The Cry of the Broken: Part 1

I return to the topic of the broken/wounded (I may use them interchangeably, even though they have slightly different referents and meanings). Three previous blog posts have generated interest, not necessarily in number of hits, but through interactions, both online and in person.

Liturgy —Brokenness, Forgiveness, and Praise 

God has amnesia

How deep the wound — How much deeper the healing 

Who does this apply to?

Some might think that “cry of the broken” is more a woman’s issue, or something they can readily talk about, “since women can cry easier than men,” or so we have heard. This is not referring to emotional crying, although that may be part of it. We also hear “Certainly men don’t talk about this!”

In many years of ministry and through personal experience, I have learned that this is not a man or woman issue, it is a human issue. Both men and women are affected by the brokenness, both encounter the cry from within. Yes, they may react differently, they may speak differently, but the brokenness is common to all. The cry of the broken does not segregate nor discriminate.

Where does it come from?

Now, the cry of the broken. By this, I refer to the unspoken, un-screamed desperation that we find hidden behind our thick protective veil. The veil protects us from outside attacks, and it protects us from reaching out to someone outside our world (me!). The brokenness can be something I caused through sin, something someone else caused by sin, or by the sinful reality of the world we live in. Each issue is approached differently for resolution, but the cry of the broken seems consistent.

When the cry is stifled, the sense of alienation increases. We sense that people pull away from us. We become tentative in responding to other’s needs. “How can I respond to them, when I am broken?”

The cry varies form person to person and from time to time. The immediate questions are often emotion driven — this is not to put it down or minimize them, just an observation. Then as time moves forward, the deeper cry comes to the surface.

Why is this happening?

What will happen next?

Why can’t I stop feeling this way?

Why doesn’t anyone understand?

Didn’t I just go through this last year?

God, where are you in this?

Is there an end to this?

Who can I turn to?

Who can I trust?

This post will not deal with the specific questions, but rather the reality of asking and what is behind that reality. Note that some of these questions come spontaneously and soon. Others take time to evolve and reach the lips.

The Law and Theodicy?

If anyone in your circle feels courageous enough to approach you in the midst of your cry of the broken, the attempt usually comes from a sense of Law. That is, “if you only would do this…” or more subtly but just as Law oriented, “if you only believed this, then…” As one who struggled through the cry of the broken, the last thing I wanted to hear was someone telling me what to do. I don’t mean something like “Don’t sin!” That’s an obvious “do.” But I am referring to the “steps to solve your problems” theology—whether with regard to spouse, children, parents, jobs, relationships, you name it, there is someone who had the steps laid out for me!

As a broken person, who has experienced the cry of the broken, the Law had already crushed me. One more command, one more demand, a proven program of ”seven steps to a better marriage,” even a “tough love” word would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or in this case, my brokenness was complete.

Quite often, pastors and churches will offer a theological solution called “theodicy.” Theodicy “is literature that seeks to justify the way God has dealt with people; it vindicates divine nature in the face of evil” (Tremper Longman, III and Raymond Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Zondervan, 2006, p. 182.). Job is the premier example of theodicy.

To be honest, theodicy leaves me short when I am experiencing the cry of the broken. I really don’t care whether God needs to be justified. That may not sound very “religious” but it is the truth. It’s like I have one more example, and one more exhortation, “If only you were more like Job!” “I’m not like Job, my world is falling apart, I am broken, and I don’t need another reinforcement of my brokenness.” And so goes my cry.

Is there another view?

As a Christian who confesses the faith as a Lutheran, one of the richest treasures of our heritage that I have discovered over the past 30 years, and re-discovered more in actual experience is the theology of the cross.

The next post will address what is the theology of the cross and what it means for someone in the midst of the cry of the broken.

Prayer Focus:

Amy Thornton (at Daily Weaving)

Lord God, you are gracious and loving, with wonderful patience. You demonstrate that in our lives and you continue to work in them. Today we ask that you continue your work of forming and growing Amy. We give thanks for your ability to use her talents and gifts to bring hope, peace, joy, and love even in her weaknesses. We pray for her family as well. Draw them all closer to you. Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

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I didn’t know!

