The Worst of Evan Hansen

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the soundtrack of the musical, Dear Evan Hansen. I even had the chance to see it live with some friends when I visited New York. I thought it’d be fun to dig deeper into the show and interact with its ideas from a Christian perspective. In this post, I focus mostly on the songs, but there are also some spoilers from the story. Regardless of what you know about the show, I hope you can enjoy!


Evan Hansen is caught in a dilemma: on the one hand, he’s terrified of being known; on the other, he longs to be found. In the opening lines of “Waving through a Window”, Evan lays out his cautious, self-protective approach toward life. “I’ve learned to slam on the brake before I even turn the key,” he sings, “before I make the mistake, before I lead with the worst of me.” Moments later, however, he laments how “he’s on the outside always looking in” and wonders “can anybody hear? Is anybody waving back at me?”

These two powerful desires—Evan’s fear of rejection and longing for acceptance—pull him in contradictory directions. He wants to be truly seen, understood, and loved, but this is impossible as long as he hides who he really is. By pursuing both desires, Evan unknowingly paralyzes himself in perpetual misery, unable to cry out for help or bear his isolation.

The Longing Behind the Lie

The plot is set in motion by a lie Evan tells that he was best friends with Connor Murphy, a social outcast who commits suicide early on in the story. Through this lie, Evan is able to get everything he ever wanted. He becomes popular at school. He wins the affection of Zoe, Connor’s sister and his longtime crush. He finds a home with the grieving Murphy family, something his own mom, a single parent working long hours, has difficulty providing.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of lying, though, is it allows Evan to voice his loneliness without having to risk rejection or reveal the worst of himself. After his death, Evan creates the “Connor Project”—a student group “dedicated to keeping Connor’s memory alive, to showing that everybody should matter.” As part of the project, Evan gives a speech to the entire school assembly, captured in the song “You Will Be Found.” In it, he identifies the loneliness we often feel and promises that someone will find us in our most hopeless moments.

In one sense, the speech is a step in the right direction for Evan. It forces him to overcome some of his crippling anxiety. However, it also allows him to avoid the most painful part of revealing weakness—namely, the embarrassment and shame of sharing your own weakness. Instead, he substitutes the worst parts of himself with the worst of Connor. Rather than saying, “I feel weak, lost, and alone. Please come find me,” Evan can say, “Connor felt weak, lost, and alone. We often feel that way too. We need to find each other.” Evan gets to ask for what he wants most while blending into the anonymous “we.”

Midway through “You Will Be Found” is an interlude in which Evan’s speech goes viral. Soon, Evan’s speech is the talk not only of the school but of millions on the Internet. To his surprise, Evan learns he is not alone in his loneliness. Many of the people he thought looked so put-together actually feel just like him. He just couldn’t see because they were caught in the same paralysis as him, held back from sharing by the same fear of rejection. Similarly to the way Connor’s death made it easier for Evan to voice his weakness, Evan’s speech makes it easier for others to come clean with theirs. His vulnerability gives them permission to also be vulnerable.

One of my friends noted the climax of “You Will Be Found” erupts in almost eschatological language—that is, with the kind of promises of complete restoration you’d expect in a sermon on Revelations, not a secular musical. “Out of the shadows the morning is breaking and all is new,” the choir exults, as the orchestra swells behind them, “it’s filling up the empty and suddenly I see that all is new.” “You are not alone. You will be found,” they repeat, over and over again.

These jubilant proclamations capture the rising sense of communal hope. People are experiencing the joy of being mutually known and loved. There is a renewed sense that anything is possible as we support one another together. We can find others who are hurt and, in turn, be found when we are hurting.

As “You will be Found” comes to a resounding close, and with it the first act, we are left feeling conflicted. We resonate with Evan’s speech. We sense he has uncovered a profound longing that lies within all of us. At the same time, we also recognize that the promises of Evan’s movement rest on the flimsiest of foundations—on a fabricated story by someone actively avoiding the truth. Evan has unearthed our deepest desire. Will he be able to deliver on the hope he’s created?

The Worst of Evan Hansen

In the second act, pressure mounts as Evan desperately tries to hold up his web of lies. Finally, when he can no longer bear it, Evan tells the truth to Zoe and the Murphy family in the song “Words Fail.” He was never  friends with Connor; he had made the whole thing up. In a moment, Evan loses the relationships he had worked tirelessly to build.

Midway through “Words Fail”, the Murphy’s leave and Evan is left alone. Now, the more difficult part of Evan’s journey begins. Evan has not only been deceiving others, he has also been willfully deceiving himself. Now, there is nowhere left to hide. As the song resumes and builds to a crescendo, Evan repeats the first lines of “Waving through a Window”: “I’ve learned to slam on the brake before I’ve even turned the key. Before I make the mistake. Before I lead with the worst of me. I never let them see the worst of me,”  he says. And then, just as the song reaches its pinnacle, he quietly blurts out the truth he’s tried desperately to avoid, the real reason behind his self-preserving mentality:

Cause what if everyone saw?
What if everyone knew?
Would they like what they saw?
Or would they hate it too?

Evan’s worst fear has come true: he has revealed the very worst of himself. He had dreaded this moment and done everything in his power to keep it from happening. And yet, when it does, he feels an enormous burden lifted off his shoulders. He no longer has to seek acceptance by hiding from the truth. He is free to ask the question he should have been asking all along: “All I ever do is run so how can I step into the sun?”

This line, which Evan utters at rock bottom, marks a turn in his character in the right direction.  Throughout the musical, the sun and light are symbols for living truthfully and with courage. Evan’s previous mindset was all about “step[ping] out of the sun if you keep getting burned.” With nothing left to lose, he decides to try going outside again.

His first order of business is to talk to his mom. He shares a secret he has been hiding for the entire story. He had begun the story with a broken arm, which he quickly explained came from falling out of a tree. There are hints that there is more to the story than Evan is letting on. Now, Evan tells the truth. The real reason he broke his arm was he tried to commit suicide. Despite this new revelation and everything Evan had done to ignore and wound her, Evan’s mom embraces him. “Your mom’s not going anywhere,” she assures him, “no matter what I’ll be here.” Evan spills the worst of himself and finds he is known and loved.

All We See is Sky

In the first act, Evan sings a song called “For Forever.” He plans to tell the Murphy’s there had been a misunderstanding and he hadn’t really known Connor. Instead, he fabricates an elaborate story of an afternoon they spent together. The song culminates with the two climbing a tree for a better view and Evan plummeting to the ground. As Connor rushes to his aid, Evan repeats the chorus, quietly at first, then triumphantly:

All we see is sky for forever
We watch the world pass by for forever
Feels like we could go on for forever this way
Two friends on a perfect day.

Afterwards, Evan wonders why he was unable to stop lying. As the audience, we wonder why so much detail and an entire song is given to a made-up event. The revelation of his attempted suicide, however, helps explain the significance of this song for Evan. Evan was unable to deal with the dissonance that at his moment of greatest need, nobody was there. That reality was so deeply painful for Evan that when the opportunity came to rewrite that moment, he felt compelled, consciously and unconsciously, to do so.

Evan’s lie began first and foremost as an attempt to deceive himself. He reimagines the moment he most longed for a friend as the moment he is found by his best friend. He refashions stepping out of the sun into climbing to the heights so it could shine on his face.

The final song of the musical is a reprise of the chorus from “For Forever.” In this version, the choir is more reserved. Their singing is tinged with sadness but also hope. If “For Forever” is Evan sitting blindly in the dark, singing victoriously about the beauty of the sun; then the finale is Evan emerging from the darkness, pale, weak, and emaciated, but truly in the light. And, for that reason alone, there is reason for optimism.

Indeed, we see glimpses that Evan is taking small steps forward. He ends the play as he started it: with a letter to himself. This time, however, Evan is at peace. He has faced the worst of himself and in doing so, has allowed himself to be found by the person who matters most. In his short conversation with Zoe, Evan also shares he has found a list of Connor’s favorite books and is reading them to try get to know the real Connor. Now that Evan has been found, he is learning to truly find others.


Known to the Bottom, Loved to the Sky

Dear Evan Hansen’s biggest strength, in my opinion, is its ability to capture the anxiety and exhaustion of facing the worst of ourselves. We know exactly how it feels to be in Evan’s shoes, caught in a tug-of-war between our desire to share honestly and our fear of what others might think. In the moments before confession, we tense up, our palms begin sweating, and a thousand excuses race through our minds. We have to physically exert ourselves just to force the words out. At times, like Evan, we have to muster all our strength just to tell the truth to ourselves.

And yet, even as the musical conveys the difficulty of our inner battles, we are reminded that we have a much greater hope than Evan Hansen. Jesus, the most important person in the universe, knows us to the bottom and loves us to the sky. Despite seeing our darkest thoughts and deeds, he left his heavenly throne to come find us. He sought us all the way to the cross.

