I’ve Got My Angry Eyes!

Toy Mr_ Potato Head Deluxe 8“And don’t sin by letting anger take control over you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the devil.”

Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT

One of my favorite scenes in Toy Story is when Mr. Potato Head is going out help rescue Woody. As he prepares for the trip, his wife lets him know that she packed his “angry eyes”. I personally thought the spud’s voice was considerably more threatening than his optical grimace, but he didn’t want to leave home without it.

I don’t know if you have looked around lately, but there seem to be an awful lot of angry people out there. I don’t think most of them realize just how angry they are, but it is pretty apparent to people who aren’t angry that there seems to be a growing epidemic of rage here in America. From the political hill to the school yard, from the boardroom to the PTA, people are angry. Why?

  • Injustice – There are things that are going on that are just plain wrong. Murder of infants, rights being taken away, taxes being used for things that we might have strong moral and religious convictions about.
  • Opinion – I have an opinion, and I bet you do too! It doesn’t matter what your opinion is or what mine is, because someone is not going to agree with it. That means they actually might think you are wrong!
  • Pain – We have things that have happened to us that have brought us pain, and that often brings out anger. Sometimes it is against the person that wronged us, and sometimes it is against people who remind us of the person who wronged us.

You see, I am by nature an angry person. I have touched on that in this blog before. I rage against injustice. I fight to defend my position and I seethe when I am wronged. I am a man who has strong emotions, and anger is one of the strongest. It is a very powerful emotion, and that is why we get such strong warnings about it in God’s Word.

Proverbs is full of words of wisdom regarding holding our temper and our tongues when we are angry. We have the verses at the beginning of this post telling us of the need to not let sin control us or to let the sun go down while we are angry. One of the first sins in the Bible was the anger of Cain against his brother, and we know how that turned out! If God tells us to be careful with our anger, don’t you think we should be paying attention?

You might say, “Well, Jesus got angry! He flipped tables and chased people out of the temple for cryin’ out loud!” You’d be right. He also got angry with the Pharisees on more than one occasion. The thing is, He did it without sinning.

When I pull out my angry eyes, I might start with a righteous anger, but before long, I am looking for one thing and one thing only – my right to be heard, vindicated, proven, and ultimately for my position to be elevated above someone else’s, because If I am going to be right then the other person must be…_______________. (I’ll let you fill in the blank like it’s a quiz, but I’ll tell you the answer is “wrong.”)

So, if my goal is to be right at the expense of another person, then I am wrong. If my goal is to be right to make someone agree with me, then I am wrong. If my goal is to right an injustice, that can be a little more tricky, but I can tell you that it often leads to me being wrong. At the end of the day, I keep being wrong when I try to be right.

So, let’s talk about the big one – Injustice. Is it wrong to stand up for a wrong that was done. No, but the attitude that comes with it can be dangerous. Jesus showed anger when people were trying to use a position of religious authority to hurt people. Jesus flipped tables when people were robbing worshippers. He spoke harshly at the Pharisees when they were trying to twist God’s Word to suit their purposes by shaming others. The injustice that outraged Jesus was an injustice against others, not Himself.

When a wrong was done to Christ, He simply asked God to forgive the person. Wow. He was whipped, spit on, had his beard yanked out, and spikes driven through his wrists and ankles, and as the sinless Son of God, His response was to ask God to forgive them.

A completely sinless man. Innocent yet found guilty. The very definition of the word injustice took place on the cross of Christ. It was done for more than our salvation, and that reason was more than enough. It was done as an example for living.

My mentor/friend/”rabbi” often told me when I would be ranting about the injustices I was facing, “You need to give up the right to be right, and focus on your calling to do right.” I am a follower of Christ. I look to Him as my example for living. How can I stand here and rail against the injustices of things to the point of anger when I have a Savior who forgave the most heinous injustice in history?

I can’t. Not if I am going to do right. I want to do right.

