Dark Clouds Deep Mercy (A Review)

Sometimes we hurt. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we are depressed. Our cluture often doesn’t want to take time to express and feel the negative. In American Christianity there can be a strong pull to pass over the negative in favor of the positive side of things. Certainly there is a lot of optimism to our faith (Jesus defeated the grave!) but there is also room for lament (Jesus went to the grave). We all go through pain, loss and unexpected challenges. Sometimes we feel the sharp edges of our broken world. It can be unbarable to somehow talk as if rainbows exist without rain clouds or as if the resurection happened without the crusafixion. We need to grieve and lament in a broken world.

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy* was a really fantastic read and very helpful in understanding a fuller picture of God’s sovereignty in our suffering. Written from a place of his own lament, Mark Vroegop, candidly shares how to pray through the laments found in scripture. As pastor he has been instrumental in helping individuals and groups process their own lament in a biblical way.

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy* is both exposition of some of the key texts of scripture (like Lametations, some of the Psalms, etc.) and exposition of the heart in lament. Vroegop writes in an intelligent but open style that allows the reader to enguage in the language of lament. I found the book extremely helpful in my own life and it’s one that I will probably pass on to others.

From a pastoral perspective, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy*, is a fantastic resource to begin figuring out how to lament and lead people through a lamenting process. There are a few really goood resouces in the index. Should another edition be published, I’d like to see more information on leading a group prayer time and other aspects of corporate lament that were shared in the book. The tools are there, but in a rough form.

*This is an affiliate link. If you click on the link and purchase any items through Christianbook.com I will recieve an affiliate commission. (It helps me earn money for more books!) Reguardless, I only recommend products / services I use personally use and believe will add value to my readers.

Never Let Them Cry Alone

It hurts! The pain is so real and everything is so quiet. There is a ton of agony and frustration when you experience tears and are being told to, “Move on,” You can’t even move. You are paralyzed and so you end up more frustrated at yourself, at others, at the one you are mourning. Then you feel guilty for even feeling this way.

Your fear paralyzes you. When you are grieving, you don’t want to leave the loss of your loved one. You are afraid of leaving them behind. Afraid that they will be forgotten. Afraid because you don’t know how to live without them.

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How do you experience joy when the one you want to tell about it isn’t there to listen? The joy you would have, is swallowed up by shame because the one you want to share it with isn’t there to share it. You feel guilty for seeing the sunrise, sunset, and new adventures for the first time because you turn to share and remember this is the one they never got to see.

Our souls weren’t made for this. We weren’t made for grieving and this is why it is so difficult.

Sometimes it is just a hand or a hug that encourages you to keep going. It’s a touch. The skin of a hand touching yours or a hug that reminds you that despite all that you are feeling, you are not alone. If we need each other to share in our joy, how much more do we need others to share our grief.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

ROMANS 12:15

It’s the hushed tones of a voice whispering over you in prayer. You know that is were the answers to your questions are hidden… the mind of God. He knows even more than you do about this moment, more than your friends, more than the one we grieve… He knows.

But you don’t feel like praying. Maybe you have been taught to be careful about the tone that would come out? Maybe all you can do is ask the question, “Why?” so many times. Maybe you are afraid that you won’t like the answer. What ever the reason, you just stop asking… and so to hear the words of a friend mumbled over you in prayer is exactly what you need because your faith is running dry and you need to borrow someone elses for a moment.

Mourning is for the community and weaping is a team event. No one should cry alone and no one should rejoice alone. If you have never cried with a friend, perhaps you have never been a friend. We don’t let our friends cry alone.

When you were little, you would cry about everything. On my best days as a father, I would pause and cry with you. Maybe not in as real or full of a sense as you were crying, but in a way that said, “I was sorry too,” for whatever you were lamenting. I learned that my small gesture of validating your sorrow helped you to cope with everything that was going on and was helpful in moving into a new rythm of life. You needed my empathy and I needed to give it.

Sometimes we just need the tears of our friends. I am genuinely sorry for the moments I didn’t take time for tears with you.* There were too many times your tears exposed my insecurities. Often the need to stop your tears said more about me than it did about you. I was trying to fix my broken world by breaking you to fit in… when what I should have done was to sit down and cry with you for the world’s brokenness you were feeling that day and look forward to the day when He would wipe our tears away.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

REVELATION 21:4

*certainly there were times I was right to tell you to dry it up, but there were some moments that I should have taken the time to cry with you.

As my children come of age, they are starting to read my blog from time to time. I write for them as much as for all of you. This post is a meditation on Romans 12:15 I originally wrote as a journal entry but thought I’d share it here.

