The service opened with film clips: Adam Sandler doing a slow burn in Anger Management and Jane Fonda exploding with fury in Monster-in-Law . The congregation laughed throughout. Then a round of songs, ranging from modern love ballad ("Child of weakness watch and pray/ Find in me thine all in all") to rootsy hymn ("What can wash away my sins/ Nothing but the blood of Jesus"). Singer Laurie Lewis had each side of the room -- an amphitheater-style classroom at Miramar College -- take alternating lines. Then she prayed that we would "lay all of our burdens at Your feet, Lord, our sicknesses, all our stuff ." Before beginning his sermon, Pastor Dunlap prayed something approaching a creed: "We come to you this morning to call You, God, to acknowledge that You made us, to be reminded that all the worries of life don't have to be on our shoulders, to be reminded how desperately we need You, that we can have a relationship with You through the amazing gift of grace, that we can't earn our way into Your glory, so we thank You for your love." He prayed that everyone present would "see a little more of You" and "be transformed by You, so that we become more like You."
Then he began to talk about wrath, the third of the seven sins "that the early church fathers identified as the most deadly." The first two -- pride and envy, covered in the previous two weeks -- had been easy going. But anger, he warned, was more confusing. "God gets angry," he exclaimed, citing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He noted "a time when Jesus was incredibly angry" and read the passage from Mark in which Jesus visited the temple after his entry into Jerusalem: "'He began dragging out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.' He went into their very power base," said Dunlap, "and he tore the place apart."
By way of contrast, Dunlap cited several passages from Proverbs, which criticized anger: "a hot-tempered one commits many sins... a quick-tempered man does foolish things." He noted that God was critical of many angry figures in Scripture: Cain, Jonah, and Namaan, who was angry because he didn't want to bathe in the river Jordan to be cured of his leprosy. "Namaan didn't like it because he had a different plan. Mass confession time: how many of you have ever had a plan that didn't go the way you wanted...and how many of you got angry with God? When we see man getting angry, more often than not, the Proverbs fit, amen?"
The folly and danger of anger established, Dunlap asked, "How do you reconcile Scripture? How could the early church fathers proclaim anger as one of the deadliest of sins? They must be talking about some other kind of anger" than what Jesus displayed.
Dunlap's distinction: "Anger is part of who we are as humans...and we are made in the image of God. Therefore, our anger should align with His anger. Anger can be a good thing if it's about restoring things to the way God designed them to be in the first place. Jesus was restoring the temple. He said, 'It was meant to be a house of prayer.' Martin Luther said that anger was the engine that drove him to do most of his greatest works. How do things change in our world today? Usually, somebody gets angry." But he cautioned against Christians "calling it righteous anger when in reality it's not. Often, our anger is very selfish anger; it's not righteous at all."
He laid out five rules for keeping anger righteous: Acknowledge you're angry. Wait -- don't respond immediately. Ask yourself, what is the real focus of your anger? Analyze your options, including letting anger go but not including repressing it. Take constructive action. Otherwise, "what anger does is it turns into bitterness, and bitterness unresolved destroys the soul.... If we don't manage our anger, we're going to break relationships. We're never going to live in community."
What happens when we die?
"Each of us has been given a choice of where to spend eternity," says Dunlap, "either with God or apart from God. If we desire to be with God as one of His children and have eternal life, living with Him in heaven, then the Bible tells us that we must put our faith in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, as our Savior and Lord. If we do, we will head directly to heaven when we die. However, we are not forced to be with God forever; we can choose to be apart from Him. Being apart from God in a place where He isn't is called Hell. The great thing is -- God has given us a choice and all we have to do is believe!"
Denomination: nondenominational, affiliated with the Willow Creek Association of Churches
Address: 10440 Black Mountain Road, Mira Mesa (at Miramar College), 858-549-2479
Founded locally: 1987 in Scripps Ranch; reorganized and replanted in Mira Mesa, 2002
Senior pastor: Reverend Darrell M. Dunlap
Congregation size: 160
Staff size: 3
Sunday school enrollment: 15
Annual budget: $145,000
Weekly giving: $2500
Singles program: Revolution, the young adults' ministry, includes singles, young married couples
Diversity: Caucasian, Asian-American
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., with different sermons at each; many people stay for both
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes