Introduction: Hello and welcome to this teaching from Calvary Albuquerque. We pray that God uses these messages from this ministry to draw people closer to him, and we've been encouraged to hear how they have helped people around the world experience God's love. Do you want to be a part of that special work? Partner with us by supporting this ministry financially. Just visit calvaryabq.org/giving to give online securely. If this message sparks a deep love for Christ in your heart, tell us about it. Email us at email@example.com. Now let's open our Bibles and turn our attention to this service of from Calvary Albuquerque.
Skip Heitzig: Would you turn in your Bibles to Lamentations, chapter 3. I'm having you turn to a book that represents one of the darkest periods in all of ancient biblical history, because essentially Jeremiah the prophet is overseeing the death of a nation, his nation, and presiding over the funeral of a city, his city, the city of Jerusalem. As there is a death of a nation, there's also a living God who is greatly at work. Sort of like Charles Dickens' opening line to a Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was a worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness . . . ," so we see here in this book. Now I'm having you turn there with me for two reasons. First of all, because it is one of most significant passages in all of Scripture on the faithfulness of God to his people.
But there's a second reason and it's this: Christmas is over with. We have just celebrated it. It, for many people, represents a season of hope, but let me add that it represents a season of hope that doesn't last very long. It would seem that many people Christmas after Christmas after Christmas grow a bit more cynical. "Yeah, Jesus was born," some would say, "but---but so what? I mean, the angels said over the skies in Bethlehem, 'Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!' Boy, it doesn't look like I'm seeing a lot of peace as I look around this earth. I don't see a whole lot of goodwill displayed from one person toward another." It seems that December's hope get eclipsed by January's harsh reality. Just Christmas Eve we had a wonderful celebration, but in between and after services I met and talked to different people.
And a few of them stuck out to me: one man who recently buried his mother after taking care of her for a couple of years. He was heartbroken. Another girl who said, "Would you pray for my family? My grandmother just died. She was the matriarch of our family. She was the glue that held us together. Pray for us. We need strength." Then I saw a woman and spoke to her. She had lost her husband. I saw a husband who had recently lost his wife; a young mother of a few children whose husband had recently walked out on the marriage. I saw families who are dealing with cancers and different diseases, and on and on. And that was just my few short encounters on Christmas Eve among God's people. Then we lift our eyes a bit higher to the national and international horizon.
As we look back over 2014, it's been tough: the rise of ISIS in the Middle East; the public and videotaped beheadings of American and British journalists by that cruel group. Then over in Africa there's been an outbreak of the worst case of Ebola ever on record. The World Health Organization tells us 16,000 cases of it. Seven thousand have already died. In Nigeria 274 teenage girls abducted by Boka Haram, and only a handful have been released. In our own nation there is a growing racial divide sparked by the events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri. So, somebody would look at that and then read the Scripture where the angels said, "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!" And say, "What's wrong with this picture?" Well, let me tell you what's wrong with that picture.
You need to understand what the angels said. It is sometimes put in Christmas cards that way, and it is an ancient rendering, but a more modern translation would yield the richness and accuracy of what the angel actually said. The angel over Bethlehem announced these words and they're far different: "On earth peace to men on whom God's favor rests." Very different meaning, is it not? "Peace to men or people on whom God's favor rests." In other words, that's the promise to you in the midst of all of the bad stuff that is going on around you. Well, here we are in Lamentations, chapter 3, and we're going to read some pretty wonderful verses, but, again, let me give you the setting. The year was 586 BC. That means nothing to Americans; it meant everything to the historic Jew. It was their September 11th.
The nation has just died. The Babylonians have come and---have come and taken over the city of Jerusalem, burned it with fire. Thousands upon thousands of people were dying in the streets of Jerusalem as Jeremiah was writing about what he saw. Thousands of them had come in for protection. There was no food. There was no water. They died in the streets. Disease spread rapidly. The temple was burned. It got so bad the prophet writes in this book that parents were reduced to cannibals. They were actually eating---some of them---their own children for survival. That's how bad it got. And Jeremiah, like a war correspondent, is recording what he sees and hears and smells in the book of Lamentations. He's lamenting over it. That's what the word means. It's a strong cry like a funeral dirge.
