Category Archives: Meditations

5 Questions We Ask about Trials (And How Jeremiah Answers them)

“Everything I had hoped for is lost!” Have you ever felt like you’re just running on fumes? Do the trials you’re going through this week make you feel like you’re in the middle of a desert and you just drank the last drop of water from your water bottle? If you’re in the middle of a trial, you can probably resonate with these mournful words from Lamentations 3.18.

Maybe you’re on the sad long road toward divorce. You’ve done everything you can think of to resolve the problem, but it just seems inevitable.

Maybe you watch as your mother fights a protracted battle with cancer. Has God just walked out on you and your family?

Maybe you’ve struggled for years with depression and suicidal thoughts. No therapy or drugs or prayer seems to be helping.

Maybe you’ve been slandered by friends at school or at work or at church and they’ve dragged your name through the mud. You feel like trash right now and you just want to disappear.

“Everything I had hoped for is lost!” You get it. And you’re asking the tough questions that come with this place in life. Jeremiah seems to have been asking those questions too. In Lamentations 3, we get a peek behind the curtain on the answers to those questions. Jeremiah the prophet is writing here after his whole country has been destroyed and his friends and family have been taken captive. Yes, it was because many in the nation kept sinning against God, but this didn’t take away the hurt. What a devastating time for this prophet — everywhere he looks there’s pain and trial. So he laments; he cries out to God. Everything has been taken away from him. It’s a nightmare that he can’t wake up from. He keeps pinching himself and saying, “just let me wake up and this all be over. Please, oh please!”

In Jeremiah’s pain we begin to see answers to these common questions we ask when we’re in trials:

How do I re-engage with God when I’ve totally lost hope?

This is where I’ve found myself time and again over the past month or so. When so many people you’ve ministered to and alongside suddenly turn against you and you feel hurt and discouraged, you know that you need God. But where do you start? God feels distant, mean, or uncaring. You feel like you can’t just pick up where you’ve left off with him. Things were different then. Now you’ve got this insurmountable and unavoidable pain in your life. And you’ve got to figure out how to make sense out of what’s happened and re-engage with God. Jeremiah re-engages with God in two ways.

First, we must overlay our grief with God. We’re not called to ignore our grief. Jeremiah thinks of his grief like a deer which has been shot in the guts (Lam. 3.13). It reminds him of the nastiest thing he’s ever tasted (19). He even goes back to discussing his grief (c. 4). We’re supposed to be brutally honest about it. We need to talk about it. But we must place God over top of it. Think of those science books for children that had plastic overlays of the digestive or circulatory systems which could be placed over a picture of a person. I think that a lot of times, we look at God as a separate paper page. Either we turn to God and forget our grief, or turn to grief and forget God. But God and grief are meant to work together. In the moments of our greatest grief, God is there. The Gospel shows us this at the cross. God and grief play well together because he knows what grief is all about. One could even say that he is acquainted with it (Isa. 53.3).

Second, we must rediscover God. Often it’s in the times of darkest trials that when we begin to see the person of our God with greater clarity. His love is steadfast, his mercies are endless, his faithfulness (or, reliability) is great (22-23). As you find who God really is you will find hope. Our trials show us that God isn’t just the ignorant grandfather in the sky; we want him to care about sin and injustice and to right the wrongs. Our trials show us that God isn’t the angry policeman in the sky; only when everything else is stripped away can we see the care and love of our Heavenly Father. The Gospel shows us God is a God of justice who won’t let sin slide, but that he’s a God of compassion and mercy who took the penalty of sin on himself.

Will I be able to make it another day?

If you’ve been there, you’ll never forget the feeling. If you’ve ever run out of energy to take another step or if you’ve ever felt like suicide could be a viable option, you’ve been there. But there’s hope. Jeremiah shares your pain and reminds us of a powerful truth.

Remember that each day will have its own challenges (Matt. 6.34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”), but Jeremiah tells us that each day will have its own grace (Lam. 3.23a). Now the prophet doesn’t mean that God becomes different. What he’s saying is that our trials allow us to see fresh expressions of God’s mercy. You’ll see dimensions of his love tomorrow that you’ve never seen before in your life. You’ll screw up and need fresh opportunities for God’s grace.

