Monday, May 18, 2009

Rum Punch & A Red Hot Temper

I credit one of my pastors at Quest Community Church, Helen Musick, with the idea for this blog entry.

What's your weakness -- your Achilles heel?

Mine is a red-hot temper.

When I was a news reporter, my temper was infamous among reporters, editors and sources alike.

I once stormed out of a sheriff's office because I'd been promised an exclusive, only to arrive and to see another reporter from the competing paper there, too. I threw a temper tantrum and slammed the door on the way out. When I got back to the newsroom, my editor ordered that I go back. I refused. Right at that moment, as I was yelling at the editor, the phone on my desk rang. It was the sheriff, apologizing. He'd thrown out the other reporter and was asking me to come back. Smugly, I hung up the phone, looked my editor in the eye and snarled, "I told you so," stormed out again and got my rightful exclusive.

I have a bunch of stories like that.

A red hot temper comes in handy if you have the where-with-all on how to handle it.

Unfortunately for me, it usually also leads me down the primrose path of destruction.

Yes, I'm being serious.

More than once, my temper has almost cost me my marriage. It has almost cost me very dear friends. It has always gotten in the middle of my relationships with my mom and brother. And yet, somehow, people keep forgiving me.

Maybe that's the reason I allow myself to fly off the handle.

Admittedly, though, I've tried really hard in recent years to get a handle on this thing. And I've been doing much better.

But there are times when ... my temper creeps up like an old friend and nudges me in the side. "Go on," it tells me. "You know that person has it coming. Give it to 'em. They deserve it. That whiplash tongue of yours can destroy them with a few words. They won't know what hit them."

And of course, they don't.

It takes a great deal of self-will to keep this nasty little bugger at bay -- and of course, there would be no self-will without daily prayer.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday at Quest, I heard a little story from one of our pastors, Helen Musick. And it reminded me of this ongoing struggle I have with my temper.

Helen had a situation on a cruise. She was tempted to drink some rum punch. For some people, that may not seem like a big deal. But Helen is very open with us at Quest that she is a recovering alcoholic. I watched as she told her story on stage. Her voice quavered. She shook a little. She showed us how she brought the glass to her face, then right up to under her nose, where she could breathe in the aroma of the alcohol. But just before she could taste it, her husband showed up. She looked into his eyes -- and she saw grace. She immediately put the drink down. She felt very ashamed and abashed about this whole thing.

As I reflected on Helen's experience, I could really relate to it. There have been countless times -- countless times -- when I have held the cup of anger to my nose and breathed in a whiff of its powerful charm.

I love telling people off. I really do. I get a charge in putting them in their place and not letting them get away with anything.

But God's Spirit has made it very clear to me that this is sinful. It does not reflect the person that He wants me to be. It is a great temptation to me to allow myself the luxury of sounding off.

So here is the question I have for you ... and I've posed it to Helen as well ...

When does temptation become sin?

Does it require full action? For example ... Do you think that when Helen held that rum punch to her nose, that was a sin? See, I don't. But on the other hand, I think to myself ... does desire in and of itself constitute sin? If you want something badly but do not partake of it, have you sinned because you wanted it?

I struggle with the same thing with my temper.

If I want to tell someone off -- really badly -- is the desire to do so a sin? Is it just as bad for me to stand in front of the mirror and yell the words at my reflection? Even though they're not present and can't hear my words, is it acting on the anger?

Or ... are we struggling with our human natures? Just struggling ... not sinning?

When we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," I really think this is what Jesus is talking about -- these situations where we are right on the edge, right on the abyss of falling. We need Him to step in and help us get out of those situations with rum punch -- or those feelings of red-hot anger -- so that we can walk away whole.

And if we fail ... as Helen put it so beautifully yesterday ... are we willing to forgive ourselves as He forgives us?

I don't really have answers for you in this blog entry. I'm just mulling it. And what better place to mull it than here at Priscilla's and Aquila's Place?

So what about you?

What are your struggles? What are your thoughts on this?

How can I pray for you?


  1. For me, that temptation comes in the form of desire. Giving in to desires I know are sinful, but feel incredibly good. Sometimes, I think I shall surely go to hell for some of the things I've thought - and some of the things I've done. But what about repentance? There are those who say God will forgive me my sins, if I simply ask. And so throw caution to the wind and sin without impunity. Sin now, repent later.
    Is this wrong? I don't know, but I think even the lowliest sinner - can be afforded grace. Does she have to wait until her death bed? No. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

    Let's take Jeffrey Dahmer for example. Dahmer committed some of the most heinous crimes known to mankind. Killing and dismembering and canabilizing men and boys. But before he was murdered in prison Dahmer repented and was saved. Do you think God forgave him?

    Do you?


  2. ....we are at perpetual war..within ourselves against the sin that is resident in the flesh ...if given the opportunity with the right circumstances i will sometimes DO what i know is wrong..but not everytime..and it depends...and then other times i will simply ponder doing it "in my heart"...Both examples are sin....Martin Luther said:"If we are to sin then sin BOLDLY" is important that we understand the point he was making..........Did God forgive Dahner?.well..let him who is without sin...........

  3. @Anonymous #1: Yes, I believe Dahmer was forgiven, because think about Jesus hanging on the cross and telling the thief he would be with Him in paradise. And as for people who become angry at the idea that God would forgive Dahmer ... hey, I'd rather believe in a God of love who would be willing to forgive the likes of Dahmer than in a God of vengeance who would turn His back and say it's too late. It gives hope to all of us, who actually have the same propensities for evil.
    As for your other point about sinning and then repending ... check out Romans 6. You'll find it enlightening! :-)

    @Anonymous #2: Love the quote from Luther. Completely agree. Your points are excellent and well-stated. Thank you so much for weighing in and adding to the depth of discussion.

    To all readers, I did receive a nice note from Helen last night, and she did a great job of explaining why she felt the encounter with the rum punch was "sin." It was because in her heart, she treated the rum punch as an "idol." It carried that type of weight for her. I see where she is coming from now, and this really helped in my understanding of the whole dilemma.
    As for myself, I puzzled out that it's one thing to feel emotion ... but if I act on it sinfully -- or if I allow it to live in my heart and take root and grow into "hatred" or "resentment" or "bitterness," that would be the sin.
    I am still working this out in my heart and mind. I appreciate the comments and emails! This has been a great discussion, and I look forward to more of them!


  4. No easy answer here. Other than when he threw out the money changers and other business people, Jesus seems to have largely rejected displays of anger as a way to handle problems. And yet, it is my anger that often alerts me that something may be really wrong. For me, the difficult thing is determining whether my anger is truly justified, or just a selfish response, and if justified, how to make my response constructive. No easy answers.

  5. @Bonnevillerider: Agreed! I had to chuckle at your comment, because that is EXACTLY what comes into my mind -- that same story -- when I am struggling with anger. I also think about Matthew 23 when he gave those Pharisees a no-holes-barred tongue lashing.
    I guess it comes down to figuring out when the anger is sinful -- for example, we can have righteous anger and the child sex trade in places like Thailand. But it would be up to God to ultimately deal judgment, because actually we are no different than the offenders, except our sins may not have the grave consequences theirs do.
    I do puzzle this out in my mind frequently, and I also have to repent DAILY for my anger. Hardly a day goes by when this thorn of flesh does not torment me in some fashion. I tend to think that most people have at least one thing that gets them down like this.
    Thanks for your comment! Well said, and I appreciate you weighing in on the discussion here. Very helpful!