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Posts Tagged ‘strength’

strength

After the people of God have heard the law read aloud to them in the public square, their natural reaction is weeping and mourning.  Why?

The Jews had been in captivity for quite a long time.  Now, they had finally returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt their city walls, and gathered together for the reestablishment of their community and customs.  During their captivity, they had had no opportunity to practice the feasts or ceremonies commanded by God.  They had no access to the Word of God and, at this point in time, many of these returning exiles had never even heard God’s law for themselves.

In Nehemiah chapter 8, we find Ezra the scribe reading God’s law to them right in the middle of the street for a number of hours.  Subsequently, the people, not having known what was expected of them and realizing at the hearing of the law how much they had failed, forgotten, and bore the guilt of began to unanimously grieve over their guilty position before God.

This is precisely what the law of God is made to do.  When we hear God’s perfect law, our conscience ought to accuse every one of us as guilty and in need of grace.  The Bible says that the law of God is perfect, converting the soul.  The function of the law is not to make us feel comfortable, but to break our hearts over our own sin, lead us to repentance, and cause us to yearn for God’s grace and forgiveness.  The law is the teacher which leads us to Christ.

These people had a conscience.  They heard the law, recognized themselves as guilty before a holy God, and that made them rightly unwell.  They grieved over their sin and saw their own need for repentance and forgiveness.

When the people begin this weeping and grieving, something interesting happens.  Their leaders instruct them to be joyful and forbid them to continue grieving.  They command the people to eat, drink, and rejoice because they understood God’s Word.

Many religious people think that pretending to be perfect is the proper way to honor God.  God’s Word teaches us just the opposite.  It is when we humble ourselves and admit our own sin that God is truly glorified in our lives.

So the people are called to change their faces from mourning to joy.  The reason was because their joy in God was their strength.  God wanted his people strong.  He wanted them to rejoice because it was time for a feast.  Mourning was not appropriate.  The Feast of Booths was about to begin.

The Feast of Booths was a time that the Jews were called to remember their time in wilderness, give thanks, and live in temporary shelters for seven days.  The reason for the shelters was to keep them from growing comfortable, fat, and happy in their houses after harvest.  God wanted them to remember their time in the desert, how he had provided all their needs, and how they must never stop trusting and relying upon Him for all things no matter how blessed they currently are.  This was a time of great joy, feasting, and thanksgiving for the goodness, faithfulness, and provision of God toward his people.  No one ought to mope and cry when blessing is abundant and harvest is at hand.  They were called to feast.

At the end of the feast was a solemn assembly.

God wants us to remember how good he really is to us.  It is in the best times that we tend to forget how much we need the Lord.  That is why this feast was performed at harvest.  God wanted to ensure that his people understood their desperate need for him in all things.  Let us remember that we, too, are exiles on a journey toward the promised land.  Let us never forget how God takes care of us through all of our wilderness journeys and the water he provides in the deserts of life.  Let us be joyful as we remember his faithfulness to us.  “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~Nehemiah 8:10

 

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In Nehemiah chapter 2, we find Nehemiah arriving in Jerusalem with army officers and horsemen sent with him by the king.  Clearly, Nehemiah had great favor and protection from the royal court being sent off with such an entourage.

When Nehemiah arrives, the first men he encounters are the governors of the neighboring areas.  Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, the area north of Judah, and Tobiah was the governor of Ammon, the area east of Judah.  Just seeing Nehemiah show up was enough to arouse jealousy and disgust in these men.  They did not want to see anyone help the people living in Jerusalem and they hated Nehemiah from first glance.

Nehemiah stays in Jerusalem three days before going out to assess the wall.  He does not announce his arrival or share his plans with anyone.  He acclaimates himself to the area for three days and then goes out at night by himself to inspect the wall and consider what he will have to do to repair it properly.  No one knew or saw Nehemiah do this.

