Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lamenting to the God we can trust

"How long, O LORD?" It's the cry of David in Psalm 13:1. It's the cry of other biblical writers as well. It's the cry of those who continue to await God's help or see the flourishing of the wicked, among other reasons.

It's lament.

Lament is not exalted as a virtue in a Christian culture that instead magnifies Your Best Life Now and so many other unbiblical, unhelpful emphases that mark the prosperity gospel and therapeutic faith of our day. Yet, it's a biblical, virtuous practice. It's a practice it would be helpful to adopt if we would follow the example of the people of God described in Scripture.

In our small church, we have people who can lament with good cause. The reasons are manifold: The lostness of loved ones. Physical affliction. The departure from biblical faith and/or morality of family or friends. Infertility. The burdens borne by a parent or child.

Many of the psalms of the Bible are marked by lament. As such, they provide insight into why lament is good, says David Gundersen, a biblical counseling professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. In a blog post in September, Gundersen wrote:
If the Psalms of Israel teach us anything, they teach us that we are sinful, that life is broken, that hardship abounds, and that the greater David who’s coming (through all his travail and tribulations) to establish his everlasting kingdom is still to come. On these grounds, and many others, they teach us that it’s good — not just OK — to lament. Because if we’re singing in the rain, the melody should often match the weather.

In this way, the Psalms show us a powerful reversal of the way we typically think about lament. We often assume that lament implies doubt. But in truth, lament is actually an act of faith. The person to whom you complain is the person you trust. Sometimes we complain to people because we know they’ll listen. Sometimes we complain to people because we know they’ll care. And sometimes we complain to people because we know they can help.

If all of this is true, then our conception of lament gets turned on its head, and we must boldly acknowledge a new reality: Psalmic complaint is a form of trust, because lamenting to God implies belief in his listening ear, his fatherly care, and his sovereign power.
May we lament with the knowledge we have a Father whom we can trust.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Coming to grips with decisions that harm others

As human beings and Christians, we live with this sobering reality: Sometimes the decisions we support, and potentially make ourselves, have devastating consequences for others. Or at least we should come to grips with this reality.

The decisions may be made with right and noble purposes. The consequences may be totally unintended. Nonetheless, such decisions can still result in great harm.

Take the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a military action many evangelical Christians and other Americans supported. The United States swiftly defeated the Iraqis and overturned Saddam Hussein's regime. In the aftermath, however, strife between Muslim groups arose, and eventually the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) moved into the country to inflict its genocidal campaign.

The effect on members of Christian and other religious minority communities in Iraq has been catastrophic. Since 2003, the number of professing Christians in Iraq has sunk from about 1.4 million to less than 300,000, according to estimates. The decision by President George W. Bush to depose a murderous dictator set in motion the dynamics that have resulted so far in the death or displacement of nearly 80 percent of the Christian population in Iraq.

Or take a recent decision, President Trump's executive order to halt temporarily the refugee resettlement program. If it ever goes into full effect, the White House's effort to make certain our country is more secure in the face of terrorist threats will leave some of those who have fled oppression, persecution or war unable to relocate to our country -- at least for a time. For now, courts have blocked both versions of the order from implementation. In addition, the administration plans to cut in half this year the number of refugees, many of them women and children.

This post is not intended to be an argument for or against either the invasion of Iraq or the order halting refugee resettlement. Instead, it is an appeal to followers of Jesus to acknowledge, not ignore, this reality that comes with living in a world deeply infected by sin: Decisions we think are helpful to our safety or flourishing may be harmful, devastatingly so, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as other image bearers of God.

If we rejoice in the government order to pause refugee resettlement, for instance, because we believe it will make us safer but refuse to at least weigh in our own souls its effect on others who are seeking safety and peace, it seems to me we are not following well our Savior who grieved over human loss in His public ministry. May we open our hearts to lament when fellow image bearers suffer -- including when decisions that appear to benefit our lives wreck the lives of others.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Preach this to yourself: No condemnation

One of the most important exercises we as Christians can participate in is to preach the gospel to ourselves. Even as those who have been rescued by God, we can fail to understand fully -- or we can even neglect -- the message, the meaning and the manifold benefits of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

My goal beginning with this post is to provide some reminders of what Christ has accomplished for us, His people, by His saving work. Faithfully recognizing the effect of the gospel can make all the difference in how we think and live as Christians.

One of the glorious benefits of the gospel is described by the apostle Paul: "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1, NASB).

This means God does not condemn those of us who have trusted in Jesus to save us from our sins. It is not that we will be condemned if we don't embrace the gospel of Christ. It is that we have been rescued from the condemnation we already were experiencing. Paul teaches this truth in other passages, and Jesus testifies to it.

In Rom. 5:18, Paul writes: "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Our condemnation was the result of the sin of one man, Adam. As his descendants, we are under condemnation.

In Eph. 2:3, Paul says, "[We] were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." God's wrath was upon us just by virtue of being human beings with a sinful nature.

God the Son explains in John 3:17-18 a reason He came to earth as a man -- and points to the condemnation all humanity lives under. He says, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

As sinners by nature, we are condemned; we are under wrath; we are judged. That all changes when God saves us by His grace because of the powerful, gospel work of His Son. Now, we are no longer under condemnation -- forever. Nothing can reverse that verdict, and we are never to contemplate that God's attitude toward us is one of condemnation.

This is the kind of benefit we should regularly remind ourselves of.

(This is a revised version of a blog post from December 2014.)

Photo credit: Slavik Gurmeza