Posts Tagged ‘suffering’
Along with other reading I am doing in the Bible, for example, just today I finished reading the book we call Isaiah, I am reading the Psalms and the Proverbs. I'm not sure I remember exactly where I picked up on the idea, but when I read the Psalms and the Proverbs I do so like this: five Psalms per day, 1 chapter of Proverbs per day. This enables me to read both books entirely in 30 days. This is a good practice for anyone, at any time, but it's an especially helpful practice during Lent given that we have 40 days to work with. So even if one gets behind a day or two, the books can still be completed in a relatively good amount of time.
Personally, I think the book of Psalms is likely the book that persuades me of the veracity of the Christian claim. Perhaps that sounds strange given that New Testament books speak directly to and announce rather loudly those claims; perhaps even speak primarily those claims. It's true. I don't deny that. At another level, however, there is the working mind and all of us, regardless of who we are, have a mind that functions in different ways. For example, as a man my mind is, according to some theories, supposed to connect with and be moved by a sort of raw masculinity, a blood and guts kind of appreciation for dirt and adventure. To an extent, I suppose I am. I love watching Rambo and Terminator movies for example. But if I told you I watched them for reasons other than the violence and blood you'd probably call me a liar.
But I do.
I watch Rambo, at least First Blood, because it is a redemption story and it moves me. Emotionally. I watch Terminator movies because they evoke in me a sense of hopelessness that only finds solace in someone outside the film. I do not watch any film for the sake of mere bloodsport or violence–which is why traditional horror films do nothing for me at all: there is simply no emotion. Jason Vorhees killed to kill and we never saw any emotion. Same with Michael Myers. At least Freddy Krueger had the scars to prove his emotion. Funny how the killers in these horror films always have to have their faces rearranged, isn't it?
I watch movies for the story they tell and because in movies I am permitted to experience the full sway of my emotions without repercussion from anyone. Truth? I still cry at the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke throws away his light saber and chooses certain death over unlimited power and during the last scene of Return of the King when the king bows before the hobbits of the Shire and at the end of The Shawshank Redemption when Andy and Red share a hug on a beach. Hope. And don't get me started on The Sound of Music. That film wipes me out with each note they sing.
There are many other movies that do the same thing to me. It's not sentimentalism and since I don't watch cheap romance films, I am scarcely moved by simple boy-gets-girl or girl-gets-boy stories. I am moved by love–raw, uncontrollable, undeniable, sometimes angry and proven love in movies. I get that from heroes who die for those they love. I get that from characters who make hard choices in the face of evil or have to take matters of justice into their own hands and wrestle with that decision frequently. I get that from justice being done and the world being set to rights. I get that when dragons are slain and color returns the gray void. It's like seeing Dorothy open her door for the first time in Oz and seeing color–which is a scene, perhaps more than any other in The Wizard of Oz, that moves me.
I connect with those people and the story they tell. I connect with the emotions they share–and some actors are far better at it than others which is why I gravitate towards their films rather frequently. I have even seen Tom Cruise emote in a way that moves me.
So, the Psalms. The Psalms are like little films to me. Each one tells a story and yet each one is part of a fabric woven together to form part of a greater quilt. And the Psalms are nothing if not raw expressions of emotion and love. As a man, I'm not supposed to be in tune with my emotions, but I promise you there are times when the Psalms have made me weep. Each Psalm is a script in a movie and there are heroes and goats; there are gods and men; there are women and men; there are props and animals; there is a soundtrack; there is a back story. Not all of them feature each element yet some have all of these elements.
I love the Psalms because the Psalms are raw emotion. There is virtually no emotion the Psalms avoid. There is no scenario the Psalms haven't explored. There is drama in the Psalms–in every one of them. And for some reason, I like it.
I like that these men who wrote the Psalms were not afraid to let that emotion pour out in a very public way to God. Whoever put the book of Psalms together was a pure genius because they understood that YHWH invented emotions. And the writers of the Psalms–whether they knew they were writing Scripture or not is beside the point–understood that God was not afraid of their anger, their fear, their sadness, their joy, their anxiety, their boredom, their bloodthirsty-ness, their hunger, their tears, their uncertainty, their loneliness, their exhaustion, their guilt, their sin, their shame, their love, their hate, their hurt, their shame, their exaltation, their indifference, and much more besides. And for this reason, I connect deeply with the Psalms. Jesus did too given that he quoted from them even as he hung on the cross. In these drama filled, emotion laden scripts Jesus found a voice for his own emotion: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22)
The Psalms are a roller coaster of emotional outpouring. We can relate to the Psalms because these are all the things we feel and experience everyday of our lives and the Psalms tell us that we can pour out all these things on God, that he hears, that he (eventually) answers, and that at the very heart of things: God cares about his covenant people; deeply. Deeply enough that there is scarcely a word we can utter that offends him. The message of the Psalms: Pour it out and if you don't have your own words, pilfer from these 150 poems.
