Focus on the Family

Changing an Angry Spirit

by Ed Chinn

From the moment we are born, we quickly develop attachments . . . to food and drink, parents, siblings, our natural environment, etc. As we mature, those attachments rapidly grow into a Byzantine web of roles, constraints, preferences and responsibilities. That web quickly networks across the landscape of our familial, financial, moral, legal, societal and spiritual realms.

Keeping all those orbits of our identity in balance create a happy and purposeful life. The Bible says that Jesus – our pattern for life – "kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). In other words, the various realms of His life kept expanding in perfect balance.

However, as you may have noticed, we're not Jesus. We're all flawed creatures. Our life seems to continually get out of balance. The various attachments of our life – food, drink, housing, marriage, sex, family, religion, citizenship, career, rest and relaxation, etc. – continually call out to us. They keep pulling us into larger and longer commitments, making greater demands, and becoming less respectful of the other realms of our lives.

Keeping them in balance is a lifelong challenge.

The contrast between the ideal of balance and the reality of our own lives is the stuff of novels, movies, music and sermons. The search for balance can produce very funny literature and can also be the territory of great pathos. At its worst, the inability to find balance can lead to addictions, disease, homelessness, crime, prison, and suicide. Not pretty.

But, at its best, balanced living represents the life of Christ downloaded into human vessels. It is purposeful, transcendent, generous, even sacrificial, and yet is marked by the "easy yoke" and "light burden" so characteristic of following Him.

The Springs of Life

As a pastor, consultant, and writer, I have been observing this process for many years. In fact, I've had a ringside seat at the great human drama of how people fill, balance and sometimes abuse or abort their various roles in life.

I agree with author Alan Jones, who once wrote, "A human being is by definition a longing for God."

Alan Jones, Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989). p 43.

We are all born with a capacity and a yearning for God. When we try to exist without the living Word of God, we're like a computer without software: worthless.

Maybe that's why the Bible says this about our relationship with God:

"My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:20-27 NIV).

If we are to live a balanced life (not "swerving to the right or the left"), then we must be filled up with God. Because He is our Creator, His Word will literally be "life and health" to us.

But, regardless of which "software" we buy for our life, it is all installed through the same "D drive." Everything enters through our "heart" (not the physical organ in our chest, but the spiritual core of our life). That is the key to, both, transformation and corruption. The Word of God, or the Word of corruption, enters through the heart and begins to take over our life. Then our life changes—for good or for bad.

So the secret to a balanced life is to "guard your heart." We should post sentries at the gates of our heart so as to only permit entrance to words, or "programs," which will lead to life and health. All of life will flow from what enters those portals.

Now, you may be wondering, what does all this have to do with anger?

Simply this: anger is one of the main "dashboard" lights in life. When we become angry (or encounter it in others), it tells us that someone's life is out of balance. When that light starts flashing, wise people know to pull off the road and give attention to what is going on "under the hood."

In the series of articles to follow, we are going to consider a phenomenon which has turned into a cultural crisis of anger. As you read, you just might pick up some clues on how to be a positive and redemptive influence in the midst of it.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


When Your Anger Gets the Best of You

Instead of ignoring our tendencies to show anger, honestly examine your priorities, repent of it, reject it and walk away.

by Ed Chinn

My Dad was a fine Christian man. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. Dad was widely respected and loved by his family, within our town, on his job, in the church and throughout all the circles of his life. Everyone liked Jack Chinn.

But, one day in 1956, he exploded in anger and severely punished me and my brother, Vernon. We did nothing wrong; he just became strangely furious and abusive. To this day, more than half a century later, Vernon, my mother, and I remain perplexed about what happened that day.

What caused such a fine man to explode? Although we will never know the reasons, we do have some clues. He had recently made a real estate investment which appeared to be bad. So, as a young husband and father of two little boys, he probably felt threatened with the prospect of losing everything. Like others of his generation, the Great Depression damaged him, and it was still (just twenty years afterwards) a powerful presence in the collective national memory.

Also, in a classic "dark night of the soul," Dad struggled spiritually. The issue seemed to be about where he would place the boundaries of his service and devotion to the Lord. Another issue was his fairly recent military service; the crucible of war and the loss of so many friends haunted him.