But God gives us this grace day by day. This means that we can’t just ask for grace and coast for a month. We need to rely on him every day. It also means that there will come times when you feel like you’ve hit the wall and can’t make it any further. You’ll feel like your resources are exhausted. And then, like manna for the people of Israel, a new day comes along with fresh mercies. As you hear the alarm ring on Monday morning, your alarm isn’t the siren for the beginning of the Monday morning blues, but a signal for a fresh day of God’s mercies!

Where should I turn after I’ve lost so much?

Jeremiah tells us that there’s a treasure that we’ve overlooked (24). It reminds me of a time early in my married life when I was working for just over minimum wage and I could barely keep up with the bills each week. After a particularly stressful week when we’d paid for groceries on the credit card, I checked the mailbox that Sunday and found a letter that had likely been in the box for most of the week. It was my tax refund check. I’d been full of anxiety and worry all week long, but there’d been a check in the mailbox the whole time. I think we treat Jesus like this a lot too. Jesus is there to address your anxieties and worries, but yet we never bother to look for him until we’re in a bind. So God uses trials to show us that he’s all we ever need.

Let your newfound treasure renew your hope. With Jesus, you have everything; without Jesus, you have nothing. You may have lost your home or job, but no one can take Jesus away from you. Your husband may leave you, but Jesus will never leave you. Jesus is your everlasting portion when everything else is in limbo.

How am I supposed to respond?

Responses in the middle of a trial aren’t easy. I’ve heard it said that trials bring out what’s really inside of people. I’m not entirely certain of this, but I do know that trials force us to wrestle with unique situations that call for unusual responses. Often when everything falls to pieces, it’s hard to know whether your responses are right or wrong. A mix of emotion and spiritual struggle often result in actions that seem best at the time. Nothing’s simple. People that are on the outside of your trial looking in will be Monday morning quarterbacks about how you should’ve reacted to the suffering. But I like to think that God isn’t like that. Instead of standing with his arms crossed in the distance, he’s running full steam toward us, giving us every grace for every sin, every wrong response. But Jeremiah does give us some ideas on how to respond.

Responding to God

Jeremiah tells us that our response to God should be one of trust. Trust his goodness (25). He isn’t just able to bring you out of this trial whole. He wants to bring you out. Trust in his coming deliverance (26). He doesn’t work on our timetable, but this doesn’t mean that he isn’t working to deliver you. Trust in his sovereignty (27). The process and timing of our suffering has a maturing effect. God allows trials in our lives at particular times in order to prepare us for what’s next.

Responding to Others

Our response to others needs to be humble. Don’t complain about your trial (28). If you complain, you’ll just draw attention away from what God’s doing and place all the attention on yourself. Don’t be proud (29). Be willing and able to admit wrong. Show grace to those who’ve hurt you. Don’t seek revenge (30). Let God right your wrong. Let him raise up people who will advocate for you.

Finding Hope to Respond

But how on earth are we supposed to react like this? I don’t know about you, but this is a difficult calling. Frankly, I tend to be the type who’d love nothing more than to open a can of whoop-[rear] on those who’ve hurt me. But I’m enabled to respond appropriately when I recognize three truths about God. God has greater things in store for me ahead (31). I’ll lash out or walk away from God if I lose hold of this confidence. And this confidence in a future hope is driven by another truth about God. God is absolutely compassionate toward me (32). I can endure the most uncompassionate snarks from fellow-believers so long as I know that God’s compassionate arm is there to hug me when I cry, support me when I fall, and defend me when I’m attacked. This is my God. He’s so compassionate that Jeremiah says a third incredible thing about God. God doesn’t want us to suffer (33). Suffering is related to the fall, and the fall was not what God wanted for his people. He wanted so much better for us. And, guess what? God went to every length to ensure that your suffering will come to an end. One day our suffering will be glory because of this truth–God doesn’t send suffering on his people from his heart.

But what about the injustices that have been done?

Jeremiah isn’t ignorant of the real injustices that have happened. Just because God cares about our suffering doesn’t mean that he overlooks the injustices that have happened to us. To those who’ve wronged us (and to the cry for justice in our hearts) Jeremiah reminds us of 3 truths.

