How to Be Good and Mad

Psychology Today has called our generation "The Age of Rage." It seems that everywhere we turn, we see an increase in anger. It's unusual to read the newspaper without reading of hostage takings, road rage, air rage, and not just high school but public school shootings. New web sites are appearing to rage against ex-husbands and ex-wives.

What is alarming is that many of these acts of violence occur not with strangers, but with people they know. It appears that they just weren't able to control their anger in their personal relationships.

The statistics are mind-boggling. Nearly sixty percent of all the murders in America are between people who know each other and don't know how to manage their anger. In 1998 four million women were beaten by their husbands who would supposedly profess to love these women more than anybody else. More than ten million children were abused by parents who didn't know how to control their anger.

Closer to home is the damage that we see in our own relationships caused by anger. Many of us were raised by parents who didn't know how to control their anger. As I meet with married couples, I learn that anger is one of those issues that are breaking marriages apart. We were never taught how to manage our anger. It's certainly not being taught in most schools. The entertainment industry or the media is not teaching it. It's not even being taught in most churches. Somebody has to teach us how to handle our anger before we destroy our relationships and ourselves.

Today we're going to learn how to be good and mad. Anyone can be mad. In fact, we all do a pretty good job of being mad from time to time. But it takes skill to be good and mad at the same time. The Bible has a lot to say about the subject of how to handle your anger. This week you are going to be provoked to anger. How can you handle your anger in a God-honoring way?

This subject is important for a number of reasons. If you don't know how to handle your anger, you will hurt others and destroy your relationships. You will damage your family, your friends, your co-workers, and even your church. If you choose to bottle up your anger, you will do great damage within yourself. You will become a bitter and unattractive person. If you nurse your anger, you will give Satan a foothold in your life.

Not only that, but you are influencing others in how they handle their anger. Parents, you need to hear these Biblical principles because your children are learning anger management from you. If you don't teach them, who will? Even if you don't have children, you are influencing those around you by how you handle your anger. It affects not only you but also everyone about you.

Before we begin, I want to tell you that anger isn't always wrong. Psalm 7:11 says that God himself gets angry. Anger is a God-given emotion. If you're not angry, you're probably not alive. Aristotle once said, "Anybody can become angry - that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way-that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." If it's going to happen, it's going to be because we follow Biblical principles on how to manage our anger.

Proverbs 14:29 says, "Those who control their anger have great understanding." There are four keys that we need to understand in order to be both good and mad:

1. RECOGNIZE ANGER AS A DANGER SIGN

The first step in controlling our anger is to recognize anger as a danger sign. God gave us the emotion of anger. It's an emotion that he designed us to experience. But anger is a danger sign that things are going on in our soul that aren't healthy to ourselves or to others.

Why is anger a warning sign? In Matthew 5:21, Jesus said, "You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!"

In Jesus' day people thought of anger as being no big deal. They understood that murder was a big deal, but they didn't think of anger as being too important. They couldn't see the connection between anger and murder. Jesus said that anger is just as dangerous as murder. Once we begin to get angry, we're already partway down the road to destructive behavior.

A boy once asked his dad, "Dad, how do wars begin?" His dad replied, "Well, take the First World War. That got started when Germany invaded Belgium."

Immediately his wife interrupted him. "Tell the boy the truth. It began because somebody was murdered."

The husband drew himself up with an air of superiority and snapped back, "Are you answering the question or am I?" The wife got up, walked out of the room, and slammed the door as hard as she could.

The boy and the father sat there in silence until the boy finally said, "Dad, you don't have to tell me any more. I now know how wars begin."

Jesus said that God isn't just concerned with murders and wars. He's concerned with our anger. He's concerned about the way that we view other people. In fact, Jesus is so concerned about it that he says, "If you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!" He makes our anger as much as a spiritual issue as murder. We've got to change the way that we think about anger.

What should we believe about anger? We need to see anger as a danger sign. Sociologists and psychiatrists report that hatred brings a person closer to murder than any other emotion. And hatred is an extension of anger. Anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to murder - if not in action, at least in the heart.

Every time we are angry, we are partway down the road to escalating our sins. We're partway down the road to hatred, murder, divorce, or bitterness. We're on the way to violence, emotional hurt, increased mental stress, and spiritual damage. Anger keeps us from developing a spirit pleasing to God. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."

I know that some of you might be saying, "Wait. Didn't you just say that anger isn't always wrong? Wasn't Jesus himself angry?" The major difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger is the cause of the anger. One should be angry over sin that offends God, harms others, or harms the person sinning. When we read of children being abused or murdered, we should be angry. But most of our anger isn't about that. Most of our anger is sinful because it's for the wrong reason and it results in wrong action. We're often passive about these important issues and instead get angry over personal insults and petty irritations.

I find as a parent that it's very hard to distinguish between righteous anger and selfish anger. I might be angry at my child for disobeying me. But am I really? Or am I angry because my child embarrassed me or because I'm tired and impatient? Because it's so difficult for us to be angry in a righteous sense, the Bible over and over tells us not to get angry. James 1:20 says, "Man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires."

So we need to recognize that anger is a danger signal. Every time that you get angry, you're partway down the road to even worse things. Jesus says you're already subject to judgment. Anger is a warning.

The second key to controlling our anger is this:

2. REFLECT ON THE COST OF ANGER

Anger always has a cost - to ourselves and to those around us. And the more that we think about the cost of our anger, the less likely we are to be angry with those around us.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, "But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell."

