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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 20: The Enemy is Within

 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. Luke 4:1-2

When I was growing up, there was a popular comedian named Flip Wilson. He would do something he knew he should not do and say, “The devil made me do it!” It was funny because everyone knew it was his own lack of self-control that was to blame. Today, there is significant disagreement about whether the devil is an actual being with power to lead us to evil acts. Because I have not had personal experience with a power outside of myself encouraging me towards evil, I tend to believe there is no such separate entity. I believe we use the devil as an excuse for something within that we are unwilling to acknowledge, like Flip Wilson, or we blame the devil for something exterior to us that we do not understand. Having said that, I know people who feel they have had an encounter with an outside, evil spirit, and I respect their opinion and experience.

The issue at hand is not whether there is evil in the world, but where that evil originates. I am not so naive as to believe there is no evil in the world, but where does our evil enemy reside? Do evil acts come from people who are selfish, ignorant, or whose motives are malicious, or do they originate from some external, spiritual being bent on our destruction? Clearly, I lean towards the former explanation. The latter simply gives us a reason to let ourselves off the hook when our behavior does not line up with expectations.

I believe the source of all evil – the birthplace of every enemy – is the misguided perception by individuals that we are separate, independent beings. Once we learn to recognize and honor our absolute interconnectedness with others, we will have no enemies – only reflections of our own internal conflicts. There will always be those who do not have our best interests at heart, but we will recognize them for what they are – immature, narcissistic, and misguided. They are fellow humans fighting their own internal demons, not necessarily evil incarnate. They need understanding and help (and sometimes avoidance), not hatred and scorn.

Our sense of an enemy stems from our lack of understanding of the significance of the other. We fear who and what we do not understand. As we begin to realize that what we see exterior to ourselves is largely a mirror reflecting our internal struggles and unfinished business, we begin to accept responsibility for our part in the evil that manifests in our world. We are connected to all that is, and all that is is connected to us – intimately and securely. The good news is that we can do something to change our external world by changing our internal world. The bad news is that wherever we go, our enemy goes with us.

The enemy is within. How did I miss that?

book

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Life Notes—July 18, 2013 

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.  Do not fret—it leads only to evil.”  Psalm 37:8

Most of the time I am an even-tempered person.  Of course I get annoyed when my computer takes longer than normal to start up.  I do not appreciate when someone cuts me off in traffic.  And yes, I can get downright mad when relatively petty annoyances begin to pile on top of each other.  Sometimes my anger even overrides my self-control and words spew out of my mouth that would otherwise remain within.  I am seldom proud of my outbursts of anger and am thankful they tend to be rare.  I teach at a leadership institute one week out of the year and I tell the leaders-to-be that expressed anger should be a tool they use sparingly.  While they should not allow themselves to be controlled by their anger, applied strategically and sparingly anger can be an effective teacher and motivator.

But the fifth of the seven deadly sins is not anger.  It is wrath.  Wrath is anger on steroids.  It is also referred to as rage and manifests as uncontrollable, highly-charged emotional feelings of hatred and loathing.  It can lead to violent behaviors directed towards one’s self or others.  It can persist long after the presumed cause of the wrath is dead and gone.  The key is that it is uncontrolled and/or wildly excessive; meaning appropriate control has been lost and any number of unfortunate or unintended consequences may result.  Suicide is sometimes described as wrath turned inward.

In this series of essays on the Seven Deadly Sins I have defined sin as that which separates us from God.  The Seven Deadly Sins are considered the primary, or the originating sins which lead to most other types of sin.  These primary sins are identified as lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.  While anger is a normal emotion everyone experiences to a greater or lesser extent and frequency, wrath takes anger to dangerous heights.  Where anger tends to dissipate relatively quickly, wrath boils ever near the surface, ready to explode in an emotional and destructive eruption with little provocation.  In a word, wrath leads to evil.

Wrath makes us unpleasant, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous to be around.  As such, it separates us from and even destroys our relationships with others.  Since we are called to be in relationship with others, it also separates us from God’s purposes for our lives.  It makes us less useful as tools for God’s work on earth.  And it makes us miserable as individuals.  In the words of William Cullen Bryant, “And wrath has left its scar—that fire of hell has left its frightful scar upon my soul.”

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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