The Gospel gives us the strength to share the worst of ourselves. It’s still scary. When we look out, everyone else seems happy and put-together. We fear we will be burdensome or other will think less of us. And yet, we can find courage in the truth that we are loved and accepted by the one who matters most and knows us best. No human rejection can crush us because nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

Friends, here’s a challenge for us: let’s not let Evan Hansen outrace us into the light. Rather, as children of the light, let’s strive to be more transparent in our Christian friendships. Maybe that means opening up about a hidden struggle to close friends or a trusted mentor. Maybe it’s empathizing with a downcast believer and sharing about God ‘s faithfulness in our weakness and sin. As God empowers us to be vulnerable, we help others to be vulnerable too. And together, we can grow into the kind of community which Evan could only imagine—a community of sinners saved by grace, freed from fear and the need to prove ourselves, loving one another as we have been loved.



Logan and the Long Road to Eden

I’ve wanted to write about Logan ever since I watched it in theaters. Logan is my favorite type of superhero movie—the kind that focuses on the humanity and hardships of its hero, rather than on explosions and special effects. I also think there are a lot of interesting parallels to draw between the movie and our Christian lives. Hope you enjoy!


Logan’s central question is whether heroism—that is, courage, self-sacrifice, and the ideals heroes represent—can exist in a cruel and violent world. Logan uses its R-rating to hammer home just how brutal life as a hero can be. Normally, superhero movies are selective in what they show. They glamorize the excitement and glory of heroism while minimizing the costs. Logan, however, shows us everything. We see the full effects of Logan’s claws as they pierce, sever, and kill. We see the full aftermath of years of endless fighting. Most heroes have died. Those who are left suffer from crippling guilt and regret. They’ve grown old, given up, or gone crazy. The bleakness of Logan’s world startles and shakes us up. It makes us wonder: what hope is there for heroism if it’s this hard?

We meet Logan as a man who has given up on heroism. He lives a withdrawn life, working as a chauffeur, caring for Xavier, and otherwise avoiding every reminder of his past. We’ve seen characters like him before–the cynical old man–but it’s still jarring to see what Wolverine has become. Two things have happened to reduce Logan from brash fearless hero to this shell of himself.

The first is that he has lost hope. Heroes are expected to be beacons of hope. When all is lost, they step in and tells us everything will be okay. But Logan has watched friends die. He’s seen evil defeated countless times, only for it to appear again in a different form. He’s experienced too many disappointments to maintain hope, much less provide it for others.

Second and closely related, Logan has lost confidence in himself. He no longer believes in his abilities or his goodness. Externally, his body is breaking down. Internally, his resolve has left him, and he is racked by guilt from his violent past. In his mind, he is not strong enough to be a hero, and even if he were, he would be unworthy to be one.

The movie contrasts Logan’s cynical view of heroism with the picture put forth by comic books. The plot revolves around Logan delivering Laura, a young girl with identical claws to his, to a mutant safe haven called “Eden”. Eventually, however, Logan learns this Eden is based on coordinates from an old X-men comic book. Logan is understandably upset. He hates comic books. Not only are they untrue, they perpetuate the backbreaking expectations placed on heroes. More than that, they remind him of how far he’s fallen from who he once was and what he once believed.

In many ways, comic books are like the Biblical Eden. In them, good and evil are clearly divided, no one dies, and justice triumphs in the end. Logan, however, has experienced the fall. He has seen sin and suffering. For him, comic book heroes are a myth just like Eden. That kind of heroism never existed, and if it did, it’s gone and there’s no going back.

The movie sets up these two opposing views of heroism—Logan’s nihilism and comic book idealism– and places them on a collision course. Will Logan find Eden or barren wasteland when he reaches the comic book coordinates?  What he discovers will be the movie’s referendum on which understanding of heroism is true.

All the evidence points to Logan’s view being affirmed. Senseless violence and tragedy follow Logan and Laura every step of their journey. After each stop, they leave behind a bloody trail of fallen friends, innocent bystanders, and enemies. It seems inconceivable that a movie which has taken such pains to show the costs of heroism would resolve with a pat, happy ending.


But something surprising happens. Logan’s strength fails him in the final leg of the journey, and he awakens, to his amazement, in “Eden”. This Eden, of course, is not the paradise of the comic books. It offers only a temporary reprieve from the approaching danger. However, it is something instead of nothing and for Logan, that is earth shattering. He had resigned himself to believing that realized hope was for comic books, not real life. And yet, here he was. Against all odds, the comics had been right.

In Eden, Logan is greeted by a community of children, each with the same traumatic back story as Laura. These children solidify something Logan had been learning throughout his journey with Laura: namely, that even someone as broken as him can still be a hero. For so long, Logan thought his failures disqualified him from being a hero. But for Laura and the other children, they are the very things which make him their hero. The wounded don’t need or want a comic-book hero. They need someone who understands their pain and can say “Don’t be who they made you.” They need someone who can guide them through the guilt, fear, and shame because he’s wrestled with very same things himself.

Can heroism exist in a cruel and violent world? Prior to Eden, the answer seemed to be no. We had only been presented with two answers: either you cling to the ideals of comic book heroism despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or you abandon the idea of heroes all together. When the question is posed as a binary choice, the second option seems far more realistic, especially in the R-rated world of Logan. But in Eden, we’re given a third option, a middle way which has the honesty of Logan’s view with the hopefulness of comic books.

What is this middle way? It is a heroism restored by surprising grace. By grace I simply mean that Logan is helpless to restore himself and yet somehow is restored.  He is so exhausted and defeated that he must be carried into Eden, but once there, he stumbles on to the two things he needed most: hope and a chance for redemption. Hope, in that Eden should exist at all. Redemption, by finding the children are willing to accept, admire, and depend on him in spite of—indeed, because of–all his flaws.

Logan experiences what J.R.R. Tolkien calls the Eucatastrophe. He defines the term as:

“The good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” …It is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Eden is Logan’s Eucatastrophe. The sudden unexpected turn to his story. There is no explanation given why there should something instead of nothing in Eden. Or why Logan should make it there with Laura and her friends instead of living out his weary life alone. But, for some reason, at his darkest moment when he had given up all hope, Logan finds everything he needed and never thought he would.

Logan’s experience in Eden changes him profoundly. On the surface, that change doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. There is no miraculous happy ending, at least in the traditional sense. The children are forced to flee as their pursuers descend upon  Eden. The last battle yields only the smallest of victories for Laura and her friends–another day of survival. Logan dies in obscurity with the world is just as violent as before; the outlook for mutants, just as bleak.

But Logan was never about a traditional comic book ending. It was about finding traces of heroism in the midst of pain, suffering, and sorrow. And as we watch Logan sprint and snarl and slash one last time, as we watch him die protecting those he has come to love, we catch the briefest glimpse through the dust and dirt, that heroism is alive and well.

Logan and the Weary Christian

We don’t have to look hard to find parallels between Logan’s journey and our own. As Christians, especially those of us who are leaders, we also strive for heroism. We seek to be people of character who serve others sacrificially and with courage. In doing so, we carry burdens, deal with expectations, fight battles, and struggle with our human limitations.

How many of us haven’t felt like Logan at some point?  We grow weary of doing good. We lose hope or doubt that God could love people like us. And so, like Logan, we withdraw. We become bitter and resentful. We begin viewing the Gospel like how Logan saw the X-men comic books—too simplistic for the realities of an uncaring world.

And yet, we too are restored by surprising grace. For us, there is no mystery where that grace comes from. It pours forth from the hand of a loving God. In his wisdom, he dismantles our comic-book expectations for the Christian life, which we’ve filled with visions of self-glory and adoration. And then, in his grace, he rebuild us from the ground up.

He revives our hope.  His means are often quiet and ordinary–an answered prayer when we had stopped believing he still heard us. A caring word from a friend when we had become convinced we were all alone. Unexpected fruitfulness when we had despaired of ever being useful. These evidences of grace might go unnoticed by everyone else, but they are monumental for us because they remind us we are loved by a sovereign and good God.

Not only that, he reminds us we have a role to play in his story. It is not the role we first expected. We imagined ourselves as Superman or Wonder Woman, confident and strong. Instead, God calls us to be like Logan. We are to be the wounded serving the wounded and carrying them to the One who heals. We are to serve amidst hardship and disappointment and show that God’s grace is sufficient for us. When we are weak, he is strong.

Logan Grave

The Better Hero and the Better Eden

“When you read a comic book, the thing I’m always looking for is not the colorful clothes—I wear colorful clothes. It’s not the masks—people wear masks in sports and stuff. It’s the notion that at the worst moment of your life, someone will be there for you. Someone will rescue you from certain doom, the jaws of death, and utter disappointment. That’s what I’ve always loved about comic books.”

