In this excerpt from our latest podcast episode, I share that God cares about the small details of life. Here’s a snippet. Listen to the full episode.
If you’ve paid close attention, the last few posts here have been related to lament. That’s mostly because I gave a seminar (earlier today) on that topic at our Cru Winter Conference in Denver.
Another reason—for the recent posts and my interest in giving the seminar—is that much of this past year was lamentable for us. Our family lost much. Of course, with loss comes unique opportunity for gain. And we have gained. But make no mistake, the losses are real. And they hurt.
As I type this, I’m sitting on the fourth floor of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver. Fifteenth Street is lined with headlights. Oddly dressed co-eds are pouring into the Convention Center ready to drink a cup (or two) of kindness and cheer. Most, of course, while enjoying the last hours of 2017 are wishing, hoping, longing, that 2018 will be just a bit better.
Perhaps you are, too.
Why? Christian or not, you realize this world is broken. You know, deep down, you are broken. No matter what you encountered in the past year, I’m willing to bet you have reason to mourn something. Unfortunately, turning the clock over to 2018 doesn’t remove the losses and hurts you’ve experienced.
For those of us who are Christians, we have a unique way to deal with this. We call it lament. To lament means to pour out our pain and complaint to God, asking him to make things right—because things in this world (and my life) aren’t as I’d like them to be. If you aren’t a Christian, know that God is more than sufficient to handle your complaints. In fact, it’s during the times of loss and lament that great men and women of faith are made.
So we lament, we mourn. Jesus told us as much. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
What are we to mourn? My sin—against my wife, my children, my friends, public and private, things done and undone. Sin committed against me—unjust attack or blame, slander, mocking. Affliction that comes from living in a fallen world—cancer, infertility, mental illness, car accidents, hurricanes. Sin and brokenness all around us—abuse, war, racial inequity, famine, genocide, abortion. The list goes on.
The King of the universe tells me, “Be sad!” because not all is as it should be. Even he wept. One of his names is, gloriously, “The Man of Sorrows.” Chew on that.
And how are we comforted? Not with answers. Among the great cry of complaints in the book of Psalms, the solution is never “Oh! God fixed my situation.” No, he tends to do one better: he shows up. His Presence is the fix. And the response sounds like this, “You are my portion and my cup.” “You alone are my refuge.” “You are my dwelling place.”
Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted. Not with clever solutions, but with the Presence you most need.
We are guaranteed this Presence, in the midst of all our losses, because Jesus, the one who is God’s Presence, lost the Presence of his Father on the cross. All who trust in Jesus now have God’s presence by his Holy Spirit, whom he has given to live in us. Even when I feel alone amidst loss, I’m not alone.
And, ultimately, we are promised that at the end of history, not the end of a calendar year, Jesus will return to this earth to undo all the sad things, wipe away our tears, and make all things new. On that day, we will see Jesus’ face. We will actually be with him.
In all of my family’s sorrow and losses over the past year, the resounding lesson God is pressing into my soul is this: God’s Presence is enough. If I have him, what else do I need? He often (always?) strips away everything we long for and love to get us to this point. And it hurts. But the reward is more refreshing than we could have ever imagined.
So here’s to 2018. I’m tempted to hope for something better. Instead, perhaps for the first time, I’m expecting the new year to bring losses and hurts—it’s part of the deal. At the same time, however, I’m expecting a far greater gain: the very Presence of God himself, both now and forevermore.
What about you?
“Wilderness is still the place of worship.”
– Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow
Everything Jeremiah knows and loves is gone. The enemy has come into his city—God’s city–to steal, kill, and destroy. To him, the world is ending.
He mourns the destruction of his nation in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. There, he uses horrific word-pictures to articulate what he sees and to express what he feels. We, particularly North Americans, aren’t used to these graphic laments. They are shocking—God is like a bear lying in wait. Upsetting—God points his arrows at his own people. Even gross—mothers resort to boiling and eating their own children because of famine.
These images are supposed to shock us, upset us, and even gross us out. Jeremiah uses exaggerative words to try to do some justice to this Babylonian invasion. He wants us to feel it. And we do.
By the end of Lamentations, you get the sense everything is wiped out. Absolutely obliterated. Make no mistake, there is carnage and corpses all around. Jeremiah is surrounded. But it’s a desolate kind of surrounded. There’s no refuge. No place to hide. You can see for miles. It’s devoid of life. The great City, now like the wilderness that lies to its east.
Jeremiah’s life has become a wilderness. And his life represents Judah’s very existence. He’s alone and hopeless. So is the nation. But in the middle of his tear-stained poetry, he sings of hope for him and the nation. He turns his attention to the only Refuge left:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
It’s easy for us, when we feel like everything in our life, or even one treasured thing, has been wiped out to flatly say, “Okay. Everything will be fine. God’s got this. He’ll come through.” Of course he will. But what kind of “come through” do you have in mind?
