Lamenting Like a Christian

It takes no particular religious conviction to complain about the world. But lament is different. The Bible shows us how God’s people throughout time have lamented as his people.

So what does it look like to lament as a Christian? How do we bring our sorrows and pain to God in a way that is specific to followers of Jesus?

Full of Faith

Biblical lament is full of faith. Those who lament know both the character and promises of God. They know God himself. At the same time, the pain and sorrow they suffer in the world don’t line up with what they know of God.

Here is the spark in the furnace of lament for each believer: My anguish in the world doesn’t match the reality I’d expect if the God I know had fully and finally set everything right.

That gap between our knowledge of God and our experience of the world is the space for faith. We need not have watertight answers or certain solutions, but we can turn to trust the one who holds all things together, knowing he is good and wise.

Broken By the Fall

Adam and Eve were the first king and queen of God’s world, and when they fell, everything came crashing down. All the groans ever groaned can be traced back to that original sin.

To be sure, some of the sickness and tragedy on earth may result directly from sinful deeds, evidence of God’s pointed judgment. But this is incredibly hard to discern; it’s safer to say that our hardships are traceable to the general broken state of the world we inherit and in which we participate.

The reasons for lament point to the brokenness of the world, and that brokenness points to sin. It’s exactly this simple: Without sin, the world—our bodies, our relationships, our surroundings—would not be corrupted in any way.

Jesus and the Kingdom

Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom to earth. He came as the perfect human king to rule on God’s throne. And that mission of rule and reconciliation was of necessity also a mission of suffering and sacrifice.

The imperfect and frequently despicable kings of Israel and Judah pointed to the coming of an incorruptible king. When Jesus began his ministry announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15), those steeped in the Old Testament would not have reacted with confusion but relief. He’s here!

Jesus’s miracles were brief, glorious windows into the emerging kingdom of God. The blind would see, the lame would walk, and the hungry would be fed. Sickness would flee, and the dead would rise. In those flickers of restoration we saw the curse being lifted by the corner and peeled back.

As the cross came closer, many around Jesus assumed he would pursue a political path to kingship. This excited some and angered many others. But Jesus spoke of death and resurrection, not coronation. He made it clear (to those with ears to hear) that a fully realized kingdom of God on earth would happen in the future, not immediately. Yet Jesus’s unmistakable resurrection also underlined the fact that his kingdom was imminent.

Final Fullness

Lament is our longing for this full and future kingdom to come now. It is our cry with the apostle John—“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

We want God’s kingdom to arrive in its final fullness with the rightful king on his throne. This king will bear the marks of this world in his scarred body. He himself has traveled a path of pain and agony. The bloody sweat at Gethsemane and the mournful cries on the cross bear witness to Jesus’s journey of lament.

When the end finally comes—when all hopes have been realized and the curse is no more—there will be no more need for lament. We will have our full and final comfort in the form of our strong and kind king. We will be at home and there will be no distance between our experience and our longings.

The Man of Sorrows—who bore our sin, who mourned and lamented in our place—makes our present-day lamenting possible. We lament as Christians when we cry out to God in our pain, trust him to keep his promises, and look ahead to the glorious kingdom that Jesus has secured for us.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (10/15/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

“Just Say No”? 3 Practical Ways to Resist Temptation

Using the book of James, Lee Hutchings writes about how to effectively fight temptation. His three pieces of advice: focus on how temptation works, focus on the goodness and love of God, and focus on our status as new creatures in Christ.

Sometimes the battle is lost in temptation because we feel resigned to inevitable defeat. Maybe we’ve committed a sin so often, with so little power to resist, that we feel hopeless and helpless. Pastor James reminds us in verse 18 that God, “of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” We may feel weighed down, and that we have no strength to overcome temptation, but that’s not the truth of our position, if we are in Christ. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Live not by outrage

Samuel James wrote a helpful column at World about how social media companies profit on the outrage of their users. He includes thoughts on how Christians should be known differently.

Why have Christians not done more to rise above this ideological swamp? Part of the answer is that many of us are more excited about politics than truth. But another answer is that too few Christians are thinking critically about the consequences of technology: how constant, never-ending access to information, untethered from accountability and community, might be training our spirits in a way that is antithetical to the discipline of taking every thought captive to the mind of Christ. 

