The most overlooked Book in the Bible, just might be one of the most important

I’ve recently been on a preaching journey through the book of Lamentations. To be honest, I’ve never heard a sermon on the subject, and my theological library only had half a book on the subject (minus my commentaries). While Lamentations is a difficult book, it’s a rich piece of art that, when we read with foresight that Jesus comes as the Christ, becomes a very powerful book speaking to the darkest moments of our life. Christopher Wright tells of this fantastic book,

“There is hope in this book, not just because it is set within the whole Bible story with its redemptive heart and glorious climax, but because the book is saturated with prayer. Even when it is angry, pain-soaked, protesting, grieving, questioning, prayer, it is prayer anyway.”

It is an important book that challenges God, their circumstances, and dives deep into our emotions. In a society that is all about speaking our truth, we need this sacred text to show us how to mourn.

A little about Lamentations, it originally bore no title. In Hebrew, they called it “Alas, How…” In the Septuagint, which is the Greek NT, they call it Threnoi, which means wailings. The Vulgate, which is the Latin translation, kept this name and added the subtitle, “It comprises the Lamentations of Jeremiah the prophet.” Thus, the name slowly became known as Lamentations. It is usually attributed to Jeremiah for many reasons. However, we don’t know the author. What we do know is that they seem to be an eye witness to the events of Babylon invading Jerusalem, and it is a man. Lamentations is called a Dirge poem. While the Sumerians were the first to write sombre works commemorating the destruction of their great cities from enemies, I think Lamentations perfects it.

It is a sad commentary on the outworking of the prophetic that you reap what you sow. Nevertheless, I believe it speaks to all of us to remember the dark realities of life. I think it’s especially poignant today as we see wars and threats of wars around the world. It speaks of the pain of the casualties. In a day and time when the world seems to be at each other’s throats, Lamentations is an essential reminder that there are casualties in war, and they too have feelings of loss, pain, and deep mourning. Lamentations bears witness and pays heed to Israel and Judah’s voice. A voice we need to hear as we look at those under the attack of another country, regime, or force. Understand this is the voice of the everyday person, the mother, father, and child who are affected by governments and regimes.

Lamentations has been ignored too long. It’s a powerful book that teaches us about the consequences of our choices. However, when we view this book with Jesus as the answer to the questions, the book becomes even more powerful.

While Jesus comes as the answer to the eternal questions, he comes to be the shepherd to help us learn and make it through the hard times of life, and we see that as we apply this book to our life, just like Judah and Israel in this poem, we have to struggle through the hard times. Still, we realize we have a God who hears our cries and has answered them himself, through Jesus.

Next time you are told not to question God or not to have doubts remember Lamentations. It is a book of questions and doubts. It’s a book about mourning. And when we read it through Christ, we see that it is okay to mourn, but we, in the words of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians,

“…do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13

Don’t ignore Lamentations. Dive in deep. Feel the raw emotion that has been poured out upon the page. Also, remember Christ, our hope in the midst of the mourning.

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There's More to Love than the Fall

Some beautiful thoughts from my wife just ahead of Valentine’s day.

Sarah Faith

I got married young, like really young, and because of this I had a lot of opinions come my way when I was engaged. People would say, “You’re too young … it won’t work … you’ll change too much!” The thing was, I didn’t really agree with the way they viewed marriage. I still don’t.

Really at the root of it, I don’t agree with the way the world views love.

Love is and has always been a hot button word. People are obsessed with the idea. They search for the euphoria that is “falling in love”. I think the problem when it comes to love is that it is viewed simply as an emotion. Love is an emotion, but it’s so much more than that, it’s also a choice. It’s a decision to love them when they have swept you off your feet, AND when they disappoint you, or…

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Glory Days—overcoming our past triumphs

You don’t have to look very far to find a book, blog, podcast, or whatnot, that will tell you how to overcome your failures. They are important messages on how your failures are not what define you. I have even written about it. However, there is another side. It’s a side that can be just as debilitating — overcoming our past triumphs.

“We’ve all seen those guys (it’s girls too) who are still holding on to their glory days. All the stories that they tell are from when they were back in High School or College. They talk about their awards, athletic prowess, and their youthful romances (usually there is very little romance involved). 

You know what I’m talking about. 

The guy who talks about how he was the starting running back and how he was the biggest and the baddest, and still acts as though he is. Yet, he probably couldn’t run a block, let alone through one!

There is the woman who talks about how she used to party and all the guys wanted her. Yet, though that was twenty years ago, she’s still partying just the same, and that lifestyle is damaging her career, marriage, and children.”

