Conquering Chronic Sins

My twelve-year-old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my bursts of anger detonated at perceived-insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.

I once chased my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.

I hated my uncontrollable anger, so I memorized verses about the angry man:

  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
  • But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

Whenever I sensed an outburst begin to rise, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.

When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my anger problem. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t lost my temper once since he prayed. I hadn’t even had to fight it.

My explosive temper had been miraculously defused.

Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.

I Cannot Do This Without Your Help

I write Beliefs of the Heart articles to help people see and know God personally. Many of you help me with this goal. Each week hundreds of you share the articles on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I thank you. The articles are read by others because of friends like you.

I cannot do this without your help.

Would you consider helping in two other ways?

First, give copies of Hearing God in Conversation to friends, family, colleagues, Latest March 22 2016and fellow church members. I wrote it not so much for the spectacular (though hearing God is spectacular) as much as to help people nurture a deep relationship with God. We might know much about God, but we mostly need to meet God, to know him personally, in conversation.

For this season, the price of Hearing God in Conversation is reduced. The paperback price $11.35 (reduced from $14.99) and the Kindle version cost is $7.99 (reduced from $9.99).

Please consider giving copies to people you know who are hungry for more of God. It’s a great stocking stuffer.

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Second, would you consider giving Beliefs of the Heart a donation? We are 100% funded by contributions. We only ask for financial gifts once a year. It’s that time. If you feel led to contribute (and please only give if you feel led), Beliefs of the Heart is a U. S. charitable organization and such gifts are tax deductible.

[I said we only ask once a year, but I know how we all forget, so I’ll send out a reminder in a week or so. But just one reminder. Until next December.]

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Thanks for your friendship,

Sam

Circumstantial Evidence

A pastor-friend of mine once went through a series of disappointments. His favor with his followers faltered, his once fruitful ministry began to fail, and many of his former friends became his biggest opponents. And that was before events really got bad.

circumstantial-evidence

My friend was well known. If I told you his name, you’d probably recognize it. And his meteoric fall from favor was not due to any moral scandal on his part. Yet rejection and controversy, like circumstantial evidence against him, attacked from every side:

  • He began with a big splash and became famous in a few short months;
  • His fame attracted detractors, and major church leaders spoke against him;
  • His followers, who used to think he walked on water, began to drift away;
  • Then his treasurer embezzled funds;
  • Over time, his ministry crashed and burned.

And, of course, he asked God, “Why?”

Twin Motivations

I once had a client whose business-gifting outshined the stars of the Harvard Business Review. Yet she scorched everything she touched. Relationships went rancid, projects were poisoned by punitive criticism, and her management style left associates embittered.

twin-motivations

We met for lunch a couple times a year for much of the 90’s. Over time, my opinion of her zigzagged from initial awe, to distaste, and finally to pity. These facts emerged:

  • She was an identical twin, younger by twenty minutes.
  • Although an excellent musician, she played second chair violin; her twin played first.
  • She failed to get into medical school so she got an MBA; her sister became a surgeon.
  • When her boyfriend came home for Easter, he fell in love with her twin.

A year later that former boyfriend married her identical, twin sister.

The Starving Lion

A business owner I barely knew once phoned to see if we could meet. He was an aggressive entrepreneur, a roaring lion among his peers. Yet on the phone, he seemed different, hesitant, a bit humbler, perhaps broken. He certainly choked up a few times in our short conversation.

young-lions-do-lack

We met the following Friday, which happened to be his fortieth birthday. He appeared vulnerable and exhausted, and something in my heart went out to him.

He said he had been struggling the last few months. Nothing he did relieved him of the pain. His restless nights were endless, every discussion with his wife ended up in a fight, and he had even lost interest in helping his son play soccer. As he shared, tears silently rolled down his cheeks.

His voice finally broke and he began to sob right there in the restaurant. I was still unsure what his problem was, but I felt sympathy. It hurts to watch someone suffer.

Eventually he gathered himself and explained. Ever since he was a young boy, he had aspired to run a successful business. He set a goal of having ten million dollars in the bank by the age of forty.

“Sam,” he moaned, “Including savings in my 401k, I barely have six million dollars to my name.”

[This conversation happened. As I re-read it here, I shake my head in disbelief. But it happened.]

The First Time I Ever Heard God

I was ten years old the first time I heard God speak. It was autumn, a new school year had just begun, and a new fad was spreading among my adolescent classmates.

Cussing.

the-first-time-i-heard-god

I was raised in a conservative Christian church where Sunday school teachers taught us the Ten Commandments. The teachers were vague about adultery, and I wasn’t concerned. They were also unclear about coveting, and I felt safe.

They made up for their ambiguity when it came to cussing. Instead of an elusive “Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain,” they precisely taught, “Don’t swear.” And when they said, “Don’t swear,” they meant, “Don’t cuss.”

For us, cussing was a sin on the order of mass genocide.

One day while playing school-yard tag, I tagged my girlfriend, Diane, and she shouted, “Shit!” I felt a shockwave race through my body, as though I’d been hit in the gut with a sledgehammer. Forty-five years later, I still feel that visceral punch, and I can exactly picture the playground gate where Diane cussed. I gasped for air but nothing came.

Looking back, it seems silly that a cuss word could cause such a shock, but it did. I expected God to cast down a lightning bolt and burn Diane to ash. The thought almost paralyzed me.

But not quite. I leaped back seven feet in case the bolt went wide.