Recently I heard a pastor use this quote from a non-Christian  filmmaker to explain the popularity of superhero movies. Superhero movies, this pastor said, reflect our innate longing for someone to rescue us in our darkest moments.

At first, I wasn’t sure I agreed. It’s not that I don’t long for a savior. My problem is that most superhero movies don’t feel very realistic. The heroes are strong but also simplistic. I could imagine them saving me from a giant monster or a villain with apocalyptic powers, but not any of my darkest moments. My struggles are far more ordinary than the movies, but also far more resilient. When you defeat the big bad guy, he’s gone forever.  Loneliness, doubt, or hopelessness, however, return over and over again. Superheroes can provide a superficial rescue and happy ending. I long for something deeper.

Logan provides an interesting contrast to your average superhero movie. The internal battles of its main character resonate more deeply with the complexity of our own experiences. The darkness of its world is more like our own. Because of its realism, Logan better captures our longing for a savior. We want someone to save us from these kinds of struggles and this kind of world.

But Logan is not a savior figure. If anything, the movie uses him to deconstruct the idea of superheroes as saviors. Logan’s example tells us that though heroes have extraordinary abilities, they are still human. Over time, the expectations and burdens of being a savior overwhelms even the strongest of heroes. Logan is someone we identify with and maybe aspire to imitate, but not someone we look to to save us.

The problem we run in to, then, is that superhero movies with strong saviors aren’t realistic, and those that are realistic cannot give us strong saviors. We long for a Savior that is strong and who truly saves us from our darkest moments.

Isn’t that what we find uniquely in Jesus? Jesus is strong. He is God himself, the creator and sustainer of all things. When he is with us, we stand with complete confidence, even when everything around us gives way. If he is for us, who can be against? Jesus truly faced the deepest problems of our hearts and the darkest evil in our world. He entered in to our R-rated story, a story filled with injustice, disease, and violence, in which metal nails pierce and innocent men are condemned to death. On the cross, he bore our sins and tasted the sting of death. And in the greatest Eucatastrophe of all–the one to which all others point–he rose again victorious.

We follow our hero on the long road back to Eden. This Eden is not a return to the innocence lost at the fall. It is more poignant and profound than that. Jesus is leading us to an Eden where grace fully heals all that has gone wrong. As C.S. Lewis wrote, it is an Eden which “once obtained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory”. We see suffering and the collateral damage of sin and despair at how irreparable it all looks, but we’re headed to a place where all will be made right.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelations 21:4 ESV)

Humility and the Mystery of Hell

“Will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:22)

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about that question. In many ways, it gets to the heart of my doubts about hell–namely, my sense of dread that only a few will be saved while masses and masses of people go away into eternal fire.

I struggle to reconcile that bleak picture of judgment with God’s goodness and sovereign power to save. I find myself asking, “Lord, if you are good, how can you punish so many? God, if you are sovereign, how can you let so many perish? Father, this all feels overwhelming and impossible to bear.”

Dwelling on hell can crowd out my wonder for God’s grace. The Gospel becomes less about my love for Christ and more about desperately wanting to rescue people from the fires of hell, which, in turn, results in despair at how little impact I have.

I become gripped by a kind of paranoia. I fear for the strangers I see on the street who will one day stand before a Holy God. I even start fearing for the believers in church. Do they know enough about the Gospel? Are they bearing enough fruit to escape the wrath to come? Heaven or hell becomes the all-consuming question, casting a shadow over everything else.


The Mystery of Hell

There is a place for hell to give urgency in evangelism, a place for examining others to see if they are truly in the faith, and a place for bringing our questions about hell honestly to God. At the same time, if we focus too much on hell, it can become unhealthy and unhelpful.

I don’t believe God calls us to constantly dwell on the number of nonbelievers who will perish in hell or imagine the details of their punishment. That burden is too heavy for us to bear as finite creatures. Ultimately, only God is wise, strong, and just enough to fully understand and carry out eternal justice.

Rather, I think God allows us to hold aspects of hell as a mystery. Will the majority of humanity be saved? Only a select few? Somewhere in the middle? The Bible tells us that both many and few will be saved. John reports “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9). While Jesus reminds us that way of salvation “is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:13-14 ESV)

We don’t know how many will be saved. We can judge by the statistics, but we must also leave room for God’s surprising sovereign work in drawing the poor and broken. Beyond that, we don’t know many others things about hell. And that’s okay. We can leave our uncertainties in God’s hands. He knows how to justly punish sin in hell. He knows the exact number of people who will be saved and damned. He sees the full picture of each person’s life, death, and eternal destiny. We can be content to live with mystery and trust that the Lord of all the earth will do what is right.

I used to struggle to reconcile God sovereignty with man’s responsibility. No matter how hard I pondered, I couldn’t fit the two together. How could both be true simultaneously?

Over the years, however, I learned to make peace with these truths by embracing mystery. Instead of fixating on perfectly working out the logic, I found it helpful to focus on what the Bible emphasizes when it talks about our sovereign election–namely, the security and peace we have in God’s love. God wants his sovereign grace to comfort me, not lead to endless speculation and philosophizing.

I suspect that it is similar with the weighty truth of hell. Instead of dwelling on what we cannot know and becoming overwhelmed by our fears and questions, let us focus on what the Bible emphasizes when it talks about hell.

What is that emphasis? I think God primarily means for hell to humble us.  Hell makes us tremble before the Holy Judge who can destroy both body and soul. Hell reminds us of the seriousness with which we must fight sin. Hell shows us of the terror of the wrath which Jesus bore in our place.

DIfferent Dimensions of Humility?

Humbled by Hell

“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” (Luke 13:24)

That is how Jesus begins his response to the question from the crowd. Instead of directly answering, Jesus places the focus back on the questioner and each person listening.

What’s more important, Jesus says, is whether you yourself will enter through the narrow door. Do not take for granted that you will make it in. Salvation is free but the way is hard. It will take everything you have so trust God like your life depends on it.

That, I think, is the common pattern of Jesus’ teaching on hell. He challenges his listeners not to look at others, but to examine themselves. He rebukes arrogant Pharisees who assume they have God’s favor: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Mt 23:33) He warns his disciples and the eager crowds to fight sin with urgency “for it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Mt 5:30).

This is important for me to remember. In this series,  I’ve focused primarily on God’s justice in hell towards other people. In doing so, it has been easy for me to forget to think of hell in relation to myself. Instead of allowing hell to humble me, I begin to take for granted that I’m already “in” as if salvation was cheap and easy. I turn to God and say, “You better have a really good reason for not letting these other people in!”

Thus, in my heart, I frame the question “will those who are saved be few” to emphasize the fewness of the people saved and the largeness of the people who are not. I tie the goodness and power of God to the number of people he saves and begin thinking God somehow owes us salvation. Unless you save this amount of people, I say to God, the outcome is unacceptable.

I think I am being compassionate in my doubts, and to an extent that might be true, but I must also realize how easily compassion for the lost can be contaminated by presumption and pride. The right way for me to think of salvation is not to protest those who do not receive it. It is to react with wonder and amazement that any sinner would be saved–especially a sinner like me.

Jesus concludes his answer to the crowds with these words: “And behold, some who are last will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Lk 13:30). The last day will be full of surprises. There will be many who enter in whom we never would have expected–the most shameful and very worst of sinners. While many of the best and brightest of the world will go away empty-handed because they trusted in their own goodness and strength. Grace turns worldly standards upside down.

But of all the surprises, the biggest one for each of us will be that we are able to enter in. That we are treated as first, though we deserve to be last. The weight of that will leave us trembling. It will humble us to the dust. We deserved hell. We were children of wrath. God had every right to send us away forever, but instead covered us with grace. On that day, there will be no smug certainty. No charge of injustice. Only gratitude and joyous disbelief that Jesus took our place, bore our hell, and with open arms, welcomes us home.

This is the fourth post in a series on hell. You can find the previous three below:




Songwriter’s Block and Ordinary Praise

This is the third post in a series about songwriting. You can read the first two posts here and here.

Twice a year our church holds an Open Mic event. It’s a time for us to gather as friends and share our creative gifts. Usually, I’ll try to write a song or two to share how God has been at work in my life.

But there’s been one small problem these past few years: I’ve had songwriter’s block. These days, I rarely write anything that I think is any good. I try but the results too often feel rehashed and uninspired. When I sit down to write, nothing comes to mind and it feels as if I’ve forgotten how to create music.


Why Can’t I Write Songs?

People sometimes ask me how I write songs. Do I write the lyrics first and then set them to music or vice versa? Usually, for me, it’s neither. Lyrics and music happen simultaneously. A moment of inspiration strikes and from there the song just sort of writes itself.

That’s because, for me, songs overflow from strong feelings. Many of the songs I’ve written have come from a place of deep discouragement and desperation. There is so much pent-up, raw emotion–such a need to express myself to God and be heard by him–that it bursts out as words and music.

And perhaps that explains why it’s difficult for me to write songs these days. Life feels more settled now. The valleys aren’t as low. The dry seasons don’t seem as pressing. That isn’t to say there aren’t challenges. Many of my same doubts, insecurities, and sins from the past persist. But none of these struggles feel very urgent or interesting. And if it’s something I’ve explored creatively before, why write a new song about it? Why would anyone want to hear it?

Praise in the Ordinary

Perhaps my inability to write songs in the ordinary reflects my deeper tendency to only cry out to God in times of crisis and for my heart to only well up with praise after a dramatic deliverance.

If that’s true, then it’s worthwhile for me to fight through writer’s block and continue to write new music. After all, I still have many challenges I can lift up to the Lord. And God is still very much at work in me, guiding my way and transforming me into the image of his Son.

There are new songs for all of us to sing but we must be more intentional in seeking them out.  Songs flow easily out of desperation and deliverance. But in the ordinary, we need to sit down and think. We need to ponder and reflect on how God has been good to us. We need to learn, as it were, how to write the lyrics first and then the melody, and vice versa. That might not be as exciting as waiting for the magic moment of inspiration, but the end result are just as rewarding.

This has been my experience with blogging consistently. As with songwriting, I used to only write when inspiration struck; when I had an idea or experience so urgent, that I was bursting to get it out. Those posts still come but writing monthly has meant some posts aren’t the most exciting. Writing consistently has forced me to reflect and ponder God’s Word even when life seems boring. It has forced me to push through some serious writer’s block, to keep going when I’ve felt like trashing my article and taking the month off. Writing consistently has been a challenge, but also an immense blessing.

How about you? You may not be a songwriter or a writer, but I think the basic idea still applies. Do you find yourself praising God when life is ordinary? Does your praise overflows outwards – whether that be in a meet-up, a creative outlet, a jam session, corporate worship, or in your private time with the Lord?

What a testimony it would be for us to model contentment in God to a restless and distracted world, which despises the ordinary. Whether we are songwriters or not, let us be people who are constantly finding new reasons to praise the Lord.

A New Song

Thankfully, I was able to scrape together a song for open mic night. The song is basically about what I covered in this post: how both my songwriting and praise have seemed to fade in the ordinary, and yet God is patiently at work in my life leading me to glory. Hope you enjoy! Lyrics are below:


Verse 1:
The melodies used to come easy in the silence
when I needed you to meet me in the dark
I would tell you of the sorrow in my heart
Now, from the wreckage of the hurricane,
I finally found the semblance of a home
Hear the sounds in the streets as I go
But it seems the still voice fades on the paved road
Along with the lines and the lyrics that you gave Lord

Verse 2:
Turns out that you need a lot of courage just to wake up in the cold
And strength when the days pass slow
But the words don’t flow like they used to
When I would sit and sing the rhythm and blues
And it seems the still voice fades on the paved road
Along with the lines and the lyrics that you gave Lord

I need a new song in my soul Lord
I need a new song in my soul Lord
I pray that I’ll praise you forever

In the congregation
sing a new song how you walked us through
We bow low in the dirt and wait cause seeds grow slow
But the strength of the Spirit makes all things new
And every day’s one day closer
Til we pass from faith to face to face
I’m four years from the bottom
And I still praying that I’ll reach your hill
Guide the way

Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
For the word of the LORD is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.

(Psalm 33:3-4)

Why #Ballislife and Why It’s Not

Today on the blog, I’m writing about one of my favorite subjects: basketball! Hope you enjoy.

Why #Ballislife

Ball is life because basketball is like life. I’ve found the challenges I face on the court often mirror the challenges I face off of it. Because of that, basketball has often given me surprising insights into my life and walk with God. In particular, it has challenged me to examine my response to failure and adversity.


Basketball has shown me that my default response to failure and adversity is usually frustration. Sadly, the basketball court is often a sad display of Christian character. Instead of sportsmanship, you’ll often find flaring tempers and heated arguments. I’m no exception. I try  not to show it outwardly, but my bad attitude often comes out in my scowling face and slouched body language.

Why do I get frustrated when I play basketball? It’s not the physical play or competition (I’ll come back to these later). I get most angry when I’m playing poorly–when I miss point-blank layups or have a string of bad turnovers. But its not the mistakes that make me upset per se, it’s that they make me feel like a loser. Mistakes damage my pride and I hate that feeling of wounded pride.

So what do I do instead? I project my wounded pride outward as frustration. I find another reason to be mad to avoid the truth that I’m angry at myself. So I’ll blame a hard foul, a  sketchy call, or an arrogant player. I place the blame outside of myself and feel better.

Basketball often reminds me of this important lesson: we are most volatile and dangerous when we feel like failures. Why? Because we project that frustration with ourselves outward against others. When we’re frustrated with ourselves, we react in anger at even the smallest of annoyances. We snap back at innocent questions and friendly gestures. We seethe with anger when a small thing doesn’t go our way.

And the greater the provocation, the stronger our reaction will be. That’s why I think so many of us get particularly angry when we play basketball. In and of themselves, competition and physical play don’t make us angry, but when we’re already feeling frustrated, they sure do add fuel to the fire. Throw in other prideful, equally-frustrated players and it’s easy to see why the flames so often escalate out of control.

I wonder how much damage has been committed by people who lash out against others because they are unable to cope with feelings of failure. It’s a scary and humbling thought because I see those same roots of anger running deep in my own heart, hidden beneath the surface of respectability. We must learn to come to terms with our failure and deal with our frustration, or someday we will erupt in serious and hurtful ways.


Basketball has shown me that my second response to failure and adversity is often fear. Here I am in the middle of a game playing badly. As the mistakes pile up, I feel my confidence waning, even in my ability to make a simple layup or pass. Suddenly, it feels like everyone is watching, silently judging, and waiting for me to mess up again.

In that moment, there is a temptation to stop trying or to let my frustration take over. It’s easier to not try than to make a mistake. It’s easier to blame others than to face my own failures. But the game rages on and my team needs me.

It takes mental fortitude to continue competing hard in adversity. Competing hard means risking further failure. But that’s what good players do: they stay calm and remain aggressive, even after they’ve made countless mistakes.

Isn’t the same true of life? There are moments when our confidence wavers. After we bomb a job interview or after we’ve sent out countless applications and heard nothing in return. After we swore we would stand strong against a particular sin, yet find ourselves falling again and again. Our strength fails us. We lose courage to do even the simplest things, much less the daunting tasks in our lives. And yet, life goes on. Those same obstacles that terrify us remain before us. Our responsibilities don’t cease. People don’t stop depending on us. The Lord still requires us to be faithful.

How can we overcome frustration and fear on and off the court? There are practical steps to take. Hard work and practice will give us steadiness. Even when things go wrong, we are not easily derailed because we’ve put in the work a hundred times before. By continually exposing ourselves to adversity, we learn to be more comfortable in it. Over time, we learn that we can press on and that failure isn’t the end of the world.

These steps are good and there are countless athletes and individuals who succeed just by working hard and becoming mentally strong. And yet, for me, I’m reminded that I need grace both in life and to play the game. I am so weak that I need God’s grace to help me to practice and work hard. I am so timid that I need God’s grace to help me step out into the storms of adversity. I am so sinful that I need God’s grace to cover me when I fall into cycles of frustration and fear over and over again. I need God’s grace on and off the court.

Why Ball is not Life

Something rare happened last weekend: I missed basketball. I joke with people that my weekend basketball attendance is as good as my church attendance and that if I don’t play, I have a feeling akin to having missed church. I’m actually not really joking. My basketball attendance is nearly perfect and I feel strangely disoriented when I go a week without playing. That’s why, last Sunday, even though (1) I was at my church’s evening Christmas service and (2) was just recovering from the flu, I still agonized with my decision that it would probably be wise not to play.

You can probably tell from that anecdote and the first section that I’m somebody who  thinks about basketball too much. It’s true. If I’m honest, I often idolize basketball by granting it too high a place in my thoughts and affections.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about why a trivial game like basketball, whether watched or played, can easily become such a huge idol for so many. Here’s a theory from my own experience: basketball offers excitement and purpose when life often feels mundane and aimless. Work can be tedious. We slog our way through the week. At times, church can feel mundane. We sleepwalk our way through fellowship and sermons. We feel tired. At the same time, we feel purposeless and aimless. What am I supposed to be doing? Why does it feel like nothing I do matters?

