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Lamenting Putin

A Prayer of Lament*

Lord Jesus, why do you stand so far away?
Why do you hide in times of trouble?

In arrogant wickedness, Vladimir Putin pursues Ukraine;
let the schemes he’s devised catch and ensnare him.
For in his wickedness, he boasts about his own cravings;
greedy, he curses and despises you.
In all his scheming, he arrogantly thinks,
“There’s no accountability,
since there’s no God.”
His ways are always secure;
your lofty judgments have no effect on him;
he scoffs at all his adversaries.
He says to himself, “I will never be moved —
from generation to generation, I will be without calamity.”

Cursing, deceit, and violence fill his mouth;
trouble and malice are under his tongue.
He ambushes cites;
he murders the innocent.
His eyes are on the lookout for the helpless;
he lurks like a lion in a thicket.
He lurks in order to seize victims;
he seizes them and drags them in his net.
So Ukraine is oppressed and beaten down;
helpless people fall because of his strength.
Putin says to himself, “God has forgotten;
he hides his face and will never see.”

Rise up, Lord Jesus! You are God, so lift up your hand!
Do not forget the oppressed in Ukraine!
Why has Putin despised you?
He says to himself, “The Messiah will not demand an account.”
But you yourself take note of this trouble and grief,
observing it in order to take the matter into your hands.
The helpless one entrusts himself to you;
you are a helper of the fatherless.
Break Putin’s bones
until there is nothing left of his wickedness to be found.

You are King forever and ever;
he will perish before you.
Lord Jesus, you have heard the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their hearts.
You will listen carefully,
doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed
so that Putin may terrify them no more.

 

*based on this ancient prayer

A Funeral for a Friend — Derek Anderson (1979-2022)

My friend Derek Anderson died unexpectedly last week. His family gave me the honor of delivering a message at his funeral. The manuscript is below. (See the end of this post for a way to honor Derek by supporting the Benton High School baseball program.)


Larry and Dena, Chris and Christina, Jay and Kristie — I want to express my deep sorrow over Derek’s death. I also want to thank you for the honor of speaking today. Derek was one of the best men that I’ve ever known, and I count serving in his funeral as a high honor.

Our family moved to Cedar Rapids in the summer of 2006, the same time Derek returned to Iowa to teach and coach. Jay and I had known each other since college, and so (at Jay’s encouragement) Derek, Chris, and I met and quickly became friends. Derek and Chris soon felt like more than friends to me; they felt like brothers. They cried, mourned, laughed, rejoiced with me. We ate many meals at Derek’s place, followed by games of RISK or watching comedies so ridiculously stupid they lowered your IQ. Larry and Dena would join us at the church. The Andersons have always felt like family.

When I close my eyes, I can picture Derek sitting stage-right in the second or third row in church. He’s leaning forward, Bible open, taking notes—listening to the sermon as intensely as he might focus on coaching a post-season ballgame. Derek loved Jesus. So I want to honor Derek now by sharing a few words about Jesus and how he loves you, even in this loss.

In John 11, we find three siblings that Jesus loved: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John goes out of his way to emphasize how much Jesus loved them. The sisters send this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” After Jesus receives the news, John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.” It’s not a stretch to say that these three siblings were like family to Jesus. This is the closest we get in the gospels to Jesus experiencing the death of a family member, to losing a brother.

This is where Jesus’ love gets challenging to understand. John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So…” What do you expect to follow the word “So”? “So, Jesus spoke a word and healed him.” “So, Jesus departed at once to heal him.” But here’s what we read: “Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was sick, he stayed two more days in the place where he was.Because Jesus loved them, stayed put until Lazarus died. Jesus did not love them despiteLazarus’ death. Instead, his death is an outcome of Jesus’ love for them. Lazarus died because Jesus loved them. Here’s what Jesus wants you to hear, Anderson family: Jesus loves you—even in a death he could have prevented.

