When God Burns Down Your House

Tragedy is a part of living in a broken world. More than a part, it’s inevitable. When tragedy strikes, our first question is, Why? Whether or not we get an answer, we quickly must ask a second, and perhaps even more important question, How do I deal with this?

Think of a tragedy in your life recently. How did you deal with it?

Perhaps you dismissed it, chalked it up to bad luck, stuffed your feelings, or even blamed someone (maybe yourself). Maybe you blamed God. And got angry with him.

Anne Bradstreet’s poem Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666 teaches us how to deal with tragedy and why we experience it. Shockingly, she puts responsibility of the event solely on God. Yet she does so without blaming him or attributing sin to him, much the way Job does in the first two chapters of his story.

Bradstreet can do this because she has the eyes to see two vital realities. First,  Bradstreet sees that all her goods belonged to God anyway and that he could do with them whatever he pleased. In taking away her home and possessions, God did Bradstreet and her family no wrong.

Second, she sees that this tragedy was for a divine purpose: God wanted her to treasure God above everything. Even the comfort and safety of a home. Thus, her poetic prayer is reminiscent of an ancient Scriptural one: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

Consider this a prayer of lament. Watch what Bradstreet does, let it teach you, and let it shape the way you respond to tragedy when it comes your way.

Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666

Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning 
of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of 
a Loose Paper.

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Framed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.

Is the Old Testament Reliable History?

Is the Bible true historically? Specifically the Old Testament? This is a big question people who love the Bible face from time to time. Some people argue that the Old Testament is reliable in what it teaches theologically about God and man, but not historically. That is, these people argue that the Old Testament is not a true account of what happened. Maybe Adam and Eve were legend. The flood is exaggerated. Those plagues in Egypt? Folklore.

So now we are left with a book of myths. It’s unreliable. A part of the argument goes like this: Jesus and other first century Jews were not concerned with actual history when talking about and citing the OT. But this seems rather odd, doesn’t it? Have not people in general, whether Hebrew or American, always been concerned with what is true, real, and historic? I think so. History mattered greatly in the ancient world, just as it does today! Otherwise, why record anything?

How do we know for sure? From the New Testament. It seems to me that the Bible tells us that Jesus and the apostles did believe that the OT was a reliable account of history.

  • Jesus seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of reporting actual history when he said that God created men and women unique and for each other (Matt. 19:4-6); that Abraham really lived (John 8:58); that Moses wrote about him in the Torah (John 5:39); that David ate the bread of the presence in the tabernacle (Mark 2:25-27); that Jonah was really inside a fish for three days (Matt. 12:40).
  • Matthew and Luke seem very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when they record their genealogies of Jesus (Matt. 1; Luke 3; cf. Luke 1:1-4).
  • Paul seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when he said that Adam is a real person and through him came sin and death (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15).
  • Peter seems very concerned that OT is a reliable source of actual history when he said that Noah and his family were saved by God from the flood (1 Pet. 3:18-20).
  • The author of Hebrews seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when he catalogs the faith of OT saints (Hebrews 11).
  • James seems very concerned that the OT is a reliable source of actual history when he encourages believers to remain steadfast by reminding them of Job’s steadfastness (James 5:11).

It is clear from reading the New Testament that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any of the apostles are raging lunatics or even simple fabricators of history. They are well-respected men, even called “good teachers,” who “turned the world upside down.”

You may not believe them. However, that’s beside the point. The point is that they thought what happened in Israel throughout history was real. And for that, it seems to me, the Old Testament deserves a fair hearing.

Ending One Chapter, Beginning Another

For the past three years, I have served as a pastor at Grace Chapel in Clifton Park, New York. But for the past year, Carly and I have sensed God calling us into a new ministry role. We are thrilled to tell you that God has providentially led us to join Cru (known internationally as Campus Crusade) as missionaries to college students!

Visit pruchcru.com, a new website devoted to our new ministry, to read more!

In our church’s worship gathering earlier today, Carly and I announced this news to our congregation. It was a bittersweet morning, to say the least. Here’s what I said:

We are excited to tell you this morning that God has called us to a new ministry role. Carly and I are going to serve as missionaries to university students with Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. God has been gracious to lead us in discerning our next chapter and we hope you rejoice with us. While we are excited, of course, this is bittersweet, too, because my time as a pastor here will end at the end of March.

