Friday, November 21, 2014

Why God's Wrath Makes Us Uncomfortable

Wrath. It spans the Bible, from God's curse of Adam and Eve for eating fruit, to the infamous seven bowls in Revelation 16. I really like to pretend it's not there. I can ignore it for a few chapters in the Gospels, but even there it pops up in places like Luke 21 and John 3:36. Is it me or does the God of the Bible have a serious chip on his shoulder?

Next to God, some of my unbelieving friends seem pretty nice. They follow a 'live and let live' philosophy that really appeals to me at times. Isn't God big enough to let these things go. What about all the love and forgiveness stuff I hear preached every Sunday? Doesn't God follow his own advice?

There are a few times that I kind of want a wrathful God. Or at least a just God. When I hear stories of ten year old boys sold as prostitutes to men in the Dominican Republic, or when I hear about the (so called) Islamic State militants butchering whole villages in Iraq and Syria. Then I'd like God to step in and perform some Divine Justice, if you know what I mean.

In fact, the more I think about it, the times I want God to be merciful are: first, with me, and second with people who are like me - people who do the same kind of sins I do, people that aren't so bad. I don't mind God's wrath poured out on the really bad people - people who are very different from me, whom I have judged as worse than me. In this I can take comfort. My pride is justified, because I am not as bad as those bad people. They deserve wrath. I don't.

What we don't want is a God that is wrathful with us. A God that would judge us for every infraction of his arduous Divine Law. Because, when it comes down to it, I don't love God or my neighbor all the time. So when I read, for example, of God pouring out his judgement on Israel for its unbelief, its idolatry, its lack of regard for orphans and aliens, I worry that I could be under the same judgement as them. I've been guilty of those things too. Consequently, I have two choices. I can admit I am evil and deserving of suffering and death, or I can say God is just too harsh. The latter makes me feel better. And like Job and his friends, I attempt to weigh my righteousness against God's as if they were even on the same spectrum.

I will not attempt in these few short words to justify God. He can speak for himself. But I will share a couple things that have helped me get my mind around this uncomfortable side of God.

1) We've hurt God. 

If our evil, really did not affect God, if there was no deep injustice, then His wrath would seem superfluous. We acknowledge, however that God indeed forgives people. But the very statement of God's forgiveness implies a debt that needs to be forgiven. We have done something to wound the immutable God, and must be forgiven of that act. Forgiving always costs something. 

Let's say hypothetically that I borrowed my neighbor's lawn mower.  A friend sees me mowing and asked if he can borrow the mower. I allow my friend to use the mower as well. But as he uses it, he grinds the blade across a massive rock, half-buried in his Southwest Missouri yard, burning out the engine. The mower is ruined. I tell  my friend not to worry about it; I forgive him. But those are not mere words. What I have done is agree to demand nothing of the one who actually broke the mower, but instead pay my neighbor the price to replace his mower, a mower I did not break. 

If our sin did not hurt God in any way, then the concept of God forgiving sin would be worthless. He would not be forgiving it; He would just be ignoring it the way one ignores the gnat buzzing in one's ear. But our transgression costs God dearly. It would be unjust to just ignore that hurt because because we think God can handle it. That is not justice.

2) God's love is bigger than his wrath

God sends rain and sun to good and bad people alike. In fact, when we see life as a series of good gifts, from the gift of our first breath, to the beauty of the earth, every morsel of food we eat, the love of human friends, the laughter of children, beer, music, sex, and sunrises. Then we realize God has been relentlessly pouring out his great love on all people, even on child molesters and terrorists. And that's a lot more generous than we would be.

But it goes farther than that. God seeks opportunities to pour out even more love on people, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9), but all to be saved for a blessed life and a curse-free resurrection. Nonetheless, these acts of love do not negate his sense of wroth. But we do a have a way of viewing these characteristics in a proper perspective. Nestled in between the first and second commandments in Exodus 20 is just such a comparison.

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Ex 20:5b-6)

At first glance, this only confirms our suspicions that God is on a rampage. Even going so far as to punish children for the sins of their parents That sounds anything but just. But a careful look at the whole of Scripture reveals that God is not like that. Passages like Deuteronomy 24:16 declares this as does Ezekiel 18:20.
The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
So the obscure declaration of Exodus 20:5-6 demands to be seen as reflection of God's character, not a literal plan for punishment and reward (as the two would infinitely contradict one another). It tells us is in a figurative way how wrathful God is and how loving He is. God hates sin 3 or 4 times as much as we do. We think the terrorist should die for what he's done. God thinks he should die 3 or 4 times. That's how much God hates evil. That is the measure of God's justice. But his love is so much bigger. You love your kids. God loves them a 1000 times more than you do. He even sent his Son to die for them. It turns out that God is crazy about us, and the underlying story of the Bible is the story of that love.

That does not change the fact that there are some things in the Bible that make me squirm. I am still not sure how to interpret some of them. I don't now what a follower of Jesus is supposed to do with the command for Israelites to kill every man woman and child in Jericho (Joshua 6:21). But that is just a reflection of my ignorance and finite knowledge. In the meantime I trust the One who is infinite, who knows fully, and loves a thousand times more deeply than I ever could.

Joy and sorrow are this ocean
And in their every ebb and flow
Now the Lord a door has opened
That all Hell could never close
Here I'm tested and made worthy
Tossed about but lifted up
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God.*

*Rich Mullins, "The Love of God" 1989.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Adding to the Noise

This post may be one of my most "unspiritual" topics. I have yet to find a scripture that addresses Richard Branson memes, or one that talks about speculating the next Apple product. But here's the rub: social media has become a driving force of our lives, even of those who don't use it. It has become the primary place to share information. We learn more about what's going on in the world from Facebook than the evening News on TV or the paper (Do they even make those anymore?) or from actually talking to people (No one does that anymore). But a flood of information does not necessarily make us smarter or more informed. It does not broaden out perspectives. In fact, studies show that it narrows them. We become more entrenched in our own perspectives, our own communities of like-minded people. Alternative views become absurd and outsiders become enemies. 

But it doesn't have to be like that. We can use the social media as a toll to share ideas, promote healthy dialog, and bridge the gaps between humans and other humans. We can, but we have to change the way we use it. We've been doing it wrong. But here's how we can do it better.

Before you share that article on Facebook, that blog post on Twitter, please stop and think about a couple of things first.

1) No Cats. There are enough cute cat videos on the internet already. They are easily available to all who want them. You don't have to ever post one again. Seriously, stop it.

2) Own It. Everything you post becomes your words. "I don't agree with the author when he said, 'we all need to watch porn to have a good marriage,' I just posted it to get people thinking."  Malarkey! That's like the junior high girl that says "I didn't start the rumor, I just passed it along." If you post something you are endorsing it. People will associate you with those words. Take your words seriously. If you feel something needs to be passed along but you disagree with a major part of it, qualify it with a brief explanation. "I don't agree with everything he says, but he really got me thinking about..." or something like that.

3) Be Polite. How you say it is as important as what you say. Sometimes I read Matt Walsh. I agree with his overall point at least 2/3 of the time. But I don't usually pass his posts along. I seldom agree with the spirit of his writing . He is notorious for belittling and ridiculing those who disagree with him(and there are many that are far worse than him). That does not add to dialog and understanding. That does not get people thinking. It only entrenches people further in their own views. If you agree with what is said, you applaud. If you disagree you are offended. Yes, Jesus used this strategy occasionally. If you are as right about everything as Jesus, you may use it too If not, post in humility. Even I get things wrong from time to time. 

4) Sources Count. Everything you read on the internet is not true. Hard to believe, I know. But there are unscrupulous people who put rumor, conjecture, and outright fabrications on the internet masquerading as facts. Everyone can be biased, and everyone gets things wrong from time to time, but not all sources are equal. If you post an article about how Obama ruined the economy from the website it will probably not contain good  unbiased information. Real journalists cite their sources. It's easy to Google and confirm if something is true from a variety of places. If you are in doubt about whether something is true, then it is gossip.

5) Motive Matters. We all think we are righter about something than someone else. and having an opinion is not wrong. But why is it necessary to share these this idea? Is it to show how hip you are? Does it make you look smart? Does it make you feel good to reaffirm your beliefs, to belittle someone, to prove a point? Do you need to stick it to those other guys? Or do you genuinely think you can help others? Will your words promote love, and understanding? Will they add something besides noise to public discourse? Will they glorify God? "Fools find no pleasure in understanding,but delight in airing their own opinions." (Proverbs 18:2)

Seek understanding.

And seriously, enough with the cats.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Love Stinks

There are so many things that have been tugging at my heart the last couple weeks: the persecuted Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, the innocent civilians who have been caught in the crossfire in Gaza, a community on edge in Fergeson, West Africans loosing the battle Ebola in their communities. But the thing that has been most on my heart has been a lot closer to home. Two doors down to be exact.