Two months ago we moved into our house here in the mountains of SoCal. Beautiful house, wonderful view, great neighbors! What more could we want?

Being from Minnesota, one of the duties for fall preparation for winter (yes, we get snow here in SoCal!) is to have the furnace checked. So today we had the guy come out. Everything was okay with the furnace, and commented how well it has been maintained.

Then as we looked around the crawl space under the entire house (about three feet high), we began to see quite a few Black Widow spiders, with plenty of eggs. Yikes! Cindy and I knew there were these kinds of spiders in the mountains. But here? Under our house? We didn’t know — that is a problem! Of course, now we know… and we are calling the exterminators to take care of the problem.

I didn’t know

As I reflected on that, it occurred to me that that’s the way it is with sin. Sometimes, sin is hidden under the covers of every day life. Sometimes because we can’t see sin, we assume it isn’t there. But like the Black Widow spiders, sin is there., and in the long run, can be much more deadly than spiders.

How do we respond to sin, the hidden sins lurking in our lives? We might plead ignorance (“I didn’t know”). Or avoidance (“It’s not a real problem”). Or we might plead arrogance (“I can handle this!). Have you used one of these excuses? Sadly, I have.

The Bible presents many examples of such “problem-solving” with sin (just read Genesis or Judges to get a glimpse of that reality). But in our current sophisticated world, we become enamored with what looks like the latest fad to solve our problems. But each gimick always leave us facing even worse consequences. Sin is like that, a deadly web (more deadly than the Black Widow!) spun by the devil, the world, and our own flesh that pulls us in. In Hebrews we read “let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us” (12:1 HCSB).

The Real Solution: I do know!

So what do we do? The first step is realizing that ignorance, avoidance, and arrogance are not bliss but deadly when it comes to sin. Thus, God calls us to repentance, we agree with God that sin is sin, this sin, this very one I am struggling with. We recognize that even “little sins” can destroy. And we admit that we deserve God’s punishment.

Second, we believe that Jesus Christ came to pay the full price of our sins. “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 HCSB). Or “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the worl” ( John 2:2 NLTse).

Third, we confess that because of what Jesus has done, God forgives us. “ “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

And we then recognize that Jesus is the one who defeats the devil. “The reason the Son of God appeared was rto destroy the works of the devi” ( John 3:8 ESV).

The extermination is complete in Jesus Christ. We do not plead ignorance of our sin; we do not plead ignorance of our Savior. Thus, through Jesus Christ, we proclaim, “I do know.” And “thanks be to God that I do know.”

Prayer focus:

Dave at Cap’n Salty’s Long Voyage…

Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you that in your grace you have solved our problems with sin, death, and the devil. We give thanks for the faithful work that Dave has been providing through his teaching Greek and Latin, his pastoring of a congregation, and his seminary studies. May you bless him with wisdom, strength, endurance, and patience as he grow sin your grace. Bless his family throughout this process. And may your name be glorified in and through hi, Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

How deep the wound — How much deeper the healing

Prayer focus: 

Sarah Markley

Lord God, we give thanks for all blessings in Jesus Christ. We who live wounded lives have an even greater One, the One who was wounded for us. Therefore, He is the perfect healer for all of us. We praise you for your work in Sarah’s life. As she experiences your love and healing in Jesus Christ, use her as a willing vessel for your ongoing work of reaching the wounded and hurting. Give her wisdom, patience, strength, and humility as she writes. Bring to mind appropriate Scripture passages to share. And especially reassure her of your unfailing love and mercy in Jesus Christ, Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

Wounded People

“Wounded people wound people” — perhaps you have read the myriad of blogs, articles, and books focusing on this issue. Most often a true statement (thanks, Jeff). For this post, I want to move to the second part — the often unspoken, yet vital second part: How much deeper the healing.