Honoring Our Heroes

Tuesday Morning, September 11, 2001 many of us saw the best and worst of humanity play out in real life down the street and on our television screens. America had been attacked! Real fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, friends, people… real people, ordinary people, were viciously attacked by a radical Islamic terrorists. We didn’t see it coming!

At first we wondered if it was planned? We had a hard time believing that someone would plan such a vicious attack on civilians. We watched the second plane hit, learned about the Pentegon attack, and heard of the other plane that was crashed into a field on American soil. Many of us sat glued to the television praying, not even knowing what to say, because we didn’t know what was happening.

While many stood still in fear, shock, or wonder, there was another group of men and women who quickly mobalized and went running into the fray. They were our first responders. They were just as surprised as the rest of us, but they had a duty that day. Many were off work, but they still geared up and ran into those buildings. Some who were in the building that day been trained as volunteers and instinctively started to lead people to safety. Many entered into the fray never to make it back home.

We gained a new appreciation for our first responders that day. It has become a day to remember and honor our heroes. We had always known that if we were in danger and we called, the fire truck would come, the ambulance would get there, the police would arrive. We always knew that there was a cost, but on that day we saw that cost paid over and over by incredible men and women who went to help.

In the years since, we have had time to reflect and notice that we have alway had heroes in our midst! They enter our lives at our scariest moments (when we face a health crisis, a fire, or are the victim of a crime) and walk us through them. They bring us peace when our world is anything but peaceful.

It always comes with a cost. Sometimes the cost is relatively low and its just an inconvenience. Sometimes the cost is emotional, knowing you did everything right, but still wondering and feeling like you lost or it’s the heart break of the broken situations they enter that seem so broken they will never heal. Sometimes the cost is high, too high, when our friends and heroes don’t come back.

As I was praying for some of our local first responders today and reflecting on 9/11, I came accross this verse:

He who follows righteousness and mercy Finds life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21

I am grateful for our first responders, especially those who I know in our own community. I count it a privildege to be a friend and pray for many by name. I know them to be men and women of character who enter into difficult situations and are genuine peacemakers. I have found them to be men and women of honor.

Typically at this time of year, our church sponsors a breakfast for the first responders in our community! I genuinely enjoy being able to celebrate and honor these men and women. This year, for the first time, we have had to alter our plans (Due to the virus) but I look forward to celebrating our local heroes in the days ahead, because I believe them to be men and women worthy of honor. I am grateful to God for thier service in our community and the thousands upon thousands like them around the nation and globe who step in to help when help is needed most.

Parenting in the Pew

I really enjoyed reading, Parenting in the Pew, by Robbie Castleman. It was a bit of a “must read” for me. Generally (before the pandemic), the first Sunday of every month, all of our youngsters are in the pews with their parents as well as Sunday nights. The other Sundays we had Children’s church. However, when the pandemic took effect we were worshiping together as family units every week (not really a bad thing). As a pastor I wanted to figure out how I could help our parents, not to mention my own family (unfortunately my wife is the single parent in the pew with our toddler, pre-teen, and teen)!

Robbie Castleman hits the nail on the head with Parenting in the Pew. I was expecting a very basic, “how to get your kids to behave in church,” type book. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when the topic quickly turned from “church” to “worship.” This book packed a punch, and I found myself rejoiceing and praising God at some of the simple truths demonstrated in very practical ways throughout the book. I also gathered a few ideas on how to better preach/ teach all of our youngsters in the pew.

If you are a parnt looking to teach your children about the value of corportate worship or a pastor/ children’s pastor lookinig to equip parents. This is a fantastic resource for you.

There is only one slight hicup in the whole book. Castlemen spends one chapter on the ordinances (which can vary so much from denomination to denomination). I feel she does a good job providing broad application for families from a variety of backgrounds, but if you are unfamiliar with the differences between pedo-baptism and believers baptism or open and closed communion then it may be alot to sort through in that particular chapter. It is a small part of a very good book and I’d still highly reccomend it.

TOGETHER

“Together,” it is just one little word, yet somehow it came to mean so much. You are three and so maybe the word was big for you. Big or Little, we both know what “together” means.

We were praying. You were saying the Lord’s Prayer. You wanted to say the prayer alone. (It is lovely to watch your confidence grow.) You made it most of the way through, you paused, looked up at me with those mild yet gleeful eyes and said, “together, let’s pray together.” You wanted me to add my voice to yours in this prayer.