  1. Don’t forget that God is watching (34-35). My favorite line from the Bourne series is when in the middle of the manhunt, Jason Bourne calls the CIA agent who’s hunting him. Watching her from within the obvious easy range of his lethal abilities, he tells her: “Get some rest Pam, you look tired.” In a single instant, the agents’ entire perspective on their situation shifts because they’ve become aware that one who holds their life in his hands has them in his sights. But I, personally, would rather be in Bourne’s crosshairs than in God’s (Matt. 10.28). Take comfort or fear in the fact that those who unjustly bring trials into the life of the believer do not go unnoticed by God Almighty.
  2. Don’t forget that God is judge (35 – “Most High”). God is the one who has the prerogative to right the wrongs. Human courts of justice can be perverted. Even the God-given method of conflict resolution in the church can be turned on its head. But God is the Supreme Court of the Universe. And it’s his verdict that really counts. Your boss’ harsh review of you isn’t the final word. That boy at school who humiliated you doesn’t have the final word. Those Christians who’ve attacked you don’t have the final word. God does.
  3. Don’t forget that God angry with injustice (36). Those who have a position of influence and use it to hurt or harm don’t just flip the lever of God’s justice, they unleash the angry arm of God’s wrath. And deep down we really believe that this makes sense. If there’s a God, he needs to be ticked when the killer goes free because he’s got the right skin color. If there’s a God, he needs to look with fury on those who kill children or those who make themselves rich on the suffering of others. If there’s a God, he must be angry with those who abuse children and traffic women. The fact is that deep down we really want a just God for every abuse and sin in the world except our own.

The Gospel teaches us that God has seen us in the crosshairs of his wrath, but that he turned the anger of his justice on his own Son so that we might not only escape, but that we stand forever as righteous in the sight of the Most High God.

9 Observations on the New Year

As I consider 2014 and the transition to 2015 in light of Psalm 90 and several other relevant passages, these are 9 observations that I found worthy of considering:

  1. The God of 2015 is the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul, moving all things to their created end (Psa. 90.1-2).
  2. God created 2015 (Gen. 1.14). There’s no need for doom and gloom, because God creates everything for a purpose.
  3. 2015 may be your last year. Make it count for eternity (Psa. 90.3-6, 12). Count the years and make them count!
  4. 2015 should, by nature of the fall, hold a store of evil and frustration (Psa. 90.7-11, Rom. 8.22-23 – “creation groans” – birthpangs that grow in intensity as the time of the child’s birth draws closer).
  5. 2015 will, because of God’s covenant, hold a store of grace and blessing (Psa. 90.13-17).
  6. 2015 will be for nothing if we don’t rely on God to establish our efforts (Psa. 90.17).
  7. 2015 offers us a fresh experience of God’s care (Psa. 90.14; Lam. 3.23 – in the midst of a time of great suffering and destruction, the Prophet Jeremiah rejoices in God’s mercy which is new every morning).
  8. The transition to 2015 is a picture of what God will do in the future (Isa. 65.17; 66.22; 2 Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21.1-5). He will make all things new.
  9. The transition to 2015 is a picture of what God does in the lives of those who believe in him (2 Cor. 4.16; 5.17-21). He will make YOU new.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” – GK Chesterton

Boredom vs. Gospel Joy

[For the visual presentation, click here.]

College students will tell you that certain professors bore them out of their minds. Many professionals in the midst of their careers find themselves bored with being monotonously stuck in a position they’re unhappy with. Even those who are retired can find themselves bored without the busyness of their former careers. This overly common issue is worth considering from a Christian perspective in order to understand how we need to respond to boredom. First, let’s define boredom.

Definition of Boredom

Boredom is:

“feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.”

In other words, it is an admission of inadequacy and a need for greater satisfaction, a raging restlessness, and the idealization of something else as interesting and exciting at the expense of something we have in front of us.

C.S. Lewis once made the analogy of chasing worldly pleasure as that of a boy making mudpies in the slums and missing out on the value of a holiday at the beach. I would suggest that boredom is like building a sandcastle on the beach, all the while feeling like you’re making mudpies in the slums.