And for this same reason, in my mind, the Psalms more than anything else persuade me of the truth claims of Scripture: because of their raw honesty and their childlike expression of this honesty. The Psalms are not out to 'prove' anything even if the Psalms happen to demonstrate many things. The Psalms' only objective, and of course I recognize that the Psalms are doing more than this, is to lay out this deep yearning and longing that finds no resolution here on earth or among people. They take us to the very heights of the world to the very depths of hell, they leave us with unanswered prayers, they leave us weeping on couches and suffering bouts of insomnia.
What I like about the Psalms is that for all their perfection and beauty they teach us that the world we live in is not perfect, is not always beautiful, that life is not always predictable, and that YHWH is not a cosmic vending machine who is at our beck and call. Sometimes he waits….off in the distance…maybe just to see if we have the nerve to cry out to him and trust him while we wait. He cares; yes, deeply. Yet ultimately even the Psalms tell us a story with a greater plot–a story in which we are characters who play a vital role. In his short book A Case for the Psalms, NT Wright wrote:
In the same way, the story the Psalms tell is the story Jesus came to complete. It is the story of the creator God taking his power and reigning, ruling on earth as in heaven, delighting the whole creation by sorting out its messes and muddles, its injuries and injustices, once and for all. It is also the story of malevolent enemies prowling around, of people whispering lies and setting traps, and of sleepless nights and bottles full of tears. (31)
I like the Psalms because they allow me to drink deeply of the emotions of others and to pour out my emotions. They are a place where my masculinity is not called into question when my emotions are on full sleeve display. I know of a congregation or two where the preacher was not allowed to be so emotional. I distinctly recall him being told to 'fake it' because it's not 'professional' to be emotive. It's not professional to weep openly or to express deep grief and sorrow and hurt. I think congregations like this bore God. Most preachers are accused of being liars; this one was accused of being honest. I think these are also congregations where preachers are constantly on edge because the congregation constantly wants him to subdue his emotions–imagine telling Jeremiah, the weeping prophet to stifle his emotions.
I also think these congregations are the ones who pour salt into the wounds of the preachers or twist the knife in his back a little harder and deeper. These are the congregations who have no clue how to come alongside one who is suffering and just sit and mourn or laugh or sing. These are congregations who are very unfamiliar with the man who 'took up our sorrows', the man acquainted with suffering and grief, the man who cried out to God in desperation, and wept openly at a funeral.
I suspect that congregations like this should spend more time reading the Psalms. Or the Bible in general. They should become acquainted with the people who poured out such emotion before God. They should become acquainted with Jesus who affirmed them.
Title: Killing Lions
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I am required only to be honest with my review. I was not compensated or asked to write a favorable review.]
If I recall correctly the history of my reading, this is the third John Eldredge book I have read in my life. I'm not sure what the other two were–maybe The Sacred Romance and Waking the Dead–I really don't remember. All I can say is that neither left a mark on me. I think when it comes to John Eldredge books you either get it or you don't. I fall into the latter category. I'm just not quite able to put a finger on what it is he is writing about or why he's writing it. I don't think that is an indictment of him or his writing as much as it is a nice way of saying I just don't care for his writing.
Now add his son Samuel to a book. That's where I'm at with Killing Lions. And given that this is the third of his books I have read it's not like I haven't tried. I still don't get it. Furthermore, given the wide range of life experiences of young Samuel, I find it hard to believe that many people–many young men–will be able to relate to his peculiar brand of 'woe is me.'
The book is billed as a guide through the trials young men face. Sounds admirable. Sounds interesting. Sounds like a great way for a dad to get his son's writing career off the ground. Half-way through the book I couldn't shake this thought from my head, by the end nothing had changed. I'm not saying there is anything necessarily wrong with that. I wish my dad could do the same thing for me and Lord knows if I could do that for my sons I would. But whatever sympathy I might have had for young Samuel quickly evaporated when I had to read, at least once per chapter, about his world travels and how terribly broke he was while he traveled to Malaysia (56, 95), or completed a Vision Quest at the age of 14 by climbing the Grand Tetons (63), or went sailing, or suffered as RA at the college he went to or how he had to spend a semester abroad because he was rejected by a girl (4 months to be exact. I remember one time I was rejected by a girl. I had to get up the next day and go to work. See pages 40, 115), or how he was certain his writing career was never going to get off the ground (51). This poor kid has done more by the age of 20 than most of us will do in a lifetime.
But he was struggling to find himself. And his career. Until one day his wise friends told him, "God was after how I saw myself" (55). I'm all about finding yourself and wading through the struggles of a young man–learning that alcohol is not helpful, that serial dating is a waste of time, that we often have to find the right career by being fired or quitting a fruitless job–and that's what this book amounts to: one young man's journey. The problem, as I see it is, is that his dad's advice is good for him. It might be helpful for others; it might not be helpful for others. I'm not sure who the audience is for this book because the people who probably should read it won't and the people who will read it will already agree with Eldredge because they have bought into his rather strange philosophy of warriors, masculinity, and romance. You either get it or you don't. There's nothing unique or inspiring about the content of this book.