Anger has consequences. When we are angry, we become subject to judgment. This might be judgment in our relationships. It may mean more than that. Our anger may cause us to get fired or even in trouble with the law. It ultimately will get us in trouble with God. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, "Don't sin by letting anger gain control over you....for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil."

You always lose when you lose your temper. You lose the respect of other people. You may lose the love of people you love most. You may lose the love of your children if you get angry at them too often. You may lose the love of your husband or your wife. You may lose your job due to an uncontrolled temper. Certainly if you mishandle anger, you can lose your health. When you say, "That person is a pain," you're probably right. When you stuff your anger it can cause headaches, stomach aches, backaches, neck aches, and all kinds and variety of problems. You always lose when you lose your temper.

Nothing destroys a relationship faster than unrestrained anger. Listen to what the Proverbs say about anger. Proverbs 29:22 says, "A hot tempered man gets into all kinds of trouble." I'm sure we could hear some pretty funny stories about how we get into trouble with our anger.

How many of you would say, "I can say honestly that I know from experience the truth of Proverbs 15:18, ‘Hot tempers cause arguments.'"

How many of you know this is true: "Anger causes mistakes." (Proverbs 14:29)

How about this - Proverbs 14:7: "People with hot tempers do foolish things." We're not going to ask what foolish things you have done but I'm sure they'd be quite humorous if you shared them with us. I'll never forget the time that I broke down our bathroom door in anger at our house. Fortunately, we found that so funny that the anger disappeared and we cracked up laughing. But a broken doorframe was there for a while to remind us that people with hot tempers do foolish things.

Thomas Jefferson wrote a book called "Rules for Living," in which he described how adults should live. He wrote, "When angry, count ten before you speak; If very angry, a hundred." Author Mark Twain, seventy-five years later, revised his word to say, "When angry, count four; When very angry, swear." I think Thomas Jefferson was right. Pause and consider the cost of your anger - to yourself and to others.

Recognize anger as a danger signal. Reflect on the cost of anger. The third key to controlling your anger is this:

3. RESPOND TO ANGER PROPERLY

You might be saying, "Okay, this is good. I will recognize anger as a danger signal. I will also reflect on the cost of anger. But what am I supposed to do when I get angry? Tell me what to do then. I can't seem to control my anger."

The truth is that all of us have a great deal of control over our anger. Anger, like every other emotion, is a choice. Have you ever been in an argument with a friend or your children or husband or wife and it's getting very intense? You may even be raising your voice. You may even be yelling at each other and all of a sudden the phone rings. You pick up the phone and say, "Hello? He's right here. It's for you, honey!" What did you do? You chose to control your anger. You likely didn't want to be embarrassed, and you really didn't feel that it was anyone's business that you were fighting. But it shows that you can control your anger.

The Bible gives us some steps to take to deal with our anger. The first step is this: STOP HANGING AROUND ANGRY PEOPLE. The Bible is serious about this. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, "Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul." Did you know that anger is contagious? If you get around angry people you will tend to become an angry person. It's modeled. You learn the behavior from other people. If you're friends with gripers and complainers, you need to change your friends. Their influence may endanger your soul.

By the way, this applies to what you take in from the media as well. Stop watching the wrong movies and shows. The entertainment world says, "You got anger? Pull a gun. Blow up a building. Stab a guy in the back. Shout and swear and kick them!" As a result we have people doing these copycat crimes. Keep away from angry people and angry influences. Unlearn that unhealthy behavior. Be prepared to even change friends if need be.

The second step is: LISTEN INSTEAD OF SPEAKING. James 1:19 says, "Dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." I've found that I can actually control my reactions. In fact, if you follow James' advice and be quick to listen and slow to speak, the slow to angry comes automatically. A lot of times we get angry because we're too quick to speak. We're too slow to listen. We don't understand where the other person is coming from. We prejudge them and then we lash out. The result is always bad. As someone has said, "Speak when you're angry and you'll make the best speech you'll ever regret."

The third step is simple: DON'T LET IT BURN. Ephesians 4:26 says, "Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry." No matter how angry you are, and no matter how justified that anger may be, don't let it simmer or burn overnight. Why? Talk to a firefighter about smoldering fires. Talk to a doctor about toxins which are left in one's body. We weren't designed to carry around anger. Deal with it immediately.

Jesus said, "So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God" (Matthew 5:23-24).

I wonder what would happen if we took this seriously. What if we got up in the middle of church, went out to the foyer, made a phone call, and said, "Listen, I need to apologize. I messed up." Or, "Listen, we need to talk. There's tension in our relationship. When can we get together?" The longer we let it sit, the harder it will be to resolve.

The fourth step is this: CULTIVATE HONESTY. We looked at Proverbs 27:5-6 last week. It says, "An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy." It's better to for friends to be honest than for enemies to be flattering. One of the benefits of having honest relationships is that you don't have to get angry as much. You can deal with issues without having to blow your stack.

All of us tend to get angry in one of two ways. We blow up or we clam up. We externalize or we internalize. Both of these are inappropriate expressions of your anger. Both of them hurt your body. Both of them hurt other people. Don't just think if you're not a volcano that you don't have an anger problem. Most all of us express anger in inappropriate ways. Everybody tends to be either a skunk or a turtle. You just spray it all out or you pull yourself back into a shell. It is in God's humor that skunks always marry turtles.

However you need to react, you need to learn to express your anger appropriately. You need to stop hanging around angry people. Then you need to listen instead of speak, deal with tension immediately, and you need to cultivate honesty.

So far we've looked at three keys to dealing with anger. There's one more key I want to look at this morning:

4. RELY ON GOD'S POWER

Let's face it. You're not going to be able to handle your anger without God's help. You need divine power if you're going to have success in this area of your life.