As we begin to consider Scripture in relation to this definition, let’s start by looking at the students’ favorite verse, Ecc. 12.12:

“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

  • “weariness of the flesh” is a very close parallel to boredom. Here the flesh is worn out not by physical labor but due to being overwhelmed and uninterested
  • Solomon states this simply and factually. It is something that just happens. Repetitive work that demands close attention often leads to boredom!
  • This passage highlights the curse on Adamic work (Ecc. 2.24-26). In verse 26, the sinner experiences “travail” in his gathering. His work is empty and vexes his spirit. Literally “a vapor and chasing after the wind.”

This is one of the few occasions where Scripture alludes to this challenge. Yet this issue seems to be an experience that many of us experience on a daily or weekly basis! Take a look at how this issue has overcome modern society…

This graph shows how boredom has overtaken modern society.

But you don’t have to just see it in books. Take a stretch on an airplane. On a recent trip to Brazil, I was amazed by all of the distractions that Americans used to make the flight less boring; however, the Brazilians were  content to sit contemplatively or in casual conversation throughout the flight.

Think of how, in a momentary flash of boredom, we’re quick to reach for our smartphone or the TV remote!

And all of this is where Christianity pushes up against one of the norms and values of our culture. Boredom is the result of a productivity-oriented society, which values a lack of waste and a high return on investment. This is why the high-pressure CEO who spends every waking moment on the run feels far more bored than someone seemingly less productive. When he’s taking a break between meetings, or on a vacation, he can’t really disconnect. He’s bored with time spent relaxing. This stands in stark contrast to people several hundred years ago who remained in the same vocation as their parents and didn’t experience as substantial opportunities to shape their futures. Yet they knew how to rejoice both in the monotony as well as in times of relaxation.

Kierkegaard: “boredom is the root of all evil”

The Bible and Boredom

So what does the Bible have to say about boredom?

Hebrews 5.11-14

  • The writer is using this plea as a “goad” towards activity. The assumption is that the readers want to move on…they want to be teachers. They want to be mature people. But they’re actually not progressing in that direction.
  • The readers are no longer listening because what the writer wants to teach them builds upon simple, well-versed beliefs that they’ve grown tired of hearing.
  • “when for the time” – seems to indicate that a long duration of time has elapsed. Their boredom has kept them from progressing on pace. Rather than continuing with the repetition and then progressing, they’ve become bored and tapped out.
  • “have need…again” – that which they’ve grown bored of will need to be repeated in order for them to be ready to handle what God has for them.
  • “first principles” – the ABC’s. Do you remember the boring and repetitive monotony of learning to write your ABC’s or beginning to write in cursive (I know, I’m probably dating myself here…)?
  • “word of righteousness” – This probably refers to the Scriptures. Joyful constancy in the Bible leads believers to skillful handling of the Word. Bored avoidance of the Bible leaves believers unready to discern the teachings of Scripture.
  • “by reason of use” – continual practice. Think of playing scales on the piano.
  • “exercised” – This comes from the Greek word gymnazo. Do you think that the Olympic gymnasts are performing those floor routines for the first time when they step out on the Olympic stage?

Hebrews 12.1-3

  • “run with patience” – The Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon. It isn’t won by beating others, but by making it to the end.
  • “set before us” – the finish line has been assigned to us by the master of ceremonies. We don’t set the duration, but we’re called to stick with the race despite the hardness or terrain, injury, or weariness we experience. My brother who was preparing to join the Marines would run for hours at a time. I asked him how he did it. He told me that many times he just puts one foot in front of the other and looks ahead for a goal to reach. This leads us to the next point from the text:
  • “looking unto Jesus” – The Gospel frees us from the monotony, repetition, and weariness of our race.
  • “author and finisher” – He laid out the track and he’s already run it.
  • “joy…endured” – Jesus patiently put one foot in front of the other, carrying out the monotonous  journey with “joy”!
  • “be wearied…faint in your minds” – boredom with pursuing the spiritual journey ahead of us results in a lack of nerve and paralysis in our spiritual lives. Boredom tells us that there’s no point in forging ahead. The Gospel tells us that there’s purpose in monotony, and we see that purpose fulfilled in the victory of the Son of God!