That’s not a natural way to think about love. It doesn’t feel like love. Our souls cry out, “Lord, if you really love me, then why did you let this happen!” That’s exactly the reception that awaits Jesus in Bethany. “As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.’” And later, “As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’

We all know that Derek’s death didn’t take Jesus by surprise. He knew it would happen. He could have stopped it—but he didn’t. When I heard the news, my first response was “WHAT!? WHY!? Why this man—who blessed so many as a son, brother, uncle, church member, neighbor, co-worker, teacher, coach, mentor!? I can’t make sense of this.” Perhaps you’ve said the same this week.

Notice this: When Martha and Mary voice their complaints, Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for being shallow Christians or having weak faith. Lament is a form of prayer in which one confronts God about why he allows painful circumstances to continue when it is within his power to change it. Lament is not sin or unbelief. To lament, you must believe that God exists and is who he says he is, that the world is broken and that God could stop it but has chosen not to for now. Lament expresses of faith in the face of seemingly senseless pain. Jesus himself would lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So, don’t be afraid to shout your complaint to Jesus—he hears and welcomes it.

Jesus doesn’t merely hear and receive our sorrow; he joins us in it. Seeing Mary crying, Jesus asked to be shown to Lazarus’ grave. Then, we read, “Jesus wept.” A better translation is “Jesus burst into tears.”[i] This is not quiet sniffles. This is Jesus sobbing from his gut, collapsing to his knees, tears streaming down his cheeks, snot hanging from his nose, salvia running down his beard as his whole body convulses in inconsolable grief.

This means that Jesus knows your weeping and joins you in it. When those tears and gut-wrenching sobs come over you in the days, weeks, and life ahead of you, let them come. Weeping is not a sign that you aren’t hoping in Jesus; it is a sign of faith. For what is Jesus expressing in his tears except that life, friends, and family are good gifts from God that should not end in death?

We were not made to know the pain of death. Weeping acknowledges that what God says about the world is true: The world was created good, but now it’s broken, cursed, in need of redemption. If that is true, then weeping is right.

The tears of Jesus also remind us of Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Jesus loved Lazarus and counted his death as a significant event. Likewise, Jesus loved Derek and considered his death a moment of great importance. Derek didn’t die alone. When Derek’s eyes closed and he went to sleep, there in the room with him was the person who loved Derek more than all of us combined—Jesus, who personally ushered his beloved brother into glory.

An untimely death, like that of Lazarus or Derek, can also evoke deep anger. Perhaps you’ve been angry this past week. If so, you’re not alone. We read, “When Jesus saw [Mary] crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.” And later, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.” The word translated “deeply moved” means “indignant.” It’s the word used for the snorting of a warhorse as it’s about to charge.

When Jesus saw his friends weeping, when he saw the grave of his friend, he was furious. God did not create us to die. He created us to live forever. It was only when Adam sinned that death entered the world as the penalty for our rebellion against God. Jesus was born to put death to death.

Scripture says, “The last enemy to be abolished is death.” So when Jesus saw grief and the grave, his eyes narrowed, his muscles tensed, anger boiled up within him, and he stood like a Sheriff outside a saloon calling out an outlaw, “DEATH! Get out here! I’m the Lord here. I’ve come to town with your name engraved on my bullet—and now you’re gonna die!”

So don’t feel like something is wrong with you today when you stand at Derek’s grave and feel angry. Anger can be an expression of faith. In it, you join Jesus in believing that death is an outlaw intruder that is only to be hated and destroyed. Jesus knows your anger at death—and he shares it. In fact, Jesus is angrier at death than you are.

Here is how angry Jesus gets at death: After this event in Bethany, Jesus enters Jerusalem with his eyes fixed squarely on the cross. Jesus knows that if sin is eliminated, then the devil is powerless and death must die. So, he willingly gives himself over to be tortured and executed, nailed to a crossbeam of wood like a slab of meat until his heart stopped and he breathed his last. In the Old Testament, being hung on a piece of wood meant you were cursed by God. That is what Jesus sought.

