Christianity 201

October 30, 2020

The Necessary Benefit of Funerals

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This morning, while waiting for someone to finish an appointment, I walked through our local cemetery, where I took these pictures. I couldn’t help but think of this verse:

Ecclesiastes 7:2

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
We looked at this subject here back in 2013:
The writer of Ecclesiastes is offering some advice that is hard to take, but life is not all about laughter and hilarity. Elsewhere, he wrote that there is
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Eugene Peterson renders Eccl. 7:2 as
You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—
After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover
    something from it.

As to the first verse above, at StudyLight.org, we read that classic writer and Bible commentator John Gill wrote,

It is better to go to the house of mourning,…. For deceased relations or friends, who either lie unburied, or have been lately inferred; for the Jews kept their mourning for their dead several days afterwards, when their friends visited them in order to comfort them, as the Jews did Martha and Mary, John 11:31. So the Targum [Aramaic Bible] here,

“it is better to go to a mourning man to comfort him;’

for at such times and places the conversation was serious and interesting, and turned upon the subjects of mortality and a future state, and preparation for it; from whence useful and instructive lessons are learned; and so it was much better to be there

than to go to the house of feasting: the Targum is,

“than to the house of a feast of wine of scorners;’

where there is nothing but noise and clamour, luxury and intemperance, carnal mirth and gaiety, vain and frothy conversation, idle talk and impure songs, and a jest made of true religion and godliness, death and another world…

At the same link there is quotation from Matthew Poole, who noted,

…it brings men to the serious consideration of their last end, which is their greatest wisdom and interest.

Also there, this from Daniel Whedon,

To gain a good name one must cultivate a noble character. First of all is needed a large sympathy with one’s fellow-men. To share their joy in the house of feasting is good, but to share their grief in the house of mourning is better, as a test…

I wonder if the Evangelical penchant for “celebrating the homegoing of Brother [or Sister] __________” is to sacrifice or bypass the period of lament.

Spurgeon said that, “Some of the old Romish monks always read their Bibles with a candle stuck in a skull. The light from a death’s head may be an awful one, but it is a very profitable one.”

Many years ago Tim Archer wrote,

Part of what the Bible seeks to teach us is how to cry. How to be sad. Much time is spent showing us how God’s people mourn after a tragedy.

Little time is spent explaining the existence of evil or why bad things happen to good people. More time, much more, is showing how God’s people cry and how they cry out to him.

Much lament is also a confession of sin, but that’s not true of all lament. Sometimes the speaker is crying out to God after suffering unjustly, at least from their point of view.

Of course this is really the entire book of Lamentations, not to mention the various laments we find in Psalms.  There’s also this example in the book of Joel:

Joel 1:13 Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.

Many writers today are noting that we lack a theology of lament, and that our worship times tend to avoid the minor keys insofar as we want our weekend services to be positive and upbeat.

A related New Testament verse would be this one:

Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  James 4:9

We covered this verse twice in 2013. The other time we quoted Daily Encouragement, where Stephen and Brooksyne Weber wrote,

Solomon, writer of Ecclesiastes, states, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.”  This begs the question, in what sense is it better?

…The reasons that mourning is even more essential than feasting is listed in the following two phrases in the text. In retrospect as I consider the times we have experienced the “house of mourning” I fully understand the writer’s premise.

1) “For death is the destiny of every man.” In other words, death is inevitable. It’s part of the grand plan of how things work as a result of the original fall. Each time we go to the house of mourning this universal reality confronts us. We are reminded that life on this earth is temporary and that we all have an expiration date. Otherwise we might get so caught up in the “here and now” that we don’t make adequate plans for the “there and later”.

2) “The living should take this to heart” The “house of mourning” helps us to consider our heart’s condition and the state of our soul. Of course most of us have been to a variety of house of mournings, yet the tone of the memorial service and the variety of people who gather can make the setting as different as night and day…

The Webers ended with a reference to a related text, Hebrews 9:27-28:

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Modern worship leader Paul Baloche writes,

In our fast-paced culture, funerals give us the rare occasion to reflect on the brevity of life and how each of our days are numbered. There is a sense of “coming to terms” with reality that our life on this earth will end. As Christians we find assurance in the promise of God’s Word that Jesus Christ did indeed die for the remission of our sins and rose again with the invitation to live forever through Him and with Him.

At Daily Encouragement, the Webers added this prayer:

Father, we rejoice in the feasting periods and reflect in the mourning periods of our life. The richest experiences that shape our character are from the great highs and the deep lows we encounter over a lifetime. Not only do we spend time reflecting, studying, and learning from these experiences, but they speak to us of the importance of who we are in the midst of those circumstances. In the house of feasting we rejoice in our accomplishments and those of others from year to year. But in the house of mourning we consider the lives of those who go before us, seeking to mirror the good we witnessed or experienced from their lives. It prompts us to assess our own hearts. Are we ready should You call us to our eternal destiny? We know that planning for this life is important, but planning for the next life is absolutely essential. We want to be ready by receiving Jesus into our life and living according to Your plan as revealed in the Bible. By Your grace we can do so through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

October 9, 2019

As Often as Fear Knocks, The Lord is Near

Today we’re back again at The Serener Bright, and writer Ian Graham. Click the title below to read this at source where Ian posts periodically through the Psalms.