Danger Zones of Boredom

Like cholesterol, not all boredom is bad for the Christian. But there are several danger zones that we would do well to be aware of. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Theological Boredom

  • Do the great truths of the Christian faith seem insignificant to me?
  • Has reading the Bible become a chore rather than a delight?
  • Is the challenge of receiving doctrinal truth off my radar?

Spiritual Boredom

  • Have the ups and downs of my spiritual journey become monotonous?
  • Am I longing for the “victorious Christian life” of other saints?
  • Do prayer, church, service, and fellowship seem less exciting than sports, entertainment, and vacation?

Vocational Boredom

  • Am I unable to focus and complete tasks?
  • Do I keep daydreaming about greener grass elsewhere?
  • Have I made the assumption that the work I do is beneath me or meaningless?
  • Do I consistently experience Monday dread?
  • Am I struggling to be thankful for my employment?

Conclusion: Gospel Joy

Zephaniah 3:17 portrays God’s ecstatic pleasure over his saved people on a daily basis. This verse uses multiple words for joy. Some of these imply clapping one’s hands and others imply dancing. It ends with God singing songs over his saved ones. Now you and I don’t often see that much to get excited about when we see other Christians. But apparently God does. And he never stops his eternal joyous dance over the ones whom he has redeemed.

This makes me think of my little daughter. When I get excited or sad, most people will never know. But we she gets upset or happy, everyone knows! She continually slaps the ground or claps her hands on her legs just to let us all know how thrilled she is. And in the Gospel, this sort of unrestrained mirth shows up in the character of God. There is no cure for boredom like looking at the joy of God in the Gospel. G.K. Chesterton writes:

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

Have you ever thought that our eternity will be spent over and over again in vocation, experiencing doctrine, and in spiritual duty? Do you exult in the monotony that is your future or do you despise it?

The Gospel According to God the Father

For a visual presentation, click here.

What is the Gospel? Even many Christians who’ve grown up in church their whole lives don’t understand what it is about the death of Jesus that rescues us from sin and hell. In order to understand the Gospel better, we ought to examine three pictures that come from the three times that God the Father spoke from Heaven during the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Water: The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3.17)

  • Baptism is for sinners (3.5-6)
  • Jesus came to be baptized (3.13-15)
  • God the Father declares Jesus as the Righteous One (3.16-17)
    • “this” – A specific person we must pay attention to.
    • “beloved” – A unique affection that the Father has for Jesus. Implication: the Chosen One.
    • “Son” – A special relation between the Father and Jesus. Implication: Davidic heir (Ps. 2.7).
    • “well pleased” – A righteous condition before God. See Isa. 42.1; Hebrews 10:5-10.
  • Water=Jesus Identified as the Righteous Chosen One+Jesus Identifies with Sinners.

Message: The Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17.5)

  • Jesus identifies as the divine message (i.e., logos) to mankind (17.2).
  • Jesus identifies with the great messengers of Israel’s past (17.3).
  • The Father calls us to hear and obey the Gospel message of Jesus (17.5).
  • Word=Hearing the Gospel Message+Obeying the Gospel Message

Cross: Jesus Ministers in the Temple (John 12.28-29)

  • Glory among the Gentiles (12.20-22)
  • Glory in death (12.23-24; 30-33)
  • Glory to the Father in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus (12.28-29).
  • Cross=Death of Jesus+Glory to the Father

Conclusion: God’s Silence in the Death of Jesus (Matthew 27.46)

  • Water: Jesus is left without vindication by himself and the Father so that he could identify with sinners (1 Pet. 3.18; Rom. 3.24-27; 2 Cor. 5.21).
  • Cross: Jesus brings glory to the Father by absorbing his wrath against sinners so that they might be reconciled to God (Col. 2.14).
  • Message: This Gospel of Jesus Christ must be heard and obeyed (2 Pet. 1.19, cf. vv. 16-18).
    • All people must hear and respond to this Good News in faith — that Jesus identifies with them and has paid their just penalty.
    • Christians must respond in meditation coupled with rejoicing, lifting up the Gospel in order to glorify God, and by identifying daily with the reality of the Gospel.