Colossians 3:15 says, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." This is the real secret. God's power to change is when you get the peace of Christ in your heart to replace the anger in your heart. Your relationship to Christ will determine how patient you are in life. If you have a very close relationship with Christ and he carries his power into every area of your life, then you will be a very patient pe rson. If you just kind of have a casual relationship to Christ - you're a fringe Christian - Christ is in your life but he just has a part of your life, then that leaves all the rest of your life open to anger and impatience. The more he controls your life, the more patient you're going to be. You can change if you want to. You can change with God's help.

I said last week that the best way to improve your relationships is to get your relationship with God straightened out. We are naturally at war with God. Jesus came to settle that relationship. He came to pay the price for our sins so that our relationship with God is settled. The best news that I can give you this morning is that you can accept the free gift of forgiveness by receiving it. All you have to do is come to God and say, "I need you. I've tried living life my own way. I'm coming to you as a sinner, asking for your forgiveness, through what Jesus did on the cross."

Once you have your relationship with God straightened out, it will affect every other relationship. God will give you the fruit of the Spirit - which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Do you think that will help your anger? That's the best way to improve your relationships.

Matthew 12:34 says, "For whatever is in your heart determines what you say." The best way to change what you say is to change your heart. And the best way to change your heart is to come to Christ. He will deal with the root issues of your heart.

Jesus Christ can deal with the root issues of your anger. He can replace your frustrated heart with one filled with love. He's in control and you're not. But when you place him in control of your life, then you have this peace that passes all understanding. He can replace your hurting heart with his love. You may have been rejected as a child or as an adult. You may have been abandoned. You may have been abused. You may have felt unloved. And you may have felt lonely. God sees your pain and no one in the whole world cares more about it than Jesus Christ. Your pain matters to God and you matter to God. He can replace the hurt in your heart, the stuff that you've been denying and pushing down with genuine love and you will find your anger going down and down. Jesus can replace your insecurity and your fears and your anxieties with his peace and his power.

When you pick up a little baby that's crying, if you show that crying baby love and warmth and acceptance and security the baby stops crying. You will stop crying on the inside when you realize how much you matter to God and when you open your life to His love and acceptance and security and purpose and power and forgiveness.

Let's pray.

Father, we need your help. Left to ourselves we can easily drift into unhealthy patterns of relating to others. Thank you for the freedom you give us to experience healing in our relationships. Thank you for the alternatives that you give us to anger.

Would you pray this silently:

"Father, I open up every area, every crevice of my life to you today. Please come into every part of my life and save me and change me and make the changes that only you can make. I need you to rescue me. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen."

How to Connect with People

Well, I wonder if you've experienced a conversation with someone recently in which you really connected. Have you ever had a conversation in which you feel that you've really bonded? Occasionally when talking with someone else, it's almost as if your souls open up and you connect. You move beyond the "Hi, how are you?" You've connected.

Or do you ever have one of those conversations in which you just don't connect? No matter how hard you try, you feel that you just can't get through to that person. You could be talking to your teenager, and they look at you like you're from another planet. Or it could be your spouse. You can usually connect, but for whatever reason it's just not happening at that moment. We desperately need others to understand us - to know how we feel, and for us to understand how they feel. We want to be connected.

The California Department of Health Mental did a study, and what they found is so profound that you need to hear it. They discovered that if you're disconnected to other people, there's no one in your life that you really feel understands you, you are two to three times more likely to die an early death, you are four times more likely to suffer from emotional burnout, you are five times more likely to suffer clinical depression and you are ten times more likely to be hospitalized for an emotional or mental disorder. Human connections are good medicine.

This shouldn't surprise us. Proverbs 27:9 says, "A sweet friendship refreshes the soul." There's something about an intimate relationship that refresh us spiritually. We were designed for intimate, loving relationships in which we're enjoyed simply for who we are and not what we can do for others. You need people who understand you, who relate to you and who can connect to you.

Now, you may think that the Bible has little to say about the subject of friendship and how to get connected. But the Bible is full of advice on how to be a friend, and on the benefits of friendship. It's full of examples of good friendships. David in the Old Testament had a friendship with King Saul's son, Jonathan. They made a vow to be friends, and David kept this vow even after Jonathan died. When Jonathan died, David said, "How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love for me was deep, deeper than the love of women!" They had a friendship that was tested, but they drew together in difficult times and remained friends to the very end.

Jesus had close friends. Out of his disciples, Jesus had three close friends: Peter, James, and John. Out of this inner circle, John is called "the disciple Jesus loved." The Bible records that Jesus had some close friends that he would stay with when he was nearby. Now, if Jesus had close friendships, that's a pretty good indication that we will need close friendships as well.

Today we're going to talk about how to connect with people. The Bible - especially the book of Proverbs - is full of principles on how to connect with people at the deepest level - the heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul level. This is one of life's most important skills. No matter how brilliant you are, unless you know how to connect with others, you're not going to go very far.

Unfortunately, most of us are never taught how to connect with others. It's certainly not taught at school. Some of us might not have learned healthy patterns at home either. What does the Bible say about relating to others? This morning we're going to look at five principles of relating to others from the Bible. Everyone here can use these principles. If you want to relate better to someone in this church, you can apply these principles. If you want a better relationship with your spouse, you can use these principles. Whether it's with your children, your employer, or anyone - these principles are applicable.