When a person suffers loss, or abuse, or neglect, or abandonment, etc., the wound can be very deep. Many of us spend our entire lives either trying to deny the wound. Or we cover the wound. Or we withdraw from those who want to pick at the scabs of the wound. The wounds of sin run deep.

Sometimes the avoidance seems to work, for years, even decades. But a trigger event, sound, smell, touch will expose us to that wound. Sometimes we may not even connect the dots, relating to what is happening to what had happened. “I thought I had forgotten all that.”

The Wounded Healer

Jesus was wounded by others — in the ultimate way. He experienced loss, abuse, neglect, betrayal, and abandonment at the hands of…

  • Family (“For not even his brothers believed in him.” John 7:5).
  • Friends (“You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter denied it and said, “I am not.” John 18:25).
  • Enemies (And from that moment Judas sought an opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:16).
  • God the Father. The ultimate abandonment was on the cross when He cried out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (GW) or more familiarly “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Yet, prophetically Isaiah prepared the way for even that wounding. Isaiah 53:4-6

Surely he has borne our griefs [pains]
and carried our sorrows; [sicknesses]
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

When Jesus was healing many people Matthew refers to this passage (Matthew 8:17). Jesus did this to benefit those who have been scarred, abused, neglected, torn, broken, abandoned, discarded — namely, for us. Through his saving work, he took our sins upon himself — the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), including the sins of those who have sinned against us. Our wounds have become his wounds. He was broken for our brokenness.

Even more, by rising from the dead, he demonstrated that he conquered them all. Every sin, every taunt, every slap, every fist, every tongue-lashing, every belt-whipping, every rape, every scar, every wound. The wounded One conquered and becomes the one who binds up our wounds (“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” Psalm 147:3)

So, the statement, how deep the wound, shows the extent of sin infiltrating our lives. But the counter statement, how much deeper the healing, shows that whatever depths of pain we have experienced, Jesus offers us even greater depths of healing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. It may take time to experience the fullness of each area (fully in all areas when we are in heaven, our inheritance Ephesians 1:13–14). But the starting point is now, and it is complete in Jesus Christ now— by faith in him, not in my incomplete understanding, only in Him, the Wounded Healer.

So who won?

If you look at web sites and TV shows regarding last night, you’d think that the coverage implied, no, demanded, that Miami won. Why? Well, look at the headline photos. So far, I have not found one that has Dallas [team members] highlighted. So what does that say? About sports, it is an interesting spectacle, whether you are a fan of Miami or Dallas. Confusing, perhaps to some.

But I suggest that this insight into the world of sports and media sheds light on the Church as well. Some Christian leaders gain all the headlines, on TV, on the web, whether for good or bad. Sometimes it would be hard to tell who is “winning” based on the media coverage.

In the Church, as outlined in the New Testament (and certainly foreshadowed in the Old Testament), the one who won is the one who lost, and the one who lost is the one who won. On Good Friday, it appeared from all the headlines that Satan had won, and Jesus lost. “We had such great expectations for him! He was only 33 years old, at the peak of his mission.” Yes, for all appearances, Satan came out ahead. But the quietness of Easter morning hid the greater reality: the one who lost (Jesus) had now won; the one who had won really had lost. Satan was defeated, even on Friday.

It took a while for that reality to settle in. In fact, the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost (last Sunday) signal a change in history, in the entire universe. The old has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Yet, appearances suggest that the old has a strong hold on our present life. Sin still ravages lives, evil is the “new normal.” The one who does good is often penalized.

Despite what the headlines suggest about what is going on, Jesus Christ has still been reigning, sometimes hidden from our view, but reigning, nevertheless. The one who is in Christ (believes in him) lives in the momentary suffering, pain, and anguish of this life (Romans 8:23-24). But our lives are hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3). The world may see our sorrows and think that they have won. Other Christians may see our agony and declare that “we don’t have enough faith.”