Jesus had no sin; he lived a life of spotless righteousness. But God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus because he was being punished for the sins of his people. He took our place in death so that we could join him in eternal life. His resurrection signaled that sin had been atoned for, the devil had been conquered, and death received a death sentence.

That’s why Jesus let Lazarus die—so that people would believe this. He said to Martha what he says to each of us today: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

Jesus asks you today: Do you believe this? Do you believe that he—the sinless Son of God—has paid for your sins with his own blood, conquered death, and offers you the forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life? If so, then I can offer you the same assurance that Derek had in life and death: By grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven. You belong, body and soul, to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who shall raise you from the dead, which brings us to the end of our story:

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. “Remove the stone,” Jesus said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God? ”

So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! ” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

I love those lines: “Lazarus, come out!” “Unwrap him and let him go.” They remind us: Jesus knows how to deliver us from death—and he will. The day is coming when Jesus will shout again: “Grave, let them go! Death, go to hell! And Derek, Larry, Dena, Jay, Kristie, Chris, Christina—and everyone who believed in me—come out!” And we will. And then we will hear a loud voice from the throne declare:

Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!


I wanted to do something to both remember Derek and to support the baseball program that he so loved.

This design incorporates a Bible verse from my sermon at Derek’s funeral. It is available in several styles (adult/child sizes), in Benton Bobcat and Iowa Hawkeye team colors.

All proceeds and tips will be donated to the Benton Bobcats baseball team. Find items here.

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[i] See note on John 11:35 in the Christian Standard Bible Study Bible.

We Were Gentle Among You: Pastoring Like a Nursing Mother

Title Graphic: We Were Gentle Among You: Pastoring Like a Nursing Mother

You are a parent to five young children. You’ve noticed that they’ve been acting a bit strange around you (especially #4). But they’re just kids, you reason; kids are weird sometimes.

One day, after the younger two are in bed, the older three approach you. They look solemn and hesitant.

“What’s up?” you ask with a smile.

The oldest asks, “Can we talk?”

Continue reading “We Were Gentle Among You: Pastoring Like a Nursing Mother”

A Letter to My Mom on Her 70th Birthday

Dear Mom,

Happy 70th Birthday!

Years ago, you made me take all my boxes of stuff from the attic. So, I’ve assumed you’re trying to declutter and don’t want more stuff. So, instead of a birthday present, I thought I’d write you a letter.

When I think through my childhood memories of you, the memories are good and are more than I can recount here. There is so much I admire and appreciate about you. Your words and example taught shaped who I am and want to be. So, I thought I’d recount a few of the things you taught me.

Jesus loves you.

Beyond anything else, you taught me that Jesus loves me and is a Savior who can be trusted. I remember you sharing about hearing Billy Graham and putting your faith in Christ. You followed his example in sharing with me about the love of Christ, his death for our sins and resurrection from the dead, and how he forgives us when we trust in him.

You shared the Good News with me through bedtime stories, songs, and books you gave me, and by sharing about other Christians’ lives. You set an example through your service at church—especially as you served alongside Judy, Marilynn, and others to share Christ’s love in Sunday School. I remember you and Judy making banners (that still hang in the church) and telling me about their biblical significance.

Your words and your example taught me that that I had a God who was worthy of worship, a Savior who loved me, gave himself for me, and was always there for me.

Live with honor.

You taught me not only to believe in Jesus but to live, act, and speak in ways that honor him.

I was in first grade when I discovered (while reading the graffiti in a Hardee’s bathroom) how to spell the “F-word.” I thought it would be impressive to use it as a word playing Hangman with a friend.

I hid the paper in my bookbag so as not to get in trouble with the teacher. I failed to remember that I have a nosy mother. Upon finding it, you sat me down on the porch and had me think about what my language says about those I represent.

I was very young when I told you to “Shut up!” in front of a friend. I don’t remember how you transported me from the living room to the bathroom, but I do remember the taste of the soap.

