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.

Check out the resources used in this post

Keep the conversation going: Let's keep talking about mental health

In my country, the phone company Bell has started a movement called Bell Let’s Talk. Over the years, it has brought a lot of awareness to the issue of mental health. Throughout January and February each year the conversation is revived, lingers for a few moments and then disappears. To be honest, it is a commercial for Bell, but at least it’s a commercial that benefits a good cause.

As great as the one day a year is at heightening mental health awareness, it’s more than a one-day event in a person’s life. Mental health is an issue that, for some reoccurs seasonally, others it is situationally, and unfortunately, for many, it is a struggle that will last years or even a lifetime.

Mental health should never be exploited. It is not a publicity stunt, it’s real life.

Bell Let’s Talk day needs to be the beginning of the conversation, not the start and finish. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, and the like affect families, careers, and friendships. It is life and death and not a conversation we should have once a year as part of an advertising slogan.

What we need to do is to keep the conversation going.

It is why I talk about it so much on this blog. Over the last few years, I have had to wrestle with my mental health. Better sleep, physical activity, better eating habits, recovering from injuries, has helped, as well as sharing it openly. The reason I write about engaging in community, having love and grace for others and ourselves, and sharing our heart with God is that it is a must.

The dark feelings that sometimes overshadows our light should never be a conversation but a continual conversation. We need outlets. As long as we hold the words in, they keep us captive. We find freedom when we speak our truth. It doesn’t have to be loud. It just has to be loud enough for a caring person who’s close to us to hear.

We need friends, therapists, and God.

Keeping our broken spirit to ourselves isn’t even Biblical! I’m sick and tired of a “positive confession” faith that says trust in Jesus, believe and it will happen. I once heard a preacher say that if you are Christian there is no room for lament. Well, what a burden that is. It’s certainly news to Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

The Scriptures spell out to us in numerous places that we must express the pain. Moses and Jonah ask God to kill them. David and the other Psalmists mourned, raged, praised, and poured out every imaginable emotion you can fathom. The book of Lamentations, one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever, is a book all about pain and anger. It is a book with no resolve.

Yes, Jesus changes the lament. He turns the cry, the mourning, the rage, but it’s not extinguished.

We must not forget.

You’re not a bad Christian. Jesus wept. He cried over loss. He wept over a city. He mourned in a Garden. King David sang song after song of struggle. Moses travelled through all of the emotions while trying to lead. These stories are not stories that say bottle it up, keep it hidden, stuff it away for one day a year. It is a plea for us to share all the broken pieces of our lives. Kinnaman and Lyons write,

“Pain, brokenness, and suffering are not to be avoided; they are to be endured because God redeems those experiences in order to renew us and bless others.”

Or as the Apostle Paul says,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

There is no need for shame. Let’s share the pain. When we do, I believe that is when we produce perseverance, character, and, ultimately, hope through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and others. In turn, the shards of our broken soul are formed into a beautiful mosaic that articulates hope.

Check out the resources used in this post

In what ways have you dealt with your mental health?

Eminem, Joseph, and the Christmas story

Why? I truly don’t know. Somehow I stumbled across a music video by Nick Cannon, where he was doing a dis-rap of Eminem. To be honest, it was kind of like a gruesome car crash. You know you should look away, you know that you will be offended if you look, but you cannot look away. That was this song. It was so bad I couldn’t turn my ears away.

Within the song, Cannon dissed Eminem because he’s raising someone else kid. I’m not entirely sure why that’s a dis. In fact, I think it is honourable.

It may be surprising, but this caused me to think about Joseph, Mary’s husband and the Eminem of the Christmas story (not because he can spit rhymes).

While the Magi, Shepherds, Angels, and Mary are important side characters in the story, we also must not forget about Joseph. Just like Eminem, he was raising someone else’s child.

Joseph, who is betrothed to Mary, discovered that she was pregnant. He knew the baby wasn’t his, but out of love for her, he decided to divorce her quietly. Luckily Joseph had a dream, and while he didn’t believe Mary when she said that this child was conceived of the Holy Spirit, he did believe the Angel that appeared to him. As he slept, the Angel said,

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:20-21

While rumours flew in later years that Mary might have been impregnated by a Roman soldier or some random man, Jesus grew up with a swirl around his head. It wasn’t some cutesie story. In John 8:19, the religious leaders picked up on this when they said to Jesus,

“Where’s your father.”

While the story of Mary speaks to us about important issues like teen pregnancy or children born out of wedlock and how we are to think of them as Mary, the lesson from the choice that Joseph makes is essential also. In a world where boys and girls are growing up not knowing their fathers—where men run away from responsibility, are unable to cope, don’t even know they have a child, whose visitation rights are taken away and cannot be apart of their kids lives, or are in the picture but are despondent toward their offspring—we need men like Joseph… and perhaps Eminem… to step into kids lives and be a father to the fatherless.