And then we step on to the court. We hear the sound of squeaking shoes and pounding basketballs and it’s as if we’re transported into a different world. Suddenly, there’s excitement. The rush of seeing your shot sweep through the net. The adrenaline of coming from behind to pull out a win. Suddenly, there’s purpose and direction. I know what I’m supposed to be doing! And it feels significant when I work hard and do it. Suddenly, there’s camaraderie as I work together with my team towards a common goal. Few things can provide us with excitement and purpose like sports so we can begin to depend on them for our day-to-day, week-to-week joy.


But, like all idols, basketball will disappoint us. It will disappoint us, first, because most of us just aren’t that good. Basketball is, to some extent, a performance-based joy. When you set your heart on playing well and winning, you will be disappointed because sometimes (or most of the time) you’ll play badly and lose . Even if you learn to just enjoy playing, we can’t play basketball all the time. Sometimes we’ll get sick like I did this past weekend. Other times we’ll be injured or we won’t be able to play because of other responsibilities. Eventually, our bodies will break down, our athleticism will fade, and playing won’t be the same.

Basketball is a gift, one I hope to enjoy and play for a long time. Basketball can also teach us important life lessons about self-control, teamwork, and resilience. But, in the grind of daily life, we must look to Jesus, not basketball, to be our life, joy, and strength.

He gives meaning and strength to our work, even in the mundane. He changes us through the preaching of his word. He empowers deep friendships in the church. He forgives our sins. He upholds and sustains us even when circumstances are hard and people fail us. In the great commission, he gives us a glorious cause worth living and dying for. In our restlessness and confusion, he guides our path and gives us true rest.


Judgment, Worth, and the Humans of New York


For November’s blogpost, I guest posted over at Reformed Margins. Be sure to check out their other work if you haven’t already. I originally planned for this post to be the third in a series on wrestling with hell and God’s judgment. If you’re interested in reading more, check out part 1 and part 2.

Here’s an excerpt from the post. Hope it can be an encouragement!

What does God think of human worth? What does he feel when he looks at the humans of New York who don’t know Christ? Does he only see criminals who have broken the law and deserve death and destruction? Or does he also see the complexity of human life–the suffering and difficulty–and the preciousness of each individual, even in judgment?

The turmoil and upheaval of this past year has reminded me of how often we are guilty, individually and as a society, of treating others as worthless. We are guilty of judging according to stereotypes and of ignoring injustice when it does not affect us personally. We are guilty of failing to listen to other people’s stories and take their pain seriously.

At times, I struggle with God’s judgment because I fear it shows the same disregard for human worth which is so prevalent in our human failures. I fear that God is like a teacher who punishes a student for failing to meet a high and inflexible standard, without understanding the student’s background or valuing the student himself.  I fear that it is the humanist, with his emphasis on human goodness, who is able to bring compassion to the downtrodden and struggling, while the Christian, with his emphasis on sin and judgment, is ultimately insensitive and unkind. How can I answer these questions and fears when they come into my mind?

Marriage, Lust, and Difficult Beauty

The beauty of godliness is that it stands under pressure. Godly men and women don’t shrink back in the face of adversity; they rise up. They trust God and love others even when it is hard. They rejoice, endure, and hope in suffering as God strengthens them by his love (Rom 5:3-5).  God is glorified when his people stand under pressure, and he is at work fashioning us into men and women with that kind of character.

The ugliness of sin is that it can only do what is easy. It offers cheap joy, but makes us into people who crumble at the slightest pressure. It gleams like a valuable jewel at first, but slowly poisons our character. Sin destroys our ability to do anything worthwhile by destroying our ability to do anything that is hard. It erodes our courage to love and saps our strength to sacrifice. It makes us pathetic, weak, and boring. The more we understand the diverging destinations of these two paths, the more we will prefer the hard road of holiness over the easy road of sin.

In this article, I want to apply this idea to our battle against lust. In particular, I want to contrast the difficult beauty of God’s design for sex within marriage with the empty promises of lust. My hope is that as we see the wisdom and goodness of God’s way, we will learn to not just fight lust, but to truly prefer purity in our hearts.


The  Difficult Beauty of Marital Intimacy – 

In his excellent book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller shares a quote from author W.H. Auden:

“Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate”

What does Auden mean? He means that while romance may feel invincible in its early stages, it is still shallow and fragile. When you’re swept up in powerful emotions, it’s easy to serve your significant other and look past his or her faults. It’s easy to make sacrifices and big promises. But you still have an idealized picture of the other person. You’re still carried along by the rush that the one you love loves you in return.

Marriage takes that initial love and tests it with time, circumstances, and each spouse’s personal failures. As time goes on, feelings fade and faults emerge. Hardships strain the relationship. At times, affection for the other spouse might seem to vanish all together. But the difficulty of marriage, Keller and Auden argue, produces an “infinitely more interesting” — an infinitely more worthwhile, beautiful, and desirable — kind of love. Why? Because marital love is forged through blood, sweat, and tears. It grows through self-denying commitment and sacrificial love. It is carefully cultivated with patience, perseverance, and prayer. And because of that, marital love is far deeper and more mature than that of any passionate affair.

Keller, reflecting on how his relationship with his wife has grown over time, writes this:

When Kathy first held my hand, it was an almost electric thrill. Thirty-seven years later, you don’t get the same buzz out of holding your wife’s hands that you did the first time…[but] there is no comparison between that and what it means to hold Kathy’s hand now, after all we’ve been through. We know each other thoroughly now; we have shared innumerable burdens, we have repented, forgiven, and been reconciled to each other over and over again…When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you will all your strength and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience…To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial.To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is…what we need more than anything.

Something resonates in me when I hear Keller describe his relationship with his wife. There is something so right about this kind of love — a love forged in difficulty that strengthens us for any difficulty. Somewhere deep inside I know I am made to love and be loved in this way. And, at root, I recognize that this is because marital love in its purest form is a “lot like being loved by God”

The Difficult Beauty of Physical Intimacy

It is important to understand marriage because God designed sex to mirror both the difficulty and beauty of the marriage relationship. If we are to experience the joys of being united in sex, God tells us we must also embrace the hard work of marriage. We must relinquish our freedom and be “willing to unite with [a] person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally” through the marriage vow. Once we are married, we must put in the hard work that makes true intimacy possible — the sacrifice, the selflessness, the repentance and reconciliation.

But within this context of committed love, sex becomes something beautiful and meaningful. Keller continues:

…Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.” You must not use sex to say anything less

Physical intimacy reflects the deep intimacy of the marriage relationship. Just as the couple has joined themselves in every area of life and become one, in sex they experience deep joy in joining physically and becoming one flesh. Just as each spouse places the others interest above his or her own, in sex each selflessly seeks to bring enjoyment to the other (1 Cor 7:3-5). Just as in marriage there is joy in being fully known and truly loved, in sex husband and wife experience joy in being naked and unashamed (Gen 2).

God’s, in his design for marriage and sex, takes our fragile love and makes it strong. We enter marriage as selfish people who struggle to love when our feelings falter, or when trials come, or when our spouse lets us down. But through the crucible of marriage, God makes us into people who can love and stay committed through every obstacle. Marriage creates beautiful character in us. In Keller’s words, it “liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us

Now, compare all of this with the cheap pleasure of lust. Lust promises an easy and endless supply of instant gratification. It is divorced from relationship so it requires none of the sacrifices or hard work of commitment. It allows us to be selfish and isolated while still enjoying the pleasures of sex. It offers an escape from the difficulties and pressures of life. But it comes at the cost of our character. Lust destroys our ability to commit to a real life person who is imperfect and inconvenient. It destroys our ability to see those of the opposite gender as image bearers of God, not objects for our selfish desires.

The Difficult Beauty of Purity

If you’re like me, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s all well and good for married people but what about those of us who are single?” It’s easy for us as single people to envy our married friends. After all, while married couples must fight for purity, they can fight together with the one they love. They are able to enjoy the hard-fought benefits of physical and relational intimacy. But single people must fight for purity alone without a guarantee of ever being married.

But that question misses the point. Marriage and singleness are different. Marriage has its own unique difficulties (think about that married guy who doesn’t play basketball with you anymore) and singleness has its own unique benefits (go read 1 Corinthians 7). Regardless of whether we follow God’s design through marriage or chastity, obedience to God is better and more beautiful than lust.

Like marriage, fighting for purity as a single person is difficult. The tempter often comes when we feel most overwhelmed and lonely. In our weakness, he offers us an escape from the painful realities of life in a moment of pleasure. He offers control and power for our feelings of frustration, inadequacy, and insecurity. God’s way is so restrictive, he whispers, who would blame you for giving in? Life is so hard. You deserve it. Just this one time. No one will ever know.

