Sunday, November 19, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Steadfast"

Gospel Roots (1892-2017)
Lamentations 3:19-24
November 19, 2017

Surprise, surprise! We are not going to finish the book of Galatians today. We were on a roll there, and we only have one more message to go, but I’m going to save that for next Sunday.

Because we have two more messages to go in our Gospel Roots series, and the one I have planned for November fits just perfectly with the Thanksgiving holiday and the theme of our worship service this morning.

And I can sum it up with one word: STEADFAST.

That word keeps bubbling up in my mind the last several months. Steadfast.

Our God is faithful. Our God is trustworthy. Our God is dependable, reliable, and always true. Our God is steadfast and so is His love.

And we are called to be steadfast, too.

Because He is steadfast, we are called to be steadfast, as well.

Standing firm. Immovable. Unflinching. Persistent. Persevering.

Even when times are tough.

Or, especially when times are tough.

What I want to focus on today from our church’s history is that this church has a track record of being steadfast and trusting in the steadfast love of the Lord through difficult times, through times of trial and testing and trouble.

Has this church seen times of trouble?

Of course it has.

We are 125 years old! And that means this church family has weathered all kinds of storms.

Think about what the world has gone through in those 125 years! World Wars. Cold Wars. Earthquakes. Famines. Fast-spreading diseases.

Think about what our nation has gone through in those 125 years. How many ups and downs and trouble on every side.

So of course, our little church has seen its fair share of trouble.

Just read through the history book that we just reissued last month. Read the lines and read between the lines, and you’ll pick up on the hardships and the heartaches and the grief that our church family has experienced through twelve and half decades.

For example, the deaths of those we love. I was just reading yesterday in the fourth decade it says, “On New Year’s Day, 1932, the church’s last charter member went home to be with the Lord. Mr. Gust Nelson had been a leader in the church as well as in the community. The church minutes record that there was an ‘emptiness’ in the church services without Mr. Nelson’s presence and leadership.”

I don’t know about you, but that makes me think of the deaths of Bea Johnson and Blair Murray. Lita wrote about them on pages 32 and 33 of the new book.

It isn’t the same around here without them.

And it isn’t the same without hundreds and hundreds of others of our loved ones who have passed during these 125 years.

There have been other troubles. There have been financial troubles. There was a time when we didn’t have the funds to continue supporting our missionaries at the level we had planned to.

There were times of conflict and division in the church family. Some of you lived through those times, and it hurts just to think about it today.

And every family here has experienced trouble yourself.

Just like Jesus promised! Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”

And that’s encouraging to me that He said that because we see it all the time!

We see trouble. The Bible says, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward!” (Job 5:7).

What trouble have you seen?

Losing a job?
Losing a home? I remember when Keith and Pennie’s house burned down. February 2001.

I’ve stood at a lot of your bedsides in hospitals and besides caskets in funeral homes.

We’ve all seen trouble.

You’ve stood beside our family when we’ve seen trouble.

When we lost our first child, Charis Mitchell in April 1999.
When Heather lost her mom to cancer in 2010.
When our daughter Robin was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2014.
When Heather was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2016.
When I had to have surgery for a perforated bowel and I was out of the pulpit for 6 weeks in 2015.

You’ve been steadfast by our side when we’ve seen trouble.

The fact is that trouble is normal.

For some reason we’re always surprised by it, but trouble is actually normal in this cursed world that we currently live in.

Ever since the Fall, trouble is normal.

Suffering is normal.

Suffering can be so bewildering, so confusing, that unless we are prepared in advance for it, we won’t know how to respond to it.

Unless we’ve got a great, functional, practical theology of suffering before it comes, the chances are that we will buckle under it and flail around not knowing what to do.

The prophet Jeremiah knew all about trouble.

The prophet Jeremiah lived through the exile of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem.

In the year 586 BC, God brought judgment upon the nation of Judah. He had promised exile and warned of judgment for hundreds of years. And Judah had, by and large, ignored those warnings. We were studying this just a year ago when we came to the end of the Books of Kings.

In 586 BC, God kept His promise to bring disaster on His rebellious people. The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, sacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem.

And Jeremiah, the prophet, was there. He saw it with his own eyes. And his eyes were full of tears.

Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet” because even though he had to faithfully deliver a message of woe to the people, he didn’t have to like it.

His message was, by and large, a message of doom, condemnation, and judgment.

