Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Joy Of The Lord As Your Strength

Do you sense "the joy of the LORD" in your life?  Is it "your strength"?

In Nehemiah 8:1-3 it says, "They [the Israelites] told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.  So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women, and others who could understand.  And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law."

Continuing on in verses 9-11 it states,

"Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, 'This day is sacred to the LORD your God.  Do not mourn or weep.  For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.  Nehemiah said, 'Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.  This day is sacred to our LORD.  Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.'  The Levites calmed all the people, saying, 'Be still, for this is a sacred day.  Do not grieve.'  Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them."

I did a search for the unbroken words "joy of the LORD" and only found this address (Ne. 8:10).  With this combination of words as the only home in Scripture and the fact that it has been quoted in many sermons, I thought it deserving of a closer look.

The Israelites were "mourning" and "weeping" because of hearing how much they fell short of their committment to the Covenant.  In addition, it was not just them that was in the wrong, but generations past.  Now Nehemiah had some great news.  Some relief was available to the Israelites.  Can you hear it coming?  IF the Israelites would just.....THEN God would.  Nehemiah never makes an If...Then statement, but the head Levites stand before the Israelites and give an impressive history lesson that warns of the possibility of a repeat IF Israel does not unify themselves, clean "spiritual house", and move on.  Meanwhile, IF the Israelites follow the Law and observe His commands, "the joy of the LORD" will be their strength.  In other words, God's happiness and peace would be upon His relationship with Israel, because of obedience, and would transfer into "strength" for Israel.

Modern application:  Recall what brings and keeps you in alignment with God's will for your life and practice every bit of it.  Read the Bible, listen to your pastor, especially listen to the Holy Spirit's teachings as examples of what you can do and do those things.  Then, I believe, we can experience such a wellness with our soul, a "joy of the LORD" that it translates as "our strength".

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

OLD TESTAMENT EVANGELIZING - 2 Chronicles 17:7-11

"In the third year of his [Jehoshaphat] reign he sent his officials ...to teach in the towns of Judah.  They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.  The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not make war with Jehoshaphat.  Some Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and silver as tribute, and the Arabs brought him flocks;"

The officials who went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people had their part of THE WORD to share - the Book of the Law of the LORD.  Notice what happened as a result of them spreading the news of this Book"The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not make war with Jehoshaphat."  And on top of that Jehoshaphat gets tribute in the form of costly gifts, silver, and animals.  All of this because the Word of the LORD went forth throughout the surrounding area.

Wow!  What can we learn from this?  What are we doing personally and in our own local churches that can mimic this effort?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

BLAME JESUS AND GOD THE FATHER

I guess there could be several analogies drawn to the situation that surrounded Jesus at the time of His betrayal, trial, scourging, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  Analogies like "the chess game" analogy or "master puppeteer" analogy or "the great play" analogy.  In each scenario there are many participants with roles that are manipulated by one or more to acquire a desired outcome.  Satan tried to "pull his own strings" by influencing those close to Jesus to try to thwart Jesus' plan.  Like whispering into Peter's ear for Jesus not to go through with His plan.  And Judas being possessed by the Fallen One himself to betray the only begotten Son of God.  BUT God the Father knew the schemes of Lucifer and whatever Satan threw at Jesus for bad God turned for good.

Everybody around Jesus was "moved" (chess perhaps) into position before, during, and after Jesus' ministry here on earth.  The fact that the Son of God was in the form of His chess set or puppets and divine at the same time blows my mind but I am grateful because that is the way it had to be.

The Jews played their part (play), showing everybody how prideful they were about their position or status in life.  The Pharisees especially brought this out with the High Priest Caiaphas not desiring to give up his post or any and all benefits it may entail.  He didn't camouflaged his intentions by stating, "Better for one man to die than the entire nation." (John 11:50)  The Romans seemed masterly puppeteered especially when Christ said, "You would have no power if it were not given to you from above." (John 19:11)  The Disciples followed their long awaited messiah and supposed king - confused about the messages of sacrificial death He was sending them.

Then it happened, Jesus spoke the words that have finally reached my plugged up ears, heart, and spirit.
"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This command I received from my Father." (John 10:17-18)

For many years now the "blame game" has been played and the Jews have lost.  This is mainly due to the statement - "All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!' " (Matthew 27:25)  But now I blame Jesus!  His prophets, especially Isaiah, told of this visitation and event.  There is symbolism throughout the Old Testament foreshadowing the coming sacrifice like Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.  Jesus Himself tells us His reason(s) for stepping out of Heaven and becoming His creation - to save us, restore us to our proper relationship with Father God by laying His own life down and picking His own life up again.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

Thank you LORD that you considered my relationship worthy of the price you paid.  Thank you LORD for saying "yes" to the Father's will, laying down your life and picking it up again.  Thank you LORD that you call me FRIEND! I don't blame anybody but you Jesus and your Father's unmeasurable heart for who put you, Jesus, through all that you went through - for me.  We messed up as a race starting with Adam and Eve, but you could have decided differently, Thank you Father, LORD, and Holy Spirit that you did not.  Thank you that you allowed history to play out, that you allowed my days to arrive and me to know you as my LORD, Savior, King, and Friend for eternity  Maranatha!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A FOCUSED PRAYER

I knew the Islamic faith had many times during the day when they called upon their members to face Mecca, bow, and pray, but I did not know there was any such similarity within Judaism.

Evidently, the history of the Jews "praying toward..." was important enough to have documented twice.  1 Kings 8:22-53 and 2 Chronicles 6:12-42 are the same account - Solomon's Prayer of Dedication (Temple).  When Solomon prays he asks the Lord, God of Israel, to hear the prayers prayed when the people pray a certain way - toward the location of their focus.  Their attention is where the Ark of the Covenant resides - in the temple on top of Mt. Moriah where Solomon is giving this Prayer of Dedication. 

