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April 26 Sunday Update and Devotional

  

A Video Update from Devon

Devotional on Lamentations 3:22-24

Larry Malament

Memories play a significant role in our lives. It’s amazing what we remember, and interesting what we don’t. I’m old now and yet I can remember songs from the seventies with a clarity that’s frightening, but I often forget what Marilyn asked me to pick up at the store. Looking back at the seventies there was a song written called, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” about a tragic real-life event that occurred when a cargo vessel sank in a violent winter storm on Lake Superior killing all 29 sailors on board. There is one haunting line in the song that describes the ship’s sinking and the experience of the crew. It says, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours”.

What a question! Twenty-nine people feeling abandoned in their worst hour. In the midst of this pandemic there are some who may have a similar question; where is God’s love now when people dying, the economy is collapsing, families are separated, and there seems to be no end in sight? Even though most of us at Grace Church are not suffering with the virus we are still touched by its effects as we see friends, co-workers, neighbors, and loved ones suffer.  Why is this happening is a very understandable question in a time like this one, and how do we respond in a way that honors God?

Because this experience is so common, God in his caring wisdom included the Psalms in the Bible. As the longest book in Scripture it devotes many of its chapters to our emotions and our relationship to God in difficult times. And let’s be clear, these are difficult times because all of us are feeling the pain of the pandemic’s consequences.

Asking God questions is not wrong. Seeking God for answers is not wrong. Expressing our emotions is not wrong, and often times when the answer was long in coming the biblical writers wrote what they called “laments” to express the emotions they were feeling at the time.

Although not suffering specifically from the virus, each family in our church still feels the pain of this pandemic through the loss of family gatherings, job reductions, financial stress, and missing our church worshipping together. We can understandably “lament”, but is that all we can do? Is our focus only to be on what we’re missing? What does the Lord say?

Thankfully God is not silent, and in his word, he speaks directly, and compassionately to us that we might be comforted by his truth and in his love. The book of Lamentations provides for us a clear pathway of not being overwhelmed by tragedy but lifted up by the reality that our God is near, compassionate, and still actively loving us in our pain.

Lamentations 1:1 begins this way: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people” (does this not seem familiar to our current experience?).

Written in 587 BC, Lamentations chronicles what the writer sees as the most horrific and unimaginable suffering.  Israel’s sins had finally caught up with them.  In their rebellion and idol worship they had rejected both God’s warnings and God himself. God’s judgment comes through the Babylonians. Led by Nebuchadnezzar they lay siege to Jerusalem, destroy the city, and make it a place of desolation.

For more than a year prior to its destruction this pagan nation had surrounded Jerusalem allowing no food or supplies to enter.  It wasn’t long before people began dying of starvation and then the army attacked destroying everything, putting most to death, and carrying the rest into captivity.

Many were so desperate they would rather die by the sword than experience the horrors they were facing.  Life became so desperate that mothers even began eating their own children.

Listen to these unbelievable words in Lamentations 4:9-10.   “Happier were the victims of the sword that the victims of hunger, who wasted away, pierced by lack of the fruits of the field.  The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food…”

The writer surveys Jerusalem, and the utter destruction and ruin of what was once God’s city. Lamentations is the cry from his heart about all he has seen and experienced, a book filled with some of the most awful words we will ever read in the Bible. 

In all this tragedy and turmoil, the writer is having a hard time seeing God’s goodness.  Although all the members of Grace Church have persevered in finding God’s grace in this sad season there are times our frustration with “shelter at home”, wearing masks, and not simply being allowed to do our daily routines can tempt us to think God’s goodness is absent.

Definitely not an encouraging devotional up to this point! But just when it seems the writer is at his lowest, something changes.

[Read Lamentations 3:19-20]

There is much pain that this writer remembers, but then there is this dramatic shift, the brakes of the car slamming to a stop. His memory goes to a different time and place. He remembers Israel’s history from God’s covenant promise to Abraham to every prophet that has promised God’s commitment to always be with his people, and to always love them.

[Read Lamentations 3:21]

What an abrupt change! How does he suddenly stop his thoughts from spiraling down into deeper depression? How does he suddenly remember God is present? Well, it’s in our lowest moments that the source of our hope is revealed, and this is what we see with the writer. He remembers the festivals that celebrated the God of Israel (Lam 1:4). He remembers that Israel is a child of God (Lam 1:6, 4:2). He remembers the precious relationship Israel once had with God (Lam 1:7). Most importantly, he remembers God’s covenant with Zion, a covenant that promises he will always be their God, and would never leave them nor forsake them. If this weren’t true, he would have no hope asking God to restore what was once so beautiful (Lam 5:21).