Putting Our Contentment to the Test

Amber Thiessen reflects on contentment using the perspective of a newborn baby.

When our babies cry out, they’re letting us know something’s up and they need us. As caring parents, we seek to provide for them by changing their diaper, snuggling them, or feeding them. If you’ve ever reached that frustrating moment where you’ve tried everything, twice, to help them settle to no avail, you know that feeling of helplessness and fatigue.

God knows what you need.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (10/8/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Gentleness of God

God’s gentleness is one of his often-overlooked traits. And how precious it is!

So too, in light of this, we can hardly be surprised by the fact that the gentleness of God shines through in the life of the incarnate Son. He is truly the one who is gentle and lowly. In all his dealings with people in every circumstance of life – right down to his concern for his mother at the cross – his gentle spirit is manifest in his heart for others.

How Moms Can Model God’s Grace

Here’s an excerpt of a book by Gloria Furman. She writes about the way a deep understanding of God’s grace shapes the life of a mother. (As I often note, this is not just for mothers!)

As one hymn writer wrote, “All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him.” Grace is the most important thing for us to keep in mind as we shape the expectations of our home. Our children need to grow up knowing, “We always trust God because he’s willing and able to help us,” and, “We always praise God because he is our most valuable treasure.” And we need to get up every morning knowing, “I always trust God because he’s willing and able to help me.”

Men, Are You Submissive?

The Bible calls us all to be submissive. Michael Kruger draws out some implications of this for men. (Not just for men!)

Perhaps, then, we need to recalibrate the way we think about—and talk about—submission in the church. Rather than repeatedly focusing on just one example (Eph. 5:22), we need to call all Christians to submit to whatever authorities are over them. 

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article written by Allan Edwards called Remember Who You Are. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Remember Who You Are

The stories we tell ourselves matter. Go into work thinking everyone’s out to get you and you’ll find yourself paranoid and agitated. Remember how much your family loves you and you’ll walk in the door ready to dole out hugs and kisses. There’s a connection between the story we tell ourselves and how we relate to the world around us.

This is especially true for Christians who join the story of their life to the great story of life itself when they lose themselves in being united to Jesus by faith. Our story gets swooped up into his. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” writes St. Paul, “for me to live is Christ.”

Too often followers of Jesus forget whose story they’re living in. Their own failures or problems of the world dominate the story of their lives more than the glorious good news of King Jesus’s resurrection and reign. One Scottish minister gazed at a congregation of Presbyterians and, for the long look in their faces during worship, asked, “Have yae all been baptized in vinegar?”

Is it any wonder that anger, resentment, and broken relationships characterize our churches? Or that our defense of the faith is more reactionary arguments than gracious invitations? No wonder many of us lack any power to fight off sin and temptation in our lives.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” writes the author of Hebrews. What do we hope for? What is the true but unseen story? Namely, that we who have believed have been bought with a price. We are not slaves but sons of the most high. Jesus isn’t ashamed to call us family. We’re destined for the New Jerusalem where every tear will be wiped away and God himself will be our light. This is our story!

What if we believed it?

In his fantasy adventure novel “North! Or Be Eaten,” Andrew Petersen writes of two brothers, long lost princes. One is hideously transformed into a beast when he loses hope in the true story of his kingdom. After he attacks his older brother, both boys are bedridden, one from injuries, the other having been restrained, for days on end. Each morning the boy’s mother asks her beastly son, “What is your name?” only to be met with a growl. But each night the older brother whispers stories of their youth to his transformed brother—stories of their childhood games, adventures, songs—till at long last one morning their mama comes down to their room and asks the beast, “What is your name?” and is delighted to hear “My name is Kal, son of the High King.”

He listens to stories of his true self and then, as the shadow passes, he believes them, and he remembers who he is.

Do you have a story teller reminding you of who you are? A gospel speaker whispering “beloved, child of God, adopted, chosen, made new” in your ears? How precious and powerful—to remember the true story of our identity and so live with hope for things as yet unseen.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (10/1/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

I Searched for the Key to Discipleship

Is the key to discipleship found in books? In experiences? Programs? When Melissa Edgington started asking these questions, she realized she was approaching discipleship all wrong.

