Rejoicing in Lament

On November 13, I had the honor of joining pastor A. J. Sherrill at Mars Hill Bible Church, in Grandville, MI in delivering a message on Psalm 13 and lament. Mars Hill is in the midst of a teaching series on the Psalms and the Stars -- encountering the Psalms anew, with wonder. Pastor Sherrill begins with a stunning portrait of "black holes," and the way in which Psalms of lament provide a way to pray to the Lord of the universe when our lives seem to implode.  He unpacks how Psalm 13 reaches us in the "black holes" of abandonment, betrayal, agony, depression, shame, waiting, and mortality. To view Pastor Sherrill's teaching and our discussion on video, or download the audio, click here. I join Pastor Sherrill at the 16 minute-point in the video/audio. I came to see Psalm 13 in new ways through this teaching time -- I hope that you...

I've been reflecting a lot on lament and racism, particularly in light of the current events that have plagued this country. We live in an age animated by social media -- social media which generates and spreads outrage and anger at extraordinary speeds. Exasperating our already polarized society, social media creates echo-chambers and demonizes any missteps of the “enemy” ideology. This polarized society has far reaches which have spread broadly, even in our public personas. For Christians, there is good can come from this, as it can awaken us from our slumber, reminding us that we live in the “already, but not yet.” Be it outrage that stems from the Planned Parenthood videos or the racism protested by Black Lives Matter, our world is filled with open wounds of sin and injustice. In a recent article I wrote for Relevant Magazine, I explore how within our 'twitter-world' learning how to lament "opens up a...

In January, I participated in a conversation with Chris C. J. Kingdom Grier, Mark Charles, and Mary Hulst about lament, cancer, and cancerous racism at the Calvin Symposium on Worship in Grand Rapids, MI. The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship collected our remarks from the panel and our written responses all in one place and I am grateful to share a part of this conversation here: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Nobody knows but Jesus, Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Glory, hallelujah! Like the psalmist, the singer of this African American spiritual comes before the Lord and readily names the open wound of grief. “Nobody knows” expresses the gathered people’s alienating and unspeakable grief and anger over injustice—of a husband whose wife and children were sold away in slavery, of governments that repeatedly fail in promises that guarantee the freedom of black Americans, of yet another black youth killed by police brutality. And yet, Christ...

As Christians in the modern West, we often minimize our resurrection hope when we minimize the profound loss in death. Resurrection hope is radically good news. But we miss its power when push the reality of our mortality to the sidelines. I recall a recent conversation with a pastor who serves in a church made up exclusively of persons in their 20s and 30s. He emphasized, rightly, that the Kingdom of God has come among us, and we are to be involved in the Kingdom of God now. But he realized that after several years at the church, they had never talked about death, or life after death -- it's "here and now" rather than "life after death." If that is the case, what is our "resurrection hope" besides a call to be involved in the Kingdom in the present? That is good as far as it goes. As long as one...

In our suffering, we find comfort in God's impassibility Note: This last week, First Things Magazine opened an article of mine for non-subscribers that was published in December of 2014. It includes material that was adapted from chapter nine of Rejoicing in Lament. I focus upon Christ's lament on the cross as the culmination of all biblical laments. In the end, I make that case that a commonly misunderstood doctrine -- divine impassibility -- can provide deep comfort to the suffering. This is a section from that article. When Christ on the cross laments with the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” his desolation means that when we pray this ourselves, we are not in a free fall, even when it feels that way. We can utter a cry of unspeakable anguish and yet maintain a profound hope, because, in Christ, God himself has taken on our human suffering, including our alienation...

The Church’s Witness in the Midst of Dying and Death Often Christians inhabit a theological vision guided by instrumental outcomes – a growth in the evangelistic and social outreach of the church, a revitalization of community and discipleship. But what happens to the church’s witness when all of our grand plans and visions for change stop short against the brick wall of death? In this lecture, I reflect upon the way in which death, although the last enemy to be destroyed through Christ, also has the possibility of exposing the nature of a Christian hope which goes beyond trusting in our own efforts and plans. https://vimeo.com/156274041 I delivered the lecture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the "Theology and Ministry" lecture series, dedicated to Carl Henry. It includes many of my recent reflections since the publication of Rejoicing of Lament. In particular, I revisit the significance of the Old Testament witness to human mortality in light of...

As Christians, we often pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the hospital. This is as it should be. But how do we pray? And how do we pray when we are in the hospital bed ourselves? I've reflected a lot on these questions since my cancer diagnosis 3.5 years ago. It has not been in the abstract, but has related to my own praying, and praying for others. In the fall, Leadership Journal asked for me to address the question of how to pray for those with incurable conditions, in particular. You can find my article in response here. This last week, I published a book review of a small book which takes on the question in a more general sense: how God meets us in the hospital, and how to pray in that context. The book is John Piper's newest, Lessons from a Hospital Bed. On the one hand,...

In the fall, I spoke in chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, preaching on Colossians 3:1-4 -- a passage which seems particularly significant in this season of Lent, as we seek to remember that we were created from dust, and to dust we shall return, and yet our true hope which is now hidden will one day be made manifest when the resurrected Christ, who is our true life, will appear! "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. "                                            ...

As we approach the season of Lent, are there ways that you and your congregation are going to journey with Christ to the cross and resurrection? I’m often asked about how congregations can incorporate lament into their worship and their life. There are a number of ways to do this: such as recovering the reading and memorizing of the Psalms, and providing space in worship not only for confession, but also songs and prayers of lament. “How long, O Lord?” This question echoes all of our cries over the injustice, loss and unbelief in the world and in our lives. I sometimes suggest taking a particular season to rediscover the Christian practice of lament as well. This last fall, I discovered that quite a few groups were using Rejoicing in Lament for small group or congregation-wide studies. I am deeply grateful that it can be a gift on the path of both rejoicing and lamenting in the Lord....

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not sure what to what to think of this Christmas jingle on the radio. But I do know that Advent and Christmas are double-sided – both joyous and humbling. It’s not about celebrating that all is well in the world and our lives right now. It is celebrating that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Why do we celebrate a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord? Because we are sinners in a disordered world. We need a Savior. We need a Messiah anointed with God’s Spirit. We need a Lord in the midst of our lordless, disordered times. We await, we rejoice. We lament, we hope. “Come, Lord Jesus!” In the last three years since my own cancer diagnosis, the sharpness of these gospel themes – of both rejoicing and...