And it caused him to weep.

The worst thing that he could imagine was the destruction of his beloved city–Jerusalem. The capital of the nation. The headquarters of the homeland. The jewel, the apple of the Israelite’s eye. The location of the temple. The city that stood for the people. When Jerusalem went, so did the people.

And Jerusalem fell.

And Jeremiah wept.

And he wrote about his suffering, he wrote about this trouble, in a little book tucked away between the major prophets called “Lamentations.”

Every few years, I like to take us back to Lamentations.

I invite you to turn there with me. It’s a little hard to find. If you open your Bible to the middle, you’ll find the Psalms. Lamentations is to the right. If you have found Isaiah keep going to the right. Jeremiah, and then Lamentations, right before Ezekiel.

And turn to chapter 3.

Today, we’re just going to read the most famous verses in the book of Lamentations.  We sing the words of these few verses all the time. We already have and we’re going to again this morning. They are very familiar.

But they are tucked into the very middle of one of the saddest books in the whole Bible. I mean, the name of the book is Lament. Which basically means to be sad.  “Sad-Thoughts” is the name of the book. Lamentations.

And that’s great. We need books like Lamentations. I’m becoming more and more enamored and interested in the idea of lament in our Bibles.

Because life is not always happy! It’s not always smooth.  It’s not always pleasant.

In fact, it’s full of trouble. That’s why we need books like Lamentations.

One of the most amazing things about Lamentations is how it is structured. 4 of the 5 chapters of Lamentations are acrostic poems.  Do you know what an acrostic is?

It’s like every sentence starts with a different letter of the alphabet in order.

Like the first line starts with A and the second line with B and so on. That’s something that the Hebrew poets loved to do. Psalm 119 is like that. And Proverbs 31 is like that.

But Lamentations is even more carefully structured!

Here in chapter 3, which we’re going to look at closely, each stanza (like a paragraph in poetry) begins with the next letter of the Hebrew Alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Dalet, etc) and each sentence within that stanza also begins with that same letter.

It’s very carefully composed.

I think that’s awesome!

You know why?  Because it says that there is a lot of thought that has gone into this expression of sad thoughts, of bad feelings, of lamentations.

Jeremiah (who I believe wrote this book) put meticulous thought into how to express his grief and sorrow and pain over what had happened to him and his beloved city.

And he shows us how to be sad. He shows us how to suffer.  How to practice the lost art of lament.

I’ve promised it before and I’ll promise it again–someday, we’ll do the whole book together, and we’ll learn a lot of different principles about responding to suffering.

Today, we’ll see just a few, perhaps the brightest. Today, we’re going to read verses 19 through 24 of chapter 3.

You’re already singing it in your head, aren’t you?

“Great Is Your Faithfulness.” Right there in verse 23.

Trouble may be normal, but God is steadfast.

Our Lord is steadfast, and so is His love.

“Great is your faithfulness.”

I love that those precious words come out of this passage of Scripture.

They don’t come out of a happy dappy chapter in a happy dappy book. They don’t come out of good feelings. They come out of a passage about Bad Feelings. “My soul is downcast.”

A passage about Sad Feelings. A passage about suffering and lamentation and being downcast.

And right smack in the middle of that is this reminder that God is steadfast.


Jeremiah tells God that His faithfulness is great at a time when he doesn’t really feel it.

Things are not going well. The worst thing that he could imagine has happened.

The threats are over and so is Jerusalem.

And it stinks. It hurts. It’s painful. It’s terrible. It’s suffering.

Verses 19 and 20 say this, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”

The first line could be taken as a prayer request. The ESV translates it, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings.”

“Lord, don’t forget what I’ve suffered.”

Verse 20 clearly says that Jeremiah hasn’t forgotten. And he, I think, is speaking in chapter 3 for the whole of the nation, especially the remnant who either believes or at least will repent. V.20

“I well remember [my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and gall], and my soul is downcast within me.”

Have you been there?

I love the realism of the Bible. The Bible is not sugar coated. It is not fake in the slightest.

There is no sense that if you come to Jesus then your life will be a bed of roses.

You will be healthy, wealthy, and well-liked.  Smiling all of the time.

Knowing God means an easy road from here on out.


The Bible paints a realistic picture of life which includes suffering and sadness and trouble.

And it even gives us patterns to follow when those times of suffering and sadness come. Divine patterns.

