Wrath or Favor ?

I pulled in to park for my 7:00 a.m. men’s meeting one Thursday this past September. On the eastern horizon was a blood red sun and I stopped to take a picture of it. But suddenly there was a monstrous lightning bolt followed instantly by an ear-splitting thunderclap. I quickly decided to take shelter inside, not willing to risk being struck by the next lightning bolt! (That’s why today’s picture is only a stock shot!)

Reflecting on that narrow escape leads to two quotes from God.

 I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath (Ezekiel 22:21a)                                                                                      I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor (Ezekiel 36:9a)

At first glance these verses seem incompatible with each other. How can they both be true?

The first verse sounds like such bad news.

Did you ever walk through the long corridor from the Port Authority terminal in NYC to the 42nd Street subway stop? Often, you’ll see someone in the tunnel giving a loud warning about the wrath of God. This is not very winsome, but it is not because speaking of wrath is incorrect. The problem is that they are only presenting the bad news and leaving out the good news.

Thank God, the good news of entering God’s favor via Jesus outweighs the bad news of wrath. God does not enjoy spewing wrath on anyone but offers every one of us the opportunity to turn around.

Wonderfully, it is true that as we repent and move into living in and for Christ, we live in God’s favor. This is not a magic entrance into my best life now, where everything goes the way I would like, but it is a life with God and with his people. We are together no matter what happens, even when things are hitting the fan.

Just as I took shelter from the lightning bolts, we are offered shelter from wrath. Our shelter is Jesus Christ. We get a loving escape from wrath. God wants to win your heart. Then his mercy triumphs over judgment.

Timmy Trumpet

Before this past summer, I had never heard of the Australian trumpet player Timothy Jude Smith, whose nickname is Timmy Trumpet.

Then a recording of his song “Narco” was selected by relief pitcher Edmund Diaz of the Mets as his walk-in song to be played each time he came into a game.

Soon this trumpeted entrance serenade went viral.

In response, the Mets summoned Timmy Trumpet to play his intro live at Citi field during a Mets versus Dodgers game. Timmy went from never having seen a live baseball game to being all over the New York media.

I was surprised how moved I got from watching clips like this one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2cTNOqgPFo

I mean, it’s only a rock trumpeter tooting! But then I realized it’s a kind of parable of our Christian experience.

Before, Timmy was completely unknown to the average Met fan. But at just the right time, Timmy Trumpet got called into the New York spotlight. Similarly, for a long time God was unknown to me. But then at the right time when I was 24 God suddenly called me and I saw who he was. Indeed, He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11a)

Incidentally, there are many verses about trumpets in the Bible. One of my favorites is
And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24: 31) 

As we enter the advent season, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The gathering of his elect is for all who acknowledge Jesus for who he is and what he did. The invisible almighty God really did appear as a baby. I like to invite people to hear God’s call. Are you listening?

My Vengeance?

 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17a, 18-19)

 I was watching a Met playoff game recently. I wasn’t in a good mood, seeing how poorly they were playing against the Padres. At the conclusion of one inning, what initially appeared to the usual between-innings ads began running. Suddenly, an ad appeared for a congressional candidate in my state. He and some women appeared, and they were extremely angry. Why? Because they said his opponent would take away the right to abortion.

I was angry and infuriated – I yelled and called down God’s judgment.

My wise wife reproved me, asking what right I had to take over God’s role! I accepted her rebuke. I was reminded to be glad that God is slow to anger – he gives people time to repent ……. guess what, God was extremely patient with me! Otherwise, I would have been doomed!

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

The hymn “At Even, Ere the Sun Was Set” by Henry Twells gives me good attitude guidance for handling my disagreement with the other side in any debate:

“And none, O Lord, has perfect rest,
For none is wholly free from sin;
And they who fain 1 would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.”
1 gladly and willingly

Twells’ point is not that I am so filled with sin that I dare not express an opinion, but rather that I express my opinion without having a sense of my own moral superiority. If I am on the right side of an issue, I am meant to be a humble expositor of God’s truth. Sometimes I might even be wrong and need to be corrected!

It’s especially easy to be enraged right now. Social media, Twitter, and political ads are not known for calm rational discourse and winsome arguments! Yet, we are called to be irenic 2.
2 irenic – favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation

How are we doing in our battle of rage and division versus love and seeking common ground? In our furious view that only we can set things right, how easy it is to forget who is really in charge!

Playing With House Money

I am not much of a gambler. I get so anxious about whether I will lose my money that it takes away from the enjoyment of the game. But I do notice the point spread for the NY Giants games. And after several terrible years, they are playing so well this year that I am no longer ashamed to drink from my Giants coffee mug.

In view of the Giants’ newfound success, I found it hard to believe that they were 5 ½ point home underdogs to the Ravens last week. And there was a message from a certain legal online betting site that I had $5 of house money to play with. This meant the site would put up the money for my bet! I would not have the anxiety of having my own money riding on the game. Since I had nothing to lose, I placed the bet.

(Mike Francesca used the same expression “playing with house money” in his podcast. He applied it to the Cleveland Guardians in their recent playoff series versus the Yankees. Since no one had expected that Cleveland would even be in the playoffs, they wouldn’t face the anxiety-inducing pressure of lofty expectations.)

It looked like I’d lose my bet as the Giants fell behind by ten in the second half. Then they closed within three so I would win the bet with the Giants covering the spread. Finally, the Giants won outright. I won the bet without needing any points!

Of course, I like to see a spiritual analogy in this:  There is a way in which living the Christian life is like playing with house money. First, there is nothing we can contribute to get salvation. It is a free gift that we say yes to. Second, I don’t need to be anxious that I can get un-saved if I mess up. Living with free grace, what do I have to lose?


Take the lyric from the modern hymn “In Christ Alone.”

“No guilt in life, no fear in death.
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry, to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.”

So, as I follow Jesus’ commands, I am free from facing anxiety about whether I am doing enough to please God. The more I gain awareness of this truth, the freer I am to grow in grace living.

As it says in John 8:36, So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.