Well good morning and aloha to you all! Coming up to Los Angeles is always fun but if you have a fear of flying it is not always fun, especially if what happened to me last month could happen to you. On that flight were four members of the cast of the TV show called LOST. How would you feel that the cast of a show about a group of people on the same plane that crashes and the people ended up stranded on an island for years and this is their last season. And also on the plane a few rows ahead of me was my friend from First Pres Honolulu, the famous POW Jerry Coffee who in real life was a pilot whose plane did crash. Unnerving.
But whether you are cool or not, having self-control doesn’t come naturally to most of us, nor is it easy especially if self-control is needed in the face of criticism and conflict. Self-control takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of practice. It’s not easy to face challenges and still be able to say HA! Hallelujah Anyway! But our bible passage says today that if we have self-control, we can live a Hallelujah Anyway! life. It urges us to have self-control, which brings us closer to God and love more effectively through God’s power.
If you’re here today or watching on television and you have a delicate relationship that you need to work out or want to be skilled in handling interpersonal conflict and need some self-control in dealing with difficult people, then you are at the right place today. Here’s the myth: People who have self-control are naturally calm, even-keeled and unflappable. That’s not it. Here’s the truth: People who are good at keeping themselves in check are externally immovable but internally very active.
And they are, in a sense, people who are good at judo. Now what do I mean by that? Unlike most other martial arts, Judo does not tell you to punch back your opponent. Actually, the word “Judo” means “the gentle way.” And when an opponent rushes towards you, the expert judo wrestler takes the full force of the assailant and uses the opponent’s weight and speed and strength to push him away or flip him or push him down but that process often begins with the opponent being pulled closer to you. And using good footwork and well-placed hands, you can flip an opponent past you and then put him on his back, decisively ending the match in your favor. Having self-control is like doing judo with a Hallelujah Always ending. So pay attention, friends. By the end of today’s worship we may go from a white belt to maybe a black belt in self-control.
Hence this morning, I am going to talk about “The Judo of Self-Control” in the face of personal arguments and conflicts and challenges in your life. What I’m going to share with you is something that I have used for 20 plus years, and it has worked almost every single time. It has changed moments of conflict into reconciliation. It really works. So let’s get on the sermon mat with me and let’s go.
First, what to do in the face of anger or complaint or criticism or even verbal assaults. And maybe something is coming down the line so this sermon is about to prep you. All of us have faced angry people. They come at us with hurtful words, or unfair accusations, false perceptions. And if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we will have empowerment from God to do the following.
First of all, think of the vowels A-E-I-O-U when facing an angry or critical person. Using these letters to remember as a step by step process what to do in your next argument or disagreement and have the Holy Spirit guide you, it could save your life. So “A,” if you’re taking notes, stands for active listening. The first thing we should do in responding to angry verbal punches is practical active listening. When people are angry with me I allow them to in a sense verbally pummel me for a bit. I pull them closer, I don’t push them back. I listen very, very carefully to see if there are any seeds of truth in which they are saying. In every argument or accusation there’s always a seed of truth. Maybe it wasn’t my fault; Maybe I wasn’t sensitive; Maybe I forgot; Maybe I wasn’t paying attention; Maybe I didn’t know better. I listen to clarify if indeed I was in the wrong. And as in judo, I let them come at me with their full force, and I go into active listening, restating their words back to them to make sure I got it right. I say, “Yes, you are angry with me. I let you down. It’s not the first time you say, and this really bugs you. I wasn’t paying attention. You feel hurt and disappointed in my actions.” And any words they give me, I try to repeat and restate to show that I am indeed listening.
Then not only do I actively listen, I empathize with them. This is the “E” in the vowels A-E-I-O-U. E is for Empathy. I let the full force of their verbal punches fly at me. Then, I not only take the punch but I pull it towards me to give it even more speed by being empathetic. A person criticizes me for not performing well or for being insensitive. I don’t disagree or refute their words, but I say, “Man, you’re angry at me. I really let you down. You know if someone let me down the way you feel that I let you down, I would be ticked off at me, too. So in a sense of grabbing their arm and pulling it towards me, it would make me so disappointed, in fact it would make my blood boil. So, man, I hear you.” I take the full force of their disagreement or disappointment, pull them towards me and add my own empathetic, “Yes, I would be angry at Dan, too.”