The book is full of quotes. It is clear that the authors either read a lot or are good at quote mining because there are a lot quotes from all the people one might expect: Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, Buechner, U2, Frankl, Pascal, Dostoyevsky, and a few other philosophers and authors–some known, some obscure. The things these people have to say are important in certain contexts, but I think in this book they were filler. Use of these quotes always felt kind of forced and convenient-even if the quotes were the good quotes one might expect to see from these authors. I like quotes, but there was nothing surprising about these quotes.
I think when it's all said and done, as I noted above, you are either a reader who gets John Eldredge or you are not. If you are not, you will find a lot of the 'dialogue' tired and boring. Most of us do not live in a world where we discuss or engage in things like the 'Warrior' stage of life, go on Vision Quest's, eat Tiger beer as curry mee in Malaysian food courts with friends (I've read pages 95-96 two or three times and I'm still not sure what Samuel is trying to tell us in this story because I'm not sure what a person falling down and cracking their head in a Malaysian bathroom is reason enough to ask the question, "Why God?"), or 'suffer' from relational paralysis. Most of us don't have time because we are too busy living to take the time to 'find ourselves.' For most of us life and the journey is discovery enough without having to dedicate time to the specific task, and I can assure you that writing one book, traveling through Europe, and getting married will not end your journey to self-discovery. I am now 44 years old and I still learn, and will continue learning, but not so much about myself. At some point we need to grow up and give up the notion that learning about ourselves matters. We will do so when we start seeking first the Kingdom (Matthew) or when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews).
I have grown weary of a generation who thinks that life is all about self-discovery. I have grown even more tired of the publishers who think all of these angst ridden tales of spoiled brats need to be published. It seems to me that we all know enough about ourselves. Life is not necessarily a journey to find ourselves. In fact, a better goal would be to lose the self and find Jesus. We truly start living when our ambition each day is to discover Jesus in the faces and lives we see each day, to do everything with love, and to die trying. This is the essence of taking up the cross, denying the self, and following Jesus. And despite the prayers at the end of the book, I don't sense that that is the gist of this book.
It seems that many of the problems young Samuel had to pass through (as are the problems most people face at that age) were self-inflicted problems because he wanted to live the so-called cookie cutter, standard life of a 18-20 something rebel–complete with drinking, smoking, bouncing from girl to girl, and, of course, taking 4 month 'find yourself' journeys in Europe (see page 49-51). I'll be honest when I say that I just don't understand all this angst that Millenials feel they are suffering or this so-called higher sense of awareness they think they have. It all seems so self-centered: "Woe is me. I have to figure out life. I need to travel around the world to find myself and see how God wants me to look at myself. And we will be so aware and sensitive that the world will change. And we are the only people who suffer this way. And blah blah blah…" Really. Get over yourselves already.
And I certainly don't think one needs to travel to Europe and visit Auschwitz in order to know that there is terrible sin in this world and that humans are capable of horrific, ungodly, despicable violence against one another. Look around. Be more aware of what's going on in your own neighborhood. Stop climbing mountains and start stooping down to help someone right next to you.
So Sam and John discuss all sorts of things: girls, relationships, sex, money, careers, church, God, suffering & evil, building cars, travel to exotic locations, video games, and friends. Yes. All 'lions' as they say in due course. Every now and again there were some helpful thoughts, but for the most part the conversation between dad and son sounded edited, written. I'll be honest, it wasn't raw enough. I think this book might have worked in an electronic version where it could have been left raw and unedited and less wooden. Yes. That's word I'm looking for: it's too wooden.
In conclusion, I will say this. I do agree with John's words on page 119: "Christianity is not a 'blind leap of faith' as many have been led to believe. According to Jesus–and the entire canon of Scripture–faith is trust and confidence in a person whom you have good reason to believe is trustworthy" (his emphasis). I think he is right to put the emphasis of faith on a person who actually lived in history instead of upon some strange idea that theologians have conjured up. What I wish would have happened though is that this would have found its way to the front of the book because then maybe young Samuel might have understood life a lot better. Samuel wrote, "My generation is desperate for meaning" (7). Well? Have you read your father's books? Can you get over yourself for five minutes and figure out that life is not about you and your meaning? That you are not the culmination of history? That you are not the reward?
We have meaning. All of us. We don't need to search for it and I'd tell Viktor Frankl that too. Our meaning has been summed up for us nicely in the person and rule of Jesus.
We have meaning already and sadly I don't think this book is going to contribute much to the journey of discovery that some young people seem to think they must go on. Open your eyes. Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Peter)
I don't think this book is meant for a wide audience. It's meant for a niche group of readers who already get the work of John Eldredge.