Hidden Faces: Discovering our true identity in Christ

Whether it is a professional, academic, athletic, beauty, or whatever arena you find yourself, the success you once had can be crippling as you move on to the next chapter of your life. We can become dependent on being the top dog or the best looking, the strongest, smartest, richest in the crowd, or maybe we achieve our goal—no matter what it is that we have depended on to find our self worth, the success can be just as damning as the failure. 

Where do I go next?

Did I peak too early?

What if I’m not good at anything else?

What now?

We wonder and too often can become crippled. We can chase the next thing we can succeed at, ending up just like a dog with its tail.

What I find happens is that one of two things. 1) We live and want to relive our past success. Just like the people I spoke of earlier, we tell the same stories over and over, trying to recapture what is lost. We either live in a delusion that we are still as we once were, or we realize how far away we truly are and fall into despair. Or 2) We chase what’s next, trying desperately to find the next triumph we can use to define ourselves.

What we find at the end of the day is that the victories and success can be just as cementing as our failures.

Whether triumph or failure, the risk of defining ourselves by what has happened is an alluring temptation, it’s is also a trap.

In ancient Jewish wisdom literature, the book of Ecclesiastes lays out what happens when we depend on our success to fulfill and define our lives.

“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
 and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
  and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 2:4-11

So what do we do? How do we overcome our triumphs—as strange as that sounds?

The answer, the same way we overcome our failures. We realize that what has happened isn’t who we are. We are more than failures and successes. What defines us isn’t looks, accomplishments, or whatever other things you can fathom. What determines our value is whose we are. And whose are we? We are children of God whom He loves dearly.

We can set the bar high, and we don’t have to worry because even if at one time we were known for success and even if we fail, it is God who determines our value. We can risk the ocean in pursuit of what we love because, in triumph or defeat, God’s love is spread upon our hearts indiscriminately. We can move forward into the unknown, knowing that whatever happens isn’t what determines our value. 

Triumphs are just as hard to overcome. As soon as we let whatever past success we once had, stop us from pursuing what is on the next horizon, it becomes a failure. In the same way, failure is only a failure if it prevents us from what’s next — no matter which end, we must overcome. We must push past—drive-through—move forward into what God and life have for us.

Please don’t live in the Glory Days, let’s overcome our past triumphs.

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Treating Symptoms; we forgot about the disease

The news, articles, blogs, reports, books diagnose symptoms. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Historical research has shown that humans have been content to treat behaviours and actions rather than the malady of the heart.

Whether it be pills or legislation, we think if we give people the upper and down or take away their tool or means of violence that we have solved the problem. We pat ourselves on the back for fewer suicides, murders, violent crime. Meanwhile, countries become national pharmacies and police states.

I’m not saying that treating symptoms is wrong. I hope we can all agree that fewer suicides are better, and if fewer automatic weapons lead to fewer mass shootings, then why not. However, don’t be confused; popping pills doesn’t cure the feelings of hopelessness and more police in rough neighbourhoods doesn’t cure the violence in human hearts. It delays, suppresses —which can be an excellent thing when it comes to human life.

It’s not that we should never treat symptoms; it is that we stop there. Like Dr. House trying to treat an unknown disease, we run from symptom to symptom, trying to make the patient healthy. The difference is Dr. House tries to find the disease underneath the symptoms, while we ignore the hard work of fixing broken lives.

In my book, Hidden Faces: Discovering our true identity in Christ, I begin by sharing about the lie from the serpent in Genesis 3. I write,

The serpent becomes the first advertiser.

Look more beautiful—Buy this.

Be stronger—Drink this.

Be envied—Wear this.

Be powerful—Eat this.

According to the serpent, Adam and Eve could finally find that fulfillment, all they had to do was have a little taste of the fruit, the fruit God had told them to refrain from eating. Genesis 3 tells us that Eve believed the serpent, ate the fruit, gave some to Adam, and brought deadly consequences on us all.

What are these deadly consequences?

This deadly consequence is believing the lie. The lie that we aren’t who God says we are. That God’s lying to us—we aren’t very good—we aren’t made in the image of God. The lie is believing that somehow we can do something to fill up our life through our own devices to achieve this “very good” ideal that we seek.

We pick and prod at our faces.

We buy clothes we cannot afford.

We work hard to keep up appearances.

We strive for status and power.

We get rich or die trying.

We ignore broken homes and overworked parents. Turn a blind eye to materialism and vanity. The blatant disadvantages of the poor and the powerful people whose job it is to keep them there is the elephant in the room.

