September 13 – Lament – Overlooking the Wages of Sin?

Read Lamentations 5:1-22

Several years ago Neil Postman wrote, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.” In that book, he demonstrates how the city of Las Vegas, Nevada has become a symbol of the addiction of our culture to entertainment. He says, “Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment.  Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice.  We are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

He is right. Western society is consumed with the pursuit of pleasure. More sources of entertainment have been provided for us than any other civilization in human history.

Tragically, however, all this pleasure has only resulted in more pain. Everywhere we turn, we see the wages of sin: drug addiction, alcoholism, child abuse, divorce, rape, suicide, and murder. The quality of life is not getting better, it’s getting worse.

Perhaps Jeremiah’s words have never been more timely. They remind us that what sin promises, it can never deliver. Only God can bring the lasting satisfaction we desire.

In the fifth and final chapter of Lamentations, we discover Jews who have been humiliated and heartbroken. Finally, they turned their faces toward God and sought His forgiveness and intervention (vv. 16-17). They stopped rationalizing their sin and took full responsibility for their disobedience.

They cried out to God to forgive their rebellion and restore them to fellowship with Him (v. 21a). They pled with God to renew their former glory (v. 21b). Finally, they turned from the folly of their sin and sought refuge in the loving character of a God who would never abandon them (Jeremiah 31:31-40).

When we suffer the consequences of our sin, it’s easy to feel just like the Jews did – abandoned by God and beyond any usefulness to Him. Here’s the good news… The Lord will not – indeed, He cannot – forsake those who have placed their faith in Him.

Have you recognized the penalty for your own rebellion against a loving Father? Like the prodigal son, remember today that He is waiting to forgive and renew your relationship with Him (Luke 15:11-32).

Bob Fetterhoff

September 12 – Lament – When the Bottom Drops Out…

Read Lamentations 4:1-22

Elie Wiesel, a Jewish teenager, lost his faith in God during an imprisonment at a Nazi concentration camp. Along with thousands of other prisoners, he was forced to watch members of Hitler’s Secret Service lead two men and a child to the gallows for hanging. Once the sentence was carried out, the prisoners were required to march past the execution site.

Weisel describes how he felt in these powerful words: “The two adults were no longer alive…. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive… For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.

Behind me, I heard a man asking: ‘Where is God now?’  And I heard a voice within me answer: ‘Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows….’”

Not all survivors of the Holocaust responded as Weisel. Many found hope and deeper meaning in life because of their strong religious convictions. Some even discovered the presence of God as He met their needs in supernatural ways, purified their character and judged their captors.

So how should we view those times when our lives are turned upside down? Where do we find strength to persevere? Jeremiah’s experience gives us some insight.

The fourth chapter of Lamentations reminds us that it is “a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). God allowed the Jews of Jeremiah’s day to experience almost unspeakable pain to demonstrate the awful effects of sin.

The precious wealth of Jerusalem was tarnished and scattered along the streets like litter (vv.1-2). The rich and important were stripped of their wealth and dignity (v. 5). City leaders wandered the streets, barely recognizable because their bodies were racked by hunger (vv. 8-9). Jewish mothers had even begun to kill, boil, and eat their own children (v. 10).

There are valuable lessons to be learned in times of great tragedy. When catastrophe comes, we usually experience feelings of fear, insecurity, and loneliness.   In those moments, we can lean on these two important lessons:

  1. Sudden devastation is often the beginning of a process of reconstruction. The Lord does not build on an impure foundation. He will destroy what He cannot purify.
  2. Behind the pain of human calamity is the faithful presence of God. The Lord may seem distant, perhaps even uncaring, when the bottom drops out of life. But if we belong to Him through faith in Christ, we will never be abandoned. He said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you“ (Hebrews 13:5b).

Whatever you encounter today, if you are in Christ, you can be sure that nothing will separate you from His infinite love. The Apostle Paul wrote: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Bob Fetterhoff

September 11 – Lament – Pleas from the Pit

Read Lamentations 3:33–66

Jeremiah spent 40 years warning Jews that God’s judgment would come unless they repented, but his pleas were ignored.  As a result, God allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jeremiah‘s beloved Jerusalem, the “City of Peace.” The ruins left behind provided a graphic picture of what can happen because of disobedience.

In the middle of that heartache, Jeremiah remembered three attributes of God’s character that provide comfort for us during times of hardship:

    1. God is just (vv.33-36). He is not a cosmic sadist who loves to inflict pain on helpless creatures. He disciplines us, not because He likes to watch us suffer, but because He wants the best for us. He loves us too much to do less (Hebrews 12:7-11).
    2. God is sovereign (vv. 37-38). Even though God does not cause evil (Habakkuk 1:13a; James 1:13-17), He can use both prosperity and adversity for our good (Romans 8:28).
    3. God is holy (vv. 39-44). Any punishment we experience for wrongdoing is well deserved. The Lord cannot ignore sin. The Jews learned the hard way that God will not tolerate sin – especially if it comes from believers.