The hope for Jeremiah—and you and me—is God himself, who is our “portion.” It’s this word—portion—which changes everything. It’s like Jeremiah is saying, “The only thing that will get me through the wilderness is Yahweh himself. Nothing else will do. He’s all I got left.”
I find it’s that way for me. What about you? It’s in the wilderness where God exposes our false hopes—whatever they may be. We had been in a vanity fair of material possessions, ministry success, political ideology, a soul mate, organizational influence, family status, social reputation, financial security. At one time shiny and full of promises, now, they’re crushed, rusted over, and wiped out. We’re alone.
At first, it’s grim. The world—our world—is ending. So we kick and scream. God, why? Just like Jeremiah and the other prophets.
But then we weep not mainly because of the carnage around us bad as it is, but because we begin to see our own sin. We desire the fair. There, it’s easier to hide our true selves. There, it’s easier to hide from our true selves. We desire the fair more than we’d like to believe.
But God won’t let his children stay there long. Eventually, he leads us into the wilderness—as he did his own Son. There he reveals there is no hiding place but him. Even more, he reveals that he is our prize, our treasure, our inheritance. He takes us into the wilderness not to exhaust us. Though does it feel exhausting. Rather, it’s to refresh us with himself. Indeed, he must be our refreshment, because he is the only thing, the only One, wholly capable of doing so.
This has been a season of lasts for Carly and me. Tonight was our last congregational meeting on missions at Grace Chapel. We came so that I could serve as a pastor. We will be sent out as missionaries one month from today. To begin our meeting tonight, I set the context with three key biblical texts that are always bouncing around my mind. These texts show that we don’t just “do missions.” Missions is not one program of the church or something that a few people have a heart for. Mission is our main task. How do we know?
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). The entire goal of creation is that God would be worshiped and his glory would be cherished. As John Piper has written, “Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” One day, the glory of God will be inescapable just like water in the ocean is inescapable. But global missions is the God-ordained means to that end.
How will we get there?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). God doesn’t do missions mysteriously apart from our involvement. It’s a human activity. Laborers—missionaries—must be sent out. So we pray for laborers. Commission laborers. Fund laborers. And send laborers out to harvest those God is drawing to himself.
What’s the end result of this?
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10). History will conclude and eternity will endure with a diverse multitude of people singing praise to the Lamb who was slain. The glory of God will be inescapable. Every nook and cranny of human society will dwell with their Creator and Redeemer in sweet fellowship forever.
These are just three texts. Of hundreds. Even thousands. All revealing that we don’t just “do missions.” Missions is our main task because it is a means toward the greatest end: the glory of God embraced and treasured by every kind of person for all eternity. It’s what we were made for. And one day it finally happen.
I can’t wait. What about you?
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
You are probably familiar with the spy thriller film series, Mission: Impossible. To date, there have been six films in which Ethan Hunt, the main character, goes on a different mission. Take a moment to ponder that. Mission: Impossible. Six different missions. The missions don’t seem to be impossible after all!
The way God entered the world and prepared the way for his arrival, on the other hand, was impossible. At least it seemed to be. God promised he would send one final messenger, before Messiah. The fact that there would be a messenger wasn’t impossible. Just the way he would come. A woman named Elizabeth conceived in her old age—much older than the prime childbearing years. Her child? John, the final messenger. God overcame the laws of nature and did the impossible.
With Messiah, however, God upped the ante. This time, he would use a virgin, a woman who had never been with a man. That woman was a poor, unwed teenager named Mary. When Mary questioned the angel who foretold Jesus’ birth, “How can these things be?” The angel replied, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Nothing.
Later in life, Jesus had a discussion with his disciples about how hard it was for rich people to be saved. Some thought, “If rich people—the most important and successful people in our society—can’t be saved, then how can anyone be saved?!” Jesus’ response harkened back to that simple yet wonderful news the angel declared to his mother all those years ago: “With God all things are possible.” In other words, if salvation is up to people, no one will be saved. Thankfully, it’s not up to people. It’s up to God.
That’s the whole point of the virgin birth. Salvation would not—could not—be a human work. It would be a total, complete work of God for us, from start to finish. From conception to cross. Does it seem too good to be true? Impossible even? With God, it’s not impossible after all.
Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Luke 1:26-38
- How do you think you would have felt or responded had you been in Elizabeth’s shoes? In Mary’s?
- Do you see your salvation as God overcoming the impossible? Why or why not?
- What is something hard going on in your life right now that is simply too much for you to handle How can you trust God today in the midst of this seeming impossibility?