We acknowledge not having a senior pastor makes a transition like this messier. Yet we’ve sensed a call to a different kind of ministry for quite some time and are convinced this is the right time for us to pursue it. The possibility of serving with Cru has been on our hearts for the better part of the last year, and even more intensely in the last six months. We believe that Jesus is clearly calling us to this new role. Our parents, family, closest friends and mentors, and Cru leadership have affirmed us in this new call. Our elders have been very supportive and excited for us.

Several core ministry values led us to this. We want serve together more often and use our home as a base for ministry. We want to live in an urban context with a diverse population. We want to disciple young people in their formative years. We want to be around more non-Christians and share the gospel with them. We desire to work with multiple churches and organizations. We also desire to serve the global church and the connections and infrastructure of Cru make that possible. God has been gracious to put these desires in us and faithful to provide a path to pursue them.

For more than three years, I’ve been blessed to serve as one of your pastors. We came from Nebraska about as green as could be in terms of life and ministry experience. You have been so loving and caring—more than we could have asked for. You embraced our family. Some of you became surrogate grandparents to our children, many more became surrogate aunts and uncles, and all of you brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have significantly benefited from you, and we hope that in some way you have benefited from us, too.

Nine months ago, I stood here and asked you to pray for us to hear the voice of Jesus and obey him, no matter where he might call us to go. Thank you for praying. We now have a significant transition ahead of us and we ask for your continued prayers. And if you have questions, as I’m sure many of you do, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

From now until March, I’ll serve in a coaching and training role in the ministries I’ve been a part of. I look forward to working with many of you to help these ministries flourish better than ever.

The faith nature of our new role means, like other missionaries, we will need a team of people who will pray for us and generously give of their financial resources. On our own time, we will reach out to you all to talk more about our ministry and invite you to partner with us.

You can visit pruchcru.com to read more about what we’ll be doing or we can get you a brochure, if you’d like.

All goodbyes are hard and this one will be difficult, too. Our prayer is that we all would cherish the friendship we have been given and will have forever in Jesus. And even more than that, that we would cherish Jesus himself who binds us together in perfect harmony for his glory, no matter how far apart or what we are doing. He is sufficient, and we have every reason to believe that he will continue to be faithful, as he always has.

A Sermon from a Sad Song

This is a sermon I preached last year from Psalm 88, the saddest song in the Bible.

Pray Your Tears (Psalm 88)
August 16, 2015

This is the sermon I think many of you have been waiting to hear. I say that because Psalm 88 is the dark, dingy, scary, unfinished basement of the Psalms. It’s the saddest song in the Bible, maybe in all the world. The psalmist is sad and begging for help. And God is silent. It’s the only Psalm that doesn’t end on a positive note.

And if you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have lived in Psalm 88.

The problem in this text is not merely sadness. The sadness is accentuated because God is quiet. So we are going to address both sadness and God’s silence today. And here’s what we’ll see: Sadness and God’s silence in sadness are gifts from God to drive us to God.

So I pray this sermon brings comfort because I think we do ourselves a disservice when we suppose that our sermons and songs should only be upbeat and happy and chipper. The reality is that in the room right now, there is sadness for all sorts of reasons. Lost loved ones, cancer, struggling marriages, divorce, wayward children, unemployment, financial struggles, being bullied at school, infertility, abuse from parents, etc. Some of us are sad because we have made sinful choices.

And the sadness deepens when God is quiet.

I’m not saying that our worship times together should only be sullen and droopy and morose. What I am saying is that we must learn to acknowledge our tears and pray them. Then we’re in a position to find a firm hope and joy in Jesus. And it’s this joy in Jesus in the midst of sorrow that should characterize us and will be light to a dark world.

So we are going to start by talking about the God of Sadness and Silence and then God’s design for sadness and his silence. We’ll close with 4 ways to pray this Psalm.

The God of Sadness and Silence
The psalmist is sad. It’s unclear why, but it’s deep and dark and feels like he’s on the precipice of hell. He feels like God has abandoned him. Listen to what he says in vv. 6-8 and 15-18a.

[6] You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
[7] Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
[8] You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape…

…[15] Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
[16] Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
[17] They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
[18] You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me…

The psalmist feels like his destiny is the destiny of the wicked. He will go to Sheol—the grave, and more, Abbadon—the place of destruction.

But what’s more is that God is silent in the midst of all this. Verse 14: “O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” Verse 18b, “my companions have become darkness.”

It’s one thing to be sad but it’s another to be sad and feel alone.

Now this is not unique to Ps. 88. This happens over and over again throughout the Psalms and outside the Psalms. Think of Job. In Job 2 he says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?” Then the author inserts this comment, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Then for 36 chapters, God is silent.