I love that about the Bible!

It doesn’t always feel like God’s faithfulness is great. That God is steadfast.

Sometimes our minds are full of affliction, wandering, bitterness, and gall.  Sometimes our souls are downcast within us.

And that’s okay.

We should tell God about it.

We can pray about that. And pray like that. Honestly. He loves our honest hearts.

We can write it down in a song. We can think long and hard about it.

We can express our lamentations in the right way to the Lord.

We don’t have to pretend that everything is fine and dandy.

It doesn’t always feel like God’s faithfulness is great.

But it is.

Things are not always as they feel.
Things are not always as they seem.

In fact, they often are not as they seem.

God’s faithfulness is great even when it doesn’t feel like it.  V.21

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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.”

Verse 21 is a turning point.

That “yet” in verse 21 says so much!

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope...great is your faithfulness.”

Even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Do you need to hear that today?

Maybe right now it doesn’t feel like it for you.
Maybe you’re in a dark night of the soul.
Maybe you’re hurting. Maybe God seems distant.
Maybe you’re very disappointed, confused, bewildered, sad.

Or maybe you’re okay today, but you need to remind yourself of this right now so that when those feelings come (and they will!), you’re ready to call this to mind, “Great is your faithfulness.”

Lita put this title on the new history book, “Gospel Roots: A History of God’s Faithfulness in Our First 125 Years.”

I’ll tell you, it didn’t always feel like it.

There have been some dark times for this church.

Some of you have particular days that you remember when something hard happened here, and it makes you wince every time that day rolls around again on the calendar.

But here you are being steadfast and sticking to it.

Because you know that even in those moments, the Lord was steadfast.

The Lord has been steadfast for every one of those 125 years.  Every day of those 125 years. God is steadfast.

#2.  EVERY SINGLE DAY. V.21 again.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed”

The word for “great love” there in verse 22 is “hesed.” It’s the word for God’s covenant love. His unfailing love. His love that is promised to His people and can be counted upon no matter what.

The ESV translates it, “the steadfast love of the LORD.”

Steadfast love. It doesn’t get better than that!!!

And v.22 says that it’s because of that steadfast love that we are not consumed.  Or another way of translating it would make the consumed about the love meaning “the steadfast love of the LORD never is consumed, never ceases.”

And that fits with the next phrase... “for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

His compassions, His mercies, never fail.

God isn’t moody.

God doesn’t get up some days on the wrong side of the bed.

Aren’t you glad that you and I aren’t God?

Somedays we just get up and there’d be hell to pay.

“I don’t feel like being compassionate to those people of mine. They are sinners, they fail, they’re lazy, they don’t meet up with expectations. They are slackers!

And today I just don’t feel like lovin’ on them.”

That’s not the LORD. His compassions for His people never fail.

I love the word picture of verse 23. Everyone does.

“His compassions [His tender mercies] are new every morning...”

Every morning.

Every morning!

With the dawn comes a new wave of God’s mercy.

Every morning.

Every single day.

Look for them.

One of the things that my wise wife often says is that we need to look each morning for new mercies.

Yesterday's mercies are yesterday. And God has promised new mercies every morning. So we have to go looking for them.

We know they are there. We can count on them.

Let’s keep an eye out for them.

Bob & Sylvia Gisewhite have a plaque on the wall at their house.

It said something like this, “Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.”

“His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” Look for them.

“Great is your faithfulness.”

God’s love is steadfast.

Every single day.

What does it mean for God to be faithful? It means that He always keeps His promises.

Whatever He has said, He will do.

We’ve learned that it may not be on our time-table. It may not even look like what we expected.

But none of His promises fall to the ground. None of His promises ever fail.

He is perfectly faithful with a steadfast love for His people.

“Great is His faithfulness.”

Okay, so what should we do about that today?

What should we do about that this Thanksgiving season?

How do we live differently because we’ve read these few verses together?

You know, it doesn’t necessarily change how we feel.

Jeremiah has two and half more chapters of lamentation to go!

You and I might have a lot more sad feelings to feel and to express.

What difference does it make that God is faithful? That God’s love is steadfast? What should we do?

The same thing we’ve been doing for 125 years. Trust Him!

Here are three points of application to take home with us:


Say, “Great is Your faithfulness.”

Notice that phrase is a prayer in verse 23.

He doesn’t just say, “God is faithful. God’s faithfulness is great.” That’s true.