PS–I disagree thoroughly with his take on Luke Skywalker on page 110. I don't think Luke ever, for a minute, experienced self-doubt. Watch the films again: he wanted off Tattoine to fight; he went into the cave on Dagobah, he left his training to rescue his friends in Bespin, and he left the group on Endor to confront Vader. This is not self-doubt. This was a man who knew what he had to do and did it. He often did it without thinking ahead, but Luke was a man who knew what it meant to be a friend, to be loyal to something pure, and who had a clear vision of right and wrong. There was no doubt in Luke Skywalker and he is not a good model of comparison for this current generation of humans growing up, spoiled, and searching for meaning. Luke knew, in his bones. Frankly, if anyone tried to hold Luke back it was everyone around him.
I'm kind of stuck in Hebrews 2. I want to move on, but I keep going back to it over and over because I keep seeing something in it that captivates my attention. Today what caught my attention is not so much a 'what' as a 'who.' It's Jesus, of course. Today I noticed something different about the chapter and how the suffering of Jesus stands out boldly, how the suffering of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the work and life of angels.
He said, "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we've heard lest we drift away from it." Now he goes on to give us more details about the contrast between Jesus and angels with a particular focus on the suffering of Jesus.
- 2:9: Jesus was crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death. And in this suffering, he tasted death for everyone. It was by grace, he writes. Jesus took death into himself and spared us.
- 2:10: Jesus was 'made perfect' through suffering. And in this suffering he sanctifies us and calls us brothers.
- 2:14: Jesus partook of death that he might destroy death and the one who holds the power of death, the devil. And in this he delivers those who live in fear of death and in captivity to death.
- 2:17: Jesus was made like us in every way and was a propitiation for our sins. And in this suffering he has become our great high priest before God on our behalf.
- 2:18: Jesus suffered. And in this suffering Jesus is now able to help those of us who also suffer and are tempted.
In chapter 1, we are told Jesus is 'the exact imprint of God…' (1:3). We are told he 'is the radiance of God's glory' (1:3). We are told 'he is superior to angels' (1:4) We are told he is God's last word to the world (1:2). In effect, we are told Jesus is God who created, spoke, made purification for sin, sits at God's right hand, upholds the world, and is the heir of all things. The adjectives and superlatives all point to the supremacy of Jesus and his ultimate greatness. The first four verses of Hebrews are simply grandiose in their exaltation of Jesus, the Son of God.
Then we get to chapter 2 and we see something else. We are told over and over that Jesus suffered. We are told that Jesus is made a little lower than the angels (2:9). This grand figure of 1:1-4, who is far superior to angels in every way (1:5-14) is now a little lower than the angels. In other words, he's like us. And so as one of us, what does Jesus do?
Well, he tastes death. A terrible meal. It's that plate full of green stuff that our parents wanted us to eat as children. Jesus ate it for us. As a man, Jesus tasted death.
Again, he calls us brothers. We have very few friends on earth even if we have many acquaintances. Jesus suffered like us and is not ashamed of us. We sin. We foul up. We make bad choices. Yet Jesus remains steadfast by our side. He will not abandon us.
Then, Jesus shares our flesh in blood and partook of our life. In doing so he destroyed death. He set us free. He helps us. We are without excuse, in a sense. We cannot blame God for not understanding because he does just that: he understands.
Finally, he was made like us in every respect. He is the exact image of God. He is like us in every respect. He gets it. He gets us. And he goes before God and explains us to God. He is a high priest before God explaining to God–as if God doesn't get us–what we need. He is our help precisely because he gets us because he was one of us.
Each time we are told that Jesus is like us, that he shared our flesh, that he represents us, that he suffered and endured all the things we suffer and endure. That thing that Job cried out over and over again, "There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both" (Job 9:33). Jesus is that Arbiter. So what holds us back? What prevents us from trusting him? What stops us from crying out to him?
He eats death like us. He calls us brothers. He sets us free from fear. He suffers like us. He helps us. All because he became like us, we are not alone. He is with us. All the time. All the time. He is with us.
Sometimes I'm not even sure why we bother. I have a wish for peace. I have a wish that the people of this earth will get along and throw down their implements of war. I'm sick of war and death and famine and disease. I'm sick of violence. I'm sick of politics and intrigue. I'm sick of all the hate and discord. I'm sick of the church being a place of ego and not Jesus. I'm sick of the lines that divide us being so apparent.
I'm sick of debt. I'm sick of disease.
I'm sick of the hate that lifts our hands
And raises us from our knees.
Hate, rising, filling us with heat.
Today's readings are as follows: Psalms 128-130; Numbers 22:41-23:12; Romans 7:13-25; Matthew 21:33-46.
Psalm 130 Who hasn't been here? Sunken deep into the pits of some filth, swallowed whole by the depths. It's the proverbial bottom of the barrel. It's the bottom of the ocean. There's no place to look but up. We can't reach out and save ourselves. We can't walk out on our own. We can't see the face of God or another human. We can't taste hope. We can't smell salvation. Our muscles have atrophied. All we have left is a voice filled with the salt of our tears and with that voice, and no one visble near or around us, we simply cry out: "Out of the depths I cry to you Lord; Lord hear my voice." That looks like a present tense verb to me. It's not, "I cried out," or "I will cry out." It's: "I cry to you." It's present tense. Maybe what we do not realize is that in one way or another we are always in the depths and that we need to constantly, every day, cry out to the Lord. Maybe this is a way of saying something like, "Lord, wherever I am, compared to you, I am always in the depths. Lord, wherever you are I am always crying out to you, my voice is always filled with tears, and my eyes are always laden with the burdens of life. Lord as often as I cry out to you, hear my voice. Hear my words to you through the tear choked misery of these blackened depths. Lord, mercy!"