And like Job, the psalmist knows God is his salvation. That’s how he started his prayer (v. 1). It’s the only positive line in the prayer. So, his emotions of sadness and loneliness and despair do not correspond with reality. We know that God is good and we know that God hasn’t abandoned us. But it feels like he has. And sometimes he brings things upon us that are absolutely horrific. The situations are overwhelming. And he seems to delay when I cry to him. Why?

Have you ever been there? Have you ever had the guts to pray like this? C.S. Lewis felt this way. He was deeply acquainted with a Psalm 88-type experience. Listen to him:

[W]here is God? [You] go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no LIGHTS in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?…Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there is no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’

We are confronted with a harsh reality: God may not want our best life now. He may, for a time—a long time—bring sadness into our lives and be silent in the midst of it. And in this moment we must ask: what kind of God do I believe in?

Now you might say, “I don’t like that kind of God. I don’t want the God Lewis describes.” But what does this expose about your heart? Do you want to be in control? Do you want to be your own god? Sadness and God’s silence are gifts because they force us to calibrate ourselves to how God has revealed himself so that we are not duped into believing in a God of our own making. We are not in control. In verse 7 the psalmist describes his pain exactly like that.

Listen to Quaker theologian Richard Foster: “For me the greatest value in my lack of control was the intimate and ultimate awareness that I could not manage God. God refused to jump when I said, ‘Jump!’ Neither by theological acumen nor by religious technique could I conquer God. God was, in fact, to conquer me.”

God is not playing games. He’s not like the malicious kid burning ants with a magnifying glass. He’s giving us a gift: we are experientially learning what he is like: sorrow and tears and suffering are part of the deal. Good parents are often silent so their children experience sorrow for a greater good. God is the best parent. It feels like punishment but it’s actually discipline. This is what God is really like.

What Sadness and God’s Silence Are Designed to Do
So what’s the purpose of God brining sadness into our lives and being silent in those times? Sadness and God’s silence are signals that God wants to do something something important. He wants to lovingly conquer us. He wants us to hunger for and hope in him.

It would have been easy for the psalmist to stop praying. But he prays. For 18 verses. Three times he says in different ways, “I cry to you” (vv. 1, 9, 13)

He’s not crying to anyone else. Being on the precipice of hell forces him to go to God. The cliché “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is true. Imagine the the time you were apart from a loved one, perhaps a fiancé or spouse. You hungered for them, didn’t you? Because you couldn’t see them, or perhaps call them, you wanted them all the more.

So sadness and silence are meant to create a longing in us for him. They’re not meant to drive us away. He’s doing something in us that could not be done any other way.

The psalmist is also arguing that God is a God of life, not death. When you read this psalm, the indignant cries about impending death and the grave and the pit and Sheol and Abaddon show that the only thing that will satisfy is resurrection. That’s his ultimate hope.

Listen to verses 10-12,

[10] Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
[11] Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
[12] Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

The Psalmist argues like one who knows God is the God of the living, not the dead, even if he doesn’t feel like it. Sadness and God’s silence are meant to look forward for rescue from death.

All this makes us ask ourselves several key questions: What am I hungering for? What do I hope in? Do I want God or health? God or a good marriage? God or children? God or money? God or a job? God or happiness? Do I want God more than I want to breathe?

Really, what this Psalm shows is that God is not interested in answering our unanswerable questions. And you can almost imagine the silent God looking at the Psalmist, like a tender parent, shaking his head, saying, “Just wait, honey. You’ll understand soon.” This psalm leaves us longing for God alone to be our help. In our darkest moments, answers won’t do. We want someone to embrace us.

When you think about your most tear-stained moments in life, you were probably most likely to trust someone ready to embrace and console you if they’ve been there—if they know what you are going through. I think we need that from God, too. And here’s what’s amazing: we should hunger for God and hope in God more than the psalmist because we know God has firsthand experience. What we come to find out is that God not only takes you through the wringer, but goes through the wringer himself…with you and for you. The psalmist never knew that about God.

God may not always give us answers. But he gives us himself, which is better than answers. In Jesus, God joins us in our tears. In Jesus, God overcomes death. Jesus was called the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. He experienced sadness to the extreme because he was a perfect man who lived in an imperfect world. Think about how sad that would be. He wept often. He was grieved often.

Then at the end of his life, his soul was full of troubles. He faced an unanswered prayer in the garden when he sweated blood. And on the cross, the Father really left Jesus. The Father’s wrath really swept over Jesus and destroyed him. What the psalmist felt—what you and I feel at times—Jesus actually endured. Jesus cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”


The Father really didn’t answer Jesus. Jesus is really the one singing this Psalm. He’s really the only one who can.

