Lessons from a Birthday Boy

Yesterday I took my grandson, Issac, out shopping for his 5th birthday. I love to hear Issac talk — he says hilarious things — so I was prepared to ask him several questions.

“Issac,” I began, “tell me about your friends.”

“What do you mean? I don’t know what you’re asking me,” he responded. (I love the honesty of children!)

“Well, just start by telling me their names.”

“Their names are Daddy, Mommy, Samuel and Josiah. Josiah is my cute little baby,” he responded. Glad he introduced Granma to his little brother! (Note: Josiah is not a baby at age two, but compared to Issac, who is quite tall for his age and estimated to grow to about 6’10”, he probably seems like a baby.)

My heart warmed that he so quickly named his family as his friends. Yet I quickly remembered our recent family vacation….

Sam (6) and Danae (their 4-year-old cousin) were playing with Issac in a bedroom near the beach house family room. Suddenly we heard loud screams followed by Sam and Issac tumbling from the bedroom in a fight. Just feet from a group of aunts, uncles and grandparents Issac body slammed his older (but smaller) brother onto the carpet to Sam’s screaming protests.  It took three adults to break up the fight and restrain Issac.

How is it that a little boy who just weeks earlier had erupted in anger toward his brother was now listing him as one of his four best friends? I think Issac knows something grown ups like me need to better understand: love covers a multitude of sin.

Last Sunday Issac’s dad, Jesse, preached at Redeemer Church on becoming a Community of Courage. Using the Hebrews 10:19-25 passage about the importance of encouragement (you can listen to the message here) he made the point that while it’s important that we know that God is for us, others also need to know that we are for them. 

“Nobody is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them,” Jesse said. These words have been churning around in my mind since Sunday morning.

Issac understands that just because he beats up his brother for hitting him on the head with a wooden spoon, it doesn’t mean they’re not friends. In his young heart he knows that being brothers means that even if the fighting gets ugly you’ll still love each other. Sam hit his brother because Issac pushed their cousin, Danae. While hitting Issac wasn’t the answer, Jesse rightly commended his son for sticking up for a little girl.

Sam (left) and Issac a few months ago.

Even Sam attacking his brother  — resulting in Issac body slamming him in return — didn’t destroy their brotherly love.

Is there a cherished relationship in your life where fighting, hurtful words,  or anger has tempted you to lack faith that God can repair the damage? Do you find yourself wanting to sin back to protect yourself from the painful attacks of someone you love? Have your own anger and bitterness  caused what you think may be irreparable damage to a relationship you’ve worked hard to build? Have you taken up an offense because someone hurt another person you love?

It’s true. No person is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them. Why? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait until we got cleaned up to die for us. Rather, He demonstrated His love and faith for us while we were dead in sin; unable to love Him back; ungodly and without hope that we could ever have a relationship with holiness.

We weren’t too sinful or immature to be loved by Him.

Rather than retaliate, He loved. Instead of hitting back, He took strike after blood-producing strike so we wouldn’t have to. His own body was slammed onto the cross so we would never be afraid of His vengeful retaliation.

And because He forever made the way for a holy God and sinful people like you and me to have a loving relationship, we can trust Him to do the lesser thing of helping us have faith for even the most sinful, immature people in our lives.

Perhaps the person you’re thinking of right now has hurt you badly. Reconciliation doesn’t always mean restoration. Sometimes sins can be so heinous that the relationship can’t and shouldn’t ever be the same. But for most of us, that’s not the case. Most of my relational challenges are more like Sam and Issac’s. Normal, every day life happens and hurtful words or actions on my part on someone else’s makes us want to lash back.

Issac and his friends

I was challenged by Issac’s words yesterday. You see, I saw the fight. I sat with Issac back in the bedroom talking him through his angry reaction at his brother until Dad and Mom got back to resolve everything.

I want to help create a community of courage where faith and encouragement flow freely to even the most sinful and immature. After all, that’s what God did for me.

Thanks for your example, Issac. And happy birthday!

It’s a Really Good Friday

Aside

It’s been good to confess my anger.  Even to strangers. Why? Because there is growth that comes even in the confession. And I’ve been blessed and touched with those who have contacted me to say thanks because they, too, struggle with angry thoughts and actions. Again, there is comfort in knowing we’re not alone in our struggles.