Doing right in spite of injustice requires a couple of things:

  1. Prayer – Pray that God will ultimately hand out the justice that is necessary in the situation, and the He will correct it according to His will. Pray that He will give you the wisdom to know when you have pushed too hard and you are crossing the line between righteous indignation and sinful anger. Pray that the people involved will see their error and make it right.
  2. Let it go – It’s more than an annoying song on the radio. “Let it go” should be our response to anger that is lingering. Very clearly Paul tells us not to let anger control us. In simple terms he says not to let the sun go down while you are angry. Let it go.

The reason we need to do these things is because the anger allowed to run free will give Satan a foothold in our hearts. There is no more dangerous thing in the world than a truth with a lie wrapped up inside, and Satan loves to tell the lie to us that it is okay to hang on to anger when it is directed against a bad thing. Holding anger leads to a bitter life that will be lived out alone with a lot of pain.

You need to give up the right to be right, and focus on your calling to do right.”

I’d like to say that I have mastered this. Ask my wife, my kids, my staff at work, and they will all tell you that I have not, and they would be right. But it’s better than it was. I have gained ground in this, and while my first reaction is not going to be to forgive, pray, or let it go, I get to them a lot faster than I used to, and very rarely is an overnight required.

It’s part of growing in Christ, and having that relentless desire to be more like Him so I can give Him more praise for the work He is doing in me. This isn’t me, it is Christ at work in me. He gets the glory for what I do well, and I claim the fault of the things I do wrong.

So, I still have my angry eyes packed, and I take them with me wherever I go. There might be times that they are needed. Sometimes I use them the right way, but I also find I am using them a lot less.

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Can I Quote You On That?

quotationMarksEvery Monday in our weekly Department Head meeting, we have an ice breaker question.  They have ranged from the unimaginative, “What are you doing this weekend?” to more thought provoking questions that will make you think, “What is the favorite gift you ever received from your grandparent.”  It is always interesting to see exactly what someone might come up with.

This week, one of our newer managers was given the task of the icebreaker.  You could feel the tension coming off of her as she explained that she had thought a long time about it and had thought about doing an activity, but was not able to get all of the props together.  She said after a lot of deliberation and asking some of the people in her department what they thought, she settled on this:

“If you had to have your life summed up in a quote, what would you want it to be?”

Wow.  My mind was blown as I sat there and thought about the weight of that question.  Sum up my life in a quote.  All of my desires, dreams, and accomplishments in a sentence that would depict my life.  Something memorable, imaginative, and potentially inspirational in the life of someone who heard it.

The answers began as we went around the room.  It was my turn to impart my words of legacy that I would want people to remember me by. Here we go:

“Sarcasm. just one of the many services I offer.”

Way to go, Tom. Home run… Doofus…

As the day wore on I went back to what I had said and thought about it some more – a lot more!  Obviously that quote is a part of who I am (no remarks from the peanut gallery), but it is not a total representation of me, nor is it what I want to be remembered by.

There are things in my life that I value more now than I used to.  The importance of my family and friends has grown in magnitude to a level I didn’t think possible before.  I mean, I always loved my family, but I am loving them differently now.  It is stronger, healthier, and with more purpose.  Friendships were something that always came and went with me, and I didn’t lose a whole lot of sleep either way, but now, I have some real friendships that I see as mutually beneficial. And I love doing life with these people.

Another thing that has changed is that I am now able to interact with people at a deeper level.  Over the last couple of years I have learned to ask better questions, to listen to understand, and to enter into another person’s emotional state.  It is something I never wanted to do before.  Let’s face it.  We are all people, and we all have emotions.  Emotions are just plain messy!  I avoid messy, but lately, I like that kind of mess!

What happened?  How has this change taken place? (And how will he bring it back around to talking about a quote?)

I believe with all my heart that it has hinged on one thing.  It has been something that I have done off and on for about 30 years, but only in the last two have I become more consistent about it:

READING MY BIBLE

I’ve been to classes, I have taken training courses. I have read books about how to have these changes take place in my life, and up until recently, I have seen no appreciable change in the area of friendship and genuinely caring about people.  The only real change has been my time in God’s Word.  So, what am I supposed to think happened?