With this in mind, we need to remember these important principles from this passage:

When we find ourselves in “the pit,” we need to examine our own lives and return to God. He will not respond to prayer as long as we “regard iniquity in our hearts” (Psalm 66:18). However, when we turn to Him in repentance, “He is faithful and righteous and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness“ (1 John 1:9).

When we come across others who are in “the pit,” we should offer to help them.  A helping hand, a listening ear, or a sympathetic embrace goes a long way toward lessening the pain someone else experiences.  “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived”  (Galatians 6:1-3 MSG).

Finally, the more we know God, the better equipped we are to weather the storms of life. When we really understand who He is and how He relates to us, it will ease our own pain and provide us with hope not only for today, but for eternity.

Bob Fetterhoff

September 10 – Lament – God’s Infinite Compassion

Read Lamentations 3:1-32

Years ago, I served as pastor of a small church in southwestern Michigan for 2 ½ years while I was in seminary.  Every weekend, my wife and I drove about 75 miles with a close friend, even through the “snow belt“ of South Bend during the winter, to provide leadership for the struggling work.

Every Sunday, my buddy and I took turns planning the service, preaching, leading the music, and providing direction for the church. We often used a few verses of Scripture, frequently from the Psalms, as words of encouragement, a “Call to Worship,”  to begin a Sunday morning service.

One weekend, we chose the great words of Lamentations 3 as our focus for the day: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 – NIV). We planned to follow those words by singing, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”  At least that was the plan.  Or so I thought.

When the time came to read the verses, my friend could only remember they were located in chapter 3. So he opened his Bible and started at the beginning of the chapter: “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones…” (Lamentations 3:1-4 – NIV).

The tone got darker and more depressing the longer he read. Exasperated, he finally stopped, walked across the platform, sat down by me and said, “Sheesh!“

I couldn’t stop laughing! We meant for the service to begin with an upbeat, vivid reminder of the mercies and faithfulness of God, but instead it turned gloomy and never did recover.

I’ve thought about that moment many times since then… and retold the story more times than I can count.  It has occurred to me, however, that our experience mimics what so many of us encounter in life.

As Christians who believe in a good and sovereign God, it’s easy to expect that life will be free of heartache and pain. Nothing could be further from the truth. The book of Lamentations reminds us that, at times, we will feel abandoned, oppressed, humiliated, and alone.

In stark contrast to those times of darkness, Jeremiah reminds us of three great truths about the nature of God in this section:

  1. God’s love never ends (v. 21a). Despite the discipline He brought because of their rebellion, God was sticking by the covenant people He had chosen.
  2. God’s concern never fails (v. 22b). In fact, the night may seem lonely and bleak, but the dawn of a new day is a reminder that God still cares for His people.
  3. God‘s faithfulness never diminishes (v. 23b). Regardless of how inconsistent, even disobedient, believers may be, the Lord “remains faithful; for he cannot deny himself“ (2 Timothy 2:13).

No wonder Jeremiah finally proclaims, “‘The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, “‘Therefore, I have hope in him’” (v.24)  So can you!  No matter how dark the night may seem, His faithfulness will never fail.

Bob Fetterhoff

September 9 – Lament – A Trip to the Father’s Woodshed

Read Lamentations 2:1-22

Did you know a ping-pong paddle serves two purposes? You might not. The primary purpose, of course, is to play ping-pong.

But I will always remember a secondary purpose:  It was a great instrument for discipline in our family when I was a boy. My father rarely spanked us, but when he did, he often used a ping pong paddle. More than 60 years have passed, and I still remember that paddle.

I remember, however, far more than the instrument of punishment that he chose. I remember the look of sorrow in his eyes when he knew that my brother or I had disobeyed him. The tears in his eyes served as lasting reminders of how much he loved us.

Because of the love and discipline of my own father, it has not been hard for me to grasp the discipline of my Heavenly Father. “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness”  (Hebrews 12:9-10 – NIV).

God’s desire for his children is that we reflect His holy character before others.  The Apostle Peter wrote, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the holy one who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (Peter 1:14–15). When we stubbornly go our way instead of God’s way, our loving Father in heaven brings discipline into our lives.

In Lamentations 2, Jeremiah describes the evidences of discipline God brought to His people long ago because of their sinful behavior. They lost strength and vitality (vv. 3-4), experienced personal anguish (v.5), felt abandoned and empty (vv.6-8) and encountered total humiliation and loss of worth (vv. 9-16) … all because of their sin.

God is merciful and patient with us, but He will not allow us to ignore His warnings and produce havoc in our own lives and the lives of those around us.   Perhaps you are encountering the discipline of a Father who loves you today. He wants your undivided loyalty to Him and longs for you to repent.

Whom will you serve today? The Lord of glory or the fleeting pleasures of sin? The choice is yours to make, and the consequences are lasting.