Well, like the Dallas Mavericks in basketball, we don’t read the headlines, we believe the reality. The Mavericks are champions in basketball. We don’t believe the pre-mature obituaries of the Christian faith. In Christ we have already received the promised victory at the end. There is not suspense. There is only waiting for the right time.

So congrats to the Mavericks. But even greater congrats to the pastor who leads his congregation day after day, sermon after sermon, baptism after baptism, and funeral after funeral. The victory is won, and he know it. Congrats to the Christian who has endured what seems to be “unfair suffering.” Despite the headline of suffering, their victory is secure in Christ.

Pentecost (the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2) ushers in the “last time” (Acts 2:17). For that final end we long, we wait eagerly, but we also live in the present, knowing that Jesus won the victory, he won it for us. And we won’t run to the center court to celebrate — we will be taken to heaven and exult in the heavenly court.

Is there a gap in Christian music — In practice?

Availability of songs does not mean that they are used in worship. Part 1 focused on the availability of songs and hymns. I think this is where worship leaders and pastors miss an opportunity to minister in a specific way to people. Do our song and hymn choices provide the fullness of musical expression, whether contemporary or traditional). That is, while our liturgical format brings along the congregation where everyone may be, the songs/hymns also have to explore the fullness of the congregational experience (i.e. the Psalms experiences).

Lament

This has implications for traditional and contemporary expressions, maybe in different ways or choices. For traditional songs, sometimes the lament comes through a combination of words and music, often in minor key. Consider this one, while not in a minor key, still brings forth the true hope in the midst of trial. Written by Paul Gerhardt, here is the first verse:

Commit thou all thy griefs
And ways into His hands,
To His sure truth and tender care,
Who heaven and earth commands.

http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/m/commthou.htm

“Lauxmann calls [this] ‘the most comforting of all the hymns that have resounded on Paulus Gerhardt’s golden lyre, sweeter to many souls than honey and the honey-comb.’ It soon spread over Germany. It was sung in 1743, when the foundation-stones were laid of the first Lutheran church in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], and again at the open ing service.”

In the realm of a perceived gap in use of contemporary music lamentis frequently the target. A friend (thanks, Kathy) shared this link with me to show that such music is indeed available. “Blessing” by Laura Story:

Laura Story, “Blessing”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ&feature=youtu.be

See her background on this song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDiTuSLSJB8&feature=related

Is this usable for a service? Yes, indeed. Is this the only appropriate song or explanation for lament? No, but it does present another side of the Christian life that needs attention in both traditional and contemporary music — in practice. How many of us are there?

Joy

For the traditional music choices, sometimes the joy theme is limited to a particular style. Yet, even here the choices are available; are we using them? Consider the options for “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” written in the 6th century. Verse 1:

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.

Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest

Now listen to three possible melodies:

http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/a/a387.html

http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=61

http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/lutheranworship/lw126.mid

Note that each has a unique place within hymnody and can be used appropriately.

For contemporary music, while there is much available on joy, I think some selectivity is necessary. Just because a song expresses joy, does not ensure that it is a doctrinally appropriate (this goes for contemporary and traditional selections). One example is “Center of My Heart” (http://larryholdermusic.org/center.html) In some ways this is an acceptable song, but notice who the primary pronouns refer to (“I, me”). And there is a problem with Law and Gospel distinctions relative to the Christian life.

Now to take another example, look at (and listen to) “King of Israel.”

http://songsofpraise.org/song.php?songid=166
(scroll down to see words and play music)

It expresses joy with a contemporary sound and contemporary lyrics. This song can fit within a Lutheran context easily.

Conclusion

This is by no means complete (nor intended to be). Rather, I hope that it gives us pause as we consider not only the availability of appropriate songs/hymns but also with discernment, using as wider a spectrum of music as possible.

And here is one delightful Orthodox Easter song that combines new and old.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuczNQonTXQ

There is one other factor for another post: sing-ability of song choices.

God has amnesia

No, not a headline from a web site, not a TV catch phrase to make you watch the next news segment, not even a tabloid exploitation topic.