It is always important, anytime we are starting a new project – especially if we are leading it – to consider what must be done and how we might be able to accomplish it before hauling off and making any announcements about what needs done or asking for help to do it.  If we don’t know what’s in store and what’s necessary, how will those who agree to help and follow us know what to do or where to start?  Having a good understanding of what and how we need to do a project is essential to its success as well as our success at being a good leader.

After Nehemiah considers the state of his country and what needs to be done to correct it, he addresses the people living there.  He asks them to consider the damage and asks them to help him rebuild the walls and the gates.  He reassures them that God’s hand is on him and that he has been given much favor with the king.

When the people heard Nehemiah’s words, they cheered and agreed to help build with him.  One question we might ask is why had none of them sought to do this work previously?  They saw the ruins every single day.  They lived there; Nehemiah didn’t.  Yet Nehemiah’s heart was burdened to take action and theirs was just burdened.

God burdens our hearts not so that we might walk around melancholy and negative about our circumstances, but so that we might work towards solutions and be a help, a comfort, and a leader in them.  There’s a big difference between a person who is burdened with the problems they are facing and a person who is burdened to take action regarding those problems.

Notice how Nehemiah makes certain that the people know that God’s hand was with him and them for this project.  When you know God is with you and behind the work you are doing, it stirs up confidence and morale in completing it.

Finally, when the neighboring governors heard Nehemiah’s plans, the text says they jeered, despised, and slandered Nehemiah and God’s people.  They accused them of treason which couldn’t be further from the truth.  It was quite obvious the king had sent these men and they had the army officers, the horsemen, and the papers to prove it.  Yet some will do and say anything they can to hinder and hate those of whom they are jealous.

Nehemiah answers their ridiculous statements with the truth.  He says this:

“The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” ~Nehemiah 2:20

Firstly, haters, God is behind this project and he is going to make us prosper.  Secondly, we are going to do what God told us to, which is stand up strong and rebuild our walls.  Thirdly, you don’t belong here and you have no authority here.  This is God’s land and God’s business, not yours.

Wow!  What a great reminder of how confident we can be in the face of those who hate and despise us out of jealousy.  This is what a strong leader who is surrendered to God’s will is able to say to those who try to destroy and tear down God’s work.  Because, sometimes, even when you have permission from the highest authority (God), men will hate you, hate what you’re doing, and do all they can to stop your good and noble efforts.  Here is your reminder not to let them.  Amen and amen!

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wilderness1

In Exodus 23:20-33, God gives Moses and His people instructions and promises about how to obtain the land to which he was taking them.  They had already been in the wilderness for some time.  Here, they are promised a home and great blessings.  They are given a guide and a few contingencies at the front of their conquest.  Let’s consider this.

In verse 20, God promises to send a guide to go before His people.  The guide is described as an angel and his job was to bring them to the place God had prepared for them to go and to live.  Some believe this angel was the preincarnate Christ.  Regardless, they were commanded three things pertaining to this angel guide.  They were told to pay careful attention, obey his voice, and to not rebel against him.  Their failure to do these three essential things in their attitude and behavior toward this guide would result in his failure to forgive them for it.  The reason given was that God’s name was “in him.”

The promises for obedience were guidance (23:20), possession of a good land in which to live (23:23-24), blessed food, water, healing of sickness, fruitful wombs, long life (23:25-26), and victory over many kinds of different, powerful, strong enemies (23:22, 27-28).  The victory was to be a slower, more gradual take over rather than an all at once overcoming of their many enemies.  The text says, “little by little,” as they were growing in number and moving into the new land, God would drive their enemies out.

Finally, in verses 32-33, they are given one final warning against idolatry.

Here, we find not only the instructions for the success of the people searching for the promise land, but also the skeleton outline for the life of every successful Christian.

When we are called out of the wilderness and into the promised place God is preparing for us, we are given a guide.  His name is Jesus Christ and we are called to pay careful attention to Him (and Him alone), obey His voice (His sheep know His voice), and to not rebel against him.  If we fail to pay attention to Him, disobey Him, and rebel against Him those actions are indicative of refusing Christ as Our Lord.  If we refuse Christ, we forfeit the forgiveness and grace he offers and will not be pardoned for our sin. Because he is the Way as well as our guide, to refuse Him is to forfeit all of the blessings that following offers.