Over time, it became painfully clear to me that the answer to the question of discipleship isn’t as easy as finding the right program. This is something that I learned from our church members by watching them live it out: discipleship isn’t nice, crisp books or carefully planned mission trips. It’s something altogether more intimate, more demanding, and more sacrificial. And once I realized that the people around me were showing me how discipleship works, I started to see it everywhere.

5 simple ways to be a better friend

Most of us long to have good friends, but we may give much less thought to how to be a good friend to others. Luke Finley writes about how to be a better friend.

It’s so easy to make our friendships all about us: our thoughts, our problems, our lives. But a great friend doesn’t primarily use their friends for their own needs, but rather are more interested in the other person than themselves. They ask good questions and are curious about the answers, whether it’s what their friend enjoys about their job, what they’d like to accomplish in the future, or what key moments have shaped their lives. They ask these questions not because they have to, but because they care about the other person and want to get to know them better, even after years of friendship. 

3 Things Overwhelmed Students Need

You likely have a student in your life (or at your church!). Chances are, if you ask them how they’re doing, the word “busy” will come up. David Murray writes about what we can do to help students like this find rest.

However, such a restless, nonstop lifestyle and culture is one of the main causes of the soaring anxiety levels among teens. The chronic stress and internal inflammation that result are extremely damaging to the bodies and minds of our teens. One of the best things we can do for them, therefore, is to help them rest. This isn’t going to be easy, but it’s absolutely essential. This rest can be encouraged in three main areas: sleep, Sabbath, and relaxation.

Thanks to Phil A for his help in rounding up links this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (9/24/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Ministry of Being a Little Bit Further Along

I appreciate this article from Tim Challies. He writes about one way ordinary Christians can minister to each other in a local church—they can offer the wisdom that comes from experience.

What most people need and long for as they face trials and encounter questions is simply the dedicated attention of someone who is a little bit further along, the listening ear and gentle voice of someone who is a few steps ahead on the path of life, or the path of ministry, or the path of suffering, or the path of parenting. Most are merely seeking someone who will informally mentor them from the perspective of their own successes and failures, their own experiences of good and bad, the godly wisdom they have accumulated along the way.

5 Reasons to Read Your Bible Beyond Practical Application

Applying the Bible is good, even essential! But, Peter Krol reminds us, immediate application is not the only reason to read the Bible.

A regular habit of Bible reading is worth maintaining, even when no urgent or timely application comes readily to mind, because you are depositing divine truth in the storehouses of your soul from which you can later make withdrawals. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11). “My son, keep your father’s commandments … bind them on your heart always … When you walk, they will lead you … For the commandment is a lamp … to preserve you from the evil woman, from the the smooth tongue of the adulteress” (Prov 6:20-24).

“Even To Old Age and Gray Hairs”

William Farley draws out some good challenges and opportunities that come with being a Christian grandparent.

Third, besides passion for Christ, humility, and wisdom, grandparenting is an opportunity to exemplify hope. Life is short. Decades of experience have taught you this in ways that your children and grandchildren do not yet understand. They need to see you, not living in the past, but looking to a “building from God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Our decades of past experience will tempt us to live there, but God wants us to live in the future. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). 

On the WPCA Blog This Week

Two weeks on the blog we published an article written by Sarah Wisniewski called A Man Under Authority. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Hearty Laughter as an Act of Faith

Sometime in my twenties, I realized that I have a big laugh. Like, really big—loud and sharp. If I think something is funny, there’s no chance I’m sneaking up on anyone.

I’m sure there are lots of people who wonder why it took me so long to figure this out. I guess self-knowledge can take time.

A Choice

Even though my default laugh sticks out like a giraffe in a chicken coop, I can rein it in. I can chortle in polite society.

When I realized how conspicuous my laughter made me, I had to make a choice. I could restrain myself, putting the brakes on my loud outbursts and moving closer to respectability. Or, I could throw back my head and howl.

I may be accused of spiritualizing here, but to me this was an act of faith.

Vulnerable

The word “vulnerable” comes to English from a Latin word that means “wound.” So when we are vulnerable, we are wound-able. And laughter jostles our normal armor out of place and exposes us.

