Irritable

Lately, I’ve been feeling irritable, on-edge, restless, out-of-focus.

I grabbed my prayer book this morning and this is what I found:

Are the antidotes to my dis-ease in this simple, timely prayer? Let’s think it through:

First, have I responded in love when irritations and annoyances erupt? Nope. My anger has over-ruled and overrun my giving grace and love mechanism, like a log truck going downhill in the mountains.

If sensible people control their temper, as the writer of Proverbs admonishes, I have been anything but sensible. I have been out of my senses. I have been out of control. This is obvious in my interactions, my eating, and my disciplines. I haven’t written anything for months. My office is in total disarray. All I want to do is get on my bike and ride—hard, long, and fast.

It’s like I’m trying to get away from something. I’ve always been a runner, an avoider. Ignore something long enough and it will go away. Ridiculous thinking. I would identify it and encourage others to change, but have not been very good at owning it in myself.

As a counselor, I learned and taught classes, groups, and individuals about anger management. A basic truth for me has always been that most often anger is a protective response. People feel more comfortable expressing anger and pushing others away than owning their more vulnerable feelings of sadness, fear, confusion, or brokenness.

I’m feeling all of the above. At work. At home. In my relationships. I feel more comfortable holing up alone in my house with my dogs who don’t care what I’m going through as long as I feed them, let them out to potty, and give them an occasional scratch behind the ear.

But this is not how I want to be. And perhaps that’s why I’m so frustrated. I don’t feel like I’m allowed or supposed to feel this way. I have to be on and up for everyone. I’m not allowed to be irritated. And heaven forbid that I would express my frustration publically.

For example…last week the tree trimmers came to my house to cut my tree limbs back from the power lines. I was fuming. They’re supposed to let us know so we can pay top dollar to tree-trimming companies to sculpt rather than butcher our trees indiscriminately. We weren’t notified. They butchered my tree.

I felt violated. I was so angry, I was telling people that I was ready to chop the rest of the tree down with my teeth. Not particularly attractive talk or behavior. Upon reflection, I was mortified that I was so vociferous in my expression of my anger. I should have been gracious. After all, they were only doing their job, and keeping the electric on is important for me and for the neighborhood.

Spewing my anger over what I felt was hack job on my tree became the perfect opportunity to empty out my hoard of pent up frustration and irritation. My behavior was completely disproportionate to the incident. My ranting was unbecoming and my inability to control my expression was indicative of a deeper wounding that needs to be addressed.

That said, I have realized and reminded myself of Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians regarding anger: be angry and sin not. Anger is not the enemy. Anger is a legitimate emotion. How we release or control the intensity is what matters. Who we express it to is also relevant. Anger is energy that when channeled appropriately can result is positive change.

Typically I like to finish one of these posts in a neat package, with a tidy resolution tied up with a pretty ribbon.

Sorry, no ribbon today. Today begins the arduous work of back-tracking soul-searching examination to uncover the wound that has been the impetus to this feeling of dis-ease. I take comfort in the words of Psalm 103, “He heals all our dis-eases.”

I’m trusting in that truth, and in the ensuing process. I’m also hoping the ownership of the feelings unlocks the door to peace (completeness, shalom) so that my life and living will be a more credible witness.

Message Meme: Don’t Take It

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Have you ever stolen something?

I’ve always hated that question. Mostly because I have to own up—yes, I have.

I took penny candy from the Fast Food Market in grade school.

Last week I even took a pen from the office where I was taking a class the other day.

I took a few extra minutes on my break a couple of jobs back.

I took five extra miles per hour on my way to the meeting I’m at.

I robbed someone of a blessing by declining their kind offer of assistance.

I robbed God of his glory by not giving him the credit due, or sharing his love.

I don’t think I’m in this boat alone. We could probably all own up to taking what isn’t ours. That’s what makes this commandment so important.

But why are we so prone to take what isn’t ours? More on that in Friday’s Sermon Seeds.

Prayer thoughts: Father God, this rule is hard. And the reasons we take are only symptoms of a greater heart issue. Help us to trust that you really do give us what we need so we can turn from this insatiable consuming greed—thinking we need more than we do. I want to be done with that apple. I want to bask in your lavish love and ample provision. Now, and always. Amen.

Owning Up

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Being empty nesters has some wonderful advantages, but a few disappointments I hadn’t considered. One of the things that has changed is the ability to blame. For example, if the refrigerator door is left open or the last ice cube taken—it was probably me. And I’m the one who left less than a serving in the bottom of the cereal box.  The clearest example came, however, when I realized I had forgotten to replace the empty roll of toilet paper. I had no one to blame but myself.

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Instinctively, right before I dug in the cupboard to retrieve a new roll, I raised my hand. Do you remember how we used to do that when we played on the basketball courts of our childhoods? When we committed a foul we would raise our hand signifying taking responsibility for the transgression: “I did it. It’s on me.”

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The same thing used to happen in professional sports. Not so much anymore. No, nowadays more often than not, when a foul is called by the referee the players go into some display of blaming others—even in the most obvious and flagrant of cases. Bottom line: people don’t accept responsibility.

This caused me to pause and reflect for a bit on the areas of my life where I have preferred to blame-shift spiritually. Over the years it’s been “easy” to point the finger at my parents or the fact we moved so often, and many other things. Enough already! I need to “man up” and accept responsibility for my own choices.

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That’s what confession is. Confession is raising my hand in the sight of God and owning that what he has identified as sin, as foul, in my life is true. I’m thankful when we do that, the Word promises: he is faithful and just and will forgive us of all our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). That should free us from looking to blame and enable us to live more honestly!

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Rebuilding With Nehemiah, Chapter 9 Day 3

Wednesday: What Is Worship?

Text: 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God. (Neh. 1:3)

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Teach: You’ve probably heard the saying, “Confession is good for the soul.” Many attribute this to a Scottish proverb, but note that it should read, “Open confession is good for the soul. There is a sense of accountability implied in that openness. The people who listened to the Word were in this together, so there was personal as well as corporate confession taking place.

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Take: As you can probably imagine, Jesus had something to say about confession: Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32). Paul speaks to the emphatic nature of confession to the Romans: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

And just what is confession? The best explanation I heard was many years ago when I was a counselor at church camp. The speaker was explaining what it meant to confess to a group of teenagers. He told them confessing was telling God everything he knew about them was true. What I like about that is it works for our confession for our salvation and for the sins we commit after.

Task: Take time today to confess. What do you need to acknowledge that God already knows about you?

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Rebuilding With Nehemiah, Chapter 8 Day 5

Friday:

Text: 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

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Teach: The people heard the Word, the Law specifically. The job of the Law is to convict, and by convicting to bring confession and repentance. Too often, however, when the Holy Spirit brings conviction and people feel remorse and regret, they get stuck and never move on. Ezra, Nehemiah, and the other leaders realized this and encouraged the people to move beyond regret to celebration.

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Take: One of the enemy’s most cunning deceptions is to move in at the moment of conviction and attempt to deceive the penitent person into believing that whatever their sin is, it is far too great to be forgiven. As a result, there is much sadness. The Word is very clear on this: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong (1 John 1:9, NLT).

Task: Does the enemy seek to steel your joy? Does he cause you to dwell in regret? David understood that and asked God to restore the joy of his salvation (see Psalm 51). I had a pastor who often told the congregation, “God has sent your sin into the sea of forgetfulness and posted a no fishing sign.” God wants you to move on into joy.

Neh 8-5 restore joy