Friday, October 1, 2010

A banquet of grace, part 6

This series, as all series eventually do, must come to an end so I plan to give you today's post and one more next time to wrap it up. 

In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah weeps over Jerusalem, a once great city which has been laid low by a Babylonian invasion.  Why was it laid low?  We're told repeatedly through the account that God brought this about because Jerusalem sinned gravely.  What does being laid low look like for Jerusalem?  In chapter 5:2-3, Jeremiah cries out, "Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, and our houses to foreigners.  We have become orphans and waifs, our mothers are like widows."  He continues to describe their lives..."we get bread at the risk of our lives...our skin is hot as an oven because of the fever of famine.  They ravished the women...boys staggered under loads of wood...the joy of our heart has ceased; our dance turned into mourning"...etc.  Here are a few of my thoughts and implications.
  • God who is rich in mercy and compassion is also just and hates wickedness and will lay nations who are stiff-neckedly in rebellion against Him low in His fierce anger (including the children of that nation).  This should be a wake up call to our nation which has turned away from the Living God to pursue whatever seems right in our own eyes (nationally speaking)...this great nation is not so great that God cannot lay us low just as He has many a nation before us.  We should be trembling, but instead we go on our haughty and naughty way.  In the book of Jeremiah we're given more information about what we find in Lamentations.  We're told that God sought after this people with warnings and corrections over and over again, but they (5:3b) "made their faces harder than rock; they refused to return."  We're also told  they were guilty of not pleading the cause of the fatherless (5:28).  This is one of the few specific forms of wickedness mentioned so it just might be a big deal.  I care about my country...I care that nationally we have multi-billion dollar pornography and abortion industries which stand in stark contrast to caring for the fatherless...I care that our divorce rate is higher than our marital faithfulness rate and premarital/extramarital sexual encounters are seen as a shameless norm (which creates more fatherless for us to care for, among a host of other problems)...I care mostly that all this indicates a hatred of God rather than a love for Him.  God is calling for us to wake up America.  One of the indicators that we have returned to Him will be a renewed faithfulness in pleading the cause of the fatherless...this is, to a large degree, why I am so passionate about this topic. 
  • Jeremiah wrestles...on one hand he recognizes that it is God that has brought this about.  He bows to His sovereign hand.  He says in Lam. 3:37-38, "Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?"  On the other hand, he cries out (2:20a): "See, O LORD, and consider! To whom have You done this? Should the women eat their offspring, the children they have cuddled?"  These are Your people, Your image bearers...he reasons that surely this is not how things should be.  In the midst of horrific calamity, he writes (3:21-24): "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!'"  Jeremiah, in the thick of it, struggles to make sense of the scenario he is both witnessing and living in light of what he knows about God who reigns with justice and mercy.  As we wrestle to understand the plight of those who suffer greatly, we're in good company, but let us follow Jeremiah's example of upholding the righteousness of our God in all He does and placing all our hope in Him alone. 
  • Notice the description of orphan life...loss of inheritance, joy ceased, staggering burdens, etc.  I read a beautifully written post this week that I encourage you all to read to see how God can restore an inheritance and joy to the fatherless.  It is well worth your few minutes.  I LOVE to be a part of this kind of story!  The beauty of redemption, the sweetness of joy replacing sorrow as we see God at work in people's lives, is another reason why I am so passionate about this topic.
  • Nations rise and fall in relationship to God and what He purposes to do, and when they fall we see a couple things happen...we see His enemies destroyed and His children cared for.  Lot was told to flee Sodom before it was destroyed, for example.  Relative to the fatherless in nations that are being laid low, I believe adoption is one of the ways God plucks the little ones He chooses out of the fire, so to speak.  So are ministries to widows and orphans that proclaim Christ and help them stand again in the context of their own countries as they rebuild (Children's Hope Chest and New Hope Uganda are examples of this sort of work).  As we engage in these kinds of works, we should do so in a way that makes plain that God is mankind's hope; that He is good to those who wait for Him (Lam. 3:25).  The REALITY is God is holy and He governs all the earth...there is reason to fear Him when we turn away, and there is reason to rejoice when He draws us near.  Nations that have fallen, when they return to God, will rise once more.  We are part of a big redemption story...every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Christ is Lord.  Oh may God in His mercy draw us near!
So ask yourself, do you do what you can to uphold justice for the stranger, widow and orphan or do you conveniently ignore their plight?  I've heard it said "they're not my concern"...this sentiment should cause those who hold it to tremble before the Living God to Whom they will give an account.  Jerusalem, that great city, was laid low in part because of their failure to plead the cause of the fatherless and when God laid them low, they themselves became orphans and waifs, their mothers like widows (Lam. 5:3).  I suggest we make them our concern.  We can pray.  We can offer the resources God has blessed us with such as time, words of encouragement, and finances as God makes us aware of opportunities in our circles.  God doesn't ask us for what we do not have, but He expects us to manage well what He has given, that the glory of His name might be made known in all the earth.

There are an estimated 147 million orphans (not to mention widows and strangers) in the world...that number paralyzes us because we are powerless to plead the cause of that many, but God may give us opportunities to help one at a time and when those opportunities come, do we do what we can?  Sometimes we don't help because we think we cannot do enough to make much of a difference, but God has knitted us together into a body that is designed by Him to work together to spread the fame of His name and doing nothing does not = working together.  DO what you CAN, and trust God to orchestrate the whole.  America is stinkingly independent...we have lost the beauty and joy of community living.  As we work together, we begin to regain is in the context of community that love is made known, and the world will know we are Christians by our love. Don't you see?  We're little stories that are designed to intersect and be wrapped up in a great big story.  God's story!  In God's story, there are many villains (all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God)...The Great Hero destroys some villains (He puts His enemies under His feet), and others He graciously transforms into little heroes who are sanctified to be like Him, representing Him as He redeems the world for His glory.  How well are we representing Him?  Oh how we need His grace to overcome the villainy that remains!  But at the same time, oh the joy of His redeeming love at work in and through us!  Let us pursue God and the pleasures that are forevermore at His right hand.

To be continued...

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