Logically, I have to stick with what makes sense.  The time spent in God’s Word is doing it.  It is the only variable that has changed, and the only real change about doing it is that it has become consistent.  Spending time reading my Bible has opened my eyes to what He is doing in my life.  It has given me more of a desire to pray for direction, understanding, wisdom, and for the well-being of others.

I guess when it is all said and done, if I was going to want a quote to define my life, I would want it to be something that reflected the changes that have taken place lately.  I have never felt the closeness of God in my life that I do now.  I have never had the peace in my heart that I have now.  I have bad days, but they are not as often, and not as bad.

So, when I take all of that and put it together, I guess (and now we’re back to the part about the quote) I would like the quote that defines my life to be something along this line:

“Healthy relationships with family and friends are the natural fruit of a life devoted to relentless growth in Christ, and there is no better way to grow deep in Christ than to dig deep in His Word.”

It might never end up on a coffee cup or a T-shirt, but I’d be pretty pleased if that was the legacy I left behind. You can quote me on that!

Relentless Growth. Grow deep. Grow strong.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

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Let’s Face It. Spurs Hurt!

spurs2This past weekend I was able to go with my wife and daughter to the Stallion Expo at the MSU Pavilion.  You might ask what type of an event is this, and I would say it is a high-end flea market for horse people combined with some seminars to help people be better riders, trainers, and what-not.

We spent several hours walking up and down the aisles looking at the wares of the different vendors, and I must admit that even though there seemed to be many repetitive items, I saw a couple of things that piqued my interest, including some manure transportation devices (not wheelbarrows) and a really clever hayfeeder that I will be thinking about putting together myself instead of buying one for several hundred dollars.

Other than walking around with my two favorite ladies, the highlight for me was going to a couple of the seminars on horsemanship.  The first one was from a Pat Parelli instructor (look him up, he’s basically the most worshipped horse trainer in the field from what I hear) and the other one was from a gentleman named Dr. Lew Sterrett.  They had different approaches to horsemanship, but you could see results in their techniques.

The Parelli instructor talked a lot about how to get your horse to do what you want by making him think it was his idea.  There were a lot of little techniques, but that seems to be the main focus as far as I could tell.  I have heard a lot about it from my daughter, and I have seen the games that she plays with the horses work for getting them to listen to her.  As a relative “greenhorn” I have even employed some of them after I get tired of chasing them around the corral and basically losing my sanctification.

horsesitDr. Sterrett’s techniques were a little bit “harsher” than the Parelli techniques, but I was listening to more than just his philosophy of training horses.  As he spoke, he shared a good deal of biblical wisdom as well.  Dr. Sterrett is also a pastor, and he did a great job of applying lessons from horse training to our personal lives.  He was talking about the heavy sand in the arena and how that might make things a little difficult for the horse.  He said it is important that you give your horse good footing when training because,

“A horse is a lot like a teenager. You have to teach them good footing so they know how to stand when their emotions get out of balance.”

That’s a pretty good little life lesson!  I don’t think you would find any parent that would disagree with you on that, especially those who have raised their kids.

My favorite quote came later.  When he was almost done, he asked if anyone had any questions.  One gentleman asked him how he felt about using spurs.  Dr. Sterrett asked the crowd what kind of horse you use spurs on, and the answer was a broke one.  At first I thought that was the wrong answer because I had grown up watching Westerns and I had seen the tough, bronc rider climb up on that horse, grab hold of those reigns and dig those spurs in to get that horse a rockin’ and rollin’.  So, what was I missing?

I was missing something that needs to come before the spurs come out – a trusting relationship between the horse and the rider.  Dr. Sterrett then went on to say,”

“When you put a spur to a broke horse they never question the authority or the affection of the spur. They realize it is there for instruction and direction.”

Let that sink in.  That is Christian discipline in a nut shell.  God brings correction into our lives either through conviction form the Holy Spirit, or form those He has placed around us, and most of the time, that correction hurts! The degree of pain from it is often exacerbated when we don’t yield to it though.  If we would just trust God and the things He is doing in our lives, then we would not fear the spur.  It would just be an indicator that we either need to turn or get moving.  It is not there to bring pain. It is an authoritative gesture delivered with affection to bring us into line again.