Of course, I forgave him for his outburst before his passed away, but, as I've aged and come to a greater understanding of his emotional context at the time, I have a deeper reservoir of forgiveness and grace about the whole episode.

Ignoring the warning lights

Anger always reveals other mitigating factors going on down in the "springs of life." In that sense, anger is a very helpful warning light on the "dashboard" of life.

We shouldn't be paranoid or unduly sensitive about anger. Everyone has a capacity for it. Most of us have very normal (even healthy) flashes of anger when we witness cruelty, injustice, betrayal and other transgressions of people. God created our emotions. Anger certainly has a righteous role.

But burning or prolonged anger is a warning light that something is out of balance in life. Anger is closely tied to feeling threatened. A sense of threat, real or imagined, usually arises out of a perception of oppression, humiliation, injustice, physical danger or just a lack of control over our environment and circumstances.

Guilt can also trigger anger. For example, if we know or feel that we've violated the law (biblical, moral, or civic), we may live under a cloud that God or the IRS or the sheriff is about to get us. That lack of control over our circumstances can make us angry.

Of course, this territory of human psychology is not a recent discovery. People have always struggled with these issues. Rage exploded into murder in the very first family. So it may be useful to step out of 21st century thinking and literature and seek the more classic wisdom of the Bible on anger.

A biblical view of anger

The Bible is more real than it is religious. It portrays real people and speaks to real life situations. It is only the centuries of stained-glass culture which has turned it into religion.

What, then, does this very real book tell us about anger?

James wrote (1:19), ". . . let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." He isn't saying that anger is wrong. Of course, we're going to get angry; that's just part of our creation package. Essentially, James just said, "Don't be quick-tempered."

The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians almost the same thing: "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger . . ." (Ephesians 4:26).

Like James, he was realistic. After all, anger is part of life; just don't let it carry you into sin. In these passages and many others, the Bible is basically saying to lead a balanced life.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:11: "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression." In other words, balance gives a sense of discretion in life. And, it is the mark of wisdom to be able to overlook perceived transgressions.

A few verses earlier, Solomon wrote one of the great principles of balanced living: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city." (Proverbs 16:32)

As in many other scriptures, the issue is not anger, but how much it controls us. Being slow to anger is a mark of strength, mastery, and leadership. Self control (ruling your spirit) brings more leadership and success than being able to capture a city.

Finally, Paul told the Christians in Ephesus: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).

When we see the warning light of anger flashing on our dashboard, we don't have to react in despair or recoil into guilt. Just repent of it, reject it, and walk away from it. Seek wise counsel in dealing with the issues below the hood. You will find that most of them are resolved through forgiveness.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


The Upside and Downside of Anger

Is righteous anger ever justified? Know the difference between selfish and selfless anger.

by Ed Chinn

As almost everyone knows, we live in a conflict-driven culture. Various factors – political marketing, 24-hour cable news, talk radio, etc. – have Balkanized our society into a kaleidoscope of interest groups. They relate to each other through turbo-charged suspicion, shotgun blasts of opinion and open hatred.

In such an environment, anger has become a "virtue."

Many stand-up comics express their brand of comedy through profane and seething anger. One of the contributions of punk rock was the celebration of anger. You can also watch producers of daytime reality shows (like Jerry Springer) coax participants to, "Let it all out. Get mad. Tell her what you really think. Don't you really want to slap her?"

Very clearly, we have crossed a river. In the "new media age," political issues – immigration, the war on terror, global warming, abortion – can only be discussed in anger. The old-fashioned form of polite discussion of the issues of the day has deteriorated into a shouting match.

The one common denominator of all this cultural anger is a relentless and self-serving "worship of individualism." It is all about "me." Anger is directed at protecting the cherished terrain of my rights, my ideas, my feelings and my indulgences.

This worship of individualism has become the god of modern culture.

Is Anger Ever Unselfish?

As far as I know, the Bible reveals only two angry moments in Jesus' earthly life. One was when he threw furniture in the temple because mercantile interests were perverting the House of God.

