Saturday, May 29, 2010

Resting in God's Wrath


It was a long time before I understood it. Even longer until I could say that I am deeply thankful for it. That sounds weird, doesn't it? That I love and appreciate the wrath of God.

Wrath means different things to the lot of us.

The Wrath of Kahn. Honestly, the ear bud monsters seemed more fearful than the mastermind Kahn. But it is always great to see William Shatner at his best: cocky.

The Grapes of Wrath. I remember reading this in Steinbeck book in high school. Though I don't remember much outside of the dust bowl and the chapter chronicling a turtle crossing the road. Apparently it's an American classic though. And I support America.

Sermons preached/screamed about God's wrath. Why is it than when we think about the wrath of God, we picture ourselves in an old traditional church, seated on a hard wooden pew on the receiving end of warnings of sin, hellfire, wrath and judgement? And brimstone. What is brimstone, anyway?

Whether we like it or not, the word wrath is associated with negative context of scaring the hell out of people. To fill them with a sense of fear of an angry God, so they would either (1) cower before him in fear or (2) reject him for not being loving enough.

So it's easier to just not talk about it. Lay off of the wrath sermons. Take a break from the hellfire and sulfur.

Bet let me be clear in this:

I never understood the angry wrath of God until I connected it with the overwhelming love of God.

God's wrath is intertwined with God's love. They are inseparable. The answer is not to scream about the wrath of God. Not to carry signs in crowded cities reminding people of their pending doom. Nor is it appropriate to neglect to mention his wrath. To sweep it under the proverbial rug. Beauty is found when the two cross.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth...Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die." Romans 1

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10

Why should a God of love be also be known as a God of wrath? It seem so contradictory, so antithetical.

But imagine this. How terrible, how awful and wrong if we served a loving God who never angered, never raised his fist against the truly disgusting of the world?

What if our God never took vengeance for sex enslavers?

What if our God dismissed the sins of Nero who would set Christians on fire to light his garden?

What if our God pardoned those who slaughtered the Jews?

If our God refused to punish the abominations that torture the innocent, then our God would be no God of love.
Mark Buchanan explains it better with this childhood story,

"My brother and I and some friends were playing street hockey in the wide curve in front of our house, when the neighborhood bully wandered down the street. This was a kid I'd been having some trouble with. He was three years older than me, and big. He'd often wait for me on a pathway I had to walk on my way to and from school. Then he'd shove me, punch me, push me down.

On this occasion, he grabbed my bike and started horsing around on it. I yelled at him to stop. "Make me," he said. I went over. He threw my bike on the ground and then started to thrash me. I fell under the blows.

And then it stopped.

I looked up and saw my oppressor hovering against the sky, but now his face was terror-stricken. My father, who had been watching the bully's antics from our window, had come to my defense. He grabbed the boy by his coat collar and lifted him straight off the ground, like a man hanging from a noose, and shook him.

"Don't you ever," my father bellowed, "hurt my son again!"

It was enough. Here was a love I could count on to protect me, to defeat my enemies, to make things right. I basked in that for weeks. His wrath had made my father heroic in my eyes. I could sing in the shadow of his wings.

Strange, but true. I learned to rest in my father's love because of his wrath."

God shows his love by his rescuing. If not now, then one day.

One day.

One day, all will be made right.

One day, evil will be punished for sins hidden, consequences escaped, justice perverted.

One day, God will pour his wrath onto a deserving world.

In the pioneer days, out on prairies, sometimes a fire could catch and spread faster than a horse could travel. To survive, a quick thinker would begin to burn the ground and grass around himself, and then cower on the scorched ground. The flames would then burn around the spot, leaving the survivor safe.

In the same way, one day, God will pour out his wrath over all the earth. The wicked will be punished, destroyed. Yet there is a place where his wrath already fell. It fell at the Cross of Jesus and scorched the ground. And there, at that spot, is the only place of safety. Survivors will be found cowering at the spot where the wrath of God had already fallen. There is the only place of safety, where God's love and God's wrath crossed.

I never understood the angry wrath of God until I connected it with the overwhelming love of God.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The End of LOST - And Why It Matters

Questions. Monsters. Numbers. Polar Bears. Lottery winners. Cons. And constants.

Tonight marks the end of Lost. It has lasted a strong six years. Critically acclaimed. Fanatic approved. It has been an addiction and fascination of mine for four years. I watched seasons 1-4 by myself, and even re-watched them with my wife. It became OUR show. Our pastime. Our conversations. All the way to the end.

The show is my obvious favorite for a number of reasons.

1. Characters. I've often said that the most real people I know are on Lost. Ok, so that may not technically be right, there is some truth to that statement. The characters act irrationally because of the baggage of their past. Daddy issues. Drug addictions. Incompetence. Arrogance. Bitterness. Betrayal. But more fascinating than their baggage is how they eventually develop and overcome their problems. Addict to hero (Charlie). Savior complex to servant (Jack). Coward to protector (Desmond). Overprotective to sacrificial (Michael).

2. Literary illusions and references. My favorite character is Desmond. I realized this when I realized that my favorite episodes were Desmond's episodes. His episodes would always step into the science fiction. Time travel. Precognition. Parallel universe. But there is more. His story reflects Odysseus' story. In Homer's epic, Odysseus travels the world, separated from his lovely Penelope (or Penny), and is stranded on an island for several years. While gone, Penelope's hand is requested for marriage by suitors. Do you remember how many? 108 (the sum of the Lost numbers. 4+8+15+16+23+42=108). The Lost writers are notorious for intertwining literature into their characters, stories and dilemmas. Stephen King. Charles Dickens. Wizard of Oz. Star Wars (and I LOVE the Star Wars references).

3. Those brilliant cliffhangers. Every episode. Almost anyway. Just about every episodes ends with a "Wait, what? WHAT?!" Sometimes cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers (Jack playing football with Tom). And others show masterful storytelling (an entire season built up on getting a hatch open, only to have the last few seconds of the season shot from inside the hatch looking out).

To contrast, I love hearing people talk negative about the show. Those who don't 'get it'.

"I turned it off after I saw the polar bears."
"They don't actually answer any of the questions."
"Jack was my favorite character until season 3. Then he became a jerk."
"The characters are lost? More like the audience that watches the show. They're the ones who are actually lost." Clever. How original.

I've even heard a handful of individuals Christian-ize the show.

But to Christian-ize the show is to lose what the writers had intended. The show is not about any one religion or one people group. It is about all of humanity.

Grecian mythology.
Character connections.

But most of all, central to the show, is the question that underlines all of humanity's ideology. The question of fate or free will. Are our steps our own? Or have our destinies been prewritten?

Do I have a soul mate? Or do I choose the most compatible person?
Was it her time to die? Or was she cheated with a short life?
Are some destined for greatness? Or do we make our own luck?
Are we in control? Or are we puppets on strings?

And so this fictitious television program asks the question that hits all too close to home. Is it fate or free will? Even several charcter names originate from philosophers who prominently debated on fate and free will (Jack Shepherd, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Desmond David Hume, Edmund Burke, Mikhail Bakunin, and Danielle Rousseau, C.S. Lewis, Anthony Cooper).

So to us, who are followers of Christ, how do we approach this question? Well, we have our own form of debate: Calvinism and Arminianism. And to be honest, I am unspeakably tired of this debate. I know that many people are. Calvinism is the idea that certain people are ordained and predestined to be saved by grace, and others aren't (fate). Arminianism is the response to Calvinism. Everyone freely chooses to accept or reject God's grace (free will).

You may already have a strong opinion on the subject. Or these terms may be new to you. Where do I stand? I'm glad you asked.

In theory, I don't know. I don't know which theological idea is truer or more biblical. But in practicality? In the everyday in's and out's? I fully trust that God is in control (fate). I believe that God has a great plan for my life (fate). Yet at the same time, I believe it is my responsibility to pursue wisdom, applying godly knowledge to make choices (free will). I constantly ask God and myself, 'What is the wisest and smartest thing to do in this situation? What is the wisest and smartest thing that I should pursue?' (free will). I believe that God is sovereign. Nothing that happens catches him off guard or surprised (fate). But I pray as if everything is depending on my prayer to change things (free will). I treat people as if my influence helps them decided if there is Jesus is real or not (free will).

