I always thought of myself as a patient person until I starting trying to get around California. What happens when you take about 24 million people and cram them into the southern half of California? Chaos. Traffic. Smog. Yes the air smells of smog and, lately, of bankruptcy (but that's another issue altogether). Los Angeles is by far the worst. In L.A. there is valet parking for just about every kind of establishment possible; even the gym. I have seen businesses hire people for a kind of meter maid position to enforce the 2 hour parking limits or to ensure that you go into the bank if you park in the bank parking lot. These same employees can call on the services of a tow truck to remove any vehicle that isn't supposed to be there. And if you're an out-of-towner that has no idea how to find anything, good luck.
Anyway, one up-side to this mayhem is that these "issues" in California will reveal all kinds of latent oddities in your personality. You might think you're a patient or forgiving person until you've been cut off 50 times in the last 4 miles without even the courtesy of a blinker and then it happens: you crack. Your veins bulge, your temperature rises and you....have had...ENOUGH!!! Now, I am generally a law abiding citizen and I don't mean that I am declaring open season on the LA freeway with guns blazing as some psychos do. But you don't have to have firepower to show what's really inside of you. Jesus said this:
"You have heard that our ancestors were told, 'You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell." (Matthew 5: 21-22 NLT)
To those of us that are allergic to legalism and to religion as merely following the rules, this is hard to swallow. So getting angry with someone is the same as murdering them? Both get the same judgement from God? If you know your Bible well then you may even say, "Hold on! Didn't Jesus himself get mad and use a whip to drive thousands of people out of the temple?" The answer to that is yes, but I think that what he's teaching above is talking about something different. Jesus is not waiving his finger and shaking his head saying, "Now, now, now. You mustn't get angry little one! Just be happy!" If Jesus meant only that we just weren't supposed to get angry then he was not giving us much help. This is because it sounds like your only option is to take all that anger and bottle it up. When it's sufficiently canned then you won't show any anger...for now. But won't you look so...holy, so...churchy if you have that fake smile plastered on your face? It may look that way but let me tell ya: it ain't the way it's supposed to be.
I have approached life from the legalist point of view for many years now and I didn't even realize it. I used to read something like that passage from Matthew and think to myself, "OK now. I am SO MAD...but I must turn the other cheek" or "I will look so stupid if others see how I feel right now." Years have gone by while I've bottled things up and all that bottled up anger and emotion affects you. I don't care who you are. These emotions will be your downfall if you do not deal with them properly. In the quote above, Jesus is not merely telling you not to be angry, he is telling you that you can't justify your anger by telling yourself, "Well, I haven't KILLED anyone so I'm OK." No, he is stating that God's level of holiness is high and I believe he is pointing out how bad things are for us. We do not operate the way we were made to operate.
So as I drove around California looking for a place to park I began to experience all kinds of things going on inside of me that ought not be. God is using the insanity of this state to show me how far I have to go. And what of the solution? Well, the answer to that is fairly simple and it comes straight from Jesus himself. He says
"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light." (Matthew 11: 28-30)
Much could be said about this but know that we are not alone. I have to tell this to myself all the time.