There was a right and a wrong way to speak to one’s parents, and you made sure I learned.

As a teenager, I thought it would be cool to have posters of swimsuit models in my room. I asked you if I could get one. You asked me, “If Jesus returned and found that hanging in your room, would you be ashamed or proud of it?” I didn’t get the poster.

I still ask myself if I want to be thinking, speaking, or acting in a certain way in front of my Lord.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

I heard this saying from you more times than I can count. Having two younger brothers who were always doing bad things and mistreating me, I had plenty of provocation for revenge.

When I struck back and was disciplined, you wouldn’t listen to my appeal, “But Mom! They did a bad thing!” You’d say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

My calloused backside and several broken spanking implements bear witness to the fact that it took me a while to learn what that statement meant.

But I find myself saying it often now, especially in a world that thinks that another’s evil justifies our evil.

“The ends don’t justify the means.”

Another saying that is burned into my memory. Oddly, I can’t recall the situation in which you said this to me. So, I can only assume I overheard you saying it to my brothers on one of the many occasions they disobeyed.

I did learn from their correction. No matter how good an outcome might be, we’re never justified in choosing evil to get it. There are principles of right and wrong, and we ought to live consistently with our principles.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

There are more times than I care to remember that you “encouraged” me to apologize to someone I wronged or disrespected. Even though I’ve blocked those memories, I am glad you taught me to apologize and make things right.

You told me about the time that, as a child, you stole a few dollars from the concession stand at the Glidden Swimming Pool. (I think the statute of limitations is past, and you won’t be prosecuted for the petty theft committed as a juvenile. But if not, I promise to visit you in jail.) Years later, as an adult, when you were managing the pool, you returned the exact amount to the concession stand money box. (You probably owe them for inflation and lost investment income, but what government has ever managed money well?)

Your example taught me that no matter how much time has passed, it’s never too late to try to make things right.

Always tell the truth.

I had just learned how to draw a star and decided to demonstrate my skill on the porch wall. Shortly thereafter, you brought me to the porch, pointed to the star, and asked if I had drawn it.

I said, “No.” So you asked if I knew who did.

I told you that Andy drew it. In most cases, given my younger siblings’ incredible insubordination, this would have been a reasonable suggestion. But since I was the only one who could draw a star (and had recently been on a star-drawing kick), you saw through it, and I learned (again) that two wrongs don’t make a right.

You showed me that we should always tell the truth, even when it means we’ll get into trouble. It’s easier to carry the consequences of our lies than it is to carry the guilt. And, repentance and honesty are so often met with mercy and forgiveness.

Don’t be afraid to speak up.

I’ll admit it. There were times in my childhood that I did wish you’d shut up choose not to speak. But Grandma Pickett’s genes wouldn’t let you stay silent when something was wrong, and someone needed to speak up.

Like the time at A&W when a booth full of construction workers were loudly using profanity, you said (loudly enough for everyone in the restaurant to stop, look, and hear), “EXCUSE ME! IF YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED, WE HAVE A TABLE FULL OF CHILDREN. DO YOU THINK YOU COULD MIND YOUR LANGUAGE?” They apologized and stopped. (I crawled back up from under the table, and today I’m seeing a wonderful therapist.)

On a serious note: looking back, I appreciate how you were a “mama bear” that stuck up for your family. Like the time we were for a drive to look at Christmas lights. A drunk driver ran the intersection, causing Dad to slam on the breaks.

By the time we picked ourselves up off the van floor (we didn’t wear seatbelts in the early 80s), the driver had walked over to the driver’s window, apologizing in slurred speech.

From the passenger seat, you leaned across Dad and were just about out the window, telling that man to look at the children he could have killed. I think that talkin’-to sobered him on the spot.

Those occasions (and others!) assured me that my mom would stop at nothing to protect me, provide for me, and support me. And that’s what you’ve always done. Even when it might have embarrassed me, you were never ashamed to love me, defend me, and support me.

