Thursday, August 21, 2014


Recently, Google Maps did something that threw me off. When I log in with my location and destination, it will give me a list of steps. But after I got lost during a day trip this summer, I realized that as part of the list, Google gives you a general statement about what to do. Unless you click on the arrow to the right, you won't see the specific steps that dovetail into the general instruction.

For example, it might say, "Get on I-75 and follow it to the Georgia state line." But unless you click on the arrow, you'll miss the list underneath, which describes how to get to I-75 from your home and which highways will lead you around Tennessee before you jump back on to I-75 and hit the Georgia state line. If you don't click on that arrow, you might get to the Georgia state line -- but if you've never made the trip before, following the general instruction might actually get you lost.

I was thinking about this today, because I've been struggling with two Scripture verses -- Ephesians 4:26-27.

"'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold."

My dear friend Jason, who lives in Wales, sent that one in a tweet to me yesterday afternoon. It stopped me cold, and I replied to him that it was a great reminder. However, I said, I honestly didn't know the difference between "sinful anger" and "righteous anger."

What I meant by that was ... are there times when it's okay to be angry? The Bible verse doesn't address it. The verse also doesn't go into detail about HOW you're supposed to get PAST that all-consuming emotion. 

In short, this Bible verse is a "general instruction" on Google Maps.

This bothered me into the evening, and when I woke this morning, this was still on my mind. "How am I supposed to NOT sin when I am angry? Is anger sin?" 

I realized that to get to the answer, I have to do what I do with Google Maps -- click the arrow to get the specific instructions. And how do you go about that? By looking at verses in the Bible that pertain to anger.

Here's what I found, and if you also struggle with "sinning in your anger," I hope it helps:

1. Anger is not sin. If you dissect the verse, the verse does NOT say, "If you are angry, you are sinning." The verse says, "In your anger, do not sin." And how do we know that anger is not sin? Because God gets angry, too. God is holy and pure. There are countless instances in the Bible (heck, even atheists can cite them, and they do so vociferously) when God gets angry -- all the way back to the Garden of Eden, through Noah, through the 10 plagues in Egypt, through taking the Israelites to Babylon for 70 years ... you get the idea. Even Jesus got angry -- remember the scene where He overthrew the tables in the Temple with a whip? Check out that anger. Countless times. COUNTLESS TIMES that God gets angry. If God is holy and is without sin and He gets angry, then we know that anger is not sin.

2. Figure out why you are angry. In a moment of anger, stop and ask yourself the root cause for the anger. Sometimes anger is born out of something we ARE doing that is WRONG. I see this all the time with people who are very prideful. If you've ever called out a prideful person, watch them take vengeance swiftly. But then there are other times when our anger is justified. I get angry when I see people on Twitter deliberately misleading others with the "Prosperity Gospel" philosophy. (That's for another blog entry, but let's just leave it here that I get irate.) I get angry when someone runs a red light at top speed, and an old man was about to cross the street right before the car whizzed through. I get angry at political opponents when I sense that social justice is at stake. I get angry at situations like the case of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University. Make a list of what makes you angry. You will be able to see that there are times when you are angry for really good reasons. This is the anger to which the Bible verse is referring. You are angry for a good cause, but then, the verse says, do not sin in your anger.

Now. How do you do that? Anger is such a forceful emotion. In the hands of a human being, anger can become unmanageable, and the results can be disastrous (not God, whose anger is always carried out in pure ways).

This is where we have to "click on the arrow," i.e., look at other Bible verses and references, to understand how we can be angry and still not sin.

What I didn't know until this morning was that Ephesians 4:26 actually isn't an original thought. The phrase, "In your anger, do not sin," is a quote -- it's quoting Psalm 4:4!

"Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still." 

Wow -- now look at that. The Bible says, "Be angry." Be angry! It's instructing us to be angry if our anger has a righteous reason.

And the second part of the verse is what we just did -- we figured out why we were angry by meditating on the root cause of the anger. That was the first step to not sinning.