Then the Psalmist waits (5-6). Five times in these two verses the Psalmist waits. I wait. We wait. It's kind of sad that the Psalmist seems to have to wait alone. I wait. I wait. I wait. Isn't that like us though? Wouldn't life be better if we had someone to wait with while we wait? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone in the depths with us? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone to wait through the long dark nights with us? Nevertheless, who else can we wait upon but the Lord? It's almost like the Psalmist knows that no one else is going to show up so there's not much point in waiting on anyone else. Or perhaps it is because he knows that no one else can even come close to helping him in whatever depths he happens to be in at the time. I might pastorally ask you, as I have asked myself many times, "Who are you waiting on?" I think the answer to the question also reveals who we are hoping will show up.
And we are told in this Psalm several things about the One whom the Psalmist is waiting for: with the Lord there is forgiveness; his word is full of hope; with the Lord there is mercy; with the Lord there is unfailing love; with the Lord there is redemption. There is, in other words, a lot to wait for if we are waiting for the Lord. But I guess who we are waiting for tells us a lot about what we are waiting for, doesn't it? I mean, are we hopeful for hope? Are we hopeful for love? Are we hopeful for redemption from an empty, hopeless, loveless life? Are we hopeful to be rescued from our sins or are we content to live within their depths? At its heart this is a Psalm about needing rescue from ourselves, from the sin we are mired in deeply. And the Psalmist is correct: being mired in sin prevents worship (v 4). So the question is thus: do we desire the fellowship of the Lord? Do we desire his presence? Do we want his mercy? Do we want his love? Do we want his hope? Do we truly want to worship him again? Are we stuck in the pits of sin?
There's only one way out of it. Cry out. Take your throat dry with sin and wet with tears and lift up whatever last breath you have to him. Cry out for his mercy and forgiveness. Keep crying out. Keeping hoping and braying like a broken animal. Do whatever it takes to get your voice into the halls of heaven. Do whatever you have to do to be heard by the one who seeks and saves. He'll find you because that is far more important than you finding him. He is our hope.
So if you are waiting alone, if you are mired in the depths, if you are stuck in sin, if you are muted by your suffering and drinking only tears, where are you going to turn? Who is your hope? Who is your help? If you had one last breath to cry out one last song for mercy, to whom would you sing it?
For more information, see Luke 23:42-43
Title: I Still Believe
Author: Jeremy Camp with David Thomas
Pages: 213 (plus photo spread)
[In order to comply with certain FCC guidelines, I am required to inform you that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for my review on my blog.]
I went to Bible College in the fall of 1991. I had just married my wife in June of the same year. By the time December of that year rolled around, we knew she had Hodgkin's Disease–a cancer of the lymphatic system. By January of 1992, we were fully engaged in the first round of a six-month regimen of chemotherapy. This would be followed up with six consecutive, five-day a week radiation treatments. This is how we spent the first year of our marriage.
I Still Believe is a memoir written by popular Christian musician and songwriter Jeremy Camp. I was on the early bandwagon for Jeremy and still own and listen to his first three records. I have always enjoyed his music, his guitar playing, and the tone and depth of his vocals. After reading this book, I think I can now say that I also appreciate the lyrics to his songs as well. It's not that I didn't enjoy them before, but I think like most, I listened to the lyrics, often sang along, but rarely gave thought to what they might mean or what the background might be. Frankly, I am a big fan of musicians sharing the background to songs they write. It makes the songs more meaningful.
That said, this was a difficult book to read. I'm sure it was a difficult book to write. It made me think about my own walk with my wife: after her cancer at the age of 20-21 we have enjoyed nearly 23 years of marriage. But I am also acutely aware of the fact that her cancer could manifest itself again at any time. We are not so much in control as we like to think. And the struggle is summed up nicely in Camp's song and title: I Still Believe. But will we? We suffer and struggle a lot in this journey and it is terribly easy to fall back and forget that we are like so much gold in the fires of purification. We often blame God, accuse God, yell at God, shake our fist at God–and sometimes we just flat out ignore him. I think God is big and strong and can handle it and waits for us to come to our senses, but he waits. He is that Father who is waiting on his son and sees him off in the distance and runs to him.
And I think this is what troubles me the most: he waits. Sure there are sermons (or poetry) about God the great hound nipping at our heals. The Psalms tell us over and over again to 'wait on the Lord' and it is just that that bugs me. We are told to wait; he is waiting; someone has to make the first move. Someone has to get the ball rolling. Someone has to take charge. What we are supposed to learn, I think, is that God is in charge and all we can do is weep, wait, fall face down on the floor in prayer. Maybe we are to be like Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego: God can rescue us, oh king, but even if he doesn't we want you to know that we will not bow down to your statue of gold.