In times of trouble what do you call to mind? Who do you call to mind?

What does the writer call to mind about God that gives him such hope for the future? He remembers the goodness of God, the character of God, and above all the love of God, and the first thing he does is remember God’s unwavering love for him.

[Read Lamentations 3:22a]

Even when our circumstances are shaky God’s love remains steadfast, and unwavering.

From the very beginning of God’s story with his people his love has always been steadfast. It is a love that the writer of Lamentations would recall to mind because he would know the Scriptures, and know God’s history with his people.  In Exodus 34:6, as the Lord passed before Moses, he declared this about himself:

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.”

God’s steadfast love isn’t hidden from our view as it was from Moses who had to hide behind a rock as God came near. God shows himself to us fully in Jesus Christ as the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The love God displayed to Israel through the forgiveness of their sins when animals were sacrificed was put on full display when Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  

Jesus’s disciple, John, writes this in 1 John 4:9 – “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that ‘God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.”

In a smoldering city in Lamentations God’s steadfast love is remembered, but not only his “steadfast love” but also his “unceasing” love. It “never ceases”!

God’s love has no boundaries. Time does not change it, and circumstances do not change it. God’s love is present in this pandemic; present in our church that cares for us, present in his word that speaks to us, and present in his grace that strengthens and comforts us. His love is always present in Jesus who has promised to “never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Take some time to answer this question: In what ways do you see God’s love revealed at this time in your life?

[Read Lamentations 3:22b]

God’s love for us is not just a “word” but a “deed”. He gives us his mercy, a mercy that is revealed in Jesus Christ. A mercy that was clearly expressed through the death of our savior. A mercy that has no limits. Webster’s defines mercy as: A compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender. What a perfect definition for those who have been redeemed by Christ! A mercy that has practical expression:

  • His willingness to sacrifice his son on our behalf
  • His desire to reconcile himself to us
  • His willingness to forgive
  • His compassion for those who are sheep without a shepherd
  • His comfort to those who are mourning
  • His patience in being slow to anger and abounding in love

We don’t know why this pandemic exists other than the reality that we live in a broken and sin ravaged world. What we do know is that we can see his goodness revealed each day in his love and mercy.

[Read Lamentations 3:23]

Each day that you awaken (which is a gift of mercy) there is an overflow of God’s mercy awaiting you. A mercy that is to remind you of his love for you.

Take a moment to name some of the mercies you have experienced over this past week.

As we read of God’s love, steadfast and unceasing, and of his mercies new each day, how do we respond to this great love and mercy particularly at this time? The writer of Lamentations shows us the way; praise God for who he is. He declares this at the end of verse 23 -- “Great is your faithfulness.”

Pandemics, disease, aging, heartache, financial struggles, suffering for following Christ, or even death will never separate us from the love of God, and should never prevent us from worshipping him with a heart full of gratefulness for his love and mercy.

Finally, the writer closes this exaltation of God with words only a true believer can utter in times of trouble:

[Read Lamentations 3:24]

This passage tells us to do something: Rest peacefully because our hope and salvation are secure in Christ because nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ:

Paul writes this in Romans 8:38-39 – “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As the writer of Lamentations remembered God’s unchanging character, he was drawn back into living fellowship and communion with God.  What he believed about God became his song of praise.

How can our response in these troubled times be like that of the writer?

Our task is to remember the “right” things.  But what are those “right” things? Like the writer of Lamentations, our remembrance must begin with God himself. So, we remember God—not just the “good” God does for us, but the good he is for us. Recounting the deeds of the Lord is important, but remembering that we are in fellowship with the Creator of the universe who is near to us is what gives us life. Who we choose to remember will determine how we live.

As Christians when troubling times come, we have a person, a friend, a savior who is more than the “facts of the gospel” but is the gospel.  He is our good news when all around bad news abounds. He is our comfort and hope, our “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Listen to how the writer of Lamentations recounts this presence:

[Read Lamentations 3:57]

This is the goodness of the gospel put on display. As the hymn declares: “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.” He is our portion, and he is where our hope is found.

 

Listen or Sing to These Songs

 

A Prayer Guide

  • Thank God for his unchanging character and faithfulness and that he is the one whose sovereign hand is in control of every circumstance we face.

  • Pray through the list of prayer requests that Nora sent out this morning

  • Ask God to bring this time to an end so that we can enjoy the benefits and blessing of gathering as the people of God in the presence of God.

  • Thank God that soon all the pain, sickness, loneliness, and tears will all be over when Jesus Christ returns for his bride. Ask the Lord to come quickly.

A Sermon to Listen To

Take some time today or this coming week to listen to the below sermon from Psalm 13 from Larry.

From Anguish to Assurance