The other episode was when He healed the man with the withered hand. Mark 3:1-6 paints the picture; Jesus encountered a serious human need. Unfortunately, surrounding that need was a religious system which could not even see the man or his infirmity; it was only focused on rules and preservation of an old order. Incensed, Jesus gazed into the face of that Pharisaical order and "with anger" at their "hardness of heart" reached out and healed the man.

Jesus – our pattern – got angry. In both cases, His anger was a response to barricades which blocked God's salvation and kindness from reaching into and touching the deep need of human lives. Jesus was not reacting out of a sense of being threatened (the usual earthbound cause for anger). Rather, His divine sense of justice was offended. He was angry at the perpetuation of illness, sin and oppression.

In a very similar way, when my anger is projected at injustice or oppression, that is usually a sign of healthy anger. When my anger revolves around my self-interest, it is more likely to be selfish and unhealthy.

So how do we know the difference between good and bad, "upside" and "downside," selfish and selfless anger?

Selfish anger will usually cause strong, disproportionate-to-the-situation, physical and emotional sensations: heart palpitations, trembling and louder and faster voice, shortness of breath, using bad language, etc. It can also leave us with the residual effects of insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Righteous anger tends to be slow, thoughtful and controlled. It leads to the formation of a plan rather than hasty and wild actions.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


Living With a Killer

Do we have the tools, the skills, and the patience to help build a renaissance of fatherhood? Read on to discover what this wife, mother and — Family Court judge thinks.

by Ed Chinn

Several years ago, my niece married too fast, too young and for all the wrong reasons. Predictably, danger signs soon appeared on the "dashboard" of the marriage. She had married a very angry young man. And, it wasn't long before his anger exploded toward her, their unborn child and even their cat.

Thankfully, her parents (and the legal system) rescued her. Today, she is married to a fine man and their life is a happy and deeply committed walk with Christ. Her current life bears no resemblance at all to her former one.

A view from the bench

While my niece's first marriage was disintegrating, I found myself sitting next to a beautiful and delightful lady on an airplane. She was a wife, a mother, and . . . a family court judge.

After we had talked for quite a while about children, church and crabgrass, I suddenly asked her, "From your view on the bench, what is wrong with men today?"

She needed no interpretation or clarification of my question. I was stunned to watch the very pleasant wife and mother recede; I saw "the judge look" come to her eyes. I quickly grabbed a pad of paper and begin taking notes.

"Men are angry," she said in clear and clipped tones. "They are angry at their fathers, at their mothers, at law enforcement. I think they're angry at God."

"Why are they angry?" I asked.

"Because they have been abused, ignored, abandoned and lied to by their fathers."

This lady had very informed and burning opinions about what she saw in the human parade which passed through her court daily.

"So why are they angry at their mothers? At cops? At the Lord?" I asked.

"Because their mom and God did not protect them from the cruelty of their fathers. And they are angry at cops and God — the Lord gets it twice from them — because they are male authority figures. Their anger makes them addicted to control."

So, I told her about my niece; I gave her the ugly details about her husband's anger. The judge quickly said, "Listen; she better get away from him. He has to control her. And, because of that, he will probably injure or kill her. I see it every day."

"What makes them so dangerous?" I asked.

"Their pain is so great that they have to inflict it, to pass it on. Some will torture animals. Some will fight. And, some will abuse or kill those they love. They must have a sense of control. They are profoundly antisocial. And, there is a very large population of these guys. They are already destabilizing the social order in cities. And, trust me; it's gonna get much worse."

Mad at Dad

David Blankenhorn has described the process which leads to the judge's chilling observations.

"Both clinical studies and anthropological investigations confirm the process through which boys seek to separate from their mothers in search of the meaning of their maleness. In this process, the father is irreplaceable. He enables the son to separate from the mother. He is the gatekeeper, guiding his son into the community of men, teaching him to name the meaning of his embodiment, showing him on good authority that he can be 'man enough.'"

"In this process, the boy becomes more than the son of his mother, or even the son of his parents. He becomes the son of his father. Later, when the boy becomes a man, he will reunite with the world of women, the world of his mother, through his spouse and children.