We bought our first house and moved in a month ago. It's a large old house in a historical neighborhood. "A bit of a fixer upper" to quote the movie Frozen. In addition to the house, we acquired several things with the purchase. We acquired a fire pit in the back yard. We acquired a mold problem we had to deal with in the basement. And we seem to have acquired a fourth child.

Nick (not his real name) lives two doors down. He is nine years old, and a generally nice kid. We've pieced together a bit of his history from his own account and from talking to others who know him. Nick lives in a tiny one-bedroom garage apartment with an uncle, who, in Nick's words, is the only person who cares about him. I see the uncle frequently coming and going. He is friendly, but I have yet to see him fully sober or wearing a shirt.  Nick's parents live in the main house in front. I've never met them, don't really care to right now. Nick was struck by a car when riding his bike a year ago. He told us he received money from the accident, but his dad took it out of the bank account and bought a new truck. Nick suffered long term difficulty with his leg after the accident, possibly from a broken bone that was never set properly

Two days after we moved in, I saw Nick riding by on his bike when I was out in the back yard with the kids. He kept going back and forth up the alley looking at us. Then he just stopped by the back gate. The kids started talking to him, so I invited Nick into the yard. I was cooking hot dogs in the backyard, so I invited Nick to eat with us. He stayed, and  has been at our house almost every day since then. He is often here around meal time, and I was told if that wasn't the case, he might not have a chance to eat.

Nick is a polite kid. He generally tries to follow the rules. He is louder and more active than my kids. His only walk is a stomp that resonates through our ancient hardwood floors. The most difficult thing about Nick is the odor. Nick does not practice hygiene that I can tell. Not at all.  He does not bathe and no one washes his clothes. He was sent home last year from school a couple times because of his odor. He advised the principal that it wouldn't do any good because they did not have any soap in the house. From what I have seen, I don't think he was bluffing.

Nick leaves a trail of odor wherever he goes in our house. He sits with my son on my son's bed. The bed stinks. He sits on the couch when we watch a movie. The couch stinks. I invited Nick to go with us to the water park and advised him to bring an extra change of clothes.  I was really hoping he would bring them in a plastic bag or something. Nope  He handed me a hideously dirty, barely recognizable putrid shirt and pair of shorts. I had no choice but to place them in our bag on top of our clothes. 

I don't know where all this is going. I don't know how long Nick will be our neighbor. Will he grow up with our kids? Will he will tire of us and find a new family to haunt? But I know that as long as he is in our path we are going to love him. And if we have to do a little extra cleaning to keep up with him, that is what we will do. Perhaps our relationship will reach a point where we can advise him in things like hygiene. But we will love him stinky or clean. And maybe through it all Nick will get a chance to meet the God who loves stinky people just as they are. The God who also redeems those people, making them shine, making them a breath of fresh air to all those who meet them, regardless of how they smell on the outside.

Love stinks sometimes, but so do I . 

Thank you Father for loving me anyway. Thanks you for your work, little by little transforming me, cleaning me up and making me smell good.

Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation. (2 Corinthians 2:15 The Message)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hear Me

What side do you choose if neither of them represents Jesus? 

I'm sick of the false dichotomy. You either have to ignore or reinterpret how the Bible clearly says homosexual acts are wrong and fall short of what God created us to be or you have to be a heartless jerk in the midst of a culture war to keep out homosexual influence. Can we serve a God who is holy beyond our understanding, and loving beyond our wildest imagination. Can we love like him?

I had a couple of friends with same-sex attraction in my Bible college. They were rejected. The Church as they knew it chewed them up and spit them out. One guy completely walked away from Jesus. He will not experience eternal life with us, not because he's gay, but because he is not with Jesus. And that is our fault.

Somewhere along the way we said "I'm not without sin, but the sin I struggle with isn't nearly as bad as the one they struggle with." And we picked up stones. But we didn't realize that when we threw the stones, we were striking ourselves in the process.My friends lost out because of what we did to them. But we lost too. We do not get the benefit of their gifts, their insight, what they add to the body of Christ.

Colby describes the struggle Christians face in the video. "It's easy to get on a soapbox and yell, but it's difficult to get involved in someone's messy life and walk with them through that." Let's take the hard road. Let's walk with our brothers and sisters through their messy struggles, not from a place of judgement, but as equals, joint heirs in the Kingdom of God.

Please watch Colby's story and pass it on. It is thirty minutes of your time well spent. There are more than two ways to approach this divisive issue. Let's stop using people as political arguments. Let's change the conversation about homosexuality.

