers will run you down, "MOVE IT OR LOSE IT MISTER!" I don't know about you, but I have the gift of choosing when it comes to standing in line… ... the LONGEST LINE POSSIBLE! And to make matters worse, when I finally do near the front, a smiling employee will go to the people behind me, who just arrived in line, and tell them, "I can help you over at checkout number 3!" Well…let me tell you…. all of us have been equipped with an anger meter, a meter that measures just how angry we are. And when it gets in the red ... we blow. When that employee comes over and grabs the customers behind me ... I come really close to the red zone on my anger meter. This doesn't just happen in Costco or SAMS. This happens in my least favorite stores to shop as well, like Office Depot or Home Depot. I'll never forget once last year when my morning at this store had already been a terrible experience- the workers sent me to wrong aisles, gave me bad information, etc. I finally got what I needed and went to stand in line ... and there was only one checkout open...and everyone in Alexander City was in it. It was 8 in the morning….and they only had ONE CHECKOUT open….COME ON! To make matters worse, there was an employee that was standing near the front stapling, NOT HELPING ANYONE, looked up at me, connecting with my eyes ... then went right back to her stapling. My anger meter hit the halfway point. But I just stood there doing what we of Irish and American Indian descent stink at, being patient. Finally she looked up again, looking at me like, "Are you still here?!!" and got on the intercom and said, "customer service up to the front register ... customer service!" It was at that moment that an elderly man waltzes up behind me, glances at an unopened register next to me and goes up to it and puts his purchases down. The checker arrived and started to help the man. My anger meter hit three quarters. My Irish side couldn't just stand there, so I spoke up to the man. "I guess you're first then." Pa Kettle looks at me surprised and said, "Oh ...were you first?" I retorted, "No, I was just comparing the heights of these nail racks here. I think aisle three is the tallest one!" I'm finally helped by a lady who had found her true calling at this helpful store...NOT!   She starts to run my purchases through but somehow had trouble with every step and ended up emptying her purse to try to find her glasses. I was buying something for school and myself so I did two transactions. When I gave her my credit card she asked me for my problem....I have ask for ID on the back of my credit card. For the second transaction she asked me if I was going to use the same card. I told her yes. YES I tell you....and then she asked to check my I.D. again. After pausing in disbelief for a few seconds, I told her "thank you ... because I could be someone else this time." She just looked at me. The only thing sad about both these stories is that when I finished these transactions and left the store, within three minutes I entered my car and began to drive……look out other people on the road….angry woman is on the loose. Anger is a reality. We all have it. The question is simply, "What do we do with this anger?" Is it wrong for us to be this way? Well in three separate verses we see even God, in 3 forms is angry:
• Psalm 7:11 "God is angry with the wicked every day."
• Mark 3:5 "Jesus looked around at them with anger."
• I Samuel 11:6 "The spirit of God came upon Saul ... and he became angry."
Anger itself is not bad/a sin. It's part of being human- part of the emotional structure God put in us when he made us was the capacity for an emotional response. The human body is equipped with an automatic defense system called "fight or flight." When we are confronted seven things happen:
1. Adrenalin is pumped into the bloodstream,
2. Blood pressure increases,
3. Heartbeat accelerates,
4. Eyes dilate for better peripheral vision,
5. Hands sweat,
6. Mouth gets dry,
7. Muscles are supplied with a sudden burst of energy- we are transformed to alarm reaction state.
This is an involuntary response that occurs whether or not we will it- impossible to ignore- like denying a toothache. IT IS OUR RESPONSE TO ANGER IS WHAT'S IMPORTANT. How should we respond? The Media, bless their hearts, gives us the answer: If someone makes us mad, kick their butt! THE HULK is a great object lesson on anger….. when my kids were young we never missed the Friday night TV program THE INCREDIBLE HULK. My son loved it. Do you remember the Hulk? You gotta love this poor guy David Banner who wanders around from town to town ... getting his butt kicked. This guy was like the kid in class who had the sign "KICK ME" taped to his back. Every place he went, a group of guys would say, "Hey, look at that guy, let's kick his butt!" "Yeah, that would be fun!" And so they would begin to beat him up, the whole time while David would say, "Please ... ." Pow, Kick, Punch, " ... Don't" Bam, Pow ... "Stop It" ... Punch, Smack! Until finally he would receive that one blow that would push him too far and he would look up with those green eyes, his shirt would rip, his pants would rip (except for that one pair of cut offs that would happen to stay on, because this was a family show), he would turn green and muscular and KICK SOME BUTT! And we all loved it. Amish people would secretly scream, "Kill 'em Hulk! You show 'em!" Because it's the way we would love to express our anger. By kicking some tail! When I was a teenager there was also this show called Kung Fu? Poor Chinese guy (played by white boy, David Carradine) Kwai Chang Caine wonders around the country beating up people that tried to fight him. Every episode, those same guys that tried to get David Banner would try to beat up Kwai Chang Caine, who, of course, would kick their butts. And we would love it. Well that was back then. Now we have Steven Seagal, who not only kicks their butts, but he breaks them in half. That's even better. That makes our anger feel great... . or does it? Last year a local paper followed a true story of two guys that got in a disagreement on the road. One guy gets out of his car, right in front of his young son, and shoots the other guy. This guy ends up going to jail, and shortly after, kills himself in prison, leaving his son fatherless. That speaks volumes. Movies usually leave that part out of the story. Sure, it might feel good to just explode and hurt someone or something, but ... is that the end result we really want?  Eph. 4:26-27 says that "when you're angry, do not sin. Stop being angry before the end of the day. Don't give the Devil a foothold." We already established that anger isn't wrong. I think the question is, how do we take this natural emotion and NOT give the Devil a foothold? How can we control our anger when we get angry?  Nehemiah shows us a great example of how to do this. He not only gets angry for good reason, but responds in a way where the end result is positive.