Though this child was not his own, Joseph stepped up to the plate. When he did, he demonstrated what God is all about. in Psalm 68, it declares,

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

Psalm 68:5

Throughout the Scriptures God, the Prophets, Apostles and Christ himself implores us to care for one another and to be his Kingdom. I like how N.T. Wright puts it when he says we take on the vocation of the Kingdom. Christmas is about the beginning of a new kingdom. One where God is King. The message to us, live out this vocation by caring for one another.

love, joy, peace, hope; these things are celebrated themes at Christmas time. Why? Because it is what we see in the Christmas story—we see it in Joseph who didn’t abandon his wife to be when she was found to be scandalous. Instead of abandonment, Joseph exemplified the character of his Eternal Father and showed love, joy, peace, and hope.

Eminem, Joseph, and the Christmas story teach us something important.

We need men to step up, not just this Christmas season, but all year round and be fathers to those who have none.

Check out the resources used in this blog

I Sent My Son

As it turned out, we were out of cereal. As it also turned out, I was hungry. I wrangled my two youngest kids to head to Sobey’s as well as a little surprise.

What was the surprise?

Breakfast+hunger+kids= (you guessed it) McDonald’s

The kids scarfed down their hashbrown and proceeded to the play structure. This particular structure was made of multiple circles with large holes in each one that allowed children (not too small or too big) to climb through to the next.

As they ran off, I was excited for a few minutes of just sitting. I was tired from a late night of watching sports (’tis the season), I had a sore throat, and my leg was a little sore (Achilles ruptured 21 weeks ago).

It wasn’t even five minutes before my son came running to me.

“Dad, Dad!” Zeke exclaimed. “Karis is stuck.”

Good Grief! There is no way that this tired, old, sore body was going to be able to contort through those tiny holes. Now, if I had been born a snake, I could have slithered my way up to the very very top of the play structure to my daughter. If I had to, I could have probably found a way. However, she got herself up to the top, and she could get herself down. After all, she knew that if she climbed to the top, she would get stuck. I even reminded her before she went.

Karis didn’t take too kindly to getting down. She was crippled by fear as she clutched onto the plastic bubble located 25 feet above the ground. She started crying, “Daddy! Daddy! I’m scared! I’m stuck!”

That is when I sent my son.

Even though Karis had got herself into the situation, she couldn’t get her self out. She needed help. Luckily, my son was more than willing to go.

I was so proud of him as he spoke to her with love and compassion reassuring her it was going to be okay and that she just needed to trust him.

“I won’t let you fall. You just have to trust me, Karis. I can help you down.”

10 MINUTES! If I were Zeke, I would have lost my poop by that point. He stood there continually reassuring her that it was going to be okay–over and over again saying, “You just need to trust me.”

As I stood there, my frustration over this predicament began to dissipate. I was starting to feel my emotions well up as the Holy Spirit reminded me of how when I was stuck, in the consequences of my own wrong decision, my heavenly Father sent his son, Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”

Even more moving, the fact that God didn’t chastise me from afar.

Jesus came in love and compassion, showing us the Father’s heart–hearing our cries–compelling us to trust him.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Zeke eventually convinced Karis to trust him, and they made their way down, but I think of how different it would have gone if instead of love, patience, kindness, compassion; he spoke vitreal, wrath, judgement, fear — knowing my daughter, probably not well. Luckily for her, Zeke was there (Ezekiel means, God will strengthen) to be her strength when she had none. He was willing to give her what she needed, how she needed it at that moment, grace through love (Karis is our take on Charis, which means grace).

Harold Fickett Jr. writes, “My favourite definition is, ‘Grace is God thinking in terms of what a man needs, rather than in terms of what he deserves.'”

It reminds me of that popular song by Hillsong United,
“I called
you answered
and you came to my rescue…”

As Psalm 40 says and U2 echoes,

“He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the mire and clay.”

Maybe you feel stuck. Call out to God. His son, Jesus, is waiting with grace-filled arms to help you. He doesn’t stand there with a pointed finger. He isn’t a master rubbing your nose in your dirt. Jesus comes with no condemnation, but in hope and hope secure. It is a hope that will never ever fails. I love how the King James Version put Romans 5:5, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Though we may be stuck God sent his son to bring hope. It’s a hope that doesn’t carry shame but one of freedom. It’s a hope that comes into our hearts and can consume even the darkest corners but we have to be willing to let it. Not shame, but hope. Not condemnation, but compassion. Not wrath, but love.

I am thankful that while in a McDonald’s playground, the Holy Spirit reminded me that the Father sent his son, just as I sent my son.

Check out the resources used in this post