Check more insights about how to approach homosexuality as a Christ-follower in Five Truths.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

If You Want your Kids to Be Normal, Do What Everyone Else is Dong

I'm back! I have not published a word on this blog in almost three months. New job and all. So today I have to rant loudly enough to make up for the silence (it's in the blogger code).

As a father of three, I am faced with new challenges daily. My kids often desire the things that are not so good for them. They want to eat lots of junk food and not so much vegetables. They want to watch lots of TV, but not get exercise. They want to wear the clothes and watch the movies and do the things they see their friends doing. They want to be normal.

But I'm not too big on normal, especially normal kids. I am not happy with what I see normal kids do. Normal kids witness acts of violence*, or are victims of abuse. Normal kids are greedy and self-centered. A lot of normal kids are overweight and unhealthy. They usually start drinking alcohol and having sex in high school (or sooner). Normal kids don't put a lot of thought into serving others Normal kids don't aspire to follow Jesus. They usually loose what little faith they had when they get to college. And normal kids grow up to be normal adults, well adjusted chasers of the American dream. Normal kids do not grow up to be world-changers.

So think about it for a minute. If you want to see your kids rise above the materialism and narcissism of our times, then this advice may not be for you. But if you want them to be normal here are a few things you should try.

Watch more TV. All the experts agree that this is an unhealthy trend, that kids need to play outside or read or otherwise engage their minds. Add that to the fact that a lot of TV programming reinforces beliefs an values that you probably disagree with. But most kids watch a LOT of TV. A survey last year in TIME reports that kids are watching more TV than ever, an average of 35 hours a week. That's almost a full-time job of watching TV, and that doesn't include time spent with other electronic devices like computers and tablets. Are your kids measuring up? If you want to be normal, take away their excess books and don't let them go outside. By all means, don't encourage them to get involved in sports or hobbies. Make sure they don't fall behind all the shows their friends watch. Set them down in front of that glorious rectangle and watch their brain cells atrophy.

Spend more time apart. Most kids don't get to see a lot of their parents. Why should yours be any different?  Parents spend an average of eight hours a week with their kids, just over an hour a day. Many admit that much of this time is often spent in front of the TV as well. So if you want your kids to turn out normal, arrange your lives so you get as little of that awkward parent-child interaction as possible. First, get a job where you have to work a lot. If you don't get at least 50 hours a week at work, then get a second job or a time-consuming hobby that does not involve your family. Waste lots of time commuting by living as far out in the suburbs as possible. Then fill your family's remaining time with busy things like sports, church activities, music lessons, civic groups, PTA, etc.. Along with a vigorous diet of TV watching and smartphone use, you will soon forget what your children's faces even look like. And that is actually one of the keys to helping them be normal.

Give them more stuff. It almost goes without saying; if you aren't going to be around for your kids, you need to earn their love buy buying them a multitude of things. It may be lots of small things. This is especially true for the young ones. Buy them a new gift any time you take them to the store. As they grow older, they will need bigger toys: Xboxes, dirt bikes, trampolines, ipads, the latest clothes. Don't worry if you actually have the money for this. Go into debt a little for your kids' amusement. They're worth it. And even when the toy breaks or lies abandoned in the yard, even when they ask for something else, with no recollection of the last thing you got them, you will know that you have helped them be more normal. Now they aren't the only kid at their school who doesn't have one. Pity that kid.

Don't pray with your kids. Grace at dinnertime is fine, but don't get all freaky religious with your kids. Don't let them see you pour your heart out to God. Never read the Bible with them or have discussions about God. That's what the children's program at church is for. By all means, don't open up your life, your struggles, your thoughts, your aspirations. Never admit you don't know the answer to something. Just make something up and change the topic as soon as possible. Keep everything surface level. Anything more than that is just weird. And those tender young minds just take things so literally. So if they hear some of that stuff Jesus said without the proper explanations they might do something crazy like give away their possessions, go out of their way to help people, or (God forbid) talk to someone about their faith. And those things are just not normal.

* I strive to be factual, even in my sarcasm, so feel free to follow the links embedded in the text for references to my stats and more info about these important issues.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Marriage Is Under Attack

This week I was saddened to learn that  a couple I knew from my Bible college days is getting a divorce. I'm not that close to either of them,but they are people I've looked up to. So it caught me off guard when she posted on Facebook that he had filed for a divorce. She seemed pretty distraught. I felt a little distraught too.