When I was in homiletics class at Bible College, one of the first an most enduring lessons I learned about preaching was this: don't talk about yourself in sermons. If you do, we were told, you make yourself out to be a hero of sorts and that's not always happiness. That is, it makes the person speaking seem to be less than humble. To this day, I can say that I may have spoken about my wife's cancer (and a subsequent bout with hemolytic anemia 2 years later) only a handful of times–which is an arrogant thing to say. That's what made the memoir, the memoir of someone who hasn't had trouble succeeding, very difficult to read. There is a tremendous depth of honesty and candor in the writing, but it comes off as heroic; a lot. Camp probably doesn't intend it to be so, but it does nonetheless. This was the least redeeming aspect of the book.
It's a difficult path. You want to tell your story. You want to honor Jesus. But there's always the struggle of painting yourself too highly. It may not be intentional, but it is inevitable.
Yet it is a good story to read. I read the revised and expanded edition so I have no idea what was changed or altered from the previous (2011) version. I'm not sure this book is worthy of a second read, although some may think it is. I also think this book is written for younger people–maybe college age or high school. It's not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or anything, but he's probably not trying to either. He is sharing his testimony before the Lord in the hopes that one person might hear and be saved. I'm fine with that.
He deals with weighty issues: I too would have been devastated if my wife had died during that first year of our marriage. Jeremy Camp gives us a wonderful picture of what the depths of sorrow and devastation are like–and perhaps how to respond to such devastation. And in this regard, we can come alongside Jeremy and sit in the ashes with him for a while. It is good to be sorrowful together, to carry one another's burdens, and to weep together in the Lord. But he also gives us a picture of what it means to trust and wait on the Lord–to Stay 'right there in the light.' I might find him a bit too heroic at times, but I cannot say he is not faithful. I might not read the book again, but I'll keep listening to his music. There, in his songs, is where his testimony is.
“The depth is simply the height inverted, as sin is the index of moral grandeur. The cry is not only truly human, but divine as well. God is deeper than the deepest depth in man. He is holier than our deepest sin is deep. There is no depth so deep to us as when God reveals his holiness in dealing with our sin…[And so] think more of the depth of God than the depth of your cry. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to have no God to cry to out of the depths.”—PT Forsyth, The Cure of Souls, as quoted by Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 139
Welcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (Podcast). In this installment, I will explore Psalm 22. You can access the sermon manuscript and lectionary notes here. Here’s an excerpt from the sermon:
The Psalm doesn’t end with all the wavering and tossing to and fro. It doesn’t end with the ups and downs. It ends with worship! It ends in Praise! It ends in the assembly declaring the greatness of God. Why? Well, I think the reason it ends the way it does is because David was vindicated. David survived God’s silence.
Abraham survived God’s silence. Job survived God’s silence. Elijah survived God’s silence. Joseph survived God’s silence.
Jesus survived God’s silence. Resurrection was the vindication. Resurrection is the vindication.
God is being silent for some of you, but your psalm does not end the way it begins. Mourning lasts for an evening, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Jesus’ vindication, his victory, is the promise of your vindication and your victory. God is probably very silent for some of you right now. But he has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He has promised to raise you up. Be encouraged today in the hope that you have been given in Christ.
You can access the audio here: Psalm 22, On the Journey With and Without God
Or use the convenient inline player below.
As always, subscription options are available by clicking the link below.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This clip takes about 9:45. If you skip through or try to cut to the end, you will miss the entire point of the video. Watch the entire clip. The whole thing. I love the line, “God in his wisdom allows what his power easily could have prevented.” Wonderful. Every Christian needs to hear and be reminded of Cooke’s point.
Friends, here is installment 2 of my “Being Dad” series of posts. This one deals with the things that we find in pockets. My sons, when they were younger, had an uncanny knack for cramming things into their pockets. That’s where this devotional is from. jerry
God likes to show off his people to others.. It is His way of showing what he can do with willing hearts.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
2 Corinthians 1:21-22
2 Corinthians 6:3-10
You know what is great about children? It is their unbridled enthusiasm for all things small enough to fit into a pocket. I was reminded of this just the other day when I was doing the laundry (it may have been that Renee was doing laundry, and I was watching). If I recall correctly, it was Jacob’s pants that I was getting ready to wash. One of us was emptying the pockets of the pants. First came a marble. Then a Hot Wheels miniature car. Next came a rock. Then some string. Then something else. Then a quarter. When it was all said and done we could not figure out how the little guy was actually walking around with those pants on his body.