". . .When this process of male identity does not succeed – when the boy cannot separate from the mother, cannot become the son of his father – one main result, in clinical terms is rage." 1

In a matter of speaking, a breakdown in the transmission of values and civilized behavior has resulted in an explosion of rage. That blast is not isolated or contained; it is shaking every socio-economic, religious, and racial group. Tragically, America's women and children – the proverbial "first in the lifeboats!" group – are living with those who not only fail to protect them but who increasingly kill them.

Can this crisis be reversed? Do we have the tools, the skills and the patience to help build a renaissance of fatherhood? How far would that go to breaking the cycle of anger and violence?


1David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America (New York, NY; Basic Books, 1995). p. 30

Winning the War Against Anger

Instead of simply managing our anger, we need to transform ourselves.

by Ed Chinn

Most people are familiar with the term "anger management." In fact, many of us know people who have gone through it. Anger management is big business today, both in psychology and in our pop culture. "Anger Management" is even the name of a major motion picture.

If you read between the lines, the phrase reveals a pervasive deception: We no longer believe in change. At some point, our cultural consensus decided to just settle for managing dysfunctional and dangerous behavior. We no longer have any hope of removing or healing it, so we will just try to contain it.

That kind of thinking does not build great civilizations.

Allowing Christ to transform us

Part of the problem behind our social acceptance of aberrant behavior is that Christians have failed to proclaim and exhibit a biblical faith.

Jesus stepped onto this planet and issued an invitation to a higher way of life. He proposed a whole new way to live. That proposition did not try to accommodate the existing belief systems (even the religious ones). In a grand historical sense, Jesus turned conventional thinking upside down. In so doing, he opened a new road to a higher quality of life.

Jesus was not into "management." Because He came from Heaven, He knew the power of the age to come, and He was very comfortable with that. Jesus knew that when it is "downloaded" into the earth, transformation – not management – occurs. That's why He served physical healing, relational reconciliation, demonic deliverance and other glimpses of the age to come. He taught those who followed Him to do the same things.

I'm sure that's what the Apostle Paul was thinking when he wrote, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . ." (Romans 12:2).

Transformation is not the same as management. According to theologian and scholar Dallas Willard, "History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects . . . The current gospel then becomes a 'gospel of sin management.' Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message." 1

Breaking the cycle

Most of us, whether Christian or not, tends to think in defeatist terms. When we see signs of social decay, we shake our heads, blame the politicians or media and lament the passing era.

Instead of mourning our current state of affairs, we can be part of a new order. We can become agents of the new rather than apologists for what is passing away.

One of the great testimonies of Focus on the Family is that it grew out of one man's confidence in a better way. Dr. James Dobson saw a problem and stormed into it; he really believed that America didn't have to lose the family. As a result, he helped to awaken a whole generation (actually about three generations) to a loving, active engagement of the culture about family. It is always more painful and risky to do something than to talk about it. But breaking the cycles of futility means we have an obligation to engage the problem.

Put this in the context of "anger management." How can we help ourselves (or someone else) change an angry spirit? The first step is to extend (and seek) forgiveness. Yes, you. Forgive your father, your mother, your Boy Scout leader, the man who cheated you out of that land, anyone who ever transgressed you.

Next, forgive yourself. Take your knee out of your own chest and let yourself get up off the ground. I don't care what the "issue" is (cruelty, theft, adultery, murder). Forgive yourself. Naturally, you should also ask forgiveness of anyone you've injured or offended.

Forgiveness isn't something you feel; it is something you do. To forgive is to release. Let them off the barbed wire hook which has them immobilized. Permit them to walk away into a brand-new day.

Finally, walk through your life as an Ambassador of Heaven. Represent the values, attitude and power of the higher call. Extend kindness, grace, compassion and healing everywhere you go. Be an agent of forgiveness in an unforgiving world. Let Micah serve as your mantra: "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

You have no idea what kind of doors that will open. Many great churches, serving organizations and social movements have been built simply because someone took their role as an ambassador seriously. After all, our Lord – the One we represent – makes "all things new."


1Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York, NY; Harper, San Francisco, 1998) p 43.

Changing an Angry Spirit

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