Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lamentations 3:21-25 - "Behind the Mask"

Lamentations 3:21-25 – Behind the Mask
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

   his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

I've entitled our time - “Behind the mask”  Let’s pray...

I’m going to let you in on a little secret –
Christians… get… depressed too. I know...  I know all the arguments to the contrary:  
“Of ALL people, WE shouldn’t struggle with depression.”  
We feel guilty because the scriptures tell us “we are MORE THAN conquerors!” and that we should have “joy unspeakable and full of glory!”  But the truth remains: being a Christian does not exempt you from being human.  

We battle discouragement too – and sometimes – for no apparent reason.
Which begs the question: Are YOU discouraged???

The problem with depression is that during our ‘low moments’ we are prone to making wrong assumptions.
We may think that something is wrong with US – that our faith is defective.  We hear talk of the ‘victorious Christian experience’ and we wonder WHY WE are so broken.

We assume wrong things about OTHERS too – thinking that WE are the ONLY ONES who battle these feelings – that NO ONE else understands… or even cares.

And we even jump to wrong conclusions about the LORD – maybe He doesn’t love us  – maybe He is punishing us – or doesn’t really hear us when we pray or care about us like we thought.

If you have ever been THERE- maybe you are there NOW - I hope THIS passage of scripture will minister to you like it does me.
It is believed that the book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah in 586 BC.  “Lamentations” means “to cry aloud.”  How fitting, then, that the man referred to as “the weeping prophet” should author THIS BOOK of tears.  

The content of this book is described perfectly by its title – it contains 5 melancholy poems mourning the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians - a tragedy that could have been averted had Israel only repented.
Let’s rewind a bit…

Jeremiah was called of God as a prophet when he was very young – probably late teens or early twenties.  When God called him, he begged the Lord not to put him into this ministry.  His arguments were reasonable – he was YOUNG and lacked the experience and respect needed for such an important task.  But God responded by telling him that GOD would do the equipping!
As a prophet, he wouldn't win many friends – his ministry and message signaled the judgment of God and the doom of the holy city.
He was NOT a “happy prophet,” for all of his life was wrapped up in the knowledge that God would soon destroy everything he loved.  For 50 years, Jeremiah preached “judgment;” and in all those years of passionate ministry, not one person believed his message or turned from his sins.  

In fact, the only response Jeremiah received was one of ABUSE and SCORN.  He was imprisoned unjustly, accused of conspiring with Israel’s enemies – he was even thrown into a cistern with no light or food for several days.  When they finally brought him out, he was little more than an emaciated skeleton.
He wept, not for his mistreatment, however - but for the stubbornness of his people.

Eventually Jeremiah’s predictions came true – Jerusalem WAS sacked and its people made the slaves of pagans.  Jeremiah was forced to flee to Egypt, where he died, a broken man in a foreign land.

A sad, sad story to be sure.  So sad, that Jeremiah went through a period of time when he felt like God was out to destroy him.

  • In the first part of our chapter, Jeremiah is brutally honest and blames God for all this trouble.  

  • It seemed as if his prayers were being blocked from the presence of God.  

  • He said in vv. 10 and 11 that it seemed as though God was like a wild animal, crouching in the dark, waiting to attack and kill him.

  • He THEN tells us he felt as if he had a big target painted on his back and God was using him for target practice.

  • In verse 18, Jeremiah is filled with bitterness and declares he had lost ALL hope.
THIS was a deeply, DEEPLY depressed individual.
BUT -  AS he began to reflect on things, his focus turned FROM his problems TO the Lord.  That’s when something strange happened.  Instead of LISTENING to his feelings, he begins LISTING the various characteristics of His God.  AS he reflected, he remembered 3 specific character traits that turned his whining into worship.
Whenever you find yourself in “the pit” … the only way you can get out of it is to train yourself to focus on these important traits of God.  What are they???
1.  FIRST Jeremiah remembered that GOD was his ROCK.   When all the world forsakes you, when your closest friends don’t understand and you are convinced that no one cares, focus on the truth that God is your ROCK.  

Listen to what v. 22 says,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”  In verse 23 he says, “great is your faithfulness.” In verse 25 he says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”  God will be your rock too - when all the world is falling apart.
The word he uses to describe the “love” of God is an interesting word.  It comes from the Hebrew word “he-sed” and it communicates the idea of Loyalty.  God is loyal.  What are the implications of this??

  • The Lord never abandons those who love Him.  

  • Regardless how friends and family fail us, GOD doesn’t forget the covenant He makes with His people

  • He never fails to honor the commitment He has made to those who trust Him.
Listen, When life gets as bad as I think it can get, I must remind myself that

  • God is STILL in control…

  • that He loves me…

  • that He will NEVER abandon me.  

  • And He is never surprised or caught off guard by the things that happen to me.  

  • He intervenes, knowing our limits, not allowing our circumstances to get so bad that we have NOTHING to live for.  

A man who was no stranger to depression, David, wrote in Psalm 61…

Lead me to the ROCK
that is higher than I,
for YOU have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
When you are down and all of life seems dark and your joy is gone, you need to remind yourself that God will NOT abandon you in your hour of greatest need.  He will be your rock when everything in life is like so - much - sand.

2.  Secondly, Jeremiah remembered that God was his Redeemer.  

Don’t let the devil sell you his lies about our Father…

  • He is a God Who feels my sorrows

  • He sympathizes with my pain

  • He forgives my failures.  

  • And rather than being angry with me for doubting or questioning Him, He views me with compassion.  

