Anger Therapy



“Anger Therapy” by Interim Pastor Tim Morphew

We call him Savior, Master, Teacher, Christ… And we take his words as “gospel.” – The most authoritative teachings in scripture. How many of us have a Bible that puts what Jesus said in red print??  Why? Because we believe Jesus to be the Son of God! Because we take his words as the truest of truths.

But from the very earliest days of his public ministry, people who saw him, heard him or met him could tell that Jesus was NOT just another itinerant rabbi.. He spoke with a natural authority that drew people to him. And it wasn’t just the way he taught! But the depth of his insight. He knew people’s hearts, even better than they understood themselves…

What is more, the gospels bear witness to the physical miracles of Jesus:  With a touch or a word, Jesus healed sickness & disease, banishing demons from troubled people, and sometimes calling people back from the brink of death.

So, when Jesus went up the mountain and sat down, as rabbi’s do when they’re going to teach a lesson, his disciples draw near. And I think that the crowd also followed Jesus up that mountain and those who could drew as near as they could to hear what Jesus would say… This Summer, we draw near, with those first century followers to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and try to live as a citizens of God’s Kingdom – starting now and for the rest of our lives!

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus envisions a whole new world – God’s people living in ways contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day…  Jesus expects his followers to live and act differently. In The Sermon on the Mount, he spells out an ethic, a rule of faith and practice for his followers. 

(Now) It should not come as any great surprise to God’s people to hear that following Jesus means acting and living in a particular way. From the time Moses brought the 10 commandments down from Mt. Sinai, people of faith have understood that being the people of God means obeying God. It means that we behave “this” way, not “that” way. – Yet, there’s more to it than how we act. – Take another look at the 10 commandments and you can see that they are as much about our attitudes as our behavior!

And that comes through in a powerful way in today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 5: 21-26. As an old proverb says,

Plant a thought, reap an action,

Plant an action, reap a habit,

Plant a habit, reap a character,

Plant a character, reap a destiny.

– Today we hear Jesus declare that thoughts and feelings matter to GOD.. – Because it isn’t only what we say and do that blesses or curses people.. No, even the thoughts, feelings & fantasies that we think we have kept to ourselves matter, because “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart“ (Mt. 15:18)  In other words, the thoughts & attitudes that we cultivate in our hearts have a way of coming out or showing through in what we say and do, in how we react when we’re tired or anxious, or when our defenses are weakened for some reason or another..

Bottle of water. Poured out on the floor. Ask “Why is there now water on the floor?” (Duhhh,) the answer is so obvious.

“But why is there water on the floor and not coffee or Kool-Aid?” – Besides the fact that the custodians would not be amused if I poured coffee or Kool-Aid on the carpet, the truth is, there is water on the floor because there was water in the bottle. In Mt. 12:34, Jesus says, “Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” Like water spilling out of a bottle, what is inside of us [sooner or later] spills out of us. – Matthew C. Mitchell (edited), Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue (CLC Publications, 2013), pp. 39-40

“Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mt. 12:34) – In other words, the thoughts and attitudes that we carry in our hearts have a way of coming out or showing through in what we say and do, in how we react when we’re tired or anxious, or when our defenses are weakened for some reason or another..

So, after Jesus warns us (Mt. 5:20) that “unless [our] righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees they/we will never enter the kingdom of heaven” he elaborates with specific examples of the extreme righteousness to which he calls his followers… In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus warns us about anger and insults (you fool), and urges us to pursue reconciliation.

A woman shoots at a drive-through window because the fast food place got her order wrong – twice! A man shoots another man in a movie theater because he is texting.

An ex-boyfriend, angry that his girlfriend would dare to break up with him goes to her home, shoots her and her sister & shoots and kills their brother, a student at Bethany High School.

(A few years ago) Justin John Boudin, a 27-year-old man from Minnesota, pleaded guilty to 5th-degree assault charges for violently losing his temper. Here’s the irony: he was on his way to anger management class when he committed the crime.

According to the criminal complaint, Boudin was waiting at a bus stop when he started to harass a 59-year-old woman. Witnesses say he yelled at her over what he felt was a general lack of respect. When she took out her cell phone to call police, Boudin punched her in the face. When a 63-year-old man tried to stop him, Boudin hit him with a blue folder that held his anger management homework. Police tracked him down by using the papers inside. – source: Associated Press, “Man Hits Woman on Way to Anger Control Class,”

How about it? Has your anger ever gotten you in trouble? Have you ever gotten angry at slow drivers? or rude drivers? Stupid drivers?  (Did you hear that??)