Yet we know that God eventually answered Jesus. but it took death and 3 days. Then he rose again. He was not abandoned to Sheol. He did not suffer corruption. He overcame the darkness. And when you are united to him by faith, you will share in his resurrection, too. God is not the God of the dead, but the living. Nothing—no One—else in the world can promise you this but Jesus.

Perhaps you are saying, “It’s nice to know that Jesus went through that. But how does it help?” Here’s how it helps. He’s saying to you in those moments, “I have been there. I’ve been to hell and back. When you feel God is silent, he’s not. My Father—your Father—is preparing you for resurrection.” And if that is your only hope, that is okay. There is nothing wrong with you. Sadness is normal. Even long-term sadness is normal. And it is a gift because it’s not just drawing you to God, it’s making you like Jesus. You share in his sufferings and his glory with him.

Let me tell you how our story ends: there will be a day when we share in Jesus’ resurrection and on that day, he will wipe every tear from our eyes. Carly and I like to tell our kids, “The sad things will come untrue.” And they will.

The Apostle Paul said we are “always sorrowful, yet rejoicing.” I wish there was another way to resurrection light than the dark depths of Psalm 88. But I don’t think there is. There wasn’t for Jesus. The hope is resurrection but Jesus says, “Deny yourself, carry you cross and follow me.” He’s calling us into the depths of sorrow. Only to experience a weight of glory far beyond all comparison.

How can we use this Psalm in prayer?
Now, what’s the place of Psalm 88 in our prayers? How do you actually use this Psalm? Here are four ways to use it whether God seems silent now or not.

  1. Use it to jump-start your prayers when God slams the door in your face.
    Remember that the psalmist keeps praying. Use this psalm as a template to describe your pain to God. And recall that God’s silence is what you feel, not what’s real. Jesus’ cross and his resurrection remind us of that.
  2. Use it to weep with those who weep.
    Both letters of Ephesians and Colossians tell believers to “speak in psalms…to one another.” Singing a psalm like this forces us to empathize with those who are sad and suffering. The truth is that if we aren’t suffering, we often look down on people who are. Knowing and singing and telling the psalms to others helps us empathize and identify with others.
  3. Use it to prepare yourself for suffering
    Suffering will come and you need to be ready for it. You need a vocabulary of faith that will help you know how to pray in that time. That great contemporary philosopher, Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games trilogy said, ”Sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” Psalm 88 can equip you for the day of sadness. In general, read psalms regularly so that you will know what to say no matter the emotion you feel.
  4. Use it to foster a vulnerable, supportive Christian community.
    If you are sad, to those outside the faith you will be a case to be solved. You will be labeled. But in front of Christ and his people, you are an image bearer who lives by grace. The only place where you are free to feel and pray sadness is in the church. Here we live as sorrowful yet rejoicing, believing that in the midst of sadness we have joy in Jesus and resurrection light will someday come.

Start With Jesus, Not Genesis

Are you new to reading the Bible? Perhaps you are not a Christian or a new one and you wan to crack open a Bible. If you were picking up another book you would be right to start at page 1 and move to the end. Not with the Bible, however. You could do that (no one will stop you!). But the Bible is a different kind of book. Because of that, it would be a while before you read about life and work of the central subject of the Bible: Jesus Christ.

Genesis is the first book in the Old Testament (the part of the Bible from Genesis to Malachi). The Old Testament tells us the story of God’s people Israel, and at the end, the reader (Jewish or otherwise) is left wondering, “HOLD THE PHONE! Isn’t there more! This is not a happy ending!”

We feel that way precisely because it was never meant to be the ending. There is supposed to be more. And we get more in the New Testament.

The New Testament, specifically the person of Jesus Christ, is the fulfillment to the Old Testament. As Christians, we start and finish with Jesus. He gives shape and fullness to the entire biblical story. Christian faith is about him. There is good stuff in the Old Testament. Important stuff. Foundational stuff. There are lessons to be learned and warnings to heed. But it is all for naught without a proper understanding of, love for, and allegiance to Jesus.

Listen to what theologian Graeme Goldsworthy says in his masterful book According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible:

As Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward until we discover where it’s all leading. Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel. The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goal and meaning. The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills.

Simply, if you start with the Old Testament, you’ll get the Old Testament and miss Jesus. But start with Jesus and you’ll find him. And, with him, the purpose, meaning, and significance of everything else will be thrown in.