Living Rent-Free in My Head!

Every day, this certain guy used to sit on a crate out on Wilson Avenue. He loved to preach. I used to sit down and chat with him from time to time and soak in some of his wisdom. He went to a local church and loved to share his pastor's "catch phrase" with me. 

One day, he said something that has stuck with me until this very day. It's fairly simple, it goes like this: "Don't let nobody live rent-free in your head!" 

I have used this "saying" countless times. I've said it to people in conflict, I've said it to people at the shelter, I've said it to people who are brewing over some issue and when someone and something is making me mad, I'll say it to myself.

Let me repeat it: 
"Don't let nobody live rent-free in your head!" 

I use it because I've seen guys let small things mushroom into massive things. I'm talking about people wanting to fight or kill one another over small things like $5.00, a plate of food, an accidental bump while standing in line or simply because someone's "mean-mugging" them. Each and every time they're letting other people live rent-free in their heads. They're letting small things or solvable conflicts escalate into something big. They're allowing other people or certain things to take up residence in their heads! 

This isn't something that just happens with homeless people at the shelter. It also happens with me; someone upsets me, something angers me and before I know it, I've let this small thing escalate into something huge. I've let someone take residence in my head! I suffer and so do the people around me. This is when I start repeating this phrase to myself; "don't let nobody live rent-free in your head!"

This isn't just a modern day problem. This is an on-going issue, it's been happening since the creation of the world. We saw this happen with Cain, Adam and Eve's first born son, he thought he was done wrong by God and Abel; and he just couldn't and wouldn't let it go! 

Listen to what happened to these 2 brothers....

Cain brought an offering to GOD from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. GOD liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk.
GOD spoke to Cain: “Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.”
Cain had words with his brother. They were out in the field; Cain came at Abel his brother and killed him. (Genesis 4:3-8 MSG)

So what can we learn from this story? 
What can we bring into our world today? 
What does Cain teach us about anger, especially when it starts to consume us?

1: When people or things are living rent-free in our heads; we need to listen to God. 

God came to Cain and questioned him, He gave him a chance to "do well". This warning was an act of love and compassion on God's part. He knew that Cain was brewing inside. He knew jealousy and anger were occupying Cain's head and God knew how deadly the outcome would be. God told him and gave him a choice, "if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; it's desire is for you, but you must master it!"

God's word to Cain is a message to each and every one of us; sin crouches at the door, lying in wait to take us down. He's calling us to make the change, we have to master it. When we fall into these tantrums and sulking, when we feel wronged, when we feel slighted and overlooked, we have to listen to God and make the right choice. We have to make the decision to master it! Cain didn't listen to God, but we must! 

God may not come down and talk to us face to face, but He'll speak to us through other people who care about us; He'll use our friends, the Bible, pastors, counsellors and other means. He's going to use people to step into our lives and to tell us about the sin crouching at our doors. We may not want to listen, we may feel wronged and our anger may be justified, but if we're allowing someone to live rent-free in our heads, we have to listen to that sound advice! 

2: When people or things are living rent-free in our heads; we need a change of heart. 

Cain never mastered his anger. Even though God warned him, he let it lay crouching at the door and it devoured him. He felt wronged. He felt justified in doing his terrible deed. He felt Abel deserved death! So he killed him! 

When we allow someone or something to live rent-free in our heads, we get devoured by it. We are captured by it. Hatred and retribution consume us. Cain was punished and suffered the rest of his life because of it. 

There will be times when the people who take up residence in our heads, don't even know we're mad at them. We're the ones losing sleep, making our blood pressure rise and punching things, meanwhile, the poor person we're mad at, doesn't have a clue! 

We need a change of heart for 2 reasons; for our freedom and for the sake of the person we're mad at. We need to let it go. We need to make peace with them in our hearts. Jesus calls us to forgive. He calls us to forgive not only our friends, but also our enemies. 

Abel didn't do Cain wrong, but think of how things would have been different if Cain had humbled himself and had a change of heart. Think of how things would have been different if Cain had sought internal peace, rather than retribution.

The other day I was walking home and Keith walked up to me. He was angry. Steaming mad! He'd been stewing over some dude he felt was "mean mugging" him. He told me how this guy better stay off Wilson or he was going to hurt him. The problem was; this dude didn't even know he'd done anything wrong. 

Keith and I talked for a while, he calmed down and listened. He agreed that he had let a sideways look escalate into something enormous; he had a "change of heart" about this dude and made peace with him. Internally!

The funny thing is; this guy never knew he occupied a space, rent-free in Keith's head. 
The good thing is; this "change of heart" made Keith feel safe and ensured that no one was hurt. 

3: When people or things are living rent-free in our heads; we need to strive for peace. 

Finally, even when we've been picked on, wronged, unfairly and unjustly treated, we need to strive for peace. When someone's living rent-free in our heads, strive for peace with them. This is hard; we can forgive, have a change of heart and the other person might not even know it, but this is taking it one step further. This is making a concerted effort to get on with the person we're mad at. This is peacemaking in action. 

We need to stop seeing them as an object. We need to see each other as fellow human beings, with beauty and faults, just like us. We need to see them as our brothers and sisters! 

The Apostle Paul emphasized this in Romans 12: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18 NIV)

I'm going to tell you one more story. These 2 guys I know didn't like each other, in fact, they started hating on each other. It was over something small, minute, but now it was a power struggle and it was getting bad. They both wanted to hurt each other, they both had plans on how they were going to do it and they were both willing to go back to prison for it. They both had each other living rent-free in their heads.

It took hours, it consumed our whole day, but they finally listened. They finally agreed to forgive the other person and call off their plans of revenge and strive for peace instead. These 2 men finally started seeing each other as human beings, created in the image of God. 

Unlike Cain, these 2 guys listened and didn't allow their anger to master them. Sin lay at their doors, waiting to pounce, but they both chose humility instead! They chose to listen. They chose to forgive. They chose peace. They chose the better path.

I am amazed at how often peace happens when we strive for peace; when we strive to live at peace with others, our enemies often follow suit. Instead of labeling our enemies as thugs, bums and haters, instead of letting them live rent-free in our heads, we need to start seeing them as fellow human beings and find ways to do good to them. When we do this; peace happens and our anger won't master us. 

God calls us to make that choice, and let me tell you, that choice isn't easy. Where Cain failed, we have to overcome. But we're not alone, God is there helping us make that happen. Trust in Him. Cling to Him! He will empower us.

As we move forward, let us remember, when we get angry, when we have folks or things living rent-free in our heads, we need to "do well" and make the right moves; it starts with us! 

Listen to God. 
And strive for peace! 

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about?

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 9/2/14, in response to this question;Anger Taking Over
"Sometimes I get angry about things, and it’s like I just can’t seem to let it go. I keep thinking about things over and over, and I get more and more mad, and I end up taking it out on everyone around me. I don’t want to be that way, but I can’t just pretend that I don’t care. What should I do?"
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