To get the most out of today's message, at the start I want you to think of somebody that you would like to be closer to. Think of somebody you would really like to connect on a deeper level with than you're connecting with them right now. If you can't think of somebody, you really need this message! Who would you like to get closer to? Who would you like to have a deeper connection with?

The first key to connecting with them is this:

1. BE COMMITTED TO THE RELATIONSHIP

The first key to connecting with others is to be committed to the relationship. Proverbs 18:24 says, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." To put it another way, it's better to have one, reliable friend rather than a number of reliable ones. An important key in relationships is being committed to the other person.

Do you remember when you made a major transition in your life? You graduated from school, you moved jobs, or you even moved cities. You probably made promises to keep in touch. How is it going? If you're like most people, you connected with others and you didn't miss the old relationships that much. You weren't really committed to the relationship.

That's not all bad. You can only be friends with so many people. But if you want to really connect with a particular individual, you've got to be committed to the relationship. You've got to say, "I will be this person's friend, no matter what."

Let me ask you: how many close friends do you have? How many have you committed to connect with, no matter what happens in your life? If you can't think of anyone, this might be the reason why. If you've thought of one to three people, you are a very blessed person. God has given you some very precious friends. If you think that you have four or more friends of this type, you probably have a problem. Most people can't have more than about two or three deep friendships. And when you find friends of this type, you had better be committed to them.

Now, acquaintances aren't wrong. It's nice to have a lot of acquaintances. But you can be so busy cultivating acquaintances that you never take time to develop deep friends. You don't need many friends in this life, but you do need a few good ones. It's better to have two good friends than a thousand acquaintances. They key difference between a friend and an acquaintance is commitment.

Good relationships take time. They don't happen by accident. They take cultivation, work, a lot of time to build a deep connection with somebody. That requires commitment. There are going to be times that the relationship carries a cost. That cost might be inconvenience. That cost may be difficulties in the relationship. It may be time. But all good relationships carry a cost.

Proverbs 17:17 says, "A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need." Circle always. A good friend is always loyal. There are going to be times of adversity in which true friends are needed. This will be the time that many of your friends will disappear. But a true friend is always loyal. When you're blowing it and you're making a mistake, friends are in your corner when you're cornered. And they see you through when everybody else thinks you're through. They walk in when everybody else walks out. They are there with you even when you don't deserve it. Every close relationship begins with a commitment.

This is especially important for men. Many men tend to deny their needs for deep friendships. It's easy to coast and to talk about the weather and about sports. But we need accountability. We need deep friendships. We need to be able to open up to a few good men. Gordon MacDonald, in his book When Men Think Private Thoughts, points out that men begin to relate to others competitively. They feel that the investment of time is too costly. But he writes,

You, my male friend, are a relational being; you must connect. God has made you to share life with a host of people, not just your wife. You are meant to share life with other men as you work with them, fight the battles of life with them, and discover the world with them.

You need friends.

Now, ask yourself - who are you committed to? It can't be too many people. "A man of many companions may come to ruin," Proverbs says. Who are the two or three people that you will stick by no matter what? If you're married, is your spouse one of these people? Once you promised that you would stick with them until death do you part. Somebody's said that a lot of marriages start off as an ideal, quickly move to an ordeal, and eventually become no deal. Can you apply this principle of commitment to your marriage?

Who are you committed to? And who knows it? Have you ever gone to any single individual besides your spouse and said, "I just want you to know that I will always be there for you." Have you ever said that to anybody? Have you ever established that kind of intentional commitment and said, "I want to grow close to you as a friend"?

You need to be committed. That's the first key to getting connected.

The second key is this:

2. BE CONSTRUCTIVE WITH YOUR WORDS

Proverbs 11:9 says, "Evil words destroy one's friends." Your words have tremendous power. They have the power to build your friends up. It's amazing what a few, well-spoken words can do to cement a friendship. But your words also have tremendous power - power to destroy your friends.

Proverbs 12:18 says it best: "Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing." I can be a tease. Very quickly into my marriage, I learned that cutting remarks - even in jest - can be very damaging to a relationship. A few misplaced words can do serious damage. We need to choose constructive words - words that build up and heal - rather than destructive words.

What are some of the ways that we can be constructive with our words? THE FIRST THING THAT WE NEED TO DO IS TO CONTROL OUR ANGER. Some of us are very quick-tempered. Others of us let things bottle up, and then one day - watch out! But our angry words can be incredibly destructive. Proverbs 29:11 says, "A fool gives full vent to anger, but a wise person quietly holds it back." We need to learn better patterns of relating than to just vent our anger.

Sometimes we underestimate the power of our words. We say things without really thinking. People remember them. Think back in your own life to some very hurtful things that were said to you years ago. We can still feel the pain from these hurtful things even today.

We need to think of our words as power tools. Have you ever read the instructions that come with power tools? Here's an example of what you might find in a power tool in your garage, and see how closely these instructions relate to the other power tool that God has given us - our mouths:

  1. Know your power tool.

  2. Keep guards in place.
  3. Be careful around children.
  4. Store idle tools when not in use.
  5. Don't overreach
  6. Never use in an explosive atmosphere.

Another step that we can take, besides controlling our anger, is this: WE CAN TALK LESS. I love Proverbs 17:28: "Even fools are thought to be wise when they keep silent; when they keep their mouths shut, they seem intelligent." Your mother probably told you, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all." That's Biblical advice. If our words are a power tool - you don't have to use it as much. Talk less. One of the reasons we get in trouble is we just talk too much sometimes. We talk before we think. We need to talk less.