As Jeremiah says in verse 22, “…because HIS mercies never come to an end…” His mercy CANNOT BE exhausted.
Interestingly, the word “mercies” comes from the Hebrew root word for “womb.”  The picture Jeremiah presents is that of a mother who lovingly cherishes and soothes her newborn baby.  Just as a child will often run to his mother for comfort when he is hurt, we are being encouraged to take our hurts to God.  Though mom can’t TAKE the pain AWAY, she lovingly soothes her child.
Think about it: babies are totally dependent on their parents.  They cannot do anything for themselves.

  • It's the love of the mother that motivates her to fight exhaustion in the middle of the night to care for her little one.  

  • It's her love that moves her to change its diapers, to hold it, rock it, sing to it, and to keep sacrificing herself for it though the baby can offer absolutely nothing in return.
It is a mother’s nature to nurture and Jeremiah wants us to understand that it is God’s nature to nurture us.
Every time you suffer physically, emotionally, or spiritually, when you are crushed and confused, God views you with compassion.  

Satan would have you to believe that God is absent or apathetic when we hurt… but Jeremiah wanted you to know that God feels your pain and desires to comfort you.  WE are utterly helpless, just like that newborn baby – all we do is TAKE - and it's God’s nature to keep on giving.
Verse 23 says, “They (that is, God’s mercies) are NEW every morning.”  I’m thankful for that – because I need a WHOLE LOT of mercy!

Here is something you need to know about depression:
it’s in our low moments that we are most prone to sin.  It’s not when we are experiencing revival, it’s not when we feel CLOSE to God that we are most tempted to rebel against Him – but

  • when you feel alone

  • when you think that God doesn’t care

  • when you have NO energy or incentive to do what is right

THAT’S when you are most prone to yield to temptation.  There is a vicious cycle to discouragement and sin:

  • When we feel distant from God, we contemplate disobedience.

  • When we sin – we feel even greater distance

  • And the two continue to build – feeling low, then sinning, we feel lower – so we sin some more – and on and on it goes.
BUT, Jeremiah wants us to know that WHEN we repent of our sins, God no longer holds those things against us!
We start each day with a clean slate with God.  

When you confess your faults to the Lord, you don’t start the next day with the same old list of failures from the previous day.  God no longer holds these things against you.  It’s a NEW DAY with a NEW start!
Some of us have trouble getting a handle on that kind of forgiveness.  Maybe it’s because we are so accustomed to MAN’S forgiveness – WHERE we apologize for the things we have done and we are TOLD we are “forgiven,” but later on our failures are brought back up.  Days, weeks, months, and even YEARS can pass by, and during the heat of conflict, our old – what we THOUGHT were forgiven failures – are dredged up – and like a HAMMER in the hand of an enemy – “Remember how you did THAT!” SMASH! “Do you remember how you said THIS?!?!” SMASH!

Man doesn’t forget.
This is why so many of us have a distorted view of God’s mercy.  We think that REAL forgiveness is a pipe-dream.  But understand, what God forgives – He chooses to forget!  As God tells us in Jeremiah 31, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  Or as the Psalmist wrote is psalm 103, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”  

When God forgives you, your guilt is gone and He never holds you liable for those crimes again.  Every day there is a fresh supply of mercy.
So when you get down, remember that God is your rock, your redeemer...

3.  And THIRD, Jeremiah remembered that God was his Reward.  Notice verse 24, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The phrase “the Lord is my portion” literally means – “the Lord is my inheritance.”  It is based on Numbers 18:20.  THERE the Lord said to Aaron, the brother of Moses and High Priest of Israel, “I am your portion and your inheritance.
What God was saying to Aaron is beautiful.  While the other tribes of Israel stood to inherit LAND when they entered the Promised Land – the priests wouldn’t receive ANY property to speak of.  God wanted their focus on ANOTHER world - THEIR REWARD was not OF THIS WORLD.  God said, “I will be your inheritance – I will be your reward.”
Why is that important?  

God is reminding me, that what I need MOST in this world is NOT OF this world.  I need God.  He is the only One that can help me.  And He is ALL I need.
The temptation of all of us is to get so wrapped up in earthly things that we lose sight of what is REALLY IMPORTANT.  The answer to our needs cannot be found in anything of this world.  God was telling His priests, “You let ME worry about your future – look to ME to satisfy your needs.”  All we REALLY – ULTIMATELY need⇒ is the Lord.

Maybe this is why some of us are discouraged this morning.  We’ve put our hope and confidence in the wrong things.  Only God can meet your needs.  More STUFF is not the answer GOD is the answer.

Notice what verse 25 says: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” As Jeremiah found himself in the pit of despair, God helped him recall something He had told Jeremiah many years before.  In Jeremiah 29, God said to Jeremiah, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a hope and a future.   Then you will call upon me, and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me, and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

When we go through seasons of depression, our tendency is to withdraw from others.  Sadly, when we need God the most, we find it hardest to pray, to study His Word, and to fellowship with God’s people.  But it’s during those low moments that we need the Lord the most.

  • Seek Him

  • Remind yourself that He is all you REALLY need

  • Don’t believe for one minute that God has abandoned you – for even when Jeremiah blamed the Lord for all his troubles, God remained faithful – waiting for His child to return.

When Jeremiah finally understood these things, his depression gave way to worship.
And God makes this same promise to you – when you push through your sorrow and seek the Lord – you will find Him.  Instead of allowing your troubles to drive you FROM Him – let them drive you TO Him!

Are YOU discouraged this morning?  Remember that God is your ROCK…that He is your REDEEMER… and that He alone is your REWARD.
He is waiting for you to seek Him.