Encouragement From The Word

Remembering to lament

Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying.  Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow.  Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.

And we have a problem:  our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.

Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up.  But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.

As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ.  Not exactly a top 40 hit. 

But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.

So do the Scriptures.

Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments.  We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.

Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.”  But there are many other examples in Scripture.  Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.

When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort.  Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.

But for now, consider Psalm 38.  Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do.  Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me.  Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.  (NLT)

When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart.  You can do the same as you read it.  And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you.  He came to help David, and he has come to help me.

Biblical Messages

Love Wins?

In this week’s worship broadcast, we hear a message that challenges our understanding of love – a debt we cannot repay. It’s based on Romans 13.8-14, with support from Ephesians 6.10-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5.1-10. You can watch the entire broadcast below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Hold on to the One who holds the future

I’m torn about how best to write to you today.  As we enter a second state of emergency in the province of Ontario, which affects many of our readers, I want to tell you to keep your chin up and your face smiling, that better days are ahead.  Or, as the Premier of Ontario said when he announced the new stay-at-home order, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”  (Whether he knew it or not, he borrowed that from the late televangelist Robert Schuller!)

However…even though I call this Encouragement From The Word, I’m not here to be a cheerleader.  It’s Encouragement From The Word.

So I’m not going to tell you to keep smiling or keep your chin up; I’m not going to tell you to be tough, even though these are not bad pieces of advice.

I’m going to tell you to hold on to the One who holds the future.

I know many people who are acquainted with hardship in these days – and I don’t mean the “hardship” of wearing a mask.  I’m talking about sickness – severe sickness – that has left the ill and their family members desperate.

I’ve heard of the heartbreak of people having to drop sick loved ones off at the hospital door, because they are not allowed to accompany them.

I’ve heard of people so focused on the mere act of breathing that nothing else matters.  (Remember the old motto of the Lung Association?)

And I wonder:  without faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the future, who knows tomorrow, how does anyone cope?

We don’t know when things will be better.  But they will be better.  Trusting Jesus right now makes life better, both for today and for eternity.

In him you will find your strength.

[T]hose who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40.31, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Not Quite Libertarian

There has been no time such as this in our lifetime to share the relevance of Romans 13.1-7. In this service, we hear a message about what it means to submit to civil authorities, and how that relates to the uprising in the US last week and the current pandemic. You can watch the whole service below, or just the message below that. Apologies for some of the poor video; we had some technical issues this morning.

Encouragement From The Word

Submit?

Happy new year!

A week in, and we’re already on pins and needles, eh?

I have to admit, I was going to write about the sad lunacy of the whole “Amen and A-woman” debacle in the US House of Representatives, but then this past Wednesday happened.  I’ll save the other one for another time.

It might be the first time the White House was stormed since, well, the Canadians burned it during the War of 1812!

I’ve never believed in coincidences, not even homiletical coincidences.

When 9/11 took place, I was preaching through the book of Jonah.

This Sunday, returning to a series I broke from for Advent and Christmas, I will be preaching on Romans 13.1-7.

I’ve been looking forward to this passage for quite a while, but I wasn’t expecting such a current illustration as we got on Wednesday!

Everyone must submit to governing authorities.  For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13.1, NLT).

Amid the rioters on Capitol Hill, amid the pandemic and the lockdown, where lies the boundary for submitting to governing authorities?

The key comes in understanding the verb, “submit”.  Rather than meaning “blindly obey”, its definition has more to do with appreciating the hierarchy that exists within the rule of law.  

God is at the top of the chain, but he places governments – through various means – in place over us, and we are called to respect them.

For some, though, the question becomes, “To what extent do I submit?”

If the government forces you to do something that is patently and obviously contrary to God’s will in Scripture, that may be the point where civil disobedience kicks in.

If you want to know how that relates to the widespread lockdown we find ourselves in currently, tune in live on Sunday at 10:00 a.m., or on demand any time after 4:00 p.m.

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Canoeing the Mountains

If you’re a church leader, especially a pastor, hands up if you’ve muttered in the past year, “They didn’t teach me this in seminary”?

For me, it became a mantra as the reality of the pandemic set in, along with the first round of lockdown, back in March of 2020.  Not long after that, I was given a copy of Canoeing the Mountains, and I thought it sufficiently intriguing that I would read it, if for no other reason than to give me a break from watching YouTube videos telling me how to do some of the things that seminary didn’t teach me.

The title itself beckons the reader to pick up this book.  Whoever heard of canoeing the mountains?

Exactly.  That’s why this book needed to be written, and why it needs to be read by Christian leaders, especially in these days.

The book is premised on the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.  For us Canadians, that has an almost solely academic meaning, but to the average American, especially those living west of the Mississippi, the heart skips a veritable beat when these names arise.  They are woven into the fabric of American history in the years after the Revolution.

But this is not a history text.  I will admit, however, that as a Canadian, I learned more about the Lewis and Clark expedition in this Christian leadership book than I ever knew before.  Illustratively, Tod Bolsinger, a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, makes masterful use of Lewis and Clark to help church leaders realize that what seminary prepared them for is not what they’re navigating today.

When Bolsinger wrote this, he did not anticipate a global pandemic that would change the face of the world – and the church – forever.  By God’s grace, the principles he writes about, while entirely applicable to pre-pandemic leadership, are going to be doubly applicable in mid- and post-pandemic leadership.

Leaning heavily on the writing of Edwin Friedman, particularly in A Failure of Nerve, Bolsinger applies, and demonstrates through the relation of personal experience, family systems theories to the process of change in the church.  

He makes good use of the research of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, noting that “Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb” (124).  I remember sharing that quotation and getting a prickly reaction, but I think there is some wisdom in it.  As Bolsinger later states, those people whom you disappointed at a rate they could absorb will later be your strongest allies.

This book is both a comfortable read and (in a sense) an uncomfortable read, well worth the time for anyone in Christian leadership.  I’m glad I took a break from tech-ed YouTube to read it!

Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger

(Downers Grove:  Inter-Varsity Press, 2015).  ISBN #978-0-8308-4126-4.