Maybe you lost your way and you didn’t know the words. You needed me to step in on this prayer and remind you of the words we pray behind the Lord in His model prayer. You needed me to be there for you as a mentor, a father, a pastor and a discipler to show you the way. There are several moments where I have done this in my own life and called out for the help of others and recognized that I needed someone to show me the next steps to take. I’ve also been blessed to be there for many who have needed someone to shephard them along the way.

Maybe though you just saw me alone and you didn’t want me to be alone and so in your sweet childlike simplicity you reached out and said that one small/ big word, “together.” And by saying it, you were saying that I wasn’t alone and you weren’t alone, but we were together.

Maybe you just didn’t want to say the next part alone. It was full of big words that somehow roll easily off the tongue but plague us in their difficulty to put into practice. You needed to know that it is okay to ask God to forgive you, even as your daddy does. It’s okay pray to forgive, even as your daddy does. It’s ok to pray against temptation and for deliverance, because even your daddy needs to pray this way… you needed to know that I too am a sinner and struggle to ask God for these things sometimes, but that I do.

Maybe you just know that I love Jesus too! You thought I shouldn’t be left out when we pray. You know he is my king and that I pray to see his kingdom come and you didn’t want the opportunity to pass me by. So you said “together” to encoourage me to do what I already do and what is right.

Maybe you said it because I use that word with you all the time. You know all the analogies I use and always sum it up with, “we belong together.” And you just wanted to have another “together” moment with me with God in prayer.

Maybe it was all of the above, maybe it was none of it or perhaps something in between. But you taught me so much about how to pray just now when you said together. For such a little word it means a whole lot. There were days before the isolation that we see so much of that I took that word and all it meant for granted, but today when you uttered it in all it’s simplicity I understood it like never before.

Now to make a broader application of these thoughts. I look forward to the next full gathering of our church where we are together. Together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Together as the called out ones. Together to minister to one anothers needs. Together to encourage. Together to disciple. Together to strengthen one another. Together to bless one another in the Lord’s name. Together to bless and worship the Lord.

I am grateful for the words, “our” and “us” in the Lord’s prayer that reminds me that when we pray, we never really pray alone, but we pray together. Perhaps you are on your side of the globe and I’m on mine. But we are both praying for the kingdome to come and his will to be

“In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as [it is] in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

-Matthew 6:9-13

Where is God in the Pandemic? (a few quick and helpful reads)

I’ve been intentional about reading lately. Years ago, a friend and mentor told me that I didn’t have a right to an opinion until I’d read a book or two on the subject… I don’t know if I completely agree, but his point was well taken. Uninformed opinions abound on social media, in conversations, and unfortunately even on our news channels these days. I have found to be a leader in today’s climate it’s very important to be well read. Even reading just a few books on a topic can help you better understand the current issues we are facing in our culture.

I’ve read a few books about Pandemics and Viruses from a general perspective, but if you are struggling to figure out where God fits in all of this, I want to recommend two resources to help you from a theological perspective.

I really enjoyed reading both of these books. If they had one flaw in common, it would be that both books appear to have been written or compiled early in the pandemic and so they may seem a little dated (even though they are only a few months old).

Christ and the Coronavirus, by John Piper, does an excellent job of framing things up from a biblical perspective and is useful in beginning to grasp the sovereignty of God and the issue of malevolent forces such as viruses that kill. He also provides several biblical reasons why God might have allowed the pandemic. It’s a short read at just over 100 pages.

Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John Lennox, while approaching things biblically, directs more attention to philosophical discussion on why a good God would allow a force such as a virus in the world. Lennox’s writing is clear and logical. He pulls in several great quotes, including one near the end that he adapts from C. S. Lewis. This book is also very brief at under 100 pages.

Both books are very short and are intended for popular and general audiences. If you have never pondered the question of God and viruses before or if you are looking for a resources to share with others these are two brief and good introductions.

It should be noted that the links provided are NOT affiliate links. (I am not being compensated to write about them.)

Thy Kingdom Come

Jesus teaches us to petition God with is that HIS kingdom would come. To understand this we first have to grasp “His kingdom.” The kingdom of God is anywhere the King reigns. It is a physical place and a spiritual reality.

Remember that we live in a seized state. Men and women are separated from God by their sins. Satan, the Prince of the power of the air, has a rule and dominion over the earth. We are the resistance clamoring for the rightful King to return.

It is an election year. We have narrowed the field for president. It’s important to vote. You might have a candidate that you want to win the election. Maybe they fit your ideals. Maybe they promised you something better than the other guy. Maybe you’re just scared of what will happen if the other guy gets elected. So you anticipate and hope that so and so get’s elected or doesn’t get elected.