The third step that we can take is to LOOK FOR BUILDING WORDS. Proverbs 25:11 says, "The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry." I can remember single statements that a person made that will stay with me forever. On the day of my wedding, a man that I greatly respect said to my new father-in-law, "I wish I had a son just like Darryl." I overheard that comment. Do you think that I'll ever forget that? Look for ways to build other people up.

In every situation, there's a positive way to say something, and a negative way to say something. Our world has enough negativity. People are torn down enough. Look for a way to build others up. Your words are powerful enough to do that!

That's the second key to connecting with others. Be committed to the relationship, and then be constructive with your words. The third key may seem contradictory, but it really isn't:

3. BE HONEST ABOUT PROBLEMS

Do you think that you will have problems in your relationships? One of the keys to developing healthy relationships is to know how to handle the problems that inevitably come up. That takes honesty.

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, "An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy." In other words, it's better for a close friend to be honest about a problem in the relationship, than for an enemy to tell you that you're great when they don't really mean it. Sometimes friends are the only ones who love us enough to tell us what we really need to hear. Proverbs 24:26 says, "An honest answer is like a warm hug."

Genuine, healthy, deep, meaningful relationships are built on honesty, not on flattery. They'll tell you when you've got spinach in your teeth. They'll tell you when you're blowing it. They'll tell you when you're wasting your life, making a dumb, bad decision. Because healthy relationships are built on honesty. All of us have blind spots. The question that really matters is, do you have anybody in your life that loves you enough to point them out? Who cares enough to say, "You need to work on this."

Now, you can be honest while still being constructive with your words. You can do this by watching your language. I used to use accusatory statements. "You always do this..." "You never do this..." Understandably, the conversation doesn't usually go well when you do this. I've learned to try using feeling statements. I've found it a lot better to say, "When you did that, I felt this way. I know that you probably didn't mean to do that, but that's how it made me feel."

Another way that you can be constructive and honest at the same time is to compliment in public, correct in private. With your spouse, your children, and in all your relationships, you owe them the dignity of dealing with problems in private. Praising someone in pubic does wonders for them. Correcting them in private makes them a lot more open.

You can also wait for the right time. My wife knows not to address problems with me late at night. I can't tie my shoes late at night, and I'm certainly not going to be able to address relational problems at that hour. It's almost as important to know when to say something as it is what to say.

There are a whole set of relational skills that you need if you're going to deal with your relationships honestly. It comes back to commitment. Are you committed enough to the relationship to work through problems with honesty and integrity? Do you need to go through a season of working through issues in order to come out the other side with a healthy relationship? Who do you need to get honest with? What problem in your relationship are you pretending isn't a problem? Which of those issues do you need to be candid about? Sometimes you must care enough to confront.

The fourth key is closely related:

4. BE WILLING TO FORGIVE OFFENSES

If you're in a relationship long enough, there are going to be times that you're going to need to forgive. We need to learn how to forgive offenses. Proverbs 17:9 says, "Disregarding another person's faults preserves love; telling about them separates close friends." Friendship requires the ability to forget. Harping on the past has destroyed many marriages and friendships.

Have you ever had a fight with someone, in which you're tempted to bring up all the mistakes they've ever made? There's nothing that will kill a friendship faster than doing this. Y ou've got to forgive.

Proverbs 19:11 says, "People with good sense restrain their anger; they earn esteem by overlooking wrongs." One of the benefits of dealing honestly with problems is that you can then move on and forgive them. You can forget how they've offended you. Why? Because first of all, Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." The Bible tells us that God won't forgive us if we don't forgive others. The two are linked. That's why we need to forgive others. The other why is because it's good for you. When you forgive, you release yourself from a burden that you were never meant to carry.

Well, how many times should you forgive? In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive, and he suggested a number: seven. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. It was more than the religious leaders of the day demanded. But Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven." The point is this: don't even bother counting. Real forgiveness doesn't keep track of offenses. When you've worked through the issue honestly, it's time to move on.

How? That's the hard part. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It's a command. The decision comes first; the emotions come later. If you wait to feel like you want to forgive, you'll wait forever. But once you make the decision to forgive, the emotions will come along eventually. It's amazing how the emotions will follow an act of obedience.

Romans 12:21 says, "Don't let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good." You need to forgive if you don't want evil to get the best of your relationships.

By the way, this type of forgiveness is impossible if you aren't a follower of Jesus Christ. One of the best steps that you can take to improve your relationships is to begin following him. When you begin to follow Jesus, he transforms your relationships. He forgives you and gives you the power to forgive others. You can't hope to have good relationships until you begin to follow him. If you're not a follower of Jesus, the best thing that you could do to improve your human relationships is to get your relationship with God straightened out. How? By accepting what Jesus did on the cross to re-establish that relationship. He came to reconcile you to God. You need to accept that gift and begin to follow him.

The final key to connecting is...

5. BE CONFIDENTIAL WITH INFORMATION

There were three pastors who got together and decided to work on being honest. They sat down in a small group and said, "Let's just be honest with each other about what our greatest struggle, our greatest sin is." The first guy launched things out by honestly saying, "I struggle with lust. I always have. And I've honestly had some very evil thoughts." The next guy said, "To be honest, I struggle with materialism. And I'm in debt." The third guy looked at them and said, "I struggle with gossip and I honestly can't wait to get to a telephone!"

If you're going to have good relationships, you need to learn to guard confidentiality. Proverbs 11:13 says, "A gossip goes around revealing secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence." Proverbs 18:8 says, "What dainty morsels rumors are—but they sink deep into one's heart."

