Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What then is strength?

We must cry before our tears may be wiped away.  We must be sick in order to experience the healing touch of the great physician.  We must be broken before we are to be stitched back together.

As a finale to this series (and an unplanned one at that!), I'd like to say one more thing about strength.  We began by talking about how the StrengthsFinders test can be dangerous.  Then we ventured together into the world of Dan Allender, to discuss what I proposed as a better alternative starting-point for self-discovery.  Yesterday we discussed why finding our strengths could be moving a different direction that Jesus, and today, I'd like to wrap this up by saying a few things about true strengths.

To do this, I'm going to jump into the Old Testament.

The Jews get a very bad rap when it comes to most christians these days, especially when it comes to how we view them when we read the bible.  "They're just a bunch of legalistic, moralistic do-gooders.  They're trying to earn their way to heaven.  They think they can just do enough good things to make God love them.  They are just phonies and fakers, and they miss the whole point."

It's no wonder that anti-Semitism has been rampant in the history of the church.

Well, never mind that I disagree to varying degrees with a good deal of those opinions because they lack any real depth, what I'd like to point out is one time that the Jewish people really seem to get it.

And maybe as an added bonus, we could begin to resurrect our silly and unchecked closet anti-semitism.

In Nehemiah 8, Ezra begins to read the Law.  This is a beautiful moment of repentance and worship.  The people stand voluntarily at the reading, in reverence for God's words.  Heads were bowed, Amens were declared, hands were lifted, understanding commenced, and then tears were shed.

These were undoubtedly precious tears for YHWH, Israel's God.  These were tears shed mournfully; these were tears driven forth by a deeply remorsefully people.  They had let God down.  They had failed to fulfill their end of the covenant.  They had placed themselves in the examining room and found themselves woefully inadequate.  We can almost hear Jesus' words of blessing on those who weep and mourn.

What must it have been like to have been present in the midst of such brokenness and honest humility?  I can imagine hearing the gasping breath of a people with a crushed spirit.  See with me the tears falling as these people cast down their gaze and mournfully grieve their fault.

They are right where God wants them.  Not in their strength, but in their neediness.

Neh. 8:9   And 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 wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

I can picture Ezra and Nehemiah and the Levite priests going around one by one, can't you?  Lift up your head, they declare, do not weep!  This is the Lord's day!

Weeping wasn't an incorrect response, but they failed to see something.  They failed to see that while they were miserably short of God's desire for them as a people, God's joy was still upon them!  They finally understood.  Yes, we have messed up royally, but God's delight and presence is among us!  His joy is upon us!  His promise remains!

The Israelites shown like the sun in this moment.  Their mournful response at their own faithlessness stirred in them an overflowing delight in the Lord's faithfulness.

Weeping and mourning is a crucial first step.  To miss that step is to minimize your delight in the second step, which is rejoicing and delighting in the goodness of the Lord.

"The joy of the Lord is your strength."  God's unabashed and passionate love for you is the key to unlocking your true strength.  True strength is found via a crushed spirit, and given from the Lord.  His joy, and His pleasure, and His peace will be yours, and THAT is what true strength is.  You won't find this on a test, but this will be yours in abundance, should you humble yourself and take that long overdue look in the mirror at your brokenness.

Let's drop on our knees, bow our heads, and examine the wretchedness within.  Let's welcome our sorrowful tears.  Then let's find our strength in God's loving, joyful gaze upon us.  And like the one we follow, let's then arise from our grave and proclaim his goodness to a needy world.

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