And this is not inauthentic or tricky because I really, genuinely want to be in their shoes and imagine what they feel. And this is helpful for all relationships; friendships, marriages, bosses, colleagues, whatever. I want to be actively listening and empathizing. And this should take up most of the time in going through A-E-I-O-U. But then after a season of that, then comes a time when I pivot. Only now do I share my perceptions and my feeling. And this is the letter “I.” “I” means we’re going to talk about MY perspective. You’re now going to hear about how “I” feel and I’m going to give you my feelings. I might say, “Wow, you’re angry. I would think Dan is a jerk too. But you know you need to know I really didn’t mean that. Yes, I was insensitive. I messed up but you need to know that it hurts me to hear that I would screw up on purpose to hurt you. I really, really didn’t intend that, though I hear how you felt that I did.” So I give new information. I add my perspective to theirs and the judo flip is beginning its rotation. I have taken the thrust of the punch; I’m adding my perception now, which starts to change the angle of attack. In a moment I will either flip their understanding or if they’re still uncontrollably angry, then I run for my life.
But the next step and I think of and state options for making things better. And this is the letter “O.” “O” is for options. I look for options to make it a win-win conclusion. Option one may be: “Hey, I misunderstood you and maybe you misunderstood me. Can we start again at square one? Let’s try this again and state the problem as we both see it, and I will really listen to you and you listen to me.”
Option two might be: “You know we’re at an impasse. Can we go home and pray about it and try again? Or option three might be: “You know we are at an impasse and maybe we need an objective third party to help figure this all out.” You see it’s all about options.
Finally the judo of self-control is not all human. Whenever someone is criticizing me, I launch into prayer while I am talking to him or her one ear listening to them, one ear listening to God. I underscore this time with them in prayer. And many Christians forget this. This is the letter “U” UNDERSCORES the conversation with silent prayer. While I’m listening to the person with one ear, I’m saying in my heart and having the other ear tuned to God saying, “Lord, help me. Guide me. Find a solution. Help me figure out the possibilities created by You.” I ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, understanding and for a sense of humility on my part to be open to the idea that I could be really wrong in this. In fact, up to this point I am praying that I can come up with the options. So we have A, E, I, O, U and that’s judo, a light touch and a decisive ending.
And now sometimes the criticism or the attack happens so fast that you can’t even run through A, E, I, O or U and you look at the person and you’re angry and all he can think about is J-E-R-K! But with practice and with the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit, we can have the self-control that prevents us from sinning, from returning evil with evil and insult with insult. I’ve had many confrontations in my life, but I’ve almost always reconciled with the person angry with me, 99 percent of the time when I use A-E-I-O-U.
Now there is another area that we need self-control, not just in the face of anger, and that is when we are assaulted by sexual temptation. Internet pornography is just a click away. We need self-control. Here’s what’s new in terms of my counseling at my church: inappropriate conversations on Facebook with old flames. We need self-control in that area, men and women. On business trips with colleagues or by ourselves we need self-control.
The strength of sexual temptation was really evident to me when years ago I was traveling with my family in a foreign country where English was not the primary language. I was sleeping in the hotel room I was sharing with my 16-year-old son, Dylan, when the phone rang about 10:15 pm. And my wife Pam and daughter Noelle and son Quinn were in another room. And a lady began talking to me in a foreign language and I told her I spoke English so please have someone call me in English so she hung up. Now awake, I thought I smelled smoke and I thought, “Gee, maybe there’s a fire and she’s trying to warn me.” No, I told myself, so I went back to sleep.