We tend to think of gossip as one of those little sins, a misdemeanor sin. But when God talks about gossip, he puts it on the list with things like sexual immorality and murder. Why? Because it is so destructive to relationships. Gossip can tear a friendship apart, a family apart, a church family apart. More churches have been destroyed by gossip than persecution. More friendships have been destroyed by gossip than any other kind of disloyalty. It's incredibly destructive to relationships when you trust someone and then find out you couldn't trust them. What's so destructive about it?

My favorite story about gossip has always been about the man who went to the rabbi and confessed the sin of gossip and asked him, "What penance can I do for this sin?" The rabbi said, "Here's what you do. You take a feather pillow and walk up on this mountain, rip it open and let the feathers fly everywhere." The man did that and came back and said, "Is that it?" "No," said the rabbi, "Now I want you to go pick up every feather."

That's what gossip does. It just goes everywhere. You don't know the impact that it's having but it's tearing relationships apart. It's tearing you apart in ways that you don't realize.

What is gossip? Definition: Gossip is talking about a situation with somebody who is neither a part of the solution or a part of the problem. If they're not a part of the problem or the solution and you're talking with them about it, that is gossip. If you have a problem with another person, the Bible tells you to go to that person directly. To talk to anyone else about that problem is gossip. It's sin.

Now if someone comes to you with gossip - talking about a situation with you when you're not part of the solution or the problem - what do you do? Simple. You tell them, "You should go talk to the person involved." What if they don't want to? Simple. Step two: you offer to go with them. Say, "It really sounds like you're concerned about this problem, and yet I sense you're hesitant to talk to the individual. Let me come with you so that we can deal with the problem together." What if they still refuse? Then stop the conversation. Don't be part of the gossip. Tell them as nicely as you can that you don't want to hear that information.

That's how you have healthy relationships. Now, I'd like you to pause and to evaluate yourself. Who would you like to connect to at a deeper level? What keys can you implement from this morning's message? Is it to be more committed to the relationship? To be more constructive with your words? To be honest about problems in your relationship? To be willing to forgive? Or is it to be more confidential with information? What I'd like you to do is to select one, and to begin putting it into practice this week.

Let's pray:

Father, thank you for our relationships. Thank you that you've made us to be connected with other people. I pray that today we would take whatever key we've identified as the one we're going to practice this week to build better relationships.

I pray for anyone here who might not be connected to you. I ask that they would pray, "Lord, I realize I'll never be properly connected with others until I'm connected with you. Thank you that Jesus came to restore our relationship. I accept what he did to pay the penalty for my sins. I accept him today and pledge to follow you beginning today."

We pray these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

Did Jesus Really Say That?

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Once again, it's election year in the States. That means very little to us as Canadians, except that we're treated to a smorgasbord of quotations from politicians. Sometimes we want to ask, "Did they really say that?" Let me give you some of my favorites:

Mayor Marion Barry, mayor of Washington, D.C., said, "Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country." It almost makes you want to move there, doesn't it?

Former U.S. president George Bush said, "I have opinions of my own - strong opinions - but I don't always agree with them."

You know Brooke Shields. She once said, "If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life."

Dan Quayle said, "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure." Another time he said, "I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change." And just so you know where Dan Quayle stands, listen to this quote: "I stand by all the misstatements that I've made."

You know, some people just shouldn't talk. Truth be told, all of us have said some pretty silly things. I'm sure that you could fill a roll of film with the bloopers I have made, and the same is probably true for you.

This morning's message is called, "Did Jesus really say that?" A lot of us have a distorted view of who Jesus was. A hymn describes him as being "gentle Jesus, meek and mild." He's viewed as being a placid and non-offensive. But that's not the Jesus I read about in the Scripture. Mild is the last word that you would use to describe Jesus. He made some outlandish statements - but they weren't mistakes. Jesus was very deliberate in what he said. We're going to look at some of the surprising statements of Jesus this morning.

Lee Strobel writes:

Jesus was always saying the unexpected. Just when his followers thought they had him figured out, he'd open his mouth and amaze them once more...People were flabbergasted when he said they should love their enemies. They were aghast when he said to turn the other cheek when someone crossed them. They were intrigued by his parables and mesmerized by his description of God's kingdom. His listeners were awed by his wisdom, inspired by his morality, and melted by his love. (What Would Jesus Say, p.12)

Jesus never ceases to surprise. This past week, I got out my New Testament and read through the four Gospels looking for his surprising statements. I soon discovered that I had enough material to last for weeks. The Bible tells us that when Jesus spoke, people were amazed at what he said (Matthew 7:28). They recognized that he taught as one who had authority. When he was arrested and put on trial, the guards said, "We have never heard anyone talk like this!" (John 7:46). One time, when Jesus spoke to his disciples, one of his closest friends took him aside and tried to correct him. But Jesus made it clear that he meant every word that he said.

I'll tell you what I did this week. I asked some friends for their advice on the most surprising statements of Jesus. Then I read the Gospels myself to see if I could pick out the most surprising statements. Then, as a last test, I looked at how people reacted when Jesus made the statements. My final test was to evaluate how people reacted. I guessed that if people walked off in a huff, that probably means that Jesus made a surprising statement.

Now, I don't want to look at Jesus' surprising statements just for the sake of interest. So let's look at three steps that we need to take in order to follow Jesus.

STEP ONE: EXAMINE THE COST

This past week I had to get my car fixed. While I was waiting at the dealership I noticed some of the ads on the wall. Do you ever look at car ads? I was amazed at how much I'm paying for my car when I see the deals that are out there. By the look of the ads, I could get rid of my two-year old car and get a brand new minivan and not be any worse off financially. But here's the catch: there are hidden costs. There's taxes. There's delivery. There's who knows what. Anyone who has ever bought a car knows that by the time you walk out of the dealership, you're lucky to be within four thousand dollars of what the car actually costs!