When we laugh or show delight, we take a risk. By revealing what brings us pleasure we open ourselves to criticism and ridicule. Anyone who sees us rejoice in something they deem absurd or despicable can attack—if not publicly and openly, then in whispers or clicks on a keyboard. Laughter points a neon arrow at our joy, offering it up for public scrutiny. And boisterous laughter adds to the arrow a fire whistle and a fog horn.

An Act of Faith

A large part of my Christian repentance has been to stop focusing so much energy on people liking and praising me. And so, though I knew it may cause some to dismiss, mock, or avoid me, I embraced my laugh.

My laugh is one of the threads God used to knit me together, and I love to laugh. Laughter is part of the way I delight in the creative, beautiful, surprising, and strange ways God has made his world. (I mean, how can you stifle a laugh when you crack open a pomegranate?!)

The more I embrace my laughter and trust the Lord with the outcome, the more I learn to exercise my faith. There is no security in others’ opinions, no freedom in hoarding the worthless currency of back slaps from the respected. I trust that the love of God in Jesus is far, far better.

Any time we reveal emotion we take a chance. We give ammunition to those who may wish us harm. But we dare not turn stoic—God made us whole and he left out no ingredient.

So when we gather next, don’t be surprised to hear deep laughter coming from my direction. I won’t be trying to make a scene, but I won’t be holding back either.

There are wild, delightful things (and people!) in this world, and many times a chuckle just won’t do.

Post credit | Photo credit

A Man Under Authority

When the psalmist encouraged us to meditate on God’s word, I don’t think he had children’s songs in mind. But if you want to have biblical stories, words, and truths cycling through your mind every waking moment, you could do worse than to have a child who only ever wants to listen to one biblical children’s music collection. 

If this post were part of a series, it would be Part II of “Truths Sarah Learned from Children’s Songs” (see Part I here). This time the song was “The Centurion’s Secret” by The Donut Man, an overall-clad, mustachioed song leader and children’s show host from my childhood, who I rediscovered on Amazon Music. The song tells the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant from Matthew 8:5–13 (also Luke 7:1–10). Sometime around the billionth listen, as the chorus replayed a fourth time, a piece of the story clicked for me in a way it never had before. 

“I, Too”

I was familiar with the general narrative: A centurion approaches Jesus (or sends someone to him, depending which gospel account you read) with a request to heal his dear servant. Jesus offers to go to the servant, but the centurion states that he is not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof and that Jesus can simply speak a word and heal the servant—which indeed, Jesus does. 

But there’s an odd line in there that I never quite understood. As the centurion assures Jesus he doesn’t need to come, he says: “For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).

He’s certainly indicating that he understands that a person with authority can cause things to be done without their hands-on intervention. If he tells one of his soldiers to carry a message, the message will be delivered without the centurion traveling with it personally. Likewise, the centurion knew that a man with authority, like Jesus, could simply give the word for the servant to be healed, and it would happen. 

But he didn’t describe himself—and Jesus—as a man with authority; he said they were men under authority. At first, to me that seemed demeaning to Jesus. Jesus is the all-powerful God of the universe in human form. He was instrumental in creation itself (John 1:3)! How dare the centurion suggest that Jesus was subject to anyone else. 

Finally, while my daughter sang along in the back seat, it clicked: The centurion didn’t only believe that Jesus was able to heal his servant; he understood why Jesus was able to do it.

Just like the centurion knew that he received his authority to command his soldiers from those in authority over him, he understood that Jesus drew his authority from the Father. Jesus consistently described himself this way, such as in John 14:10: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” 

Declarations like these drew anger and unbelief from the religious leaders of Israel. It took this Roman occupier to see that Jesus did his great works, not to build his own glory, but on the authority of and for the glory of the one who sent him, God the Father. No wonder Jesus remarked, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10).

“He Marveled at Him”

Throughout the gospels Jesus taught that his hearers must believe that he is from the Father in order to be saved and have eternal life. This centurion believed what the religious leaders missed, that Jesus was exactly who he said he was.