I don't think it is either/or. I believe it is both/and. That may sound like a cop-out or simple answer to a complex question. But I believe otherwise. I think it is more challenging and complex to see the world this way. There is constant tension. A constant dissatisfaction of not knowing which.

It is fascinating to watch Lost characters Jack Shephard and John Locke live out this tension. Jack is rational, scientific and makes his own choices. Locke is driven by faith, superstition, instinct and fate. Fans know their catch phrases by heart:

Jack, "I have to fix this."
Locke, "This is my destiny."

Free will.

As the series comes to an end, the writers are not going to answer the question for us. "You thought it was fate, but look, it was free will the whole time." or "Gotcha, fate wins again!" Rather, they have put into words the question that so many people spend our lives asking.

Even those of us with the strongest opinions, when truly pressed, admit that we don't know for sure. So that tells me that truly knowing doesn't truly matter.

I can't wait for the finale. Sad to see my favorite show end.


1. How do you see fate and free will?

2. Did you like the finale?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

When Not Being OK Became OK

It shifted. It changed. And I never noticed. But I am so thankful that it happened.

I was in a small group in Savannah when someone made the simple comment, "This was before counseling was socially acceptable..."


People think it's normal now.

It used to be a shameful or embarrassing thing.

Now. It's encouraged. And that's huge. That was such an important shift in social thinking. Somewhere along the line people went from being ashamed of their problems and refusing help, to embracing the healing environment of counseling.

I remember being a tweenager and having friends who attended counseling. There was this unspoken pity for those troubled few.

Yet in college, I sat in a conversation with friends joking and making light of their counseling experiences. One in particular, a weightlifter with a strong social reputation said, "Oh yeah. I cried. He makes everyone cry. He told me, 'The five year old that lives in your heart, what has he been saying to you all this time?' And I cried like a baby. I couldn't stop!" And we all laughed. And we all felt comfortable.

And this led me to deal with my own brokenness. I thought, 'If these people that I respect are seeking help, laughing and comparing their stories, and if they are healing, then maybe it's time im dealt with the wound in my own heart."

I made counseling sessions. I talked. I listened. He didn't ask me the 5 year old boy question, so I didn't cry. If he did, I know I would have. Or maybe an emotional father-son story. Those always get me.

But I healed. I moved on.

I want you to know that about me. I was broken. And those conversations played a big part in my healing.

I want you to know that it's ok to ask for help. Ask a pastor or mentor.

I want you to know that your brokenness is not unique. There are others like you. I am like you. You are not weird or pitied if you ask for help.

You are human. Broken by a broken world.

Jesus said,

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)

Your choice is to either live in brokenness, or to allow God to bring you to conversations that lead to healing.


Have you too noticed this shift in thinking? Has a counseling conversation helped you move past a hard time in your life? Or do you need to set that appointment up now?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Don't Let Your Passion Become Annoying.

Yes. Annoying.


I said it.

Now let me back up and explain.

Many of you stand behind great causes. And I think that's fantastic. I really do. You should always fight for what you believe in. In fact, some of you are so passionate, it's all you talk about. Which can be good. And it can be bad, too. Good, if you are communicating it correctly. Bad, if you come across as annoying and repetitive, resulting in few caring about your message. Have you met anybody like this?

Years ago, I met a guy, who was so strongly Calvinist*, that he felt it was his personal duty to Biblically convince every person he crossed paths with that mankind had no free will, and that we all were acting out what God had preordained. I chose not to listen to him very long (get my pun?). Weren't there bigger and more important things he could make a big deal out of?

We all have a platform. Some of us bigger than others. It can be as small as a conversation or as big as a media network. And many of us want to use our platforms for positive change in the world. Whatever your message, if you deem it worthwhile to spend your life communicating, then isn't it also worthwhile to communicate in such a way that it captivates and motivates your listeners? Especially the ones who previously disagreed with you!

If your message, no matter how important or how right you are, is poorly constructed, then only your friends who already agree with you will listen. How then will you inspire change in those who disagree with you?

If your message is for social action, then a bad way to communicate is to say, "Everyone always thinks of themselves in this narcissistic culture." A good way to communicate is to say, "These are very real ways that you personally can make a difference."

