Sunday was a beautiful day for our Family – as Beth and Jack Lange joined us…and Camden was baptized into a new life in God’s Family; the Elevate Market was buzzing; we lifted up ways God used us to be a blessing this Summer…
Now we turn to exciting new ventures as our “new year” begins…But we pause to receive God’s concluding gift of our Summer Series…in some ways, the most wonderful gift of all!
All Things Possible
On Sunday, God offered us Great Joy – by requesting…receiving…and responding to God’s Word. (Nehemiah 8:1-12)
1. The recently returned Judean exiles were, as we are, inundated by values, priorities, temptations that pull us away from God and all He wants for us; and they, as we do, suffered the consequences. But the peoples’ lives were turned around, and filled with Great Joy “because now they understood God’s Word that was given to them.” This happened because they took and used God’s 3 Keys to the Gate to Great Joy.
2. The 1st: Request God’s Word – by realizing that we need it…coming to want it! The people knew God’s Word was what they needed – and “They requested” that Ezra give it to them. They saw that they were no longer captive to Persia, but now they were captive to the un-Godlike ways of the culture.
3. We are subject to Stockholm Syndrome, named after bank employees held captive for nine days. When they were freed, they were emotionally attached to their captives, defending their motives, actions, values. This syndrome describes how captives get their identity wrapped up with their captors. We run the risk of being captive to the values, priorities, habits of our culture, the crowd, our peers…their identity becomes our identity; we do not see the ways our lives are being limited and turned away from all God offers us to be.
4. The people realize that it is God’s Word that can open our eyes to see and set us free – They request the words of the Torah, which means “instructions to hit the mark,” the marks of “Love God; love your neighbor; trust God, He will provide; let God forgive your past and give you a new life.” For us, the words of Jesus set us free: from anger by forgiveness; hurtful words by kind words; self-centeredness by love; harmful habits by Jesus’ habits…
5. If we are not sure we want God’s Word, apply this test: You are walking in a dimly lit alley in New York; ten men in leather jackets are coming toward you. Will you be relieved, less anxious if you know that they are coming from their weekly Bible Group? The Bible gets this bad rap – “It makes you feel guilty, feel bad;” when, in fact, the Bible sets us free from guilt, free from all that is “bad,” to give us the experience of Great Joy of all that is good!
6. The good begins to flow with God’s 2nd Key to the Gate to Great Joy: Receive God’s Word – by being instructed…coming to understand what it means for you! The people heard God’s Word. But to receive God’s Word into our hearts, to change us, we are called to do as the people did – Priests put them in groups and “instructed them in the Word, giving its meaning, so that they understood.”
7. We need help to understand how God’s Word speaks to us. We are often like the people in the fishing village who were meeting to find a way to save their village; a stranger arrived, but they would not let him speak, so he left; a late-comer excitedly asked if the stranger had given what they needed; he was devastated to learn they had turned away John D. Rockefeller. By “going on their own,” they missed the one who could have helped them to the way they needed to go.
8. The Bible’s second bad rap is that “it is hard to understand.” This is only true when we read the Bible with just our limited knowledge and experience. That is why one of my goals for Meadowlake is for every person to be in a class or Small Group that explores the Bible together. I am immersed in the Bible, yet in every Bible Journey class, in every Session meeting, others reveal something I did not see…that applies directly to me!
9. We know that instruction and others are needed…for our children; we send them to King’s Kids; Elevate Youth; Youth Group. Yet those who need others most are us. Otherwise, we are leading our families by our limited understand of what God offers…we are cheating our marriages, families of all they could be. If there is anything in the Bible you do not understand, that you might need; if you are not in a group that explores the Bible, come to me and I will open it with you, or help you find a group.
10. Then we are ready for God’s 3rd Key to the Gate to Great Joy: Respond to God’s Word – by celebrating it…and living it! When the people hear God’s Word, they weep, but Nehemiah interrupts: “Do not weep. Go and celebrate, give to the poor, because the Joy of the Lord is your strength!” God’s Joy comes when we understand His Word gives us strength for living – Trust in Jesus and he will give you Abundant Life, and the promise of Eternal Life with him! “For the Word of the Lord is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey!” Ps. 19:10
11. The way to claim this promise of Great Joy is to celebrate (“public display of great satisfaction”) – Go home and celebrate the Good News you heard on Sunday; open the Bible as a family, read, discuss, and rejoice in good news you find there; invite your neighbors to celebrate with you. The more we celebrate God’s gifts of good news, the more His good news will live in us.
12. And our Great Joy will spill out into living God’s Word…beginning, as Nehemiah prescribes, with sharing the good news and what we have with the poor. This is the experience of a family, whose father updated me on their life. Three years ago, their marriage was falling apart; a Christian counselor challenged them to discuss selected Bible passages each night; join a Small Group of other struggling families; live one passage each week.
13. “As you know, a miracle happened, we were reconciled; we are filled with the word you like, ‘joy.’ Now our family Is part of a ministry serving poor families; we are closer together, happier than ever! My wife and I are leading a Small Group to help struggling marriages see the amazing gift of joy that comes when we listen to God…”
Connection for the Week: Be part of a Small Group or class that explores the Bible; set aside a time each week with your family to read and discuss the Bible (perhaps the passages discussed in their classes); focus on how the passage is good news and celebrate it; engage as a family in living God’s Word for others; and experience God’s promise of Great Joy!