“God has amnesia” comes from personal experience and some (painful) discoveries over the years. Over the past 60+ years, my thought was not that God has amnesia, but rather expressed itself in the form of two questions, “What were you, God?” and “Have you forgotten me, Lord?”

Yeah, this is so different from my usual posts. But in a deep way it relates to the heart of all the other posts. I hope you will indulge me for a little reflection on this.

“Where were you God?” when…

  • a friend died at 15 of a heart failure
  • I strove to earn my father’s favor or even a note of congratulation — that never came
  • we couldn’t have our own children
  • one of our children tried to commit suicide
  • our marriage seemed like we were pulling, but never in the same direction at the same time
  • one child was/is in prison
  • I made choices, finally grasping at straws, that were often wrong and with consequences
  • I grasped a last straw and it failed, too

Had you known me during those 50 years which encompass the above experiences, you might not have guessed what was going on with me. Why? Because I learned very early (like at five years old!) that I could put on a mask, a front, which shielded me from showing my hurt, pain, anger, frustration, and the unspoken “Have you forgotten me, Lord?”

I even thought I could keep myself from those. But that was the greatest deception. I was good at it, very good at hiding my inner self. Yet when all else had failed, then the mask had to come down. No longer could I hide.

Helping God remember…

I had gotten to the point where I wanted to reverse God’s amnesia, specifically related to my sins. After all, as I wallowed in grief and despair, I imagined and re-experienced every sin I could remember. And if I could remember, certainly God could! Well, God’s Law was certainly bringing to mind all my sins— his words of condemnation of my pride, my sins, my self-defense mechanisms. And I replayed every action and reaction and my “new course” based on what I discovered. But nothing could erase the sins and especially the memory of those sins.

That reinforced the idea that God had forgotten about me, but he had not forgotten about my sins! And that is the ultimate in despair. Either God had forgotten me or God didn’t care!

Few people who knew what was going on inside of me during that time, and so the loneliness hit even harder. Imagine, loneliness in the church?

God is cured!

In the prophecy about the new covenant, or better new testament, we read:

[The LORD declares:] “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”  (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV).

In his perfect timing, God raised up 2-3 people who pointed me back to Bible passages that I had taught them over the years. Now I needed to hear them, for me.

With God, forgiveness is always and only one sin old. When I confess and God forgives, the sin is not remembered by him, not ever. “As far as the east is from the west,” says the Psalmist. When Jesus corrects Peter (Matthew 18) about how many times, it’s as if he is saying, “If you are counting forgiveness, that means you are counting sins, and not forgiving.”

I loved to read and hear the Words of hope, love, compassion, and patience of our Lord. The Lord’s Supper (Jesus instituting the new testament in his body and blood, Matthew 26:26-28, etc.) became a precious invitation to remember God’s forgetfulness about my sin and receive his forgiveness.

For God had not forgotten me, but he had forgotten my sin!!! It isn’t God who is cured, but me, in Jesus Christ.

AALC Pastors’ Retreat

c. 1632
Image via Wikipedia

Wow! What a week we had in St. Louis! Dr. Richard Eyer, Rev. Steve Unger, and Nancy and David Guthrie spoke about Pastoral Care and Care of the Pastor. Exceptional presentations, Biblically right on target, and spiritually and emotionally engaging people who are not afraid to speak of the tough issues of life without yielding to sentimentality or despair. We could not have asked for better presenters or food for thought. Watch for further summary statements in the AALC magazine, The Evangel (http://www.taalc.org/Publications.html — Nov/Dec issue).

I had reviewed one of Nancy Guthrie’s books on Amazon last year (Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow). I was impressed by her down-to-earth approach to suffering, which was reflected in her approach to Scripture. Having now met her in person and hearing her speak, I have even greater respect for what she has endured, but even more, how she holds herself to the Word of God in assessing all that has happened. In other words, the bigger perspective of Scripture overshadows our individual troubles and issues, no matter how devastating the circumstances.

Well done, Dr. Eyer, Steve, Nancy, and David!