If, on the other hand, we do pay attention, obey, and not rebel, we are promised victory, protection, the bread and water of life, healing, fruitfulness in regeneration, and life everlasting.  Our victory, like theirs, is little by little.  All throughout this life through many toils and snares, we are moving toward the promised land of eternal life; the place He has prepared for us.  We are growing and our enemies are being eradicated little by little by God Himself on our behalf as we become sanctified thus gaining victory over sin in our own lives.   No other gods are permitted during any part of this journey.

How gracious a God we serve to give such tender care and guidance to us as we walk home through this worldly wilderness!  We are his children and he will fight for us if we but pay attention, obey him, and stop rebelling against him with our sin.  What a beautiful picture of Our Father’s mercy we have in Exodus 23.

 

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fix

“I spent a lot of money on this.  I had it replaced twice.  Every time I go to use this tool, it falls apart.  It’s worthless.”

I watched as the mechanic tried unsuccessfully to repair the brand new God-forsaken object that was supposed to be helping him repair something else.  I watched as the ball bearings rolled out and underneath the car he was working on.  I watched as the entire tool fell completely apart in his hand as he tried to piece it back together.  I thought about his great level of frustration and I considered what he had said…

“Every time I go to use this tool, it falls apart.”

…and I saw myself.  Surely the Lord sits on his throne watching me fall apart in his hands right at the very moments when he is seeking to use me most.  I was bought at quite an extravagant price, too.  He continuously returns me to himself and makes me new, but it seems that the very mechanics of my inward parts disallow me from delivering when the stakes are highest.

After puzzling a few moments more, I reneged on the thought of God’s disappointment with me and I reminded myself that I am not simply a tool made of cold metal.  I am, rather, a child.  His child.  God may indeed be a stellar mechanic when it comes to matters of the heart, but he is never a frustrated one.  He is not a disappointed boss – ever – because disappointment, by nature, comes only upon the heels of failed expectations.  The Lord of the Universe knows and has always known exactly who I am, where I’m at, and what I will do.  He knows absolutely everything and therefore never expects anything that will not come to be.  He already knows when and where and how very much we all will fail throughout our lives, and yet, he saved us kids anyway.  He bought us at an outrageous price.  He adopted us at the very time when we were most undesirable and he seeks to use us even though we often fall completely apart when he seeks to use us under pressure.

All is not lost, though.

When that tool broke for the third time, the mechanic reach instinctively down and positioned the new part by hand without it.  He showed himself an expert builder by his clear lack of need for that small, insignificant tool regarding the sure accomplishment of his desired result.  Likewise, through each human failure, we prove our God stronger; more able; altogether independent; an expert builder in need of nothing and no one regarding the sure accomplishment of his purposes.  Thankfully, unlike the mechanic’s tool, our failures do not make us useless.  Consider Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul…and these were those who did some of the greatest things for the kingdom of God!

 God does not throw us away when we fall apart under pressure.  Instead, he takes those opportunities to discipline, prune, and mature us – loving father to ever-learning child.  He uses those times to prove himself strong and perfect in our weakness, and that, friends, is wonderful news.  These truths should encourage us if we are his children.

As we embark upon a brand new (home) school year, I rest.  After the worst year of my life, I can confidently say that if I am faithless, he remains faithful.  (2Timothy 2:13)  I do not have to worry whether he will carry me when I inevitably become overwhelmed.  He is the one who called me to work in this capacity.  I sometimes act like a hammer trying to be a screwdriver or a drill trying to be a fire extinguisher.  But God made me a wrench’s wife.  He asked me to teach the mechanic’s children and he specifically said I ought to do so at home.

By the grace of God, that is what I am about to do once again.  The days I fail will prove my God strong.  The days I succeed will prove him faithful.  I pray that every day in between will find me growing more mature, less unworthy of my calling and more useful to his kingdom.  Amen.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~2 Corinthians 12:9

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After another stellar workout and a mind full of regrets, she gets in the car to leave.  She notices an unfinished book that has tucked itself down between the seats.