Let’s face it. Spurs hurt.  What we believe about that spur makes all the difference.  A person dedicated to growing in Christ will realize that the spur is there to simply reinforce the relationship that he is seeking through a yielding to the relentless power of Christ at work in his life.

Relentless growth comes through a yielding and a right attitude of God’s correction.  It’s not always what we want, and sometimes it will hurt, but He’s always looking out for our good.

Digging In the Past – Part 3

gold_nuggetIf you are just stumbling across this blog, you might want to take a step back here and here to catch up on the story.  If not, that is fine, you are welcome to come in right where we are.  I’m hesitant to say that this is the final chapter of the story, as it will go on, but it is the final part of the series.  I’m excited to bring it to a close, not because I want to move on to something else, but because I’m eager to share how God has brought me to where I am today.

When I left last time, I had just been given some great words of wisdom from a friend, “God is more interested in having me do thing with Him than for Him.”  This was a new concept for me, as my entire life I had been directed to do things for God.  Now I was confronted with what seems at first blush to be a minor change, but when you analyze it, it turns the world of a Christian upside down.

As I started to back out of some of my ministries, I started to experience some hard feelings from some of the people in my church.  I am not going to say that it was all intended, because I think some of them just didn’t understand what I was coming to grips with.  I realized that most of the things I was doing were not things that I had felt God had called me to do.  I was doing them for one of two reasons.

  • Somebody asked me to do it and said that they had prayed about it and felt I would be good for the job.
  • Nobody else would step up to do it, and somebody needed to.

I had collected ministries like a kid collects baseball cards.  Now I was attempting to get myself into a position to see what God wanted me to do, and it wasn’t very easy.

Eventually I was down to just three ministries, and I felt like I had a good balance in my life for the first time in a long time.  Without going through a lot of things that don’t need to be brought out here, we eventually came to the conclusion that we needed to make a change.  After a lot of prayer, consideration, and investigation, we decided to make a quiet exit from that church and move on to where we are presently.

When we got to our new church we sat down with the pastor and explained why we were there and what we had been experiencing through our Bible study and the change that God had been making in our hearts.  I told the pastor that I was hungry for discipling, and that I wanted to be involved.

One of the first things he did is tell me to stay out of ministry for a year.  I couldn’t believe I was being told to stay out of ministry by a pastor!  He said I needed a time to heal and to rest.  I needed to spend that year drawing closer to God and learning about grace for living.  What?  Grace is what God gave us when He died for our sins!  You mean it is for more than that?

Wow.  It really is.

I started getting plugged in with some people at church, building some acquaintances, but still not getting as connected as I would have liked.  I was feeling like I was missing out on something because I wasn’t “doing” anything for God.  I kept going to church, learning deeper things than I had heard before, but was still not really sure what was going on with my relationship with God.  I felt like I was ready to learn and listen, but He just was still staying at arm’s length with me.

Life changed on April 14th, 2010.  I had been really struggling at work, trying to hang on to a job that I didn’t really want anymore, and the day came.  I went to work in my company car that morning with a confident feeling that things were starting to turn around.  I was performing the way they wanted me to, growth was taking place on my sales route, and all was well.  I came home that night in a cab with a little cardboard box holding my personal belongings, and a few pieces of paper saying thanks for 11 years of your life.

We were about to start understanding grace!

We had no savings and a lot of debt when I lost my job.  So, I went to work looking for work pretty soon.  It wasn’t very long before we started to see that I was pretty much a one-trick pony.  I had spent 20 years working in the grocery business, and it was about the only thing I knew.  The real problem was, I was burnt out.  I couldn’t even begin to think about going back to the world of grocery stores.  What do I do now?

Our church stepped in, and we got to learn about the grace that God shows through His people as they showered us with food.  I have seen food showers before, and usually it is food that nobody wants to eat so they give it away, but these people were showing us real love and giving us wonderful things that we could use and stretch into bigger meals that would last.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to us.

Our parents were so kind and generous as they did things for us, helped us in so many different ways.  We were so humbled to receive their help and see their love and concern.

