One of my favorite Old Testament professors once shared this startling statistic: 40 percent of the psalms in the Bible are songs of lament in which the authors present their heartache and pain to God. But in the catalog of modern worship music, only 5 percent of songs could be considered lament, even by the most generous standards. My prof believes that part of the reason we don’t know how to lament is because modern worship tends to focus more on celebration and less on lamentation.
In 2013, a jet crashed in San Francisco, resulting in three tragic deaths. One young woman died not from injuries caused by the crash, but from being run over by a rescue vehicle that rushed to the scene. City authorities conducted an investigation and determined that the death was accidental and that the driver would not face criminal charges. But the board of the airline involved took a very different approach to this tragedy: They called a public press conference and bowed low in apology. Even though they may not have been individually responsible for the girl’s death, they felt they shared responsibility as the leaders of the company.
If you watch Orthodox Jews pray at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, you might wonder about the leather band wrapped around their forearms and the box strapped to their heads. The objects are called the tefillin, worn during a prayer ritual that some believe dates back to the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:6-8). The process to don the tefillin is very elaborate and must be performed in an exacting manner. This illustrates that in Jesus’ time, Jewish prayer was very focused on the “how”—praying in a specific way.
On the fourth Thursday in November, US citizens celebrate Thanksgiving Day. History reveals that for the first few years after the English pilgrims made their home in the New World, they were beset by famine and cold—surviving only through the assistance of friendly Native Americans. And so when they were finally able to have a plentiful harvest in 1621, they celebrated Thanksgiving as a way of remembering both the blessings and the hardships they’d endured.
Many believers in Jesus are well acquainted with the traditional Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. What many might not realize is that the book of Matthew never specifies how many “wise men” there were—only that there were “some” (Matthew 2:1). The idea that there were three wise men developed over the course of church history, but that number isn’t universally accepted. In fact, Syriac Christian churches celebrate no less than twelve visitors from the east!
As a pastor, I’ve seen this happen on several occasions during a service: a mother hears a faint cry from beyond the sanctuary, gets up, walks toward the rear of the room, and immediately goes to the nursery where her child is being cared for. Without anyone telling her, she knew that it was her baby who cried out and she needed to go and relieve the childcare volunteer by providing care for her precious child. Studies have shown that mothers are especially attuned to the cries of their own children and can often identify their kid’s cries from those of other children with 100 percent accuracy!
The book Ulysses by James Joyce is often hailed as a masterpiece of modern fiction, but to some it’s a strange if not wholly incomprehensible book. Joyce himself was considered odd as well. His preferred writing position was to lie down on his stomach and use an oversized pencil, his face only inches away from the page. Many viewed this as nothing more than the curious behavior of a strange man. But the fact is that there was good reason behind his behavior: Joyce was nearly blind and was forced to write in this manner in order to see the page clearly.
There are few events of greater historical significance in the 20th century than China’s Cultural Revolution. The Communist Party instituted changes at every level of society to enforce its ideology. These included the persecution of the nation’s Christians, with many sent to labor camps. It’s estimated that the Cultural Revolution resulted in the death of 30 million Chinese people and forced the church underground. But decades later, it turns out that the efforts to wipe out Christianity had the opposite effect. Experts believe that there are more Christians worshiping in underground churches in China than there are total believers in the US!
To Kill a Mockingbird is a much-loved story about two young children coming of age in the American South, a region wracked by racial conflict and injustice during much of the 20th century. Fans were thrilled when a follow-up novel by author Harper Lee was released. But in Go Set a Watchman, readers were dismayed to find that a beloved and honorable character in the first book had transformed into an unapologetic racist in his later years. This twist forces the reader to confront the character’s evolving beliefs, as well as their own.
Ulfberht. No, that’s not a typo. It’s the name for a special type of Viking sword that far exceeded the quality of any other European sword of its era. Where other swords would shatter, Ulfberhts were able to bend and still keep their edge. This was a huge advantage on the field of battle, where one’s life depended on the quality of his blade. Modern-day researchers have discovered that what made these swords so special was the extreme heat in which they were forged. The high temperature allowed for more impurities to be removed, resulting in a far stronger and more flexible blade.
While doing research for a sermon, I stumbled upon a curious creature—the “Jesus Christ lizard.” That’s another name for the common basilisk, a small lizard from South America that’s able to run on its rear legs on the surface of water. This might seem like a miracle, but the basilisk is able to accomplish this feat because of the skin between its toes, allowing it to float on the water for the briefest of moments. Without those flaps of skin, the common basilisk would be, well, common!
Until the latter part of the 20th century, most doctors believed there was nothing better for one’s health than cleanliness. But new research reveals that our bodies require some level of messiness, especially to build up our immune systems and fight off disease. Researchers believe that allergies are so common nowadays because our lives are too clean, and our immune systems can’t decipher between dangerous germs and harmless ones.
The word fellowship conjures up some rather strange associations in my mind. When I hear it spoken, I immediately think of coffee and donuts, along with the basement meeting spaces in churches where those coffee and donuts are served. Most strangely, I also think about the 2001 movie The Fellowship of the Ring. So somehow my concept of Christian community has become inextricably tied to a tale of men, dwarves, and elves dealing with “one ring to rule them all.”
Soldiers who have fought together will tell you that the relational bond they share with their fellow soldiers is incredibly strong. In fact, some veterans report that the friendships they share with fellow veterans, although different in character, are as important to them as the relationship they have with their spouse. This doesn’t minimize the importance of marriage, but points to the depth of friendships forged in the crucible of sacrifice.
It was with gut-wrenching horror that I watched the video of 21 Coptic Christians being forced to kneel on a Libyan beach before being beheaded by terrorists. Later, I learned that a relative of some of the men who were killed said that many of them cried out the name of Jesus with their dying breath—a testimony to their faith in Him. Though the terrorists had hoped for the opposite effect, they had actually strengthened the faith of the Coptic Church by proving that even imminent death couldn’t snatch away their brothers’ love for Christ!