Jesus was the opposite. He went out of his way to let his followers know what it would cost to follow him. Listen to what he said:

  • It's going to cost you in comfort. Someone said to Jesus in Luke 9:57, "I will follow you no matter where you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head." I love one translation: "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know." If you follow Jesus, you're choosing to follow someone who takes precedence over your comfort and your possessions. If the choice ever comes between your comfort and Jesus, he's going to ask you to choose him.
  • It's going to cost you in your priorities. Someone else agreed to follow Jesus, but he had one condition: "Lord, first let me return home and bury my father." Jesus replied, "First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God's kingdom!"
  • It's going to cost you in your relationships. Someone else said, "Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family." Jesus replied, "No procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day." Jesus said another time, "If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being called mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine" (Matthew 10:37). The commitment that you make to God is even more important than any commitment you may make to any human being.
  • It's going to cost you your complete commitment. Jesus said, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life" (Matthew 16:24-25). Crosses were used to execute criminals in that day. It would be as shocking as if someone said to us today, "If you want to follow Jesus, you've got to take your seat in the electric chair." You've got to be prepared to give up your agenda, your ambition, even your entire life, if you're going to follow Jesus.

When great crowds were following Jesus, he turned around and told them, "Don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills?...Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of then thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him?" (Luke 14:28,31). Jesus laid out the cost pretty clearly of what it would mean to follow him. He didn't switch and bait. He didn't want people beginning to follow half-heartedly, and then turn away. He wants us to examine the cost.

Let me lay out what it might mean if you choose to follow Jesus. You may lose some social status or wealth. You may have to give up control of your money, time, or career. You may be hated and misunderstood. These are the downsides.

But, Jesus says, look what you gain. When you give up your life for me, Jesus says, you find true life. You avoid the danger of gaining the whole world but losing your own soul.

Let me tell you what following Jesus has cost me. I have a few friends who can't understand my commitment to Jesus Christ. Once in a while I'm lumped in with people that I'd rather not be lumped in with. On the very odd occasion someone will mock my faith. I probably could be making more money in another ca reer. And I have to attend deacons meetings. That's what following Jesus has cost me.

Now let me tell you what following Jesus has given me. It's given me a purpose for living, someone to pray to, the knowledge that the Creator of the universe cares for me. It's given me forgiveness for my sins. It's given me a spiritual family. Following Jesus has given me eternal life, and a pretty good life on earth as well. Are there downsides? Of course. There's a cost. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But I'd rather give up my purposelessness and my guilt, and follow Jesus. I think you would rather too.

I've never come across an older person who's served Jesus and heard them say, "I wish I hadn't given my life to Christ. The one thing that I regret is that I served Jesus too much. I wish I had lived for myself more." However, I have talked to people who said, "I regret not having served God with all of my heart. If only I could go back and give him more." The benefits far outweigh the costs.

But examine the costs. Jesus said, "No one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me" (Luke 14:33). He said, "If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life" (Matthew 16:24-25). Examine the cost.

The next step - the next surprising statement that Jesus made - is this:

STEP TWO: EXCHANGE YOUR IDEAS OF HOW TO GET ETERNAL LIFE

What would you say to someone who told you to drink their blood? One day, Jesus said, "I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them at the last day. For my flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink" (John 6:53-55). That probably doesn't make sense to you, and it didn't make sense to those who heard Jesus that day. We read that even his disciples said, "This is very hard to understand. How can we accept it?" And then we read, "At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him" (John 6:66). This was a defining moment. Many of his followers weren't prepared to hear this hard truth.

What was Jesus saying? If you take Jesus' words literally, you have serious problems. Then Jesus is advocating that you become a cannibal. But Jesus never intended us to take these words literally. He's using figurative language to point to something that was about to happen.

A short while after Jesus said these words, he was arrested, tried, and executed. They nailed him to a cross in one of the cruelest forms of execution known to man. And the Bible says, "He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross" (Colossians 2:13-14). What Jesus did that day was to take away all that we had done wrong, and to pay for the damage that we had caused by our sins. He gave us his body and his blood so that we could have eternal life.

If you went to Richview Square and asked ten people, "How do I get to heaven?" this is what you'd hear. "Make sure that the good things you do outweigh the bad things." "Try to live a good life." "Go to church." People try all sorts of ways to get eternal life. But listen to this verse:

God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God's masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

There is nothing that we can do to get eternal life. It's a gift.

This past week my car needed a brake job. I went to one garage and they told me that the rear wheel cylinders. I went to the dealership and found out that the rear wheel cylinders were fine. I couldn't even diagnose the problem myself. I needed expert opinion.

What would you have said to me if I drove the car out of the dealership, came home, got out my jack, took the tires off, and began working on the brakes myself? You would have said that I'm a fool. I'm no mechanic. I could probably change a tire, but I don't have a hope of fixing my brakes.

Jesus said that we need an expert opinion. We misdiagnose the problem. It's not a problem that can be solved by doing better things or my living a better life. It's not something that can be fixed by going to church more, or by getting rid of bad habits. I've fixed it for you. It's a gift. I've done for you what you could never do for yourself. All you have to do is to accept it. That's how you receive eternal life.

If you're here today thinking that you can earn eternal life, you've got to get rid of that idea. There's only one way to heaven, and it's by accepting the gift of God.