“Holiness.”

She shrugs and rolls her eyes.  Holiness.  As if ten years and a second read could really make it sink in; make her any different.  She sits and stares as her anger forbids the inevitable avalanche of dammed up pain from bursting forth – at least for the moment.  Spiritually spent, she starts the engine and dutifully drives home.

Deep thoughts linger as the realities of the day play out around her.  Like a dream wherein she is only an observer she feels fully detached.  She watches as her four year old reaches for the dog.  Once, he nips her.  Twice, he scratches her.  Thrice, he bites her.  Each time, pain followed by premature forgiveness.  He lunges again and her countenance changes.  No more soft, sad eyes.  No more holding her own little hands together trying to ease the hurt.  No more whimpers as she waits for an apology of sorts.  No.  With new-found fury in her eyes, she stands up tall over top of him.  Viciously, she grabs his knotted toy and she seeks revenge.  She is me.

She cooks.  She teaches.  She obeys.  She submits.  She forgets.

She feeds.  She fails.  She rebels.  She usurps.  She remembers.

So, she fights.  She fights.  Her fury fuels her fear and she finishes what she figured she would always fight against.  She fails.  She fights.  She fails.  She will not forgive.

She exits the externally pristine world her best efforts have created.  The envy of her peers destroys any sense of accomplishment achieved by that which was real.  The sting of frozen air comforts her with its familiarity.  She runs.  She wonders how she got this far away.  She feigns forgetfulness.  She pines for perfection, but as she peers inward all she ever sees is that pitiful, poor little girl so plagued by the past.

Far away from what?  It all seems so false.  Holiness?  Truth?  Righteousness?  Reality?  What is it all about anyway?  She is unsure why she is so unsure.  She is indifferent about her sudden indifference.  Apathy.  Hollowness.  Emptiness.  Nothingness.  Darkness.

She stays outside until her hands ache with cold.  “Ice Queen” is the name she has been given.  She cannot figure whether it is because the cold does not faze her or just because it is so wretchedly plain to see that her heart is bitter cold.  Perhaps it is a little of both.  All she knows is that she no longer cares.  Apathy and numbness have spread like cancer over all affections.  She is dying.

She attends the high school musical.  Beauty and the Beast perform an epic that seeks to awaken her lost love once again.  She watches as a princess sacrifices herself for the sake of her father- a father who loves her immensely.  She dozes, exhausted from the week’s fight.  She awakens to a beast with a changed heart sitting at the table with an even more beautifully clothed princess.  She no longer sees staying with him as a sorrow-filled sacrifice.  She wonders if the fairy tale will materialize or if she is simply an utter fool.

Finally, she closes her eyes and she struggles to slowly sift through all the sickness and sedentary shadows she stores inside.  She searches for a shred of something that has somehow been so long stolen.  She reluctantly surrenders.  She swears it will be the very last time.

Hope.  She hopes.  She will still lose.  She already has.  With the taste of failure still in her mouth, she remains.  God save her.

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Job knew it was not justifiable to wish for death as he did, so, rather than justifying it, he gives his reasons in an effort to excuse it.

“Has not man a hard service on earth,
    and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?
2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
    and like a hired hand who looks for his wages,
3 so I am allotted months of emptiness,
    and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
4 When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’
    But the night is long,
    and I am full of tossing till the dawn.
5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
    my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.
6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
    and come to their end without hope.

7 “Remember that my life is a breath;
    my eye will never again see good…

Am I the sea, or a sea monster,
    that you set a guard over me?
13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
    my couch will ease my complaint,’
14 then you scare me with dreams
    and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I would choose strangling
    and death rather than my bones.
16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
    Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
17 What is man, that you make so much of him,
    and that you set your heart on him,
18 visit him every morning
    and test him every moment?
19 How long will you not look away from me,
    nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?
    Why have you made me your mark?
    Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression
    and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
    you will seek me, but I shall not be.” ~Job 7:1-7, 12-21

Job begins his validation by comparing human life to war.  The “hard service” he refers to in verse 1 points to military service.  Doubtless this man is indeed in fierce spiritual, physical, and emotional combat.