Psalm 34: Weathered Hope

Psalm 34 is the testimony of a weathered, God-facing life. Its fine-wine wisdom, aged and oaken, each note bearing witness to years, disappointments, but ultimately the triumph of a long and loving obedience in the same direction. David begins with his resolution:

I will bless the Lord at all times (v. 3).

This seems like the naive proclamations of over-eager youth. But as we will see, this promise has gray hair and experience. This is not a decision that has been made in a fleeting moment but the accumulated awareness of what it means to live life looking to God with radiant, expectant, unashamed eyes (v. 5). This proclamation is not a conversation that David began, it’s an answering word, a response to steadfast and unfailing love, of a man who knows that God not only can save him but also actually enjoys being in his company.

David then recounts his past:

I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears (v. 4).

David’s not recalling one isolated incident. Think of how fear works. It labors endlessly, it’s never far and its work is never done. But David is here to tell us, as often as the fear comes knocking, as often as the pain of this world shows up with its very real terror and its false gospel of doom and despair, the Lord is always near to the brokenhearted (v. 17). When your spirit is crushed under the agony of anxiety, even if all you can muster is a faint groan, a longing too deep for words and too broken for articulation, the Lord will answer your cry (v. 17).

David doesn’t discount the reality of the fears that faces us. Many of them are venomous, injecting the most bitter poisons of loss, bitterness, and disillusionment. But what he suggests is that those fears are real in the same way a black hole is real. In black holes, gravity accelerates at such a pace that no particles or light can escape. Fear does this too. It traps us in its vortex of nothingness.

But what David proclaims is Gospel. Salvation. God is present even in the places where nothing escapes, he can hear our cry because he is not beyond the black hole of despair, he is right there with us.

David then teaches us a “holy fear” a fear with actual weight to it: the fear of the Lord. The first invitation David offers is simply a practice of the presence of God. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (v. 8). Like any good thing we taste, it perpetuates a longing for more. Fear of the Lord is not a fear that alienates us from God, it aligns us with the rhythms of grace. David then shows us more by offering his second invitation, “Depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it” (v. 14). Fear of the Lord is being remade again in his image, excavating the goodness of the architecture of our world, turning from the ways of figs and leaves, of shame and fear, to the abundance of shalom. David says, here, in this way is life. And I know because I’ve seen it all.

Finally, David offers one stern warning and one resounding promise. As David writes, “Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate righteousness will be condemned.” It’s not that God is up in some far-off heaven with his eternal ledger—as we’ve already seen he’s near to the brokenhearted. God is life. His ways are the only way to sustain life. Any way opposed to his is to choose death. Any other way than God’s way folds in on itself. But for those who serve the Lord, who seek his face, and take refuge in his grace, the Lord will redeem your life, there is no condemnation (v.22)

The apostle Paul will later pick up on this echo in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 8, he will write, “Now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) and “nothing that can ever separate us from his love.” (Rom. 8vv38-39).

Yes hardship, pain, fear, loss, and ultimately death will come to us all in this life. But David stands as a docent in the museum of grace: in every circumstance, even at our darkest hour, the Lord hears and he rescues (v. 17). Selah.

September 5, 2019

Blessed Are They That Mourn

Matthew 5.2 And He began to teach them.

    Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.

This summer I was given a copy of a book from Regent College Publishing, which is one of the best treatments of The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 that I’ve seen. Written by former pastor and Regent professor Darrell Johnson, it is titled The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with the Reign of God. I’ve offered a fuller review of the book at this link.



…the picture the second Beatitude suggests is not that of Jesus coming into our city, spotting people who are mourning, and reaching out to them with comfort. He did do that, blessed be His name. He spotted the widow in the town of Nain, following behind the funeral procession that was carrying her son’s corpse to the cemetery, and He reached out to her (Luke 7:11-17). He saw the tears flowing down the faces of Mary and Martha as they stood outside the tomb of their brother Lazarus, and He so reached out to them that he Himself began to weep (John 11:1-37). But those encounters are not the primary picture suggested by the second Beatitude. Rather, the picture is that of Jesus coming into our city, reaching out, and calling people to Himself who then begin to mourn. Yes, they (and we) begin to rejoice deeply! But they (and we) also begin to mourn deeply…

…”Blessed… for you shall be comforted.” When? When are the mourners to receive comfort?

In the end, when the kingdom of heaven is fully realized. When, as the Voice from the throne of the universe says, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

But we shall also be comforted before the end, even now. How? The word translated “comfort” is the verb parakaleo, a rich word. The primary meaning of parakaleo is to exhort, to encourage, or to embolden. It is used of soldiers cheering each other on. This is also the original meaning of the English word “comfort”: com “with,” fortis “strength” – com-fort, “strengthen by being with.”