Gweneth Paltrow and Chris Martin also announced their divorce this week. Not such a big shocker. Celebrity marriage, what did you expect? It is the way they announced it that surprised me. They did not call it a divorce, they used a much nicer sounding word - conscious uncoupling. And the talk show hosts and bloggers all thought it sounded really nice too. You see, they decided together that it was time to end their marriage. It had reached it's natural lifespan. Although they claim to still love each other and have kids together, they decided to go their separate ways amicably. It's better for the kids that way. No fighting. No emotion.

I think I am a little sadder about Gweneth and Chris than my friends from college. Their story is so cold and impersonal. If divorce is so easy for them, then their marriage must not have meant that much to begin with. How can you end a marriage and not feel angry? How can you break a sacred trust without feelings of jealousy and rage? "It's better to feel pain than nothing at all." I don't think the Lumineers were the first to coin the adage, "The opposite of love's indifference."(1)  The messiness of a divorce is directly proportionate to the love that once existed in the marriage.

God describes marriage as two people becoming one flesh (Gen 2:24). Marriage is supposed to be so intimate and loving that each person loses a part of their separate identity and together they become a single family unit. They become one. And somehow that one is greater than the two that formed it. As my mathematically inclined  readers will know, dividing two is easy. Dividing one gets messy. The resulting pieces are never whole numbers.

If two become one flesh, then to rip apart that union is like ripping off part of your body. It always hurts to rip off your part of your body. Therefore, ending a marriage should be exceedingly rare, and always painful. Even if one partner is an abusive, unfaithful jerk, and the other completely innocent, it should still be agonizing for the innocent person to leave the marriage. It should hurt for the children too. I weep for the pain that innocent children face in their parents' divorce. But when divorce has to happen, it can not be easy. It should hurt like the non-anesthetized  amputation of a a gangrenous arm, excruciatingly painful, but necessary for life. Divorce should hurt like Hell. (2)

Your marriage is under attack and it has nothing to do with same sex-marriage laws. It is under attack by the temptation to do nothing. It is under the direct fire of complacency.Your selfish refusal to love will destroy marriage faster than anything anyone else can do.

The answer to saving your marriage is love. Sorry if you wanted something more complicated. I don't have the five easy steps to save your marriage (There are plenty of people that will sell them to you, though).  The truth is, only a stubborn, relentless, Jesus-like love will stand up to the attack on your marriage.

I have learned in almost 11 years of marriage, that self sacrificing love, not only does a lot for your spouse. It will do a lot for you. "For where your treasure is, their your heart will be also." (Matt 6:21) Treasure your husband or wife. Invest into them daily. Your love will grow. They will capture your heart. Their love for you will  grow too. And marriage will grow, if not easier, better. And there's a chance you will beat the odds and make it.

1. The Lumineers,"Stubborn Love"  Dualtone Records, 2012.

2. I am not cursing for cursing's sake. I sincerely believe the pain of the separation of divorce is one of the closest things people in this life will feel to the pain of the final punishment of the wicked, whatever you believe that looks like.

Friday, March 14, 2014

It's a Wonderful World (March 14, 2014)

3 Bits of Good News in a World Gone Awry

1) Fair Pay for Fair Work - Thanks to current Labor Department rules the manager at Taco Bell could make less per hour than the employees that work under him. Salaried employees are often required to work well over 40 hours/week without overtime pay, even if they make as little as $24,000/year. If they work 65 hours in a week at that rate, they are actually making less than the Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, let alone the time and a half pay that hourly workers are entitled to.

But that is about to change. The president has instructed the Secretary of Labor to rewrite the rules so that these workers will be eligible for overtime pay. That's really good news to Taco Bell managers and other underpaid and under-appreciated workers everywhere.

boys w book small2) 7 Year Old Raises Money For Sick Friend - Dylan's best friend Jonah suffers from Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD) There is no cure for GSD, and research is underfunded. When Dylan was just 6 years old he wrote and published his first book, "Chocolate Bar."  100% of the proceeds from "Chocolate Bar" are going to GSD research. To date, Dylan has raised over $750,000 for GSD research at the University of Florida. But really, he is raising it to help Jonah. Love in action. It changes the world.

You can buy a copy and help Dylan reach his million dollar goal.

3) Free Stock Photos  - It can be difficulty to find good stock photos to illustrate a blog post. And just text is really boring. Now one of the biggest names in online stock photography sites is changing that. Getty Images has announced that it will now allow free noncommercial use of  many of its vast collection of digital images. It's not because they are so kind, but mainly they are just too tired of tracking down all those copyright infractions.

Regardless of the motivation, Thanks, Getty!

Enjoy the cool pics and have a great Weekend!