There is no mention of bowing, just facing the direction of who should be their passion.  There is also no mention that this is a command, but what I get from Ezra's (2 Chronicles 6) recording of Solomon's words is a cultural practice of respect.

Solomon prayed to God that when his people "pray toward this... place (vv.20, 21, 26), temple (vv.29, 32, 34, 38), city (34, 38), and land (v.38)" that God would hear and act.  A mind that is focused, a spirit that is focused, a body that is focused, and a prayer that is therefore focused to the Lord, God of Israel.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

humble thyself

Ever heard the expression "just tie a knot and hang on" or heard it explained that life can get so challenging that you feel like you have "hit the bottom of the barrel and now there is no way but up"?  These may be great don't give up sayings or messages but I want to go a different direction. 

To those who have experienced this end of the rope or bottom of the barrel phase of life, you know the emotions attached.  Feelings like helplessness, confusion, and resourcelessness may abound.  A lot of "lessness" words can be applied here.  But when life gets to this point we are likely on our knees consulting someone who should have been consulted before getting to this point - God.  Surprisingly enough, a lot of times this is right where God wants us and can use us, minus the negativity of life's circumstances.

I am speaking about humbling thyself.  Bringing yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually to be totally dependent on God.  Intentionally going to that end of the rope and surrendering anything and everything to God before any negative situation forces you to turn to God is the kind of humbling I am encouraging.

Great promises are associated with humbling oneself in Scripture.  Matthew 23:12 says, "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."  James 4:10 states something similar, "Humble yourself before the LORD, and He will lift you up."  Then in 1 Peter 5:5 Peter is quoting from Scripture when he says, " 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' " 

I don't particularly like the phrase empty yourself.  It sounds to "New Agey" for me.  So, I'll just say the same thing a different way - pour out everything (hopes, dreams, concerns, problems, blessings, etc.) before the LORD, to the LORD, and on the LORD for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).  He is God, He can handle it.

I have found that whenever I pour out, He pours in.  But it is especially good to humble yourself in the morning, before the start of the day.  Here you begin the day surrendered to God's will and goodness injected into your mind, body, and spirit.  It forms an excellent foundation from which to go into your work day.  A proper state of mind, appropriate language, and peacemaking spirit have been my experience when I humble myself and get filled up.  I'm not perfect, I miss fill up times and pay the consequences to one degree or another until I can get before the LORD and surrender once again.

Totally surrender and totally trust God and He will lift you up, give you grace, and fill you up SO THAT you can pour out or bless others - another form of humility and another blog, but first.......humble thyself.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER by me

To be sure everything is not an accident.  To be sure everything is not by chance.  What is the purpose in living?  What is the meaning of life itself if an accident or chance is the governing force? 

What is the truth?  Who knows the truth?  So many voices claim their way as the truth or the way.  The cry, "It's all relative" is a cop-out and rejection of the correct way or path.  By definition, truth has no relativity.  Truth is true for all.

The fact that these questions are being asked alludes to the answer.  There has to be something or even someone greater than humanity.  From all the walks of faith which one is the truth?  Just by behavior of the members of each faith we know not all paths lead to the same God.  The differences within the teachings found in the many holy texts also show how the same God is not reached by all faiths.  There can be only one.

Who made the claim they knew the truth?  Many.  But one individual stood out above them all when he claimed, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6.  Even though Jesus was addressing his Jewish disciples and they would understand "Father" as God Almighty, particular to their faith, Judaism, later the gentiles or rest of humanity would be "grafted in" (Romans 11:17-21) to have the same access.

To have a relationship with the creator, the designer of it all is what it is all about.  The question is do people desire a relationship with God?  God's gift to us is a restored or redeemed relationship that cost the life of God's own Son - Jesus.  And even before acceptance of God's gift and all it entails the answer pre-supposes a problem that one must consider and acknowledge as the reason behind all the problems of the world - original sin or "The Fall".  If there was a restored or redeemed relationship it means that once it was good, then it fell, and now a way has been provided back to that good status and has potential for even better developments.  If people accept this gift and receive Jesus as The Way, The Truth, and The Life then people will either be branded insane (don't know any better), deceived (especially "bad apples" magnified as liers and hypocrites), or wise.  These people are better known as Christians.

However, I have heard God labeled as the "Ultimate Gentleman".  This means that He will not force anyone to decide whose way to believe and practices to keep, right now.  This decision He has left in our hands.  However, He has made the decision even more easy for us.  Besides the fact that with His death, burial, and resurrection all of our sins are forgiven and our relationship with Him and the Father has been restored, we now get eternity with Him in heaven instead of eternal separation from His presence.

This is what one could call the "ultimate No Brainer", yet many people have rejected this gift and the Bible predicts even more will still reject this restored relationship and way of living.  With the benefits clearly spelled out in additional Scripture, Reason screams - Why would anyone reject "The Way, The Truth, and The Life"?  Because no one wants to be accountable to anybody but themselves.  What a low standard.  Even the most advanced human would not be an adequate authority to be accountable unto.  God in the flesh, in human form, was what history - past, present, and future - needed.  With words, deeds, and a plan to support being the standard and authority to live by and live under, Jesus Christ provided all the necessary elements to fulfill the Father's will.  Jesus became to us "The Way, The Truth, and The Life", Savior for "Whosoever will believe".

Again, to borrow the quote from the "Highlander" series - "There can be only one!"  And there is only one.  One truth and truth has a name - Jesus!