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Anger: The gateway drug

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Another tragedy savaged the American conscience when reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of WDBJ-TV were fatally shot during a live interview on Wednesday, August 26, in Moneta, Virginia. Authorities identified the suspect as former journalist (and ne’er-do-well) Vester Lee Flanagan II. Like so many of these cases, Flanagan died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Who knows what went through his mind before he put that gun to his head and stepped into the presence of a just God? In any case, it doesn’t take a genius to reach the conclusion that something has gone horribly wrong in America when a killer like Flanagan records his murders and posts it on social media for the world to witness the outcome of a pathological mind determined to get even with the world for his delusional woes.

Since the killing of Parker and Ward, the news media has uncovered enough dirt on Flanagan to paint an ugly picture of a man filled with rage at others over his career failures as a journalist. Apparently he was a man devoid of any capacity to examine himself. In other words, he was one of those individuals we have all encountered—the paranoid guy or gal who blames other people for their lot in life. This is not to say that other people never do bad things that affect our lives. But when a person bounces from one negative situation to another with eerie similarities between them, chances are the problem is not other people. Constantly blaming others is not a God-approved way of life for Christians. In Psalms 139:23-24 we see that the psalmist knew he needed God to examine him:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

One emotion (if you can call it that . . . it’s more like a malevolent presence) that blocks our ability to see ourselves accurately is anger. It also inhibits God’s ability to work in our life. Mr. Flanagan could be the poster child for anger and bitterness. He convinced himself that the world was out to get him because he was black and gay. He kept a long record of wrongs. By embracing anger and nurturing it, he opened wide the door for Satan to enter his heart and direct his actions. Anger is like heroin or crack cocaine, it feels soooo good to indulge it. Anger puffs up our feeling of moral superiority and feeds the monster of victimhood lurking in our soul. Unfortunately many people in America do not know that anger is a gateway to sin. Yep, check out Ephesians 4:26-27 (ERV):

“When you are angry, don’t let that anger make you sin, and don’t stay angry all day. Don’t give the devil a way to defeat you.”

Get the picture? Anger is a dangerous substance. Indulge it often or too long, and Satan will use it against you. That said, allow me to address a political issue surrounding this tragedy—gun control. Every time these types of tragedies occur, those who embrace the “progressive” ideology for our society zero in on guns so intently it makes me wonder if they associate the gun as the actual source of the evil that killed Parker and Ward. Granted, easy access to guns makes it easier for an evil person to destroy the lives of others, but the gun itself is not innately evil. The source of the evil (baring evidence of mental illness) is the human heart. As Christians, we have an obligation to urge the world to avoid the trap of embracing solutions that do not address the root problem. Sure, if a new law or administrative process can keep firearms out of the hands of unstable people while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens, we have an obligation to embrace it out of love for our neighbors. But more important than that, we can show the world how we examine our own lives and rely on God’s intervention to help us change dangerous attitudes in our heart. It’s called personal responsibility, and personal responsibility is the best gun control. Maybe it’s time for more Christian Americans to move beyond soaking up the good vibe of God’s love on Sunday morning to the difficult, and courageous, work of self-examination and change.

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Digging Holes

Have you ever known people who seem too quick to say the tough situations in their life are part of God’s plan, or they connect nearly all undesirable outcomes with the schemes of Satan?

Perhaps we evangelicals have developed an unwholesome tendency to overuse God and Satan to avoid our personal accountability. For instance, if I run up the balance on my credit card and take out huge home equity loans to live large, do I then have license to say God orchestrated my financial Armageddon to accomplish a higher spiritual purpose? I am aware of Romans 8:28 and the fact that God can use all situations to the good of those who love him. I get it. On the other hand, there are verses in the Bible that say we are accountable for our actions. See Galatians 6:5.

Here’s the thing: We can read stories in the Bible like Job and assume that God or Satan are behind nearly all the pleasant and unpleasant situations and outcomes in our life. That’s a mistake because it makes it too easy to grant self-absolution for our actions, or inaction. Sure, there will be times when God turns bad events into positive outcomes in our lives. There will be times when the enemy brings hardship and pain into our lives. But are we mere puppets at the complete mercy of good and malevolent forces? If so, why do we have the awesome power of choice at our disposal?

Developing a default setting where we automatically pass off the fruit of our risky actions or inaction to God to use in his holy work doesn’t improve our inner spiritual health. It can be framed to sound lofty and spiritual, but it isn’t. You see, sometimes we dig ourselves into a hole with nobody helping us shovel the dirt. God might help us get out of the hole, or he might let us scratch and claw our own way out. Either way, wisdom is found in first admitting our responsibility for digging the hole. I’m just sayin’.