But in the middle of his pain, in the middle of his suffering, in the middle of his lament, he calls out to God and says, “Great is your faithfulness.”

He says it to the LORD Himself.

It makes it seem a lot more real when you talk to Him.

“Lord, it hurts. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”

“But great is your faithfulness. I trust you.”

“I don’t understand. I don’t like it. My soul is downcast within me. But great is your faithfulness! Great is your steadfast love.”

Say that to Him when you are suffering.

And you will find that God’s compassions are right there with you.

Declare to the Lord that you believe that His mercies are new every morning and that you’re going to look for them.

And you will find them.  I heard one of you pray like that just this week.

“Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

I have a new song that I’m loving these days by Sandra McCracken, and it’s just called “Steadfast.”

And she just talks to the Lord and tells Him that He is steadfast.

The first stanza goes:

I will build my house
Whether storm or drought
On the rock that does not move
I will set my hope
In your love, O Lord
And your faithfulness will prove
You are steadfast, steadfast

Even when it doesn’t feel like it.
And every single day.

Tell Him!

But don’t just tell Him. Tell yourself that.


Did you catch how Jeremiah is preaching to his own heart, his own soul?

Look back up at verse 21, “Yet this I call to mind...”

Jeremiah tells himself to remember something. “Hey, self, don’t forget. God is faithful! God’s love is steadfast.”

And look down at verse 24, “I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” King James–“I will hope in Him.”

Jeremiah doesn’t just pray these words, he reminds himself of the truth of God’s faithfulness. He tells himself that the LORD is his “portion” – his lot, his treasure, his only comfort in life and death, his satisfaction, his portion.

Jeremiah reminds himself that God has great steadfast love and great faithfulness and that it is worth it to endure the suffering (which will last for moment) because joy will last forever. Hope in him.

All too often we listen to ourselves instead of speaking to ourselves.

Often we listen to our feelings, and we don’t talk back to them.

But our feelings can be deceived. Just like we said last week.

We need to speak to our hearts and remind them of what is true.

“Hey, Matt, don’t forget it’s only because of the LORD’s great love that we are not consumed.  For his compassions never fail.  Matt!  Don’t forget that they are new every single morning.  Great is HIS faithfulness!  Hope in Him, Matt.”

Say this to yourself every day.  “God’s faithfulness is great.”

Lanse Free Church, “We have 10,000 Reasons to give thanks. Our sins they are many, his mercy is more.”

And that’s the last one. Last application.


Jeremiah wrote this poem to be read by others. To be (in some cases) sung by others.

It’s not a fun song. It’s not a popcorn and candy song that’s a blast to sing.

But we need songs like this. We need dirges. We need laments. Because life hurts!

But most of the time, we need our sad songs to have this embedded in their middle.

Hope in the Lord! Because His faithful.

We know this now even more than Jeremiah did.

Jeremiah didn’t know about the Suffering Servant.

Jeremiah didn’t know what we know about the Messiah.

Jeremiah didn’t know Jesus.

Jesus was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.

If anyone knew about being sad, it was Jesus.

If anyone ever trouble, it was Jesus.

Jesus felt like Lamentations in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross of Calvary.

He is One who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It’s because Jesus was the very embodiment of the steadfast love of the Lord.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was God keeping His promises.

And they keep us from being consumed by our sin.

It’s only because of what He did on the Cross that we are not consumed and that we can say today, “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”

And we need to tell other people just how great He really is.

Just how faithful.

He’s too good to keep to ourselves.

Say this to others. “God is steadfast. Great is God’s faithfulness.”

I pulled this off the wall again for today because I think it perfectly illustrates the message.

“A congregation of seven members met in 1965 (52 years ago) to decide if they should dissolve or continue as a local church.”

Things were tough. This church had experienced trouble.

We had dwindled to just seven members.

Those seven members contributed only 75 dollars a month toward the pastor’s salary.

And their district conference said that they had no extra funds to help out at this time.

Should they close their doors or continue on?

“Believing they were to continue, they led the way to the conclusion of the first hundred years of history. May their example guide us with similar resolve.”

And it lists the seven steadfast re-founders of our church.

They didn’t pretend that everything was hunky dory.

But they didn’t back down either.

They cried out to the Lord and they put their faith in His steadfast love.

And here we are today.

“May their example guide us with similar resolve.”


Previous Messages in This Series