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?

A Pastor’s Lament

I don’t know how to say how I feel.

Have you been there? It seems like I am there every day. Each day I find myself in a fog of emotions, not knowing whether I’m happy, sad, despondent, numb. Waves of joy, sadness, pride, anger seem to crash simultaneousness on all sides of my mind.

BANG!

At these times, I can’t help long to feel something–something other than the whirlpool of emotions. To feel something other than the physical pain from my injuries or the emotional pain from the internal wounds. To feel something other than the constant pressure of having to accomplish more and be successful. The force of merely surviving.

Have you been there?

More and more frequently, I find myself in this brokenness.

God can seem silent.

 I pray and nothing.

Have I lost God’s favour?

Have I done something wrong?

I long for the angel that visited Elijah to come and minister to me. But Elijah didn’t have four kids to keep him awake, nor did he have to worry about a paycheque to feed them.

It leaves me to wonder, what’s next?

For that, I do not know. What is next for me, for my family, for my church?

I don’t know.

I know to whom I belong.

I know what God has called me to.

Yet the waves keep crashing without and end in sight. Each wave pushing me deeper and deeper into a dark sea–clenching for something, finding nothing.

On Christ, the solid rock I stand. Does the fact that I feel like I’m sinking mean I find my feet somewhere else? Or is there more to the story. 

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? 

How long will you hide your face from me? 

King David wrote,

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts 
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? 
How long will my enemy triumph over me? 

Psalms 13:1–2

Even Jesus cried out while on the cross,

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

Matthew 27:46

Jesus knew–David knew–I know that though all feels lost, it isn’t. Tomorrow the sun will rise. There will be a new day.

 But I trust in your unfailing love; 
my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, 
for he has been good to me. 

Psalms 13:5–6

So what do you do in moments like this?

Praise anyway. When we do, we remind ourselves and the enemy of whose we are. 

I heard and my heart pounded, 
my lips quivered at the sound; 
decay crept into my bones, 
and my legs trembled. 
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity 
to come on the nation invading us. 
17 Though the fig tree does not bud 
and there are no grapes on the vines, 
though the olive crop fails 
and the fields produce no food, 
though there are no sheep in the pen 
and no cattle in the stalls, 
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, 
I will be joyful in God my Savior. 
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; 
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, 
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:16–19