Jesus is saying that as we dare to open ourselves up to pain and grief, we feel ourselves strangely strengthened.

How? Why? From the verb parakaleo comes the noun paraklete. Paraklete is the word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit, with whom and in whom Jesus baptized His disciples. Before the end, when every tear is wiped away, the Paraklete, the personal embodiment of the kingdom, comes alongside those who are mourning.

When we become aware of the depth of sin, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: “Jesus paid it all. Your guilt is removed, your iniquity is forgiven, your sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb.”

When we feel just how broken the world is, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: He reminds us that even now the Father and the Son are at work, that creation is groaning only because it is in the throes of childbirth, that the turmoil in the world is due in part to the kingdom invading and disturbing the status quo.

When we feel despair over how far we are from the kingdom’s way, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: The kingdom has come near; the kingdom is breaking in all over the world, and nothing can ultimately stand in its way.

As you can probably tell, I have great vision of what can be.

pp 45, 53-55

 

 

February 22, 2015

The Bible on Depression

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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During Sundays in February we’ve been visiting the blog Christian Fellowship Devotions.  Archives at the blog go back to 1996, and today I want to link you to their topical index.

For our final Sunday with them, I wanted to use an older item by Janice that deals with a topic I know is very real to many of you.  (I think by NNAS she is referring to the updated New American Standard.) Click the title below to read at source.

depression

Passages about Depression

Depression — it’s something many of us struggle with — yes, even Christians. Being depressed does not mean you are “not a good Christian.” In fact, some of the “heroes of our faith” went through periods of what used to be called “melancholy.” Sometimes depression is a result of sin, but at other times, it is as Christian psychiatrist Frank Meier says, simply “…the result of life stresses.” Here is a bit of what God’s word has to say about it.

Biblical Examples of Depression

Neh 1:3-4 (NNAS) They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire. When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Psa 13:1-3 (NNAS) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.

Psa 102:9-11 (NNAS) For I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping. Because of Your indignation and Your wrath, For You have lifted me up and cast me away.My days are like a lengthened shadow, And I wither away like grass.

Prov 14:13 (NNAS) Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief.

What We Are to Do About Depression?

We should follow Nehemiah’s and the Psalmist’s examples, pouring our hearts out to God:

Neh 1:6-7 (NNAS) Let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

James 4:8-10 (NNAS) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Find things to be thankful for, even in the most painful times. God will honor that.

1 Th 5:18 (NNAS) In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Share with a trustworthy friend. Let him minister to you.

Rom 12:15 (NNAS) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

December 20, 2010

A Brutally Honest Christmas Carol: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:33 pm
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The verse is in a minor key.   That should give you a clue.  Not your average Christmas carol.

Thinking about the song, and reading the today’s selected blog post, I was reminded of the popular worship song, “Blessed Be The Name;” especially where it talks about “pain in the offering.”     Ditto, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day;” a song cheerfully sung by some oblivious to the lyrics they are mouthing.    Christmas can be a time of pain for many.   Here in Canada we are mourning the loss of another soldier in Afghanistan, just two days before his 25th birthday; just days before Christmas.   There are other situations and examples I wish I could share here, but am respecting certain confidentialities…

…I find the posts for this blog in some unique places, and this post about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is from the blog of the student ministry of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Norfolk, Maine.   Coincidence?

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan poet who had the following to say about pain and the love of God:

“And when I have been in sickness and pain I have thought if the Lord would but lift up the light of his countenance upon me, although he ground me to powder it would be but light to me; yea, oft have I thought were it hell itself, and could there find the love of God toward me, it would be a heaven.  And could I have been in heaven without the love of God, it would have been a hell to me; for, in truth, it is the absence and presence of God that makes heaven or hell.”  (The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet, 317-318)

So often, we consider God’s love the power that drives away the pain in our lives.  We ask ourselves why God allows us to suffer such pain, and we wonder whether or not it’s because our faith isn’t as firm as it should be.  But I love what Anne Bradstreet writes and I’m challenged to ask myself if I could say the same thing: Heaven without the love of God would be a Hell to me, and Hell with God’s love being present would be like Heaven to me.

This Advent season, we hear and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” often, but I wonder how much we really miss how amazing the truth of that song truly is.  Emmanuel… “God with us.”  Knowing that God truly became a man in Christ Jesus, and that He sent us the Holy Spirit to live within and to guide each of us who believe in Christ should make a serious difference in how we endure pain and suffering.

For many, the Christmas/holiday season is a really difficult time of year as they remember loved ones who are not still around to celebrate with.  December can be a very lonely month!  But “Emmanuel = God with us” rings out even louder than loneliness… God’s love is true in Christ, cherish that sweet truth today.

Normally at this point, I’d embed the video, but this time I want to invite you to jump to the source blog to watch a very stirring contemporary rendition of the song…