And yet, as I understand the meaning of marriage, I realize that purity, even as a single person, is so much more beautiful than the enemy’s lies. Marriage and chastity produce the same godly character in us as we trust God. Both produce courage and sacrificial love. Both teach us to die to ourselves and consider others more important. Both build our ability to hold on to convictions and commitments even when circumstances are hard. And because of that, both marriage and chastity are equally beautiful in God’s sight, and should be in ours too.

Slowly, I am learning it is much better to turn to God and wait on him when I feel faint. It is much better to trust him to either provide a spouse or sustain me in my singleness. It is much better to treat my sisters with dignity and respect, especially when no one is watching.

Someday, Lord willing, I hope to be husband. If and when that day comes, I must be a man of character. I don’t become that kind of person over night or simply by getting married. I am forming my character right now . Nor am I waiting until marriage to exercise committed sacrificial love. God calls me to practice and grow in that kind of love now, in actively serving others and fighting temptation.

Difficult Beauty and the Good TensionThe more I understand the beauty of holiness, the more I want to pursue purity and leave behind sin. However, at the same time, I am painfully aware of how helpless I am to follow God’s design. I want to be steadfast in trials, but I am swept to and fro by the tides of circumstance. I want to be selfless, but constantly find that I am selfish. I want to learn to commit unconditionally, but instead see my tendency to draw back when others have nothing to offer me.

I find myself in the tension between loving what is right but finding myself unable to carry it out. And yet, I think it is good to live in this tension. Why?

First, this tension reminds me constantly that God is good and I am not. In his good design for marriage, I see that he is the Good Designer who perfectly demonstrates sacrificial and committed love at the cross in the face of the greatest adversity. As I labor weakly to imitate this difficult love, I gain a fresh appreciation of how hard it must be to love me. And as I fail over and over again, I experience from God the very thing I am unable to do — as I fail to show committed and sacrificial love, he shows me committed and sacrificial love.

Second, this tension reminds me that I must depend completely on him for strength. If godliness was easy, I could do it by myself. If godliness wasn’t beautiful, I could pursue another way. But godliness is impossibly difficult, yet irresistibly beautiful, so it draws me to God, the only one who can give me the strength to do what he commands. And because he gives the strength, he gets the glory in leading me to what is good.

By living in this tension and letting it direct us to God for forgiveness and strength, God can begin slowly reforming our hearts. Lust often feels like an insurmountable obstacle. Like no matter how far we run, it will eventually drag us back into its pit. However, as we trust in God, he can change us to love what he loves, and hate what he hates. He can give us the power to put lust to death.

Difficult Beauty in the Big Picture –  Finally, I’ve found it helpful to take this pattern of difficult beauty which we see in marriage and apply it beyond our battle against lust. We’ve seen that the root cause of lust is a failure to trust God in hardship to provide for our needs and be our joy. That is what breaks marriages apart. That is why we give in to lust. When the going gets tough, we doubt God and resort to our selfish, self-protective ways.

Lust is one symptom of this deeper problem, but this root manifests itself in many different ways besides lust. Two months ago, I wrote about how I resort to cynicism to protect myself from getting hurt. Last month, I wrote about how I resort to procrastination when I feel overwhelmed and fearful. And beyond that, I can think of countless other escapes I turn to in order to deal with adversity.

All of these sins follow the same pattern of lust. They promise an easier way: a way to protect myself, a way to shy away from hardship. But they are always hollow. They fail to produce joy or character in us. Whereas God takes us straight into the heart of the storm, but his way ultimately produces lasting joy and character.

It’s helpful for me to see lust in the big picture. For me, it’s easy to make lust the central issue of sanctification. So that if I’m doing well with purity, I feel close to God but if I’m doing poorly, I’m despondent. But understanding the deeper root of lust shows me that I’m not necessarily doing well just because I haven’t fallen into temptation. I must look where I’m turning to when I’m under pressure. I must see if I’m exercising courage and love in other areas of life.

And when I fail in purity, understanding the root problem helps me to have a deeper repentance instead of just a hazy cloud of guilt and shame. It helps me to examine why I gave in to lust and how that reveals areas in my life where I am failing to trust God. At the same time, seeing the root cause helps me to have a deeper repentance for sins I might otherwise be apathetic about. More “respectable” sins like fear, anxiety, or cynicism which are less obvious, but just as damaging to my relationship with God.

Not only that, I can take the lessons learned from this post and apply it other areas of my life. When I am lazy, for example, I can learn to see the beauty of faithful hard work and the emptiness of sin. I can grow in my appreciation of God who is perfect in all his attributes. I can lean on his strength to help me in my weakness and for forgiveness when I fail. And, through his grace, he can help me to change.







One Foot Forward: Productivity in our Weakness

Recently, I came across this quote in an article:

Overall, the vast majority of your life’s results comes…from small behaviors, repeated thousands of times over the decades.

I thought the quote encapsulated something I had been thinking about for a while, namely, the importance of our habits. Most important goals in life cannot be reached quickly or all at once. They require time and good habits, wherein we work steadily towards an end, accomplishing a little each day. We chop bit by bit at the metaphorical tree until it comes crashing down. Time by itself, without good habits, will accomplish nothing for us. You will not get your degree, or get married, or get the job you want, simply by waiting and letting time pass by. Unless you find a way to move forward, you will stay exactly where you are.

I’m not surprised that in the past few years, I’ve seen a surge of interest in the idea of productivity among Christians and non-Christians alike. We might loosely define productivity as optimizing your habits so we can move more efficiently towards where we want to go. If we will not get anywhere without good habits, it makes sense that we should focus our energy and efforts on improving those habits to be more productive.

I see talk of productivity all over the place. There  are viral videos, youtube channels, websites, books, each telling me the latest life hack, or how to optimize my morning routine, or how to study more efficiently, and so on. Telling me how to streamline my habits to fell the massive trees in my life. On the one hand, I’m extremely grateful for these resources and how they’ve helped me to work more efficiently. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that I can often have an unbalanced perspective on productivity which can be dangerous.

big tree.jpg

What do I mean? As the pressures to be responsible mount in post-grad life, it’s been tempting for me to look toward productivity, not God, as my savior. It’s been easy for me to see productivity as truly practical and faith as idealistic and not really useful. After all, I see Christians who know God’s word, who have sincere faith, and who have godly character, yet are caught in cycles of unproductive habits. Despite their faith, they struggle mightily. Conversely, I see Christians and non-Christians with effective habits. They are the ones with organized lives and good reputations. They are the ones who seem happiest. And so, I think to myself: “Faith is good, but productivity, that is what really has power. That is what takes you to where you want to go. If I could just maximize my habits I could have a picture perfect life too.”

But this is deadly mindset. The danger for some is that they succeed in being productive. The temptation for them is to trust in themselves that, even in Christian things, what really makes them successful is their own ability to manage their lives. The danger for people like me who aren’t so good at being productive is that we are crushed by our failures. Productivity can be a cruel master. If you reach the end of your day with a crossed out to-do list, you feel accomplished and hopeful. But on the many days where you don’t, you feel crushed. You feel like a failure. Like everyone is passing you by. The massive tree stands before you, reminding you that you have so far left to go and today you didn’t even make a dent.

How can we find a balanced view of productivity? We cannot cast productivity and our habits aside and focus solely on theology. Productivity is the way we get things done. Nor can we focus solely on productivity. We need an understanding of God which informs and enables our productivity. An understanding that strengthens people like me to be more productive, but also not to trust in productivity to bring ultimate joy. 

One Foot Forward

We often imagine productivity as something neutral and non-spiritual. You just do things. You wake up early so you have time before work to do personal projects. You get off of facebook and study. You plan out your schedule. In one sense, that’s true. You don’t have to be a Christian to do any of those things and there are tons of hyper-effective non-Christians. That’s part of what is so attractive about productivity. There’s no mystery. The steps to a better life and a better you are right in front of you. You just need to do them.

Yet, as anyone who struggles with productivity will attest, there are deep-rooted spiritual issues we must confront if we are to change our habits. At the forefront is fear. When we look at the long journey ahead, and the mountains we must climb and the valleys we must cross, it is easy to lose heart. We are further discouraged when we see how much further our peers are along the path, or when we contemplate how much time we have wasted and how many bad decisions we have made.

Why do we keep procrastinating? Why can’t I stop scrolling through social media and focus for a half-hour? Why does my heart react so violently when I try to do what I need to do? Taking one step forward – that is, changing an ingrained bad habit for even one day – may seem small and trivial, but it often takes all our resolve. Why? Because taking one step reminds us of the whole journey ahead and everything it will take. It’s much easier to procrastinate; to distract ourselves so we don’t have to face how far we have left to go and how much we have failed.