Confession isn’t enough, though, and doesn’t mean change will come. Additionally, just because we know others struggle we can’t become lazy in our participation in the process of change. If I am going to resist the temptations (which will come) to rant again, then I have to prepare my heart now.

17th century church leader and theologian, John Owen, exhorted the Christian with these words:  “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  While outbursts of anger isn’t one of the sins I deal with on a consistent basis, it’s one that has damaging affects on others. I want to think, “Oh, that was my first angry outburst to my husband in a really long time. I was just stressed and overwhelmed. I’m sure it won’t happen again.” But the Bible clearly teaches that sin doesn’t just go away. It has to be killed. (The theological term for this is mortification — the putting to death of sin.) Plus, I’m finding there’s a reason why people talk about aging people being “old and crotchety.” As I age, I’m finding some temptations to increase rather than decrease.

John Owen taught me something years ago that has been helpful in the weakening of certain sins in my life. He suggests that one of the ways we can resist and kill sin is to anticipate it.

After a seafood fest in our mid 20’s, Benny broke out in terrible hives. Because he had eaten several kinds of seafood he didn’t know exactly what had caused the reaction. When we were invited months later to another seafood meal, we anticipated the possibility of him reacting again, so he was careful to only his favorite…crab meat. We had purchased various products “just in case.”  Sure enough, later that night he was miserable.  No more crab meat for my husband.

Anger (or greed, self-pity, lust, bitterness or whatever sin we are battling) can become an “allergen” that causes us to react in wrong ways that make us and others miserable. Owen encourages us to anticipate the circumstances that could likely tempt us to sin, then prepare ourselves to resist and fight our sin. In the past week or so I have been making notes about the topics, situations and “hot spots” in my marriage so I can anticipate becoming angry at Benny again. When I am tempted to react sinfully, I will have armed my mind and heart with “just in case” truths to help me to resist that temptation.

Our part in the process of change is important. But today being Good Friday is a timely opportunity to remind ourselves that while effort on our part to mortify sin and grow in godliness are required of us, the most important contribution to change is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  Because Jesus Christ took our place on the cross — dying for every single sin we will ever commit and then rising again as proof that God accepted His atoning sacrifice — those of us who have repented of our sin and turned to Christ have been made new. We no longer have to sin! But when we do, we can run to a throne of grace and ask God (then others) to forgive us!

I will get angry again. But by the power of the risen Christ I can anticipate my temptations, gird myself with truth to resist them, then run back to the throne of grace for forgiveness again when I sin.

Thank God for (good) Friday!

God and My Anger

Yesterday I shared about a reaction to my husband that revealed some deep seated anger in my heart. In my quest to seek the Lord about what happened, I came across some helpful words in a chapter on overcoming anger in Women Counseling Women, edited by Elyse Fitzpatrick. 

I changed the name of the woman in the illustration to my own:

“A gap in Sheree’s understanding was a clear understanding of God’s providence. Providence is ‘the continuing action of God by which he preserves in existence the creation which he has brought into being, and guides it to his intended purposes for it.’ For all of us, including Sheree, God’s providence means that God is not only sustaining and maintaining all of His creation, but He is also guiding and directing the course of events in Sheree’s life to fulfill His purposes. These purposes include bringing glory to Himself and molding her more and more into Christlikeness.”

That day, I wasn’t being like Christ. I retaliated. Reacted. Lashed out. Sinned back. This was a failure to bear the image of the One who responded to my sin by treating me not how I deserved, but Who said: “Father, forgive her.” When I surrendered my life to follow Christ and accepted His death as the payment for my sins, I became the recipient of forgiveness for every past, present and future sin.

Including my anger, selfishness, impatience and harshness toward my husband on that Thursday evening.

Do you struggle with anger? Like me, do you lack the perspective that a sovereign God is lovingly orchestrating circumstances in your life (including the sins against you…amazing!) for the intended purpose of making you more like Jesus? Are you failing to do so and, perhaps, battling hopelessness that you can ever change?

Then join me in repentance and faith that God really does cause all things to work together for good. My sinful response to my husband showed me a lot about what has been going on silently in my heart and life. It’s been hard. But, oh, how precious is the gift of conviction of sin! I am now able to run to the throne of grace with fresh gratitude for being declared not guilty and forgiven by a merciful and compassionate Savior. Grace is more amazing on a backdrop of sin.

I’ll finish my musings on my anger tomorrow.