The centurion’s statement reflected a second aspect of true faith that, again, the religious leaders missed. This comes through most clearly in Luke’s retelling, where the centurion doesn’t even presume to approach Jesus himself. He sends the Jewish elders to Jesus first, and they plead the man’s works: “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:4–5). The elders assume that Jesus will be impressed by loyalty to Israel and acts of piety. 

Upon Jesus drawing closer to the house, though, the centurion sends out his own friends with a personal message: “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you” (Luke 7:6–7), followed by his statement about Jesus’s authority. The Jewish elders argued for the centurion’s worthiness; the centurion knew his unworthiness and made his case solely on Jesus’s mercy and power. At this, Jesus marveled (Luke 7:9).

Our flesh, like the Jewish elders, wants to plead our case based on our merits, our church attendance, our volunteer hours, our consistent devotional times. We are perhaps especially vulnerable as Christians in America; our culture values self-sufficiency and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. 

The centurion understood that he had no bootstraps to pull when it came to Jesus. The “John Wayne” approach that worked for leading troops wouldn’t sway a divine man who taught about loving one’s enemies and seeking a kingdom not of this world. This man who was so large in his own world knew that, before Jesus, he had no standing. 

Like the centurion, we need to see rightly what Jesus loves, what makes him marvel. He is not impressed by our works, even the best that we can bring. He marvels at true faith, the kind that brings nothing and asks everything, trusting in Jesus’ authority—and his goodness.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (9/3/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes

Here’s a nice summary of the book of Ecclesiastes and some thoughts on its relationship to the gospel.

Too often, our superficial, triumphalistic approach to Christianity in America doesn’t face the real problems of living in a sinful world. In Ecclesiastes 8:14, the Preacher, provides this depressing assessment, “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.” Not exactly the kind of descriptions that would make a tourism brochure for the global chamber of commerce. But the preacher in Ecclesiastes follows that statement up with “I commend joy” and “to eat and drink and be joyful” (Ecc 8:15). What is the connection between gut-wrenching, painful injustice and being joyful?

What Do I Do With “Wasted Years?”

Jeremy Howard writes a personal reflection that is worth your time. He wrestles with a question many of us face—how should we think about periods of our life where there is no obvious fruit from our diligent efforts for the kingdom of God?

Due to life circumstances, I left at the end of 2014.  Shortly after that, the school had to close for a myriad of reasons. When I left 6 years after starting, I had changed exactly none of that future for them.  Years of effort and love and passion poured into a project that one day vanished like the mist.  No discernible impact from my perspective. What was it all for?  Was there a purpose in what I did? I cannot speak to the greater impact, only eternity can reveal that. 

What’s the Difference Between Sloth and Rest?

John Piper gives a helpful answer to this question. He describes the difference between the laziness of the sluggard and the restfulness of the diligent.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (8/27/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

We Won’t Perfectly Practice What We Preach

Jen Wilkin writes in Christianity Today about being convicted by her own words (quoted back to her) on Instagram. I appreciated what she shares about sanctification and growth as a Christian.

Sanctification is not a swipe but a slog. It rarely looks like an immediate ceasing of a particular sin. Instead, we become slower to step into the familiar traps and quicker to confess when we do. Slower to repeat, quicker to repent. This becomes a mantra of hope. Our hatred of sin is learned across a lifetime.

We Agree, Right?

Holly Mackle discovered she was presuming that her conversation partners agreed with her unspoken opinions when they had other characteristics in common. In her, this led to condescension when there was not agreement. She proposes a wonderful remedy: curiosity.

Considering the opinions or beliefs of others can be hard. And it takes a supernatural, Holy Spirit level of humility and grace to grant another the space to disagree. It can be an exhausting exercise to continually remind myself to elevate others over my own opinions, plans, or preferences. But I’ve found that expecting others to agree with me all the time can quickly shade the way I approach God, luring me to attempt to poach on his lordship. This habit of presuming I’m in the right and that others will agree is a slippery slope to making God in my own image.

9 Things You Should Know About the Taliban

Sadly, the Taliban are back in the news because of their return to power in Afghanistan. If you’re unfamiliar with this group, here is a helpful explainer from Joe Carter.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Restore Us to Yourself That We May Be Restored. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Leeanne E for her help in rounding up links this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.