Little boys have this uncanny knack for knowing the amount of square inches that make up the typical pocket. It is almost as if they have taken the pocket out, measured it, and drawn up a schematic of what they will put in, how much they will put in, and where they will put it at inside the pocket itself. It’s like Tetris for blue jeans. There is no telling what one will find inside of a pocket and it is for this very reason that pockets must be checked before the entire pant is placed in the washing machine. In our family failure to do so has resulted in one too many shirts going into the dryer wet and clean and coming out looking like a box of 64 different, brilliant colors (if you get my drift).
For kids it just does not matter what it is that they find: if it is important to them, it is pocket worthy. I doubt that I will ever find a stick of celery or a carrot in a pocket, but I will find candy, marbles, a cookie (or the remnants of a cookie), a toy car, a plastic soldier, a stick, a rock, a nail, a screw, a string and other stuff in there. Why will I find those things? Because those things are valuable and when kids value things they want to keep those things near to them so they can have access to them at any time they deem it necessary. After all, one never knows when that oddly shaped stick will come in handy or when that string might save a life or when that marble will be worth a million in a trade.
Our very lives are pockets for treasures and every now and again God reaches into our lives and reveals some great treasure.
It is not just their pockets, as you know. Kids will load up a small box with all of their treasures and carry it around from room to room for days on end. They may hide several treasures under their mattress or in their pillowcase. Jerry never plays with his treasures but rather displays them on a shelf in his room where only he can adjust their appearance and only he can touch them. His collection includes several bottle caps, some cars, some Cub Scouts stuff he and I made together, several books and other assorted, essential items. Still, it is the pocket that amazes me the most.
The things we love the most we tend to keep the nearest to us. I rarely go out without my pen and notebook. Renee rarely goes out without her purse. I keep a wallet in my pocket. Boys carry treasure in their pockets. Little boys love things in their pockets because it gives them a strong sense of security. “I have something really cool in my pocket, what about you?” Plus, when you find something really cool it is always best to put it in your pocket so that later on you will not have to look for it again. I hate when I find something cool and lose it. The pocket is a place where the cool item can be safely stored until the need to take it out and stare at it occurs later in the day.
What does this all have to do with faith? Actually it has two different applications. For example, the Psalmist says that he has hidden God’s Word in his heart so that he might not sin against God. The heart becomes a pocket for the Word of God and we stow it away until such a time as we need it (which is most of the time). Also, inside such a pocket the Word is safe, near, and a part of us. It is not something that is contained with binding, glue and string, but rather, it is our very lives.
There is another, perhaps even a greater, application that has to do with the Gospel of salvation in our lives. Our very lives are pockets for treasures and every now and again God reaches into our lives and reveals some great treasure to someone he desires to show it to. In this way the treasure is always close at hand so that anytime he desires to reach in and show off the treasure he can. He hides his treasure inside of us so that the treasure is even more appealing to those who see it.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
Pockets are safe places for treasure to be stored. Does it surprise you that God has chosen your life to be the storage place for such a great treasure? Do you have any idea how important you are to God? You are as important to God as the tiny treasures crammed into a little boy’s pocket.
Being a dad has taught me that the most valuable part of this story, for the little boy, is not the treasure, but the pocket in which it is stored. As long as the pocket has no holes and is deep enough, the treasure will always be accessible. How many of us have, at some point in time, grown frustrated or upset because, not knowing about the hole in our pockets, we lost a treasure we adored? We were not happy.
So it is with the death of Jesus in our lives. Make certain there are no holes in your life where Jesus might slip out and get lost. God may be reaching into your life today to show off His treasure to someone who desperately needs to see it.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41. NIV)
Found this at a blog I read. The blogger is giving a brief review of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God:
Keller responds to the ubiquitous atheist chorus: “If a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil, but because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist.”
Keller: “This reasoning is, of course, fallacious. Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order.” “Many assume that if there were good reasons for the existence of evil, they would be accessible to our minds…but why should that be the case?” Keller says, essentially, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it is not there!
HT: Reformed Reader
I’m actually sort of in shock that people are still blogging about The Shack and that there even needs to be so much conversation about it. Still, the Internetmonk has written yet another wonderful post on the book and concedes that the blog posting may not end anytime soon. I’d encourage you to read his post. It is helpful and, in the monk’s witty style, excellent reading.
In other words, the theological fact checkers are probably missing what is so appealing to readers of The Shack, even as they see some crimes in progress. It is a contemporary Pilgrim’s Progress, but the pilgrim is a not a 17th century puritan, but a 21st century evangelical. The burden isn’t sin, but the hurtful events of the past. The journey is not the way to heaven, but the way back to believing in a God of goodness, kindness and love.
Young did not write a theological treatise. He wrote a story. That’s what we humans do. We create, we imagine, we think about the way things are and write down our reflections. The problem with people who overly criticize The Shack is that too many folks out there are so interested in the forest and the trees that they miss the little brown building sitting in the middle of it where a man in some sort of comatose condition had a dream that he met the trinitarian God and had a conversation about his daughter and, eventually, found his way back to God. There are a lot of people in the world who are disillusioned about God precisely because of hurt and pain in their past and present. I still believe The Shack can go a long way towards healing that hurt and leading them back to the Creator.