Job’s battle was one of not losing faith, and, eventually, winning a deeper trust in his God.  To be proven victorious, Job was called to endure a seemingly endless cycle of pain, misery, and loss, all apart from explanation or understanding.  He complains of useless days followed by restless nights.  As soon as one wound healed, a new one presented.  His lack of reprieve led to a severe lack of hope (7:7), as well as a growing suspicion regarding God’s character (7:14,16,20.)

While Job neither denies nor forgets his own sin (7:21), he truly begins to question God’s goodness and wonder just who this Creator really is.  If I’m honest, I have to say there’s been many a time where I could relate.

Every Christian who has ever lived has been called to war.  Whether our battles are plain and obvious or internal and covert, we should never fail to recognize that every single day is a battle.  Victory becomes us when we learn to trust without understanding and keep the faith when it’s most unreasonable.

How can we do that if we are in the midst of an endless cycle of pain, loss, and misery without rest or understanding? Just what kind of God has such insane expectations for weak and lowly sinners such as I?

If I knew, I don’t suppose I’d have to spend so many hours studying Job.

When we’re unsure of the Father’s heart, we need only to look the Son’s passion.  Whatever a father loves, a son hotly pursues.  God showed us how to overcome against all odds by showing us who we must look to for impossibilities.  To that end I ask, how did Jesus do this?

Jesus didn’t fight his war with an M-16;

Jesus fought his war without fatigues.

Jesus didn’t fight with fists clenched;

Jesus fought with hands folded.

Jesus didn’t fight with knowledge, power, and pride;

 Jesus fought with wisdom, service, and humility.

Jesus didn’t fight with anger, hostility, and hate.

Jesus fought with forgiveness, peace, and love.

Insane expectations?  In my honest opinion, yes.  I can totally see God diggin’ the X-games up in heaven.  Yeah.  He’s an extremist.  But extreme is not impossible.  I may be weak, but one of my favorite songs tells me he is strong.  Jesus will keep me from all wrong.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MygR5zMia_E

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When I was a little girl we spent a lot of time at my grandfather’s house.  Daddy, Pappy, and sometimes my uncles would play music together.  Once it got dark outside, there wasn’t much for a little girl to do there.

There did, however, just so happen to be a cement floor in the kitchen and a pair of old roller skates that were just my size.

Every time we were there I’d lace up those old skates and zoom from one end of the kitchen to the other for what seemed like hours.  Eventually, I kinda got the hang of it.

Sometimes Daddy would take me to the real roller skating rink.  We held hands.  Every time I lost my balance he’d pull up on my hand and keep me from falling.  I loved roller skating.

Last night I had the pleasure of being the puller.  The girls and I went roller skating.  Mia did pretty well all by herself.  Addie and Maylee spent a lot of time on the floor, though.  They needed a puller.

I did my best to hold their little hands, balance all three of us, and keep them from falling.  They did fall often, but they didn’t feel often.  The brunt of their falls were absorbed by my strength.  By the time they hit the floor, the impact was as gentle as a tender tap.

I couldn’t help but think of my heavenly Daddy, too.  When it gets dark, I always begin to hear his rhythm and melodies streaming from the next room as I practice the best techniques on staying upright.  When we get to the real test, he’s always right next to me, holding my little hand.  Being the untrained, unskilled, and immature little girl that I am, I tend to fall a lot, but the pain is absorbed by his strength which pulls me from every punishment and ever keeps me from falling flat on my face.

As much as I loved them, it wasn’t my roller skates that gave me confidence and joy when I was small and afraid.  It was Daddy’s hands.  Remembering that can make me a puller instead of a faller when the circles of life get dark.

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~Jude 1:24-25

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FspAl-LDUUE

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