(Paul Maxwell wrote an article called “The Complicated Life of Lazy Boys” for Desiring God that I thought was so insightful. In it, he talks about the 5 cycles of unproductivity that we can become trapped in, and the spiritual reasons underlying them. If you have time, I highly recommend you taking a look at it, as well as the follow up article on rest.) 

How does Gospel address the fear behind our bad habits? It tells us that because of Christ, the all-powerful God stands behind us. And though the journey ahead may seem impossible, our God is strong and he is able to do the impossible. And even though there seem to be so many dangers and snares along the way, our God is sovereign and will guide us through. Be strong and courageous, the Gospel tells us, do not be in fear or in dread because the Lord your God goes with you.

Those are massive truths, but, if I’m honest, they often feel small in the moment, crowded out by the shadows of the mountains looming ahead. For those with weak faith like me, my encouragement is this: just put one foot forward. It’s okay if you feel weak. It’s okay if you feel you don’t have enough strength to survive the journey. It’s okay because you don’t!

Let me refer back to beautiful quote from a previous post. It’s written in the context of marriage and singleness, but I think it fits well with this idea of taking one step forward:

If the thought of enduring your marriage or lack of marriage for the rest of your life is daunting, it is because God doesn’t hand out grace in a lifetime supply. He provides it one day at a time. If you feel like God has not given you the capacity to love your spouse for a lifetime, that’s because he hasn’t. But he has given you exactly what you need to be loving today. Furthermore, God has not given celibates the grace to bear a lifetime of solitude. But he will give you what you need to make it through this day.

…God will give us what we need, but he will not give it to us until we need it. He didn’t give the Israelites enough food to last through forty years in the wilderness; he gave them manna one day at a time. None of us has a lifelong stockpile of grace, but we can look forward to God’s faithfulness over a lifetime, offered to us one day at a time.

What does it mean to have courage? What does it mean to have steadfastness in faith? Courage is not always slaying the dragon. It is not always big and heroic. Steadfastness is not a constant spiritual high. Rather, we could say that courage and steadfastness come from learning to pray “give us this day our daily bread” in good times and bad, when our faith feels strong or when it sinks out of our sight. It is taking the manna that God gives and taking one step forward – changing that bad habit just once – and then by God’s grace, taking another step. And doing that over and over again for a lifetime.

We could amend our initial quote about productivity to look like this: overall, the vast majority of your life’s results comes…from small behaviors, each one enabled by God strength and sustained by God’s grace, repeated thousands of times over the decades.  I think that’s a profound and beautiful picture of productivity in weakness.

One Solid Hope

Even as we seek to move forward one step at a time by God’s grace, there will be many days when we will not be productive. Many times when we will look back over our day, and see that we have accomplished nothing of real value, because we were lazy or because we were overwhelmed by worries. Times when all will see are the replays of our sin – our outbreaks of anger or our failures in purity or the callousness of our hearts towards God and others.

What do you do when you reach the end of the day and you realize it was utterly unproductive? What do you do when as you sit on your bed feeling overwhelmed and wondering where the strength will come from to face tomorrow? In times like those, rest in your one solid hope. Remember that your hope is not in your goals – the future career, or relationship, or ministry position you are working towards. None of those things can bring you ultimate and lasting joy. Your hope is not in your efforts to reach those goals. It is not in your productivity. You are not loved and accepted or worthwhile on the basis of what you have done or failed to do today. Your hope is in Jesus. The one who embraced the cross, despising the shame, so that we might know and love him, even as we are known and loved by him. He is the goal and we have all we need in him.

…for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV)


The Hope for Our Helplessness

This is the last post in a series about cynicism and the Christian life. In part 1, we saw how we adopt cynicism to protect ourselves from the helplessness we feel. In part 2 we saw why this strategy fails miserably. In this post, I want to look at how Jesus holds out a better hope to the hurting cynic.


Hyouka is insightful in identifying and expressing the pain of helplessness. But the show offers little in the way of a solution. For the most part, it is content that we understand that Hyouka exists and that it is all around us. It is enough that the quiet cries of the hurting, so long unheard, can be discovered for a moment by the four friends and us, the audience.

To its credit, Hyouka does give us a helpful insight that we can apply to the Christian life. It commends a caring curiosity to us. Oreki begins the show as a mystery solving machine, who takes in details and spits out solutions. But, through the influence of Chitanda, he begins solving mysteries to learn more about the stories of others. Oreki’s growth calls us to likewise examine the small details, not for the glory of being clever, but to see and sympathize with the pain that lies below the surface for so many.

But while that is an admirable reminder, it still cannot fill the gaping holes of helplessness all around us. The show’s best case scenario is that observant and caring individuals seek out the hurting. But, if we’re honest, how many people can do this in real life? How many are observant enough to notice the small clues of the pain we hide? And of those people, how many are caring  to dig the full story out of us? My guess is you won’t find many of these compassionate geniuses. And if you’re waiting for one to come seek you out, you’re probably in for a disappointment.

Even if you do have such friends, it’s still not enough. Friends can be there for you for a span of time, but what happens in the hours, days, and years afterwards when the quiet pain is there and they have long since moved on? Or what happens when they fail you because they are wrestling with the same helplessness themselves?

The truth is that unless we have a Sherlock-esque eye and a large amount of time, we’ll miss most of the helplessness around us. And we should not be surprised when our friends and family fail to see ours in the busyness of their work, family, and personal issues.

What then is the Christian hope for helplessness? How does Jesus give us strength to reclaim our longing and fight back against cynicism? Here are three (of many) ways that Jesus offers us hope:

I. Jesus knows and loves us 

In the first post we noted that Hyouka results from a desire to conceal and reveal. We are ashamed by our weakness; that we still struggle for such small reasons. And we are ashamed of our sin; that we are not always sympathetic victims, but often selfish and cruel. Yet, at the same time, we are miserable and desperately long for someone to share in our pain without laughing at or leaving us.

Jesus knows us. Oreki and his friends would have to sift through the tiniest of clues to fully understand the what and why of our turmoil. But Jesus sees straight into our hearts (Jn 2:24-25).  He knows everything about us, down to the tiniest detail (Mt 10:30) . He knows what we long for and what we need, even before we ask (Mt 6:8). He knows our frame that we are but dust (Ps 103:14). He understands us even when we can’t find the words to cry out for help (Rom 8:26). And he will always be there because he  has promised to never leave nor forsake us (Deut 31:6).

Jesus fulfills our longing to be known and loved like no one else can. In the words of Tim Keller, Jesus alone can “know us to the bottom and love us to the sky”. Our limitations and sin make us feel afraid to be known and unworthy to be loved. But Jesus has borne the cross for our sins and covered us with his righteousness, so that God invites us in as his beloved children. And Jesus will not cast us away for any fault in our appearance or defect in our personality. Our Savior is also our Creator. He formed us in the womb and in his eyes we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139).

And finally, Jesus is the true and proper object of our longing. He is better than cynicism’s stability, or Oreki’s genius, or Mayaka’s affection. He has fullness of joy. He is our source of life. He is the one whom we were made to walk with in relationship, and if we have him, we have all we need. The love of Jesus helps us finally put to death Satoshi’s self-hatred and resignation. Jesus knows us. He gives us the love we need. And he is the one we are made to love.

II. All thing come from the Father’s loving hand- 

Cynicism rests on the assumption that we are alone in a cruel universe in which things just naturally go wrong. But the Bible tells us that our lives are in the hands of a loving Father who works all things – joy and pain – for our good. In a cruel universe, it is wise not to put too much hope in your longing. But in the Christian worldview, we can place our longing in God’s hands and pursue courageously after him.

He may prosper us in our careers. He may guide us to marriage and family. He may give us fruitful ministry and friendships. Or he might withhold all of the things we want most. He might make us wait for months, years, or forever. He may give us what we want and make it different than we thought it would be. He may give us what we want and then take it away.

Yet in everything, God is generous and wise. God always gives good gifts to his children. He will do things we don’t understand, but in our confusion he will teach us to trust him more. He will take us along paths we would have never taken to lead us to places where we need to go. It is scary to be vulnerable and entrust our longings to God. It is even scarier for those who have been hurt by others in the past. But God will never disappoint us. He will show forth his wisdom and care for us even in our disappointments.The sovereign goodness of God allows weak and insecure people like me to be brave.

III.  God gives us a new community – 

Lastly, God gives us a new community where we can know and love one another. A new community built not on hobbies or circumstances but on the blood of Christ. As Christians, we have been made part of God’s family – a family different than every other. Before, we were afraid to share our sin because it was too shameful and our helplessness because it was too small. But God’s family is full of people who are sinful and hurting just like us, but who have been known and loved by Jesus. And God is at work in his family, transforming our hearts and teaching us to love as we have been loved.