He writes five of them, five of them: chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. He sees it, he hears it, and he records it. Not only is that happening, but something else is happening. Thousands more people living in the city will be carted off toward Babylon. Daniel would be one of them. But let's look at our verses. In chapter 3 we get to this odd part of the book, because if you're familiar at all with the book, you know it's bad, really bad. Then it goes from bad to worse, and it sort of plays those minor cord notes throughout the whole book. But then suddenly we come to these verses, which are an island of hope in an ocean of despair. Like a bright flickering light in a dark background, we come to these verses. Beginning in verse 21 of chapter 3 the prophet writes:
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I hope in him!"
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
To the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear
The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and keep silent,
Because God has laid it on him;
Let him put his mouth in the dust---
There may yet be hope.
Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him,
And be full of reproach.
For the Lord will not cast off forever.
We have just looked back briefly in the life of our church over 2014. We have remembered, in the words of Moses, "The way the Lord has led us." But now we also look ahead. It's the end of one year, the beginning of another in a few days. We live in uncertain world that I know, but in the midst of an uncertain world, let me give you a few certainties, things you can rely on. Here's the first: there is mercy in the midst of mayhem. There is mercy in the midst of mayhem. Verse 22 tells us, "Through the Lord's mercies," or it could be stated, "Because of the Lord's mercy we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not." Now as I've told you, this is the only bright spot in the book. If you are not familiar with the book of Lamentations, you might think by reading what we just read that the whole book is like this. It is not.
It's like a diamond in a handful of coal. But it's for Jeremiah a reminder. It's like this prophet can see through the smoke of judgment and he focuses on God's mercy. And he says, "It's because of those mercies that we are not consumed"; that is, utterly destroyed. It's an incredible statement, because Jeremiah is seeing death and destruction all around him, and yet he says, "You know what? It's not the end. It is not the end. We may be down, but we are not out. We're not going to be completely destroyed or completely wiped out like the other nations that have been decimated by the Babylonians. God's been merciful to us. It is not the end." Every person, including you, will face mayhem, confusion, hardship, heartache, suffering, battles, storms---in a word, mayhem.
Some of you are discovering that life is a process of getting used to all the things that you never planned. "I didn't plan that. I didn't see that one coming. I wanted this to happen, but it didn't." And you're getting used to it. You're adjusting your life to all the things that happen that you never planned. One of the greatest sufferers ever, Job, said, "Man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward." Another author you're familiar with and you're familiar with his beautiful Psalm, Psalm 23, don't forget it says, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." Yup, you gotta walk through that valley. No, you won't be airlifted from mountain peak to mountain peak. And yet I still meet people who think that because they're Christians, God owes them a life that is free of pain and suffering.
I don't know where they get that from. Certainly, they're not reading their Bibles much. But it's sort of like, "Well, I'm a child of God. I'm a good person. Bad things don't happen to good people." That's like expecting that attack dog not to attack you because you own a dog as a pet at home. Life doesn't work that way. There may be mayhem in the next year, but there will be mercy in the midst of it. I want you to consider and even look at the word in your text: "mercies." "Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed." That is a word that is used about 250 times in the Old Testament, "mercies." It is sometimes translated "lovingkindness." The Hebrew word is chesed. If you were to try to write that word down, you'd probably have to put C H E S E D. Kheh' sed, that's how you gotta say it. That's how they say it.
And chesed means loyal love or covenant love. And here's what it means exactly. Here's how it means fleshed out. It means that God made a covenant with you, and that he will act in love and mercy towards you because of the covenant that he made with you. That's what it means. So rather than focusing on the great grief that you are experiencing, maybe you need to focus on the great God in the midst of the great grief, and his great love and mercy and compassion toward you. C. H. Mackintosh once wrote: "Ten thousand mercies are forgotten in the presence of a single trifling moment." How often I've seen that among believers. So in love with God---"God is good, I trust in the Lord"---and then one small inconvenience happens and they're now questioning if there is a God.