If you have some pain in your life, some hurt that won’t heal; if you have a burr in your saddle because you think or believe God has let you down, give The Shack a try. I am confident it will help you find your way back to God.
Always For God’s Glory!
This is the text of a sermon I preached on Resurrection Sunday in 2007. It’s a very personal reflection on suffering. 2007 was a difficult year for me physically as I have never been to as many doctors, taken so many prescriptions, and told my health history so many times as I did last year. When it was all said and done, I still have no answers to what was going on inside of my body or why I felt the way I did. I will say that it totally wrecked whatever confidence I may have had in doctors. Chiropractic, cardiology, ENT, General Practice, Urologist–not one of them could figure out what was ailing me. Waste of time and money is what it was. Anyhow, this is the manuscript from Resurrection Sunday 2007.
Resurrection Sunday, April 8, 2007
Thoughts on the Resurrection Life
“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”—Romans 6:5, NIV
I spent the better part of Holy Week lying prostrate on a green, old, cushion-worn couch that sits on the hard, cold wooden floors of my 100 some year old house. For a few hours of the holy week I laid on a cold, plastic hospital gurney in an Emergency Room. For a few minutes I laid on the floor of my study at the Church building. I also spent several hours lying on the not too uninviting bathroom floor in front of the toilet in my house. For some reason, and I don’t know why, but when I am sick, lying on the bathroom floor brings me considerable comfort. I also spent some time in the back of an ambulance, in my bed, in a doctor’s office, hunched over behind a small pulpit, in an emergency room lobby, and in my pajamas.
I did not get a lot of work done this week. I felt rather worthless and guilty. Here it is the most important week on the church calendar, by far, and there I lay: on a couch, on the linoleum, on the carpet, on the bed, on the plastic. I felt ridiculous, absurd, and more than once, like a complete waste of time, a non-benefit to humanity. How can I just lay here? I have to get something done, there are people who are depending on me and the work I do every day.
When I was not writhing in godly pain, I was too tired to read or stay awake. Television lost its distracting benefit after about 5 minutes—and besides, who can sit through more than 2 minutes of Maury? When I did manage to fall asleep the dogs or the phone managed to cut it more than short. When none of this worked, I was twisted and wrenched in a pain that has been described to me in words that range somewhere between equal to and worse than giving birth to a fully gestated human being. I care not to experience either one either again or at all. They say a woman soon forgets childbirth; I wish I could forget what I experienced but for some reason the memories linger on even today. Residual pain from all the work the muscles did over a period of 5 days trying to expel a small stone only slightly larger than a mustard seed.
When the pain came upon me I had a few options at my disposal. First, I could take pain medication. Vicadin is what the ER Doctor prescribed. He may as well have given me M & M’s. Alternately, I could lay there, or stand, or walk, or roll around on the floor like a dog with fleas, or jerk, or shake my limbs as if I had been slain in the spirit. There was also the possibility that I could assuage my pain with a hot water bottle or with the nicely microwave heated bag of field corn that Mrs. S. loaned to me. I could drink water or cranberry juice. There was, surprisingly, the option of going upstairs to the bathroom and taking a long scalding hot shower. The doctor I saw Friday told me this relaxed the muscles and reduced their contractions. This worked well until I drained the hot water tank. It worked 3 or 4 times over the course of a couple of days. I could also spend as much time as I liked saying, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Water, water everywhere…
Well, mine was no crucifixion, but it may as well have been because insofar as pain is concerned, I was being crucified. And I make no apologies for thinking such. Pain is pain and hurt is hurt. In my heart I believed, because the pain was so great, the stress so un-mitigating, and the fear so unnerving, that I was dying.
What a way to spend this most Holy week on the Christian calendar. Surely, I guess, I should have been ‘out there’ among the masses. I should have been conducting Holy Wednesday services, Maundy Thursday Services, Good Friday Services, Sabbath Services and finally Sunrise & Resurrection Services. And each of those services should have been something original, inventive, unique and entertaining—something causing us deep emotional stirrings. But there I lay, on my couch, barely able to lift my eyes let alone my bible or my pen.
I couldn’t even go to school where I believe I have a very serious, real-life, real-time ministry to the masses. But the one day I tried to go, Wednesday, I walked in, grimacing in pain, and walked out, hunched over like Quasimodo barely able to control the nausea rising up inside my esophagus, shamed because I was hurting so badly, embarrassed because I could not stay and discharge my responsibilities in the lunch room, humiliated because I had to make such a confession to a room full of older ladies. There I was: young, vigorous, strong, healthy young man, as weak as a baby, helpless as a cripple, weaker than an old woman.
What a way to spend the Holiest Week on the Christian calendar. Unable to do anything but lay on the couch, in pajamas, wrapped in a blanket, succored by a hot water bottle, crippled with an unquenchable pain that incapacitated me. I could do nothing. The medication didn’t work. I could barely smile. If I received five minutes of relief I suffered for 5 hours for it.