This creates the possibility for a powerful new kind of friendship. It will take hard work, patience, and time. We will be hurt and discouraged in the process. But if we are willing, we can build relationships where we are fully honest with one another. Relationships where we can share both monumental tragedies and the quiet and constant aches of daily life. Where we can share both our most shameful sins and our most persistent fears. Where we are not afraid to share the same struggle week after week, but where we can also receive gentle encouragement in the truth.

Through the Gospel, we can build relationships where we no longer need to conceal because we are all loved by the King. And relationships where we no longer need to compare because we have all been gifted to serve his people and a world in need.


In the end, the solution to our helplessness is not complicated. We need faith. We can live as cynics, maintain a stable sort of joy, and project a respectable Christian persona. But that would be a tragedy. Cynicism doesn’t work. It’s faithless.

But even as I write this, it’s still so hard for me to let down my guard and stand exposed before God and others. I feel so foolish and naive. I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting a different result, when in reality I will only be punched in the gut again by a cruel and uncaring world.

And yet, I remember God has given us his Son. I remember his promise to never leave nor forsake us. I remember his past faithfulness. In light of his love and the strength of his promise, let us dare to live defiantly in the face of every obstacle and doubt and lie from the enemy that God is not good. Let us dare to be vulnerable to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us dare to place our longings in His hands for him to bring to fruition or to frustrate in his sovereign wisdom.

Let us have faith to do these things, through every trial and disappointment, again and again, day after day, year after year, for a lifetime. And when our courage fails us and we fall short, let us dare to come with confidence again and again to the throne room of grace, where we will find help in our time of need.



The Allure and Insufficiency of Cynicism

This is part two of a series about cynicism and the Christian life. In yesterday’s post, I talked about the idea of ‘Hyouka’ – the silent cry for help. I focused in on one particular character named Satoshi and how he uses his cheerful cynicism to cope with his insecurities. In this post, I hope to draw some parallels between myself and Satoshi, and talk about why cynicism, while alluring, is ultimately insufficient.

Satoshi and Me

I see a lot of myself in Satoshi. Both of us have many reasons to be thankful, but we allow our insecurities to overshadow our blessings. Satoshi sees Oreki ability to benefit others with his natural genius, and despairs that he can offer so little. I see others’ ability to be fun and build relationships, or to administrate and counsel, or to push forward with resilience and ambition, and feel very small in comparison. What can I offer to others with my meager abilities? And who will find me worthy of love, respect, and friendship, or even a place in their lives? Irrational as it might be, these comparisons erode my confidence that I can find success or belonging when I engage the world.

But while Satoshi’s cynicism stops at his relationships with others, mine extends to my relationship with God. I battle with nagging doubts that the universe is more like a cruel practical joke than a well planned story. That life is dictated more by absurdity and chaos than by the providence of a caring God. Things just go wrong.  The promises of God, if they are true, are only true for others. The loving, faithful, and active God is their God. My God is distant, only waking when he wants to take something away.

These doubts about God and others create a painful anxiety and cynicism begins looking like an attractive strategy. Cynicism guards me from the sting of disappointment by detaching my affections. Not caring gives a steadiness and stability, as well as a reprieve from constant feelings of inadequacy.

Not only that, if I’m a cheerful cynic – if I am nice, self-deprecating, and considerate – I get the added bonus of looking humble. The proud man boast in his achievements; the self-pitying man wallows in his sorrows, but the humble man and the cynic pay little attention to themselves. The difference is that the humble man truly forgets himself in his love for God and others, while the cynic expects the worst from the start and is thus prepared for any result. To the outside world, the two look the same. I can gain a reputation for humility when in reality I’ve just given up hope.

The Insufficiency of Cynicism

Cynicism promises a more secure joy and an easier way of life. But upon closer examination, cynicism destroys our joy, our courage, and our thanksgiving.

I. Cynicism destroys joy and thanksgiving

Fundamentally, cynicism fails because we’re built to care. God has created us as longing creatures and we cannot kill those longings  no matter how hard we try. We’re not strong enough. We might be able to convince ourselves we don’t care. We might even project an image of stoic confidence. But deep down, we always know that it is a lie. That our cynicism is our Hyouka – the way we’re trying miserably to cope with our frustrated desires and personal failings.

Because of this, cynicism cannot give us real joy. Satoshi tells Oreki that since he became ‘obsessed with not be obsessed with anything…every day’s been a happy day’. In one sense, Satoshi is right. Avoiding competition allows him to live in an uninterrupted stream of trivial and lighthearted victories. But Satoshi is not truly happy and he knows it. The joys he experiences are frauds – mere imitations of the real thing. Real joys don’t come easily. They require hardwork and perseverance. They involve the real risk of heartbreak, and despair. Real joys, in other words, are born from the very things Satoshi tries so desperately to avoid. Satoshi, in trying to preserve joy, unwittingly creates a false reality where no real joy can exist.

What’s more, cynics like Satoshi cannot even enjoy the good things they do have. The cynic recognizes that he has blessings from God – be it in the form of talents, relationships, or good circumstances. But he views them with a suspicious eye. He denigrates his talents as worthless and insignificant. He sees insincerity, pity, and transience in his relationships. He sees fortunate circumstances as anomalies that might shift for the worst at any moment. The cynic cannot stop and be thankful for his blessings, because he must always protect them. Since he has no hope or courage for the future, all he can do is to desperately hold on to the good things he already has.

II. Cynicism destroys faith and courage

Not only does cynicism destroy our joy, it destroys our courage by severing the root of faith. By faith, we trust in God’s character – his goodness, his wisdom, and his sovereignty. We feel safe to place our hopes and dreams into his hands, and trust him to guide us in the best direction. This is scary because God may withhold our desires and that will hurt. But faith strengthens us to live with courage, because we believe that whatever happens will be for his glory and our good.

Cynicism instead suffocates our desire in order to spare ourselves the hurt of unmet longing.  We don’t give God the chance to let us down, and we also don’t give him the chance to show us his faithfulness. This, however, kills our courage. The more and more we do this, the harder it is to step out and trust God. We may see God’s providence in the lives of others but it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that God will work in our lives. God’s acting  will seems more like wishful thinking and less like reality.

Cynicism leads to a weak and cowardly life. The cynic has neither the self-assured confidence of the proud man or the quiet strength of the humble man. Rather he is paralyzed by his insecurity and weakness. He has no power to take a risk and step out into the unknown, because he believes all he will find is disappointment.

III. Cynicism destroys our love

Finally, cynicism hurts others and ultimately destroys our capacity to love others.  Initially, we think our cheerful aloofness is harmless. We think we can still love others as we did before. But that’s not true. Relationships are built on vulnerability and full engagement, but the cynic cuts himself off prematurely. He can function in surface level relationships, but he must disengage if they become too personal.

In the penultimate episode, Satoshi steps out of Oreki’s shadow and becomes the main focus of the story. Sadly, this episode doesn’t show his growth as a character but rather, as Nick notes, the ‘ugliest secret of the classics club – Satoshi’s self-hatred, and the way that hatred ends up expressing itself as a callousness towards the people who care about him.’

This plays out in Satoshi’s relationship with his longtime friend Mayaka. Mayaka cares deeply for Satoshi. She probably knows him better than he knows himself. And yet, she is still willing to commit herself to him. But Satoshi cannot return her affection because it would threaten the whole system he has created – his world of stable half-joys – and return him to the world of risk. It scares Satoshi to be near someone like Mayaka, who constantly lays her heart on line to be trampled on. Nearness to her exposes his disengagement for what it truly is – cowardice. And so, Satoshi clings to his cynicism and wounds Mayaka with his coldness.

Likewise, our cynicism is not harmless. We harm others by our omission – by failing to help others because we’re afraid we’ll be inadequate. We harm others by our commission – our pessimism and resignation wound those who depend on us. We distance ourselves from the messiness of relationships and accountability and run instead toward isolation, thinking we’ll be safe there. But isolation enables the worst parts of nature. At first, we may isolate ourselves because we’re afraid of being hurt. But eventually we will isolate ourselves because we’re selfish and we no longer care about others. C.S. Lewis, in his famous quote, exposes the deadly result of the cynic’s isolation:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.


This is humbling for me to write. Even now, when I look at my Christian life these past years, I wonder: have I really grown in maturity or have I just grown in cheerful cynicism? Is my joy more stable because I love Jesus and trust him more, or because I’ve learned to expect less of God and others? How much have I maintained an appearance of godliness while severing the roots of joy, courage, and faith in my life?

Cynicism is a sham. It promises protection and joy, but delivers a pathetic way of life. Yet, if not cynicism, then what? We do not adopt cynicism because we want to. We do it because the helplessness we feel is so present and real that we must find a way to cope with it. We will not put aside our cynicism unless we find something or someone to address the pain we feel. In the final post, I’ll talk about Gospel hope for those  who feel helpless. But until then, farewell!