Bob Fetterhoff

September 8 – Lament – The Agony of a Lonely Heart

Read Lamentations 1:1-22

Imagine walking through the cities of Europe following the brutal battles of World War II. You hear a starving baby’s whimpers carried by the wind through bombed-out buildings. You see a woman sitting on the ground holding the head of her lifeless husband in her lap. You see rubble, litter, and destruction everywhere. Maybe you drop to your knees and begin to sob uncontrollably. You feel alone, broken, and without hope.

That’s how Jeremiah must have felt as he walked through the rubble of Jerusalem following the invasion of the Babylonian army. He had warned the people to repent of their sins or suffer the consequences of God‘s judgment. Despite doing exactly what God called him to do, Jeremiah still felt deep anguish as he looked at the smoldering rubble of his hometown.

The opening chapter of Lamentations reads like a newspaper report as Jeremiah graphically describes the groanings of the destroyed city. His words are packed with emotions that most of us have felt at some time in our lives. The city of Jerusalem is even pictured as a widow who “weeps bitterly in the night“ (v. 2a).

The reasons for Jerusalem’s agony are clear: its citizens forsook the Lord and substituted the temporary things of this life for an eternal relationship with Him. Carnality replaced spirituality and personal pleasure replaced godly commitment (vv. 5-9).

Finally, the city pours out her pain to God and begs Him to intervene with her enemies. (vv. 20-22). God’s discipline is finally producing the desired effect – His people have come to a place of repentance and dependence on Him.

As Jeremiah looked around at the city he loved, he experienced loneliness that can only be described as anguish. Yet no one has ever suffered the pain of alienation more than Jesus. As the spotless Lamb of God, He was betrayed, beaten, mocked, and crucified by those He sought to help. Isaiah reminds us that the Suffering Servant died alone… forsaken by God and despised by man (Isaiah 53:3-6).

Do you feel alone today? Is there no one who can genuinely offer you comfort? Do you feel as if people really can’t understand your pain?

Jesus can and does. The old song says, “No one understands like Jesus, He’s a friend beyond compare. Meet Him at the throne of mercy. He is waiting for you there.”  He does understand. He is “acquainted with our grief.” He longs to ease your pain.

Allow this invitation of our Lord to sink deeply into your soul: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light”  (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).

Place your lonely, broken, wounded heart in His tender care.

Bob Fetterhoff

September 7 – Lament – Crying Isn’t Allowed

Read Jeremiah 1:1–10

You probably remember the words from your own childhood: “Don’t be such a crybaby.” Well-intentioned people can assume that tears are either a sign of weakness or a lack of faith in God. But God doesn’t look at crying like we do.

In fact, He says, “Weeping may endure for a night… “(Psalm 30:5b). It’s a reality of this life. Heartache happens. Pain persists. Grief grips all of us. And weeping is usually the result.

Jesus knew the agony of tears. He stood before the tomb of a dear friend and wept bitterly (John 11:35). Before his arrest, Jesus experienced “agonizing sorrow” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-38).

Throughout Scripture, people of God openly expressed their heartache to the Lord. Jeremiah even wrote a book called, “Lamentations,” that expresses the pain he felt and is the focus of our attention for the next week. In order to appreciate Jeremiah’s heartache, we have to understand his world.

By the time Jeremiah appeared on the scene, Israel had experienced spiritual disaster. God brought judgement on His rebellious people as the United Kingdom of Saul, David, and Solomon dissolved into civil war and split into two nations: the northern kingdom called Israel and the southern kingdom called Judah. Over the reign of 19 evil kings and 209 years, the northern kingdom rebelled against God and was eventually conquered by an Assyrian ruler named Shalmanesar. The 10 tribes to the north were then scattered around the earth.

The kingdom of Judah, led by 20 different kings, lasted another century and a half, and, through the influence of some godly leaders, experienced three great revivals. Ultimately, the unfaithfulness of the people led to the conquest of the nation by the famous king, Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed Solomon’s temple, ransacked the city of Jerusalem, and carried away many Jews into captivity in Babylon.

In the years prior to the Babylonian captivity, the priests were unfaithful, the prophets hypocritical, and the politician’s self – serving. Jeremiah’s job was to stand firmly for the Lord and warn the Judeans of impending doom because of their rebellion against God. It was a humanly impossible job.

In spite of the clear call of God to this task, Jeremiah felt inadequate and reluctant (v. 6) because he was only in his late teens or early 20s. But God equipped him and gave him a clear, though difficult, message (vv. 7-9). Jeremiah’s job was to represent the heart of God to a rebellious people.

Do you ever feel inadequate to do what God has called you to do? Do you feel paralyzed at times by your own weaknesses? Have people put you down or failed to take you seriously because of your inexperience?

Remember these great words:

“God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”

(1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NLT)

Take heart! Like Jeremiah, if you are doing the work of God, He will stand by you and reward your faithfulness.

Bob Fetterhoff