One trifling moment, and ten thousand mercies are forgotten. I say we need to start drowning out the trifling moments with God's triumphant mercy. Here's a prophet looking at devastation and destruction and saying, "God is merciful, because we're not completely wiped out." So, in mayhem there will be mercy. Here's a second certainty: God's resources will match your requirements. God's resources will be there to match whatever need, whatever requirement you have. Look at verse 23. "They are new every morning," says the prophet. What's new? God's mercies, his compassions, they're new every morning. And then he pauses. It's like he lifts his head upward and says, "Great is in Your faithfulness."
I just want you to get how significant this is. This is like somebody standing at ground zero after September 11, 2001, and lifting his head up and going, "Great is God's faithfulness." That's how bad it was in Jerusalem. Now here's what he is saying, he's saying whatever the day throws at you, God will match it. Whatever requirement you have, whatever need you have, God will match it with his resources. Every single morning this next year, whatever you need to get through that day, that week, that month, there will be a fresh supply of God's covenant love and God's loving compassion toward you. But here's the catch: it's sort of like manna. Do you remember manna in the Old Testament? Do you remember there was a catch with God giving them manna?
They had to do something---what? They had to gather it every single morning. God said, "You got to get out there and get it every day. If you try to collect a bunch of it for a few days, it'll go bad. So every day you need to go out and demonstrate that you depend on me every morning, every morning, every morning." Well, God's mercies are like that. They're new every morning. You gotta gather them every morning. I'm going to suggest that this next year you give your mornings to God, you spend some time with him, and you adjust your sights, you balance your life by some time in his Word and in prayer. That's how you start your day. You say, "I'm not a morning person." Get up just a little earlier. "I don't have enough time." Get up a little earlier.
"Oh, but I'm not good in the morning." Get over it, just---just a cup of coffee---something. [laughter] Give your mornings to God. Try it. Try to gather the manna every day and receive during that time what you will need for the day, whatever it will bring you. He says, "Great is your faithfulness." I've always marveled at this text. I've marveled at it, because to say that, that's a declaration, not based on what he is seeing or hearing or smelling, it's based upon what he knows. Because what he is seeing is a city burned with fire. What he is smelling is the corrupted, rotted flesh of human beings. What he is hearing, the cries of women and children being massacred, history tells us. That's what he's seeing. That's what he's experiencing.
And, yet, he makes a statement not based on what he sees, but what he knows about God: "Great is your faithfulness." Paul went so far as to say to Timothy in Second Timothy 2, "If we are faithless, he remains faithful, because he cannot deny himself." He's faithful, but we don't always---well, we don't always notice it, do we? We are the kind of people that live in the shadows, rather than noticing, what's not the shadow. We notice the black dots on the white sheet, instead of so much white that's still on that sheet. It's a great story about Thomas Chisolm. He lived in the 1800s. He was born into poverty. He was born in Franklin, Kentucky, uneducated, but he had a desire to be in the ministry. He eventually got his dream.
He entered the ministry, was ordained to the ministry, but because of very poor health, he could only remain in the ministry one year. That's it. After one year he had to quit. He couldn't keep up the pace and the responsibilities. So with whatever energy he had left, he spent it in the insurance business selling insurance to people. So he had a dream. It was fulfilled for a year, then it was gone. And yet this is what he said: "I must never fail to record the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God." And boy, did he keep that promise. He went on to write twelve hundred poems and hundreds of songs. And one of them is based on this text. It's the very song we just sang.
Here's the lyrics to refresh your memory: "Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions fail not; as Thou has been Thou forever will be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand has provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!" Did you know that there are 7,487 promises in the Bible that God made to man? That's what somebody counted. Somebody actually decided to go through and count that. He was a Canadian. He says, "I'm just curious; how many times did God make a promise to people?" Seven thousand four hundred and eighty seven---that will get you through your tomorrows.
And it's time that we start focusing and noticing all the times God keeps a promise: "Another promise." "He's faithful there." "He's faithful there." "I ate this morning." "I could get gas today." "I got to hug that person again." Whatever it might be, it's the great faithfulness of God. So, there is mercy in the midst of mayhem. God's resources will match your requirements. Here's the third and final thing to meditate on: delays don't always mean God's denial. Delays don't mean, necessarily, denial. Look at verse 25. "The Lord is good to those who wait for him," says the prophet, "to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.
"Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust---there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, and be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever." Now in this text that we have read, from verse 21 to verse 31, there are two words that appear a total of five times. It's the word "hope" and the word "wait," and they always go together. He is waiting in hope. "Wait" and "hope"---these are the words of a man anticipating some answer from God at some point in the future. "This is bad, but we're not done yet, not over yet, and I'm still waiting and I'm still hoping." Now you know that Jeremiah predicted what he is seeing and writing about in this book.
Did you know that in the prophecy of Jeremiah, before Lamentations, (Jeremiah, the book that bears his name), he spent forty years---4 0 years---running around that city telling the people, "Babylonians are coming! Babylonians are coming! This place is going down. This place is going to be taken captive. Babylonians are coming!" Do you know he did that for forty years and not a single person---not one---listened to him, not one convert, not one repentance. And now the day has happened. It has happened. He is watching it like a war correspondent. He is recording all of the nitty gritty of what he sees and hears. But he also made another prediction. He said in his book of Jeremiah there's coming a day that when the city that is destroyed in the future, Jerusalem, and now he's seeing it, will be restored.
"After seventy years of captivity in Babylon, you will come back to this city, God will restore you, and you will rebuild." And so the word "wait" and the word "hope" now makes sense. Here's a fellow who expects God to answer. At the same time, he gives room for God to answer. "Lord, I expect you to answer, but I'm allowing you to answer in your way at your time." That's waiting. "I expect you to answer, but I allow you to answer your way and in your timing." Now, I'll be honest with you, I'm not good at waiting. I hate it. That's a confession. And I'll make a confession for you---so do you. [laughter] You hate it. We hate it. We live in a society that promises instant gratification: "Do you want it? Buy it. Have it. Do it now. Don't wait for anything."
But think of waiting on the Lord sort of like going to a good movie. The director, the producer will put in creative pause. He will build up. There will be antagonism, angst. There will be tension in the film. There won't be resolve yet, but eventually you come to a place where after waiting for it---wait for it, wait for it---suddenly at the end there's resolve and you go, "Ah, great ending." What this means for you and I is that we start recognizing and looking for God's mercy in the midst of the mayhem. We start grabbing a hold of his resources in the midst of all our requirements. And it also means that when we don't get what we want when we want it, we say, "That's okay God. You will answer it. I will wait and hope in you, because you're saying to me, obviously, 'Not now. Not now.' "It's important because "not now" doesn't mean no.
My parents used to say, "Not now," a lot to me. "Dad, are we there yet? Dad, can we stop now?" "Not yet." Now, eventually we would stop. Eventually he would graciously let me use the bathroom at the filling station, or have a meal on the way to the road trip. But sometimes I wanted stuff now, and he would just simply say, "Not yet." But you and I need to let go a little bit more when we trust the Lord. I'll close with this poem: "As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend, I brought my broken dreams to God, because he is my friend. But then instead of leaving him in peace to work alone, I hung around and tried to help with ways that were my own. At last I snatched them back and cried, 'How can you be so slow?' 'My child,' he said, 'what could I do? You never did let go.' "
It's time to let go. This year let go. And as you are looking up, as you find yourself in a pit and you are looking up, that's the best place to look, because your outlook is determined by your up look. And as you look up and you remember God's mercies, and you say, "God is faithful," you keep looking up to him and anticipating God will answer and God will work, but it will be in his way and in his time. Because if you don't, you'll sink back down into that muck and that mire, so don't do it. Say, "Great is your faithfulness."
And, Father, that's how we end, we close. We come to the end of our year, and we look back, and you have been so good. You have been so faithful. We have certainly seen the mayhem, though not close to what Jeremiah saw. But, Lord, you have been and you are merciful. You have made a covenant with us, a covenant of lovingkindness of chesed, where you will deal with us according to the covenant, the promises that you have made to us. Help us to look for the mercies, look for the resources, and to trust your timing, in Jesus' name, amen.
Closing: It's so important that we allow God's truth to sink deeply into our soul, but it's equally important to act on those truths. How will you live out what you learned from this teaching? Let us know when you email firstname.lastname@example.org. And just a reminder: you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/giving. Thank you for listening to this message from Calvary Albuquerque.