the joy of the LORD is your strength

I always enjoy reading and coming across a familiar phrase in the Bible. I also enjoy taking a moment to see how the phrase was used in the context of what was going on. A popular phrase in school was and is “context is king.” You may remember that I have been reading through the Bible chronologically and it has been fascinating to track with the Israelites from a united kingdom to a divided kingdom and now from being taken to captive to being released back to their promised land. Here we have Nehemiah returning to Jerusalem to see that the wall of the city is rebuilt with a third wave of Jewish exiles.  Nehemiah walked in a steadfastness that really has inspired me in the trust he had in who God was and what God had put in his heart. He knew he had to obey the task the Lord placed on his heart.

Governing the land, Nehemiah was quick to correct and defend God’s Word and God’s people. His courage inspired others to follow his lead in not cowering to the pressures of onlookers, but to continue to walk confidently in the Lord. As the people rediscovered the truth of God’s word they responded with eyes open and an awareness of far off the path of righteousness they had wandered.  As Ezra read the word it says in chapter 8.3 that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”

As the spotlight displayed their guilt and shortcomings, the people responded with grief over their actions and how their hearts and deeds offended God.  And although a proper response to have a heart-felt awareness of how our sin effects God, others and ourselves, they were not to stay in grief. Because of God’s great mercy and love for us, God’s desire is for full restoration.  To be restored seems to be more than being aware of what is wrong. Nehemiah instructed the people to stop mourning and to celebrate. To recognize the day as holy to the Lord and to feast and receive the renewal that God was offering. Verse 10 explains, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  The paragraph closes up with that the people departed with rejoicing because they understood the words that were declared to them. They understood God’s word and His heart. They were reunited in a right relationship with God by turning from their sin and receiving God’s forgiveness and restoration.

There is a great truth in the fact that “the joy of the LORD is my strength.” But there is a richer meaning to me after having reflected on what Nehemiah was going through when he expressed it.  I am reminded of Psalm 51.12 after David’s repentance he looked to the LORD for restoration and cried out, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” This tie of experiencing the joy of the LORD that is beyond external circumstances has a tie with a repentive heart that has received forgiveness.

May the joy of the LORD be your strength.

The kings of judah

I’m reflecting on the journey of the kings of Israel and Judah with the back drop of Ecclesiastes. It seems like I could sum things up with the verse from Psalm 127.1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. As I see the final captives taken from Judah, and the Babylonians coming in and destroying the city, the words of Jeremiah echo in my mind. He sought the Lord for Zedekiah, he brought truth to him. If he had surrendered, so many lives would have been sparred and the city would not have been destroyed. The Lord said so. Yet his pride didn’t want to accept to defeat. Everything that man labored to build and set up for the Lord was destroyed and crushed by the enemies. The people had kicked God out time and time again, it was only by His mercy that it didn’t happen sooner.
These realities make me reflect on my own attitude and heart as a leader. The decisions I make, the willingness I have to listen to the Lord and receive His instruction effects not just my life, but those that I serve. I don’t want to seek the Lord just to receive what I want to hear. I desire to have a greater humility to receive His word without hesitation. I keep thinking of how Hezekiah was able to choose to walk humbly and when reading the word of God he humbled himself to do all that it said. He did not raise himself up to be a king greater than God, but acknowledged God in all His ways and leaned not on his own understanding. Then there was also Josiah. He was only 8 when he became king, but by the time he was 16 he was seeking the Lord and by the time he was 20 he was removing the idolatry in the land. When the book of the Law was found and they brought it and read it to him, he tore his clothes and sought the Lord. He is an amazing example to me. The Spirit empowers a heart that is willing to follow the law the Lord so that it will go right for God’s people. God’s glory is displayed when trust and faithfulness in lived out. Regardless of age and peer pressure, corrupt politicians and the enemy at his doorstep, he walked solid with the Lord. He was the last good king of Judah.
Anyway, so as I read and reread these passages and reflect on the examples of obedience, surrender, pride, repentance, idolatry, leadership, there is so much to learn from the examples God has given us. Idolatry is on the rise in our own culture. The lack of trusting in God for all things, the surrender for cultural values that oppose the Lord, the comfort and numbness in wearing masks and being unwilling to deal with truth is rampant. I can see the loneliness and heartaches the prophets and good kings carried and i can’t help but realize that those of us that will walk in ways that honor the Lord God in all our ways, we will be outcasts and feel as foreigners in our own land. Well the truth is that heaven is truly our home. Phil 3.20 comes to life as we eagerly await our Savior from there. Eager becomes more of a heart reality than a mental acknowledgement. Which then also spurs the need to pray for loved ones that are still far from God.
So David, Hezekiah and Josiah are three good kings that did all that God commanded. I think they were the only ones that didn’t allow the high places to remain and they were thorough to remove all idolatry. It wasn’t a game. So I have to open my heart to God and seek the Spirit’s guidance. Have I walked well with the Lord, but have not torn down the high places in my life. I do not want to walk a life of partial obedience to the Lord. May the Lord search me and know and see if there is any offensive way in me and lead us in the way everlasting.

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Learning more about God’s heart

Calvin Math

There were three students who needed one more math credit to graduate.  They had success with me as a teacher in the past.  Understanding their learning styles and who they were as students, guidance and I decided to let them use a class I was teaching to give them an option for success.  Throughout the year I worked closely with them constantly providing what was needed in order to pass.  I desired to  learn how to motivate them to want to learn and work to the best of their ability.   Continue reading

Reflecing on the kings of Israel

ImagePartial obedience is still disobedience.  I am not sure who first quoted this, but I here it often from my friends with small children.  🙂  This is the phrase that has been on replay as I have been reading the accounts of Israel as they moved from a united kingdom to a divided kingdom to a conquered kingdom.  There were kings who blatantly wanted to choose other forms of worship and governing styles that opposed the One True God and His way.  Then there were other kings who seemed to want to choose what was right according to the Lord, yet seemed to always fall short.  Continue reading