About 10 minutes later another call came in. Same thing. Lady speaking in a foreign language. I told her I didn’t understand and she hung up. I still smelled smoke, and then I heard other rooms ringing and doors opening and shutting and so I thought maybe there’s a fire and they’re going to evacuate us. So I got up from my bed and opened the door and looked out. Didn’t see anybody, shut the door, maybe somebody smoking in the hallway, I thought, walking by. I went back to sleep. Then again my phone rang and this time a woman said in broken English that she had a message for me. And I said, “Well I want my message, I want it now, but you’ve got to find someone who speaks good English because I can’t get my message.” And she hung up so I went back to sleep. Again my phone rang. Same thing: a woman with a message for me. I said, “Listen, I want my message, I need it in English. And I want my message now.”
She hangs up on me. So now I am getting pretty ticked off. I heard someone knocking on my door and I thought, “Great, we’re going to be evacuated.” Oh no, so I went to the door, opened it and this really pretty young woman walked into my room, I mean not just at the door, she walked like fifteen feet into my room and the first thing I thought to myself is, “Gee, this hotel has got to teach their employees how to be in people’s rooms. She went in way too far.”
And then she came up to me, really closely and I thought these people really need to work on their interpersonal space. This is like way too close. And my third thought was why is she looking at me that way? And suddenly as I looked into her seductive eyes, I realized I was in trouble. I felt like I was Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo in the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, being sucked in by the tractor beam into the Death Star. And the woman said to me in English, “Oh, you called for me?”And I said, “No, I didn’t call for you.”She said, “Yes, you did, you called for me.”
I said, “No I didn’t.” And then I noticed her clean and soft hair, and I felt the tractor beam sucking me in again. So I did what any American father would do in panic: I turned to my son who’s sleeping in bed, I said, “Dylan, Dylan! Wake up!” But Dylan, a heavy sleeper, just smiled and rolled over back to sleep.
And then the woman said, “Oh, he called me.” And I said, “No, no, no, he didn’t call you.” And finally she left and my heart was pounding and so I called the front desk and I said, “I need to talk to someone in English right away. You have to give me someone. You sent an employee or someone and I need to talk to someone in English.” And a minute later a man telephoned and the scene was like an old Abbot and Costello radio show, full of miscommunication.
He said, “Mr. Chun? You didn’t open your door to someone, did you?” And I said, “Yes I did.” And he said, “Verrrry bad. Verrrry bad.” And I’m saying, “You’re telling me it was verrry bad. What’s going on here?”
And he told me that there were these parlor maids who sometimes work with the hotels calling each room at night, looking for men to answer and these parlor maids will come up to your room and service you in any way you want.
Only later did I realize that the message that they wanted to give me was really a massage. The caller was saying “massage,” not “message.” And to think I was saying, “I want my message, I want it now and I want it in English!” to which the caller must have thought, “Oh, he wants the massage. He wants it now, he wants it in English. Send a girl right now.” Hallelujah Anyway.
So my encounter showed me how unrelenting the assaults of sexual temptation are. And whether you’re traveling on the road or driving through our own city streets or browsing the magazine racks or being on the Internet, unhealthy or unholy sexual advances are everywhere. Temptation is just outside the door. The Barbarians are at the gate and the angel of death is hovering and only the blood of the Lamb will make it pass over. More than ever, we need the self-control and the Holy Spirit inside of us to protect us. When it comes to self-control, don’t confuse the promise of the message of God with the massage of the world. Know this clearly. When we are in a confrontation or a temptation in which we must have self-control, we can maintain self-control as we follow Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit inside us will empower us to be clear-minded even in the face of anger and temptation and violence. I saw it in action. This is reality. We can have self-control. It’s a choice. Jesus Himself modeled this. And Jesus is no wimp. As it says in 1st Peter in the second chapter, it says, “When they hurled their insults at Jesus, He did not retaliate. When He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to God who judges justly.” So know from this day on then you need not be afraid. We need not be impatient or erratic or like a loose cannon for we have been given the spirit of self-control from the Holy Spirit.
I urge you today, all who follow Jesus to look for the fruit of self-control in your lives and use it judiciously and with judo-savvy, drop the grace of Jesus into the unsuspecting lives of others, for He is Lord. Amen? Amen! God bless.