Tammi’s aunt and uncle gave me work to do, and that work allowed us to make sure that we never missed a house payment, or were even late on one.  We kept our lights on and a roof over our heads because of their generosity.

Time and again, God showed us His love through His people, and we soaked it up.  Eventually I started working again after 4 months of waiting for the job to finally come.  Two weeks after I started the job, I finally got an unemployment check.  Timely help for a guy that needed it.

Through all of that time and beyond, I was in a small group with a few men, and I put myself under the discipleship of a good and godly mentor.  He was so patient with me as I struggled with old beliefs, training, and religion.  He watched me rant and rave as I struggled to have my voice be heard and my rights made known.  He quietly, calmly, and firmly prodded me to dig deep into my Bible and really read it for the first time in my life.

Through that teaching I finally came to the realization that I was not just created to worship God and obey Him.  I was created for a relationship with Him.  I was fashioned by His hand because He wanted to know me and have me know Him!  He put the breath in my lungs so He could watch me grow closer to Him, to see that my life has more meaning than just being able to recite the books of the Bible and stay out of trouble.

Now I am growing, and I’m no longer satisfied with just having salvation.  If the Christian life was just about getting your salvation ticket punched, then we would be taken as soon as we accepted Christ.  Our purpose as believers is to show how God works in our lives and brings us through the struggles of life to let us reflect His goodness and grace in our lives so others can see Him and know Him.

When I started writing these posts, I said that you have to be careful when you go digging in the past because you might find something you have to deal with.  Well, that is true, but there’s a great reason to go digging.  You can dig for the nuggets of truth that God has laid out for you.  Sometimes those nuggets are easy to see, but not always.

I could look back on the past and say that there is no point in worshipping God because of the mess I had to deal with growing up in church.  I could say that a pastor is not a person who can be trusted because he is working his own agenda at the expense of his congregation.  I could say that there is no point in trying if I am just going to fail.  I could say that my efforts don’t count.

All those can be true unless I am looking for the nugget – the treasure.  What is the Truth of God at work in my life?  If I am looking for those, then I see the power of God at work through all of that.

I see that a pastor is there to help me grow closer to God, not to elevate himself.

I see that my efforts are not designed to carry me along, but to show God that I am working with Him rather than just sitting by.

I can say that the mess of church is there so we can see how God loves us as individuals even with all of our problems.

I see that the struggles, trials, doubts, and pain that I went through in regards to my faith over the years have been covering my nugget.  My nugget is God wants to be an active part of my growth.  My nugget is that God stayed with me through it all.  My nugget is that God can use what I went through to help someone else.  My nugget is that through all of those experiences where I didn’t know who God was or who I was, I now can stand in absolute confidence as a child of God.  I am in Christ.  I know who I am because I know who my God is.

If I said anything in these posts that has caused anyone to be angry at me or anyone else, please forgive me.  That was never my intent.  I just wanted to share my journey from a place of rules, restrictions, and doubt to a place of freedom, relationship, and confidence.  God is good, and I am so glad I went through it all so I can see how He has stayed with me. He has given me this desire for relentless growth in Him.

How about you?  Are you struggling with a similar situation?  Do you need someone to talk to?  Did this strike home with you?  I’d love to hear from you.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Freezeout 2014

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Just a short departure from my blog to tell you how blessed I am. I’m spending the weekend with my wife and 11 teenagers at Lake Ann Camp in beautiful Northern Michigan.  The weather is cold and we got another two inches of snow last night, but this is a beautiful spot to be.

As I sat in the dining hall reading my Bible, I kept thinking about something Joe Castaneda said last night in the first chapel session. He asked us where we see the evidence of God at work in our lives. That can be a tough question!

I’ve heard that question a lot in my life, but for the first time, I was ready with an answer. Why did I have one? I think it was for one single reason.

I have been spending time with Him.

Get in your Bibles. Spend time in prayer besides praying over food that probably is bad for you anyway. Ask Him questions and look and listen for His answer. 

God is always in your life, but if you want to see Him at work, you’ve gotta be looking for Him. When you see Him, join Him. That is where you experience the joys of a relentless life!

In His Grip,
Tom