But in today’s gospel lesson Jesus warns us against anger, – even those impulsive insults that flash through our consciousness when someone bothers or frustrates us, irritates intrudes, interferes with what we want. But anger can get us in trouble. It’s bad for those around us, but it is even bad for us..  Have you heard Frederick Buechner’s haunting warning about anger?  Listen to this:

“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel, both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

S&B Anger is bad for you, it’s bad for us, it makes trouble in our homes and it makes trouble in our church family.  And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well I’m happy for you. But I don’t know many people who have not been wounded by angry words and actions, and almost all of them, almost all of us, have also hurt others by angry things we have said and done. Tell the truth – at least to yourself. Because I promise you, God already knows…

Jesus knows…  And he warns us about it.

Because how we think, what we say and do; how we behave, how we treat people matters. It makes a difference. And relationships are important! Like 1 John (4:20) says, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” We live out our love for God in the way we love each other.

“So,” Jesus teaches (Mt. 5:23&24), “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

Pastor Tim Brown relates this personal lesson in forgiveness:

Some time ago, I was having lunch in McDonald’s with my daughter and mother-in-law. We were enjoying a pleasant conversation when a man, with his wife and children, plopped down at a nearby table. The man was someone who in the past had hurt me. We faked pleasantries and exchanged hellos, but I could feel my blood begin to boil at the thought of what he had done to me. This person had wounded me badly, and I was surprised about how much hurt I still felt.

My family and I gobbled down our food and on the way out of the restaurant I overheard “my enemy” and his wife arguing because neither had any money to purchase the food they had ordered. Their 3 kids were screaming for their Happy Meals. The couple was embarrassed. My first thought was, Praise God, there is justice in this world. He deserves every bit of embarrassment he’s feeling, and I’m so glad I got to see this.

Suddenly [I remembered] the scripture I had read that morning. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink'” (Romans 12:17-20).

I heard God saying: Here’s your chance to be set free of your pain and overcome your hurt. I knew I had a choice either to obey or bask in my bitterness. Somewhat reluctantly I reached into my wallet, pulled out $20, and gave it to this man who had been my enemy.

“Have lunch on me,” I said with tears in my eyes. – T. Brown, Clovis, California

Today we hear Jesus warn us against anger, against even those insulting thoughts that flash through our heads when someone bothers us, intrudes, or hurts us… 

But what are we supposed to do?  How can we deal with the anger that seems to flare up without warning, or with that anger that has smoldered in us for too long?

How about this?  Maybe we take the time, to take a pause and wonder with self (I often reflect by writing it out in my journal) – or with a trusted friend, why am I angry?

Pretty often I find that there’s some sort of “upset” or hurt behind the anger.  Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. A primary feeling is what is what one feels immediately before we feel anger. We almost always feel something else first before we get angry.

Kyle Benson of the Gottman Institute writes that:

If you’re unsure of why you’re feeling angry, try thinking of anger like an iceberg. Most of an iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water.

Similarly, when we’re angry, there can be other emotions hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to see a person’s anger, but it can be difficult to see the underlying feelings the anger is protecting.

An example: Dave believed he had an anger problem. When his wife would make a request of him, he would criticize her. He didn’t like his reactions, but he felt he couldn’t help it. As he worked on discovering his dreams within conflict and started noticing the space between his anger and his actions, he opened up the door into a profound realization.

He learned that he didn’t really have an anger problem. Instead, he felt like his wife was placing impossible demands on him. By seeking to understand and accept his anger, rather than fix or suppress it, he began to improve his marriage by recognizing his anger as a signal for a need—a need to set healthy boundaries for what he would and would not do.

Dave’s story points out an important concept. As Susan David, Ph.D., author of “Emotional Agility,” says, “Our raw feelings can be messengers that teach us things about our-selves & can prompt insights into important life directions.”

Her point is that anger can be just a symptom of other unexpressed emotions.

Anger as a protector of raw feelings

According to Paul Ekman’s research, anger is one of the 6 “basic emotions” identified in the Atlas of Emotions along with disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise. Anger is felt by every-one at one point or another and it’s completely valid as its own emotion.