Maybe our hierarchy of needs says that we have to have these social constructs and possession to find basic fulfillment, and perhaps that’s right. However, so much of what consumes our life is an endless pursuit for meaning, fulfillment, and hope. Like the ancient Jewish wisdom literature says,

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

May I put this forward. Until we are willing to lay aside the perishable and put on the immortal—dare I say not seek fulfillment in the temporal things of this world and turn our gaze to the eternal Christ—we will not begin to find treatment for the disease.

Just as God deals with Adam and Eve’s shame, so Jesus comes to deal with ours. Adam and Eve’s shame is represented in their nakedness, but with the skin of an animal (Gen 3:21), representing the replacement of the perishable (fig leaves) with the imperishable (animal hide), it thus shows us that it’s only God who can deal with our shame.

For us, God does this through the work of His son, Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes, “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” Though we’re wrong to put on all the false identities and attempt with futility to cover our shame with our own merits, Jesus still comes to make us right.

Hidden Faces: Discovering our true identity in Christ

Let’s not be content with the pursuit of curing symptoms. Let’s look deep and try the cure the disease. Yes, let’s fix the apparent problems, but don’t ignore your soul. Look inside and be honest with yourself on why you do the things you do, what hole are you trying to fill, what are you trying to grasp? Today let’s strive to shed the imperishable and put on the immortal. Today, let’s put on Christ.

Learning to wear my skin

Last night I did something I’ve never done before. It started so innocently. I was watching the Super Bowl in a mixed crowd of couples and singles, men and women from my church. As the crowd dwindled and came to an end, I found myself hanging around after the game watching something I never imagined I would just 24 hours earlier. As the game came to an end, one thing led to another and there, for the first time, I sat with my mom watching the Masked Singer.

I had only ever seen a part of the Asian version of the show, and Ryan Reynolds was dressed as a big fluffy mascot, singing.

As I watched, I was riveted. Mystery, clues, singing, and crazy outfits—how could something this cheesy be so captivating! As one of the characters stepped up to the microphone, they told her story/clues. She spoke of adversity and scandal—of trying to make a name for herself again. Then this costumed character sang exquisitely, afterward sharing that hidden in a ridiculous boxing kangaroo costume seemed to be the only way she felt comfortable to share who she is again.

I thought, how sad.

To be comfortable in our own skin should be a given, but I fear that for most of us, we’re not. Whether introvert or extravert, a 1, 4 or 9 on the Enneagram, or a D, I, S or C, there is an internal struggle to accept and be who we are.

No matter who you are, there are expectations placed upon you. A spouse wants you to be more of what they wish, a parent wants you to follow a particular trajectory when it comes to education and career, or a job expects you to look, live, and speak in a foreign way, continually expectation that we feel we need to live up to—a box we seem to be squeezed into—becomes reality.

As an extraverted introvert, the pressure is real. As one who serves in the public space as a pastor, it’s real. To be comfortable in my skin is a struggle I’ve dealt with my whole life.

Trying to fit in will only work for so long. We have to learn to be comfortable with who we are. We look at our abilities, interests, aptitudes, and we find ourselves in a crowd, viciously trying to stay there. We can also classify others, imprisoning them into the category we’ve created for them in our minds, a life sentence of sorts in the confines of the cell we’ve created, never released unless an appeal is heard and won. We imprison others, and we are imprisoned, sometimes even doing it our self.

While we wrestle with voices from our past and a lack of confidence in ourselves, we try and tackle the question, who are we really? Who are we behind the expectations, interests, social class, possessions, or abilities? To be honest, I find the question extremely hard to answer. What I have found is that it’s the wrong question. It is a great question. However, I believe it is a question we will grapple with for as long as we live. What I have found is that I have found my place in a much richer way in not asking who I am, but whose I am.

In moments of insecurity, I try and keep on the tip of my tongue three crucial scriptures.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

Psalm 139:14

You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a

It reminds me that I was created with intention and purpose and that I have enough value that I can try and fail, search and discover and not worry about what others think, that I don’t have to dress up in the proverbial big fluffy boxing kangaroo costume to be comfortable in my skin. I can trust and know that I have purpose, intention and am loved. I can know that no matter what others think that God ascribes to me great value, so much so that he bought me at a great price. A price so costly that he was willing to give his life and all for you, me, and anybody else in any category they happen to find themselves in. Learning to wear my skin has been a process of learning who gave it to me, learning God’s heart and learning God’s love.

P.S. The kangaroo is SOOOOOO Natalie Imbruglia and the Tiger is Rob Gronkowski.

Photo from: https://www.goldderby.com/article/2020/the-masked-singer-spoilers-who-is-the-kangaroo-natalie-imbruglia/