So now you know the root cause of why you're angry. But what next? Just knowing the cause may not be enough to stop you from sinning. Let's look at a few real-life examples to drill this down. I'll list the situation, the "sinful response," and the "righteous response."To make this easy, we'll look at some things that make me angry. I'm sure you have your own list, but maybe some of ours will match:

Real Life Anger #1: Someone bullies someone else on Facebook for a political reason.
Sinful Response: Jump into the middle of the debate and launch into personal attacks about the bully and why the bully doesn't understand the situation
Righteous Response: Hide the post from the Facebook timeline and reach out to the person who has been bullied on Facebook Private Messages to let them know you support them. Ask what you can do to help them have a better day. And if you feel you need to set the bully straight, reach out to THEM on Facebook PM and express that you muted the conversation because you felt it was not edifying. (Note, you can only do this last thing with other Christians. We are responsible to each other to build each other up, but when dealing with non-believers, we are to care for them as wayward lambs. That's for another blog post, though. :-P)

Real Life Anger #2: Abortion makes you see red.
Sinful Response: Judge the women who are having abortions. Picket abortion clinics with hateful signs. Tell people who are having abortions that they're committing murder and are going to Hell. Hand them a tract on Psalm 139 and condescendingly tell them that you'll pray for them. (That's what I call a passive-aggressive sinful response.)
Righteous Response: Pray for the teenage girls and women who are confused and are in a sea of difficulty, confusion, fear and hurt. Volunteer at a Pro Life clinic, where these women receive free medical care during their pregnancies. Collect baby supplies for indigent women. My church does a really cool thing once a year where we collect baby bottles for a few weeks and fill them with money and change, then deliver all of the bottles to a place like this as a fundraiser. Do you know how expensive formula is? Diapers? Do a good deed and set aside tithe money to donate these items to a local charity that serves women in need or to a homeless shelter.

Real Life Anger #3: A driver in a giant red pickup truck that's the size of a Transformer rides your bumper and flashes its beams at you on a two-lane winding road with no street lights at 10 p.m. And it's snowing. Oh gosh, now it just turned to sleet. And your kid is sleeping in the back seat.
Sinful Response:  Slam on your brakes to get the guy to back off. Give him the finger. Scream curses. Slow your speed to 15 miles per hour on the stretches with a double line so that he can't pass you and will be stuck going the pace of a turtle. (Yes, I have done all of these things, numerous times.)
Righteous Response: Flip your mirrors so that the headlights won't blind you and so that your peace will not be disturbed. Additionally, when a tailgater notices that you've flipped the mirror, he or she usually backs off. There's no point tailgating somebody who can't see you in the rear-view mirror, and you've just taken the fire out of what they're doing. Continue on as if the driver is not behind you and pray for God's protection until you get to your destination. Keep an eye out for police officers. In one situation, I had a tailgater on a Sunday morning who, for whatever reason, decided to bully me even when there were four lanes and he could easily pass me. I have no idea what started it. Then I saw two police cars parked on the shoulder. So I slowed down, put on my blinker, and pulled up behind the cruisers and got out of the car, while the driver gunned his accelerator and sped off. I walked up to the police officer in his car, who now was looking at me like I had just pulled HIM over, and explained that I'd been tailgated and bulled for about five miles by the driver who had just fled the scene. Unfortunately, the police had parked on the county line and told me that they would have to radio ahead for an officer from another county to pursue the driver. Although I didn't see justice that day, I was grateful that my cooler head prevailed. I got back in my car and drove to church -- stress-free and with a smile on my face.

Do you see how you can be angry but not sin in your anger? 

If you hit a Bible verse that stumps you, just think about the Google Maps analogy. Pause and look for footnotes in your Bible that explain the context behind the verse. Sometimes it's easy, like this morning, when I saw a footnote that led me back to Psalm 4:4. Sometimes you'll have to do some digging. But the bottom line is, anytime spent in the Word is not wasted time. God will honor your efforts with His wisdom spoken to your heart ... and you will have the specific directions to answer your problem that you might not have had if you'd stuck with the "general advice" in one verse.