Those are the first two steps. Examine the cost, and exchange your ideas of how to get eternal life. There's one more step:

STEP THREE: ELIMINATE THE BARRIERS

In Mark 10, a rich young man came to Jesus and asked him a spiritual question. Now, if I were Jesus, I would have played this one a little safe. We've already heard that Jesus didn't have a house or many possessions. It would have been very nice to have a rich follower financing Jesus' ministry. I'm sure the disciples were hoping that Jesus would go easy on this man.

But what did Jesus tell him? "You lack only one thing," Jesus said. "Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Talk about a surprising statement. Jesus never told anyone else to sell all their possessions. I can just see the disciples' jaws drop. Why was Jesus so harsh on this man?

It's because Jesus had put his finger on the barrier that was holding this man back. The spiritual sticking point was this: this man was very rich. There was no way that Jesus was going to come before his money. His money was a barrier to his spiritual life.

And then Jesus gave a very surprising statement. He said, "How hard it is for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God!...It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God." Now, I've heard people say that the eye of the needle in Jesus' day was a gate in Jerusalem through which camels would enter, stooped down and stripped of all luggage. The only problem is, that's not true. Jesus picked the largest animal in Palestine, and said it's easier to thread a needle with a great big camel than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? Because wealth is an obstacle that can keep us from God.

1 John 2:15-16 says, "Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you...For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasures, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions." This was written about two thousand years ago, but it's still true today. The world has always had three basic values:

  • pleasure - gratifying physical desires
  • possessions - the desire to buy everything that you see around you
  • prestige - or power or position or popularity

If you ask the average person what they want, they will say, "I want to be happy. I want to feel good." Those are just other words for pleasure. Number two is possessions. We are consumed with consuming. We like to show off our homes, our clothes, our jewelry, and we want everyone to see what we've got. Then there's prestige. Image is everything. We create symbols so that everyone knows how important we are.

The average person wants to feel good; they want a certain lifestyle; and they want the respect or prestige that comes from their social position.

And Jesus says, "Do you love me more than you love pleasure, possessions, and prestige? You see, you can't follow me with a divided heart. Absolute allegiance is essential. The only way to life is through the gate of full surrender."

Jesus sa id, "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24).

I don't know what obstacles you may have between you and God. It may be pleasure. The ironic thing is that God gives you more pleasure than you could imagine once you begin to follow him. Jesus said in John 10, "My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." Jesus didn't come to take away your fun. He came to give you life in all its fullness. Psalm 37:4 says, "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires."

The barrier holding you back from God may be possessions. And yet Jesus says, "God will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern" (Matthew 6:33). Psalm 37:25 says, "Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly forsaken, nor seen their children begging for bread." God takes care of his children.

It may be prestige or position or power holding you back from God. But Jesus said, "You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all" (Mark 10:42-44). Jesus knew that true greatness comes not from personal achievement, but from serving others.

It's probably one of these three barriers holding you back spiritually. Examine the cost, and then eliminate whatever barrier it is that's holding you back from serving God. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Ask yourself, "Will I pursue pleasure, or will I let God give me the desires of my heart. Will I pursue possessions, or will I let God meet all of my needs? Will I pursue power, or will I become first by becoming a slave to all?"

Unfortunately, the rich young man wasn't willing to place Jesus before his possessions. Mark 10:22 reads, "The man's face fell, and he went sadly away because he had so many possessions." He had the whole world, but in the end he lost his own soul. Eliminate the barriers.

Now, I had my alarm clock set for 7:00 this morning. I woke up at 6:58, looked at the clock, and tried to go back to sleep. About thirty seconds into my efforts, I realized, "This is crazy. I'm working hard to get back to a state that will last for only another 90 seconds." That's how it is in life. We cling on to our pleasure, possessions, and our prestige, but listen to what the Bible says:

They will fade away like a flower in the field. The hot son rises and dries up the grass; the flower withers, and its beauty fades away. So also, wealthy people will fade away with all their achievements. (James 1:10-11)

The ironic thing is that the minute we stop chasing pleasure, possessions, and prestige, God gives us everything we need. He gives us a peace that can't be understood. He gives us our heart's desire.

Now, I don't know how you're reacting this morning. We've looked at some of the most difficult sayings of Jesus. But Jesus loved us too much to lie to us. He wanted us to know the truth.

I know that some of you this morning are ready to follow. You've examined the cost. Downside: you lose your guilt, lack of purpose, and fear of death. Upside: you get your sins forgiven, a purpose to live for, and eternal life. You've exchanged your ideas of how to get eternal life. You realize that you can't earn your way to heaven. Jesus did it for you. And you're ready to eliminate the barriers. You're ready to say, "Jesus, I'm not going to let anything come between us. I'm ready to give you my all."

If that's you, I wonder if you could close your eyes and pray this prayer with me:

"Dear Father: Thank you that this morning I can have my sins forgiven, I can get a new purpose for living, and I can have my eternity paid for. I've examined the cost, and I want to become your child. I want to begin living for you. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and I trust him as the only way to receive eternal life. And so beginning today I trust in you, and I will choose to follow you. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Now, if you prayed this prayer within your heart, congratulations! You're now a member of the family of God. The Bible says, "To all who believed in [Jesus] and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:13). You're a new creature today.

We're going to sing a song. What I'd ask you to do is just to remain seated, and while we sing I'd like you to take out the communication card to let us know of the decision you've made today. On the back, you can check off "I'm committing my life to Christ." Now, when you fill this out, we won't put your name on a mailing list or send people to come see you. We just want to send you some material that you can use to get started in your new Christian life.