However, there are times when other emotions are spurring the anger and we use anger to protect the raw feelings that lie beneath it. Underneath Dave’s anger was pure exhaustion and a feeling that he wasn’t good enough for his wife. So his anger was formed by that disappointment with himself; and his anger protected him from deeply painful shame.

Learning to recognize anger as not only a basic, valid emotion, but also as a protector of our raw feelings, can be incredibly powerful. It can lead to healing conversations that allow couples, as well as children and parents, to understand each other better.

It’s known as “the Anger Iceberg,” because it reminds us that other emotions and feelings that may lurk below the surface. Sometimes it’s embarrassment, loneliness, depression, or fear. Other times, it’s a combination of several feelings.

So, if I can stop & think & figure out why I am angry, what prompted my anger maybe I can find ways to respond to, deal with, or forgive the hurt, insult, upset, etc..

Did you notice how Jesus follows his warning about anger??  He calls on us to seek reconciliation with any-one who has something against us. And in Matthew 18:15 he urges us to go to our brother or sister when we feel offended..  Either way, Jesus urges to do whatever we can to get right with our S&B. And it starts with talking about it, in a calm, not-accusing or blaming way, seeking to hear and be heard, to understand and to be under-stood… To speak as we would want another to speak with us; to listen as we would want to be listened to…

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus announces an extra-ordinary standard of righteousness.. Indeed he puts reconciliation with S&B before bringing our offerings to God. 

Remember that people brought offerings as an expression of repentance and/or to honor God, to cultivate and maintain a right relationship with God. But in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus indicates that we must be right with each other, reconciled with each other, before we can be in right relationship with GOD…

It really “comes down to this fundamental question: to what Kingdom do we want to belong? Do we really want the God of Moses & Christ to be the Lord of our lives? – Or would we rather follow the easy ways of the world?? You see, S & B, the challenge of the law that Moses first delivered to the children of Israel anticipates the challenge that you & I, and every believer must answer every day: Will we follow the crowd or will we follow Christ?

Today’s Gospel text is found in Matthew 5 between verse 20, where Jesus says, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – And the last verse of Matthew 5, where Jesus says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect!” God help us!  How in the world can any of us measure up to the standard of righteousness and perfection to which Jesus calls us?? – Only one way I know: give up. Give ourselves up.  Abandon ourselves completely, totally, heart & soul to Jesus. This should not be a totally foreign concept to anyone who has been baptized or sang very many church songs..

Take my will, and make it thine [GOD]; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own. Let it by Your royal throne,
Let it by Your royal throne” – Frances R. Havergal

In his best-selling book The Reason for God, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, shares the story of a woman in his congregation who was learning how the grace extended to us through Christ’s work on the cross can actually be more challenging than “religion.” He writes:

“Some years ago I met with a woman who began coming to church at Redeemer and had never before heard a distinction made between the gospel and religion [i.e. the distinction between grace and what is often a works-based righteousness]. She had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message was scary. I asked why it was scary and she replied: If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with “rights” – I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by grace – then there is nothing he cannot ask of me.”

She understood the dynamic of grace and gratitude. If when you have lost all fear of punishment you also lose all incentive to live a good, unselfish life, then the only incentive you ever had to live a decent life was fear. This woman could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had an edge to it. She realized that if she was a sinner saved by grace, she was (if anything) more subject to the sovereign Lordship of God. She knew that if Jesus really had done all this for her, she would not be her own. She would joyfully, gratefully () belong to Jesus, who provided all this for her at infinite cost to himself. – Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Riverhead Books, 2008), pp. 189-190

Jesus calls us to a deeper righteousness! – A righteousness that starts in hearts and souls that are totally given to GOD! – That is the “righteousness [that] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” – that is the perfection that pleases and glorifies GOD!

It is a righteousness, a perfection that is beyond our ability, it only comes as we give ourselves to GOD and give the Spirit complete control in our lives. Only one way I know to the righteousness to which Christ calls us: give up. Give ourselves up.  Abandon ourselves completely, totally, heart and soul to Jesus.

Take my will, and make it thine [GOD]; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own. Let it by Your royal throne,
Let it by Your royal throne” – Frances R. Havergal

That, S & B, is a spiritual offering that we must continually renew, in our worship, and every day in our thoughts and prayers.

Take our lives and let them be consecrated, Lord to thee! Have Your way in our lives, every moment of every day! AMEN!