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Lamentation of the solitude
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It has been awhile since I’ve written about one of the messages from Seward Church.  This week’s message was about the tough book of Lamentations.  Tough because it deals with the topic of suffering, but we know how the story ends – with the grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Lamentations is generally thought of as a book of laments or sorrowful writings.  It tells a story of great pain and suffering.  We don’t like that because we really don’t want to suffer in our lives and if the Bible talks about it, then there is probably a good chance of it happening in our life – especially if there is a whole book devoted to it.  This should actually be reassuring to us as well though, because the Bible is willing to take on the hard issues of life that face us each and every day.

Tim offered some intriguing literary notes to about the book’s structure.  In the original Hebrew the book is written as an acrostic poem that repeats itself in each chapter.  The precision and structure took a lot of work and adds to the overall power of the book.  Wikipedia describes its structure:

The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

One of the most important points to  remember about suffering is that ultimately it is not eternal.  It is only for a finite time.  Yes the time might be your entire life, but it will end.  We may suffer alone, but we don’t have to (1:12).  Suffering can be processed through the community.  We should be willing to walk through each part of the suffering process together.  We ALL suffer and we can encourage each other.  As a community we can make sure that we don’t short-circuit the process but that we genuinely take each step towards peace and wholeness together.

Lamentations 3:22-33 (The Message) is a great passage:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way:

Until you get to the last 2 verses which seemingly contradict each other.  Suffering sometimes is a result of sin. We are often rebelling against God and His “rules” or desires for our life. We often tell God that we don’t need His help in this or that area of our life.  We need to stop putting ourselves in the way (ie stop sinning) but since that isn’t ever possible we will have suffering (punishment).  Have you stopped and thought about the suffering in your life?

We often try to hide the pain in our life – saying “everything is fine” or something similar without truly embracing or accepting that things aren’t fine.  Our lives are a mess.  It is ok.  My life is a mess – just like yours.  Did you know that Jesus, when He died, experienced the worst pain/suffering imaginable?  For those 3 days he was dead, God actually turned His back on His beloved son.  Jesus accepted that responsibility so we wouldn’t have to.

At the time Lamentations was written, everything that the Israelites thought was important to God was destroyed. God never expected the Temple to last forever, from the beginning He knew about Jesus.  But think how that might mess with the minds of the Israelites.  Yet, at the end of the day “I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.” (Lamentations 3:24)

None of us (as Christians) have been infinitely abandoned by God.  Jesus alone stood abandoned, infinitely, bearing God’s wrath for us.  We are broken A-Z as deep and wide as the sea.  However, God loves us too much to be indifferent to our desire to be our own God.  He wants us to be blessed immensely, but like any good father provides discipline to help us understand the correct path.

We must rest in the promise that through Jesus’ suffering we won’t suffer forever, but will one day rejoice in the faithfulness of God and His great mercy.

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I’ve struggled the last few weeks to stay focused during the message.  I’m pretty sure it has been more me than David though.  It seems like so much has been going on in life and so much is going on in my head – it is hard to sit quietly and listen to the Truth being presented.

That being said, this week’s message at Seward Church comes from Esther.

All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing. – Edmund Burke

The Book of Esther is full of evil messy stuff going on.  David referred to Psalms 12:8 for a good description of what was occuring during this time in the world.  The story of Esther going from a random virgin on the street to becoming Queen is also a messy tale of lust, violence, greed, and immorality.  Even as queen she still had to be very careful or risk being thrown out like her predecessor – Vashti.

David shared a little analogy of the past three books

Ezra can be related to the church, while Nehimiah is like an urban developer, and Esther is like the politician in charge.  Each has their own range of power and influence to create change.  At each level their is a different responsibility for their “people”.

Esther’s ascent to the throne was very much on the “inside”.  She asked around to see what she could do to win favor.  She worked within exsisting systems and structures to succeed – not creating her own separate ideas, even though she was an ethnic outsider.  We too need to work within existing structures and create change within the system – redemption and restoration comes from within.

If you know the story of Esther you know that she becomes Queen and then a short while later her husband is convinced that all the Jewish people should be killed.  He didn’t remember or realize that his “beloved” was Jewish. But you better believe her friends and mentors didn’t forget her Jewishness and quickly came to her for aid.   Esther tried to play them off saying I don’t have any power and oh by the way – remember Vashti?  I could lose my life if I confront the king on a matter of policy.

This line from Esther 4 is great:

Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.

Yes, maybe God worked out your life’s plan so that you could be in a position to save your people.  Maybe you should risk your life so that you can have life.  Esther was in a position where she could lose everything.

– If she did nothing, the King’s edict would ultimately kill her

– If she talked to the King about his edict, he could kill her outright

– Or, she could talk to the King and he could change his policy and she (and her people) would get the chance to live.

It seems like a no brainer right? But we often face a tough calculation like this and struggle to take the risk. I know I do.

The story does ultimately have a happy ending.  The Jewish people are saved from the king’s sword.  Esther is a precursor to Jesus.  He risked everything and ultimately died for our freedom.  He left the beautiful palace of heaven to walk among us and offer a free gift of salvation.

Esther became a person of greatness only after she was willing to risk everything.  David pointed out that she was called Queen Esther only 14 times in the whole book.  Once before she risked her life and 13 times afterwards.  We become great people of God when we are willing to lay down our lives for Him and the people He loves.

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