This supersedes that! This is not just a desire for the right candidate in the right office, but that all the people of the land will recognize Jesus as king. When you pray, “Your kingdom come,” you are talking about your house and you are talking about your neighbor’s house.  You see what’s most relevant isn’t the changes that take place or don’t take place in the White House, what is most relevant is what changes are taking place in your house! Is Jesus LORD or do you still run the show?

Day 90: Revelation 19-22 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Revelation 19-22 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

I find it interesting that the near the beginning of the bible we see a marriage (Adam and Eve in Genesis 2), Jesus begins his public ministry with a wedding (by attending the wedding in Canna in John 2), and now we find one near the end of the bible (Revelation 19). The marriage relationship points us to God’s design like no other earthly relationship that we may have.  Each wedding is a look back to the first wedding there in the garden and a look forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb. 

In these final chapters we see a great separation of mankind. On the one hand, we have those who are welcomed into the new Jerusalem, eternal life, etc. But on the other hand there will be those who never trust in the Lord and they will cast into the lake of fire. God’s judgement is always fair.

In Revelation 21:3 we see what makes heaven, heaven, God will dwell with his people once again. This was what was lost at the fall. This is what was demonstrated with the tabernacle in the wilderness and later the temple in Jerusalem. This is what is demonstrated in Christ. This is the promise received by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We will never be far from the LORD. The mountains are brought low, the valleys are raised up. The sea is clear. The light is the LORD himself.

One final thought. The gates to the city are made of pearl. Pearls are the only precious stone made by an organic creature. A little sand cause irritation in a clam and the clam covers it and covers it until it is no longer and irritation, but has become something valuable. When we cross through the pearly gates we will remember a life marred by sin, but redeemed by Jesus. Our brokenness will ultimately be covered over and fixed by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

FATHER, Thank you for the grace of studying your word. Thank you for the opportunity to read the new testament together for the last 90 days. I ask that you would give us wisdom for the generation and moment that we live in. I pray that we would make the must use of our time for your kingdom and your glory. We look forward to the return of Christ and when all things are truly made new. Thank you for the grace of leading your people. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

 

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

Find out about New Testament 90 – Here

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Day 89: Revelation 16-18 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Revelation 16-18 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

The reading today is filled with a lot of imagery that many others have attempted to interpret so I won’t add anything there. What I’d like to notice is the wrath of God, especially as it concerns the persecution of the saints. God cannot be loving without being wrathful. Those two attributes go together. Indeed, because God is loving that He is wrathful. God loves the martyrs so he avenges them by pouring out his wrath. Notice that God’s wrath isn’t like ours. He makes no mistakes in judgement. It isn’t undeserved, if anything God has been patient with mankind by not pouring out his wrath sooner.

Notice also how this wrath serves to harden the hearts of those who hate God. They continue to curse him and blaspheme rather than repent and come to God on his terms. The fact that the wrath comes in waves serves to demonstrate that there is time and opportunity for repentance, but people continue to harden their heart. They would rather shake their finite fist at the Creator than repent of sin and turn to Him…. They are broken beyond repair. They will not turn from their sin.

I think this passage should cause a real sobriety among God’s people. We should recognize that God is in control, he will bring justice in his own time and at the exact right time. We should be quick to repent knowing that God offers all sorts of opportunities along the way to seek repentance. We should also be scared to ever harden our heart against God.

FATHER, I pray that we have tender hearts today. I ask that we would be ready to receive your word. We stand in awe of your greatness and your sovereignty. We are thankful for your patience and we rejoice in your justice. We pray that we would always be quick to repent when we find ourselves in sin. Thank you for the grace of leading your flock. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

Find out about New Testament 90 – Here

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Day 88: Revelation 13-15 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Revelation 13-15 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

There is much that remains a mystery about the symbolism we find in the book of Revelation. One thing that really stuck out to me today was how the gospel will go out to all the nations. John observes in the passage we read today, “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth–to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people– saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Revelation 14:6-7).  This reminds me of where, Jesus, speaking to the disciples about the end of the age, says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

It seems as though in John’s vision that we are getting very near the end. I am grateful that though all the really scary stuff, we still see the light of the gospel going to all the world even in the midst of persecution and hardship.  I think this says something about the grace and benevolence of God to call his people to repentance. 

FATHER, Thank you for the power of the gospel that has transformed my life. Thank you that the gospel must and will go out to the entire world. I pray that in my generation that we are faithful to take your gospel as far and fast as we can take your message. I pray that we would remain strong in the face of whatever obstacles or challenges we may face. Thank you for the grace to shepherd your people. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

Find out about New Testament 90 – Here

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