Alright so in the book of Nehemiah we see a group of people who were getting attacked not from the front, but from within. The Jewish nation had been conquered by Babylon over a century ago, and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This was devastating to the Jewish people. Their temple, their city and their walls were destroyed and their people were exiled and scattered. But half a century later Cyrus, king of Persia conquered all that Babylon had taken, and let the Jewish people return to their city and worship their own God. Cyrus just thought it was a better political move to let the nations under him have more freedom, a good choice as it turned out, because they stayed in power for two centuries, only to be eventually conquered by Alexander the great.So the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their temple, and under the leadership of Nehemiah, were rebuilding their walls. During this construction project small local enemies had started causing trouble. They were poking fun at God's people and even threatening harm. Nehemiah actually ended up dividing the workers into two groups, one group standing guard while the other worked with swords at their sides.In addition to all this, times were tough. So many Jews returned to the city at once that this population explosion had caused famine. Many of the Jews were hungry and were barely scraping a living. Through all these hardships, God's people pressed on ... until something happened. They got attacked from within. Their own brothers took advantage of them and that made Nehemiah angry. Nehemiah wasn't a guy whose anger meter was in the red a lot. He was very calm and cool in most situations. That alone was a challenge to me. Nehemiah wasn't just a hot head, but when he saw his people stabbing their brothers in the back, it really ticked him off. We can follow the example of Nehemiah and apply his three steps of how to handle our anger.
STEP ONE:  The first thing Nehemiah did was admit that he was angry. Look at the text:  In Neh. 5:6
"When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry."  Nehemiah was hacked and he didn't hide it. He tells us that he was angry. He didn't try to shove it down or repress it, he acknowledged the fact that he was mad. And that's the place that many of us need to start. Often, people will try to repress their anger and hide it. There's a huge problem with this. Psychologists call this "gunnysacking." This is when someone gathers everything that makes them angry and places it in an emotional "gunnysack" that they carry with them. This sack gets heavier and heavier until finally it can't hold anything else and it explodes. And if you've ever been around someone during one of these episodes it's not a pretty picture.
STEP TWO:  Stop and think.(This is where I sometimes fall down).  In verse seven Nehemiah says "after thinking through it ..." according to the New Living Translation. The NASB says, "And I consulted with myself ..." Bottom line, Nehemiah took a moment to stop and think. This wasn't new for Nehemiah. In Chapter 1 when Hanani brought him the first bad news, "the walls are in ruins!" he wept (vs.4) and fasted and prayed. Thomas Jefferson once said that we should count to 10 when we get angry. Some of us might have to be more realistic ... I know I have to count to about 23,000. The point is to allow yourself to cool down and gain perspective.
STEP THREE:  The last principle we can learn from Nehemiah is also found in the verses following. Nehemiah calls a meeting together and communicates a well thought out proposal. Nehemiah doesn't just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. He doesn't just fly off the handle. He thinks it over. Then acts rationally and thoughtfully. After thinking it over, Nehemiah makes three accusations. The first is in verse 7: 1. You are charging interest to your brothers, fellow Jews. This is wrong. This would be the way someone should treat a strict business relationship like a harsh pawnbroker. What these guys were doing was not only against the Jewish law, but it was harsh. But things got worse, and Nehemiah clarifies this in his second accusation:  2. You are putting your brothers into permanent slavery (verse 8). This is also wrong. Leviticus 25:39-43 speaks specifically about this, instructing Jews to release their fellow Jews who had served as slaves after a certain period of serving.  But Nehemiah doesn't just leave it at that. He goes on to make a third accusation that perhaps is the most important:  3. You are looking bad in front of the surrounding nations (verse 9). These people weren't just taking advantage of their brothers, they were being watched. Local enemies like Sanballat and Tobiah might have sat back laughing, watching the Jews destroy themselves from within. It's hard to remove reproach when you can't even get along with your brother. We, as Christians, see the need to be careful how we conduct ourselves in front of non-believers. Paul writes about this to the Philipians in chapter 1:27-28:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel [28] without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God. (NIV)  In 1 Peter 2:11-12 (NIV) Paul writes:  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. [12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Nehemiah was a living example of how to act in front of others. An example that we can still learn from today. So, "after thinking it over," Nehemiah makes these charges to the Jews. It must have been pretty well presented because in verse eight it says that "They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say." (NIV) That is my new a Nehemiah....admit I am angry, stop and think, then act rationally.  I think I can, I think I can, well....I will start today...I blew it yesterday....we had an inservice...and they blindsided us with a speaker about a 20 minute meeting turned into a 40 minute one....I was almost late for Youth....griefus!

1 comment:

Jerralea said...

Great post! I have to say, though, that I too have the gift of picking out the LONGEST LINE!