It is said that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive, then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.” (Clipped from Our Daily Bread)
In two days we are going to formally dedicate this new (to us) church building to the Lord. Even though a local church’s building is NOT the temple or the wall around Jerusalem, it’s hard to not at least consider those important dedication texts. Consider Nehemiah 8. As the post-captivity Israelites gather to celebrate the completion of the wall, Ezra unwraps the book of the Law and reads to the people. Hearing the Law, for perhaps the first time in their lives, they begin to weep realizing how much they have grieved God by flouting His law. Not a wrong response. James tells us that there is a time to grieve our sin; Paul tells us that godly sorrow leads to repentance; and Isaiah even reminds us that Jesus will be a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. However, Nehemiah’s response makes it clear that not even grief over something as horrific as generational idolatry has to go on forever.
Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~Nehemiah 8:9-10
He is essentially reminding the wall builders, and by extension us, that as great as their sin was, the Lord was greater still. Sorrow for sin, sorrow for loss, sorrow for unmet expectations or “unfair” life circumstances are all part of the human condition and are all evident in the lives of God’s people as recorded in His word. But sorrow is still ultimately all about us and Nehemiah’s instruction says, “That’s not where your hope lies!” Brothers and sisters, let’s not spend our lives as a church, or as individuals, focused on what we don’t have or what we wish was true. Consider, instead, this take from a very old commentary on Nehemiah 8:10
“‘For the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ This beautiful sentence is, literally, delight in Jehovah is a strong refuge.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. 1897)
Sad? Wistful? Grieved? Righteously indignant? Don’t stay there, delight in the Lord Jehovah!
Anybody remember this old song? I think it was a pop love song, not a hymn, but the line above could have easily been written by God! Life is hard, and the Christian Life can be even harder. Not only do we have the normal struggles with economics and physical health, but we have also been called to be holy and to have a good attitude about the struggles. I for one would like to be happy, healthy, wealthy, wise AND hear “Well done thou good and faithful servant” when this life is done. How about you? Wouldn’t you like a trial free life that serves God’s purpose and keeps you smelling like a rose?
Last night in our home bible study, we were looking a Daniel 5. There is a really interesting turn of events right before God ends, forever, the reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s family. After Daniel reveals the meaning of the writing on the wall, “Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that HE now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom. That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.” Did you notice who got the glory? God’s man, not God. Contrast that with the Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians chapter four:
”If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!” (2 Cor 4:7-12 MSG)
Now, don’t hear me saying that God is going to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), or that He doesn’t care (1 Peter 5:7), but do hear me say that if life isn’t going as planned, perhaps it’s because God is ensuring that He gets the Glory! After all, nobody gets their sins forgiven and their home in heaven guaranteed, by having faith in Scott!