I’m thankful that you taught me this. (I’m also grateful that when I get into trouble for opening my mouth, I can blame my Texan grandma with the fiery red hair.)

Everyone matters.

Your heart is full of love for the overlooked and easily forgotten. I remember countless trips to the nursing home to see your aunt, who had suffered a stroke. It wasn’t exactly where a young boy wanted to go after school, but I didn’t have a choice. You taught me to look at her, speak to her, and spend time with her. You cleaned her fingernails, washed her face, and cared for her.

Visiting my great-aunt is just one of many examples I could pick. You’ve spent your time visiting those who are alone, serving those who can’t care for themselves, and sticking up for the underdog.

You taught me that every human being is created in God’s image and should be treated with dignity and respect. Their stories matter and should be remembered. Even when they lose the ability to control their bodies, minds, and words, their value has not diminished.

Don’t dilly-dally.

(Aren’t you glad that I worked “dilly-dally” into this letter?)

You taught that if you’re going to do something, you ought to do it with all your might. You never did anything half-way. You are a competitive woman with an unconquerable work ethic.

I remember you working outdoors, hands in the dirt, muscles flexed and soaked with sweat. I never outworked you in the yard, and I doubt I could today.

I remember challenging you to a footrace at the campground, boasting that “You can’t beat me because boys are better than girls.” I learned my lesson.

You’ve always loved to work and to work hard. I still haven’t caught you, but I often find myself thinking of you and saying to myself, “If you’re going to do this, do it the best you can.”

It’s okay to be sad, but get up and keep going.

Your life, from the time you were little, hasn’t been easy. But you have always modeled perseverance.

When I was in third grade and wanted to join you on a two-day, one-hundred-mile bike ride (and we didn’t have good bikes, helmets, lights, or practice on long bike rides on the highway), you told me that it would be hard, that you wouldn’t wait for me, and that I’d have to finish the whole thing. There was no quitting. I didn’t quit, and my butt still hurts.

You haven’t been afraid to cry. You haven’t shied from sharing about what hurts. But pain or hardship has never stopped you.

I’ve watched you study for certifications, learn new skills, find jobs, and solve problems. I’ve watched you confess sin, ask forgiveness, and fix your mistakes.

That’s the best kind of mom a boy could have: one who acknowledges that the world hurts, who owns her imperfections and failures, who trusts in Jesus and relies on his grace and keeps pressing forward in what her Lord has called her to. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And so much more…

Decades later, I’m still not perfect in the things you taught me. (But, as the song says, “Mama tried.”) And there are a lot of other lessons that you taught me as a boy, such as:

Don’t pee your pants.

Don’t poop your pants.

Don’t wipe your boogers on things.

Don’t put things in the electrical outlets.

Don’t eat hard-boiled Easter eggs that someone hid in the sandbox, and you dug-up in June.

Don’t keep an Andes mint in your pocket “for later,” especially in Texas—and if you do, don’t decide to take it out, unwrap it, and attempt to eat it while your parents are trying to rush the family from one terminal to another in an airport.

Don’t pee in a cup and offer it to your brother to drink on a hot day.

Don’t push your brother off the porch face-first into a brick.

Don’t dump a pile of pigeon dung* on the babysitter’s head.

Don’t slam a plastic bottle of barbecue sauce against the edge of the counter because you thought “shatterproof” meant “unbreakable.”

I could say more about all those stories, but I don’t think people would be interested in those stories.

I LOVE YOU!!!

I don’t tell you often enough, but I love you very much. I’m proud and honored that you’re my mom. I’m thankful that God gave you to me as a mom—always have been and always will be.

Any good quality in me is due in part to your influence and example. (Any bad quality in me is due to my younger brothers.)

Thanks for being a great mom and a wonderful grandmother.

I love you very much.

Your son,

Eric


*Aren’t you proud I said “dung?” I still taste soap, just thinking of the other word.