If your message is to create a NEW type of church, I wouldn't say, "People who do church the old way are old and stuck in their ways, refusing to change." I'd say, "People worship in different styles and personalities. For a rapidly changing world, for a constantly changing Christianity, how should our church look? Maybe like this."

Here are practical ways that you can strengthen your message.

1. Always communicate in optimism and hope. There is enough bad news. You can put a positive spin on something terrible. Take human trafficking for example. Whenever I talk about trafficking, I always talk about great organizations like Not for Sale and International Justice Mission. Give your audience a reason to believe change is possible and practical.

2. Always give practical solutions to problems you bring up. If you don't know how to fix the problem, or are actively trying to find a solution, then I don't want to spend my time listening to you. Especially not the people that already disagree with you.

3. Always be patient for people to change their views. This is something that my gay Christian friend, Johan taught me. On the issue of homosexuality being a sin or not, he told me, "Chris, I wrestled with this issue for years. It took me a long time for me to come to peace with it. I would expect no less from you. Take your time and pray." I deeply appreciated his patience. So likewise, those of us who are communicating for change, be patient with people who see the world differently than you. It may not happen overnight. But what you want is to get them thinking, re-evaluating, and praying.

This advice is new to me. I read the quote on Anne Jackson's blog. It hurt when I read it. Yes, I want to see change. Yes, I write about what specifically I want to see turned around. But I realized that I was writing in a way that only my friends would agree with. If those who disagreed with my conclusions read my posts, then they would write me off as a know-it-all twentysomething who uses his blog to complain. I don't want to write for the sake of being read. I want to write to inspire change. I want to communicate to inspire hope and optimism.

So what about you? Will you choose optimistic or annoying?


What is your life's message? How can you communicate it to win people's hearts and opinions, rather than sound annoying?

*He was the only Calvinist that I've ever met who argued this point. That belief does not reflect any other Calvinist I have met.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Overcoming the F Word: Failure

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Idealism is risky business. Idealism is the perspective that we can and will change things for the better. It's a great attitude and perspective to have. Except when your expectations are unrealistic. Because failure can be just around the corner.

Failure. The things you thought you were going to accomplish. The jobs you thought you were going to get. The problems you thought you had solutions to. When we fall short of these spoken or unspoken expectations, it leaves us feeling inadequate. Empty. Unmotivated.

But let's get something straight. Fail is an event. Failure is an identity. And the difference between the two means the world. Just because you failed once, twice, a thousand times. It doesn't make you are a failure.

A lot of us are very capable people. Passionate, talented, educated people. And a lot of us are jobless or stuck in jobs we are unhappy with. We have ideal jobs and dreamed opportunities, but we are stuck in an economy that is overrun with unemployment and unwilling to take risks.

It hurts me to watch so much talent and passion graduate from higher education only to be thrust into the terrible job market.

I want you to really believe this next statement:

Your lack of progress towards your goals does NOT make you a failure.

You may fail to get a job. You may fail when you start your business. You may fail at being productive this month. You may have failed by making the wrong choices. But these events of failing do not make you a failure.

So what does makes you a failure? Giving up.

Giving up on what God has given you in your heart to do. Giving up on your goals. Giving up is the real failure.

Don't let your past and current fails define you. Instead, use this time to build resilience. A refusal to say 'I give up.' A refusal to say 'I've had enough.'

I was amazed when I read this passage from John Maxwell,

"The terrible truth is that all roads to achievement lead through the land of failing."*

Achievement is approached through failing. Why?

1. Because we learn what not to do next time. We become smarter.

2. Because we learn resilience. We know how to stand against resistance.

3. Because we learn faith. We learn to trust in God for what we cannot do on our own.

Unrealistic idealism says that you will succeed without any problems, without a moment of failing. Realistic idealism says, "Yes, I am going to fail. I am going to fail a lot before I arrive."

I applaude your dedication and your dreams. I encourage you to keep trying. I want you to know that your past and current failed attempts to move forward are only momentary. They will pass.

Finally, remember the advice of James.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)


What were the greatest lessons in your recent failing? Did your faith grow as a result?

*Quote from John Maxwell's Failing Forward. A powerful and encouraging read for anyone who may be misunderstanding failure.