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.”

Nehemiah 8: 10

At certain times it is natural to feel contradictory emotions. This is one of those times for the people of Israel. As Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests were going among them and reading God’s Word of the Law to them, they were struggling greatly. They had much to be thankful for in that the wall that surrounded Jerusalem had been rebuilt and their city was being restored to its former greatness. They had returned to their homeland from exile, and the throngs were gathered in order to celebrate all that God had done for them and to give thanks to the Lord. As God’s Word was read, they heard the story of how God had been faithful to His people throughout all of history. They were given the details of the Lord’s call to holiness and to righteous living, and they were also struck by the stark contrast between God’s faithfulness to them and their sinful departure from His way of truth and life.

It was surely painful for them to face into the reality of how they had acted in response to all that God had done for them. The very ground that they were standing upon was something that God had provided for them. The great work of rebuilding that had just been finished was necessary because they had not remained true to God’s way of living and had allowed the ruin of rebellion against God to overtake their world. The Word of Truth must have been convicting to them, and their hearts were overcome with the need for repentance. Yet, they were being called out into a joyous celebration, for this was a time for a festival of thanksgiving and singing of songs of praise to the Lord. So, Nehemiah calls upon the people to enter into the party. They were to do things that indicated that their hearts were at peace and that their minds were filled with expressions of thanksgiving for all that the Lord had done and hope for where they were headed as a nation and in each of their lives. They felt sorrow, regret, and a need for repentance, and the Lord accepted all of that and called them into a heart-deep attitude of resting upon His grace and understanding that the Lord finds great joy in the return of His people to Him.

Very similar things are true for us today as well. We neglect our walls of truth and holiness. We leave God’s righteous way in order to seek out our own path through life, and the results of all of this can be just as troubling and even similarly disastrous as departing from the Lord’s will and way was for the Israelites. Christ calls upon us to return to Him, and He leads us into doing His work of restoration and rebuilding in our own lives. With grace and mercy He takes us back into the center of God’s will for the life that He has gifted to each of us. And just as it did for the people gathered in Jerusalem with Nehemiah and Ezra, God’s Word presents us with the full scope of His unceasing faithfulness to His promises to us and depicts our need for repentance for each of us in such a stark and powerful manner that it is hard to be anything other than sorrowful in the light of this revealed truth. Yet, Christ tells us to enter into the celebration and to be joyful in the presence of the Lord. These times of returning and of rebuilding bring joy to God’s heart, and His joy is cause for us to join with the Lord and to accept His gift of redemption that comes complete with His provision of the strength that we will need to move forward with the work to which Christ is calling us to engage.      

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,

your faithfulness to the clouds.

Psalm 36: 5

 

Where do we find something or someone that we can truly count on? Experience indicates that most of our institutions will falter and fail. People turn away from us, and each of us seems to take our own wrong turns in our relational and moral lives. This is an uncertain world, and life within it is equally fraught with confusion, chaos, and doubt. Among the vital elements that are needed to obtain and to maintain healthy living, love is perhaps the most elusive. It can be very hard to find and even harder to sustain.

 

Yet, God is faithful. He has not ever departed from His love of His creation. The Lord has traveled through humanity’s long journey of fickle and fleeting affections toward Him with His heart broken and grieving by our departures from His side but His love for us undiminished. God loves us and has made the one true ultimate sacrifice for our sakes. Now He continuously works to bring the light of His truth and the life that comes by and through Him into the consciousness of every person on the earth. This is true and absolute love, for God loves without regard for our response. He seeks after us even as we run away and fight against His will.

 

God’s love is relentless and it is boundless, too. There is no way to fly above the radar or to sink beneath the waves of the presence of God’s love. Wherever we might go, He is there. Whatever we do, He sees and pours out His grace, mercy, and forgiveness upon our troubles souls. God has provided for all people the way and the means to know victory over sin’s death through Christ, for it is in Christ that we encounter God’s unfailing love. Christ poured Himself out as the final sacrifice for our sins, and He pours Himself into us in order to fill us with the unending love of the Father.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Psalm 115: 1

 

When this new day begins, and I face its challenges, where is my mind focused and what does my heart desire? Am I consumed with how others will think about me and how many will praise me for my brilliant skill, knowledge, and accomplishment? Glory, honor, and praise take a lot of effort to seek. Power and control can become the controlling focus of a life. Yet, through Christ, glory surrounds us, and Christ is in control in ways that actually mean something.

 

Let me direct my thoughts toward God and onto His desired way for me to live. I pray that I will allow Christ’s approach to life to take over mine; then, I will begin to live as an expression of love. The only true and lasting love to be found is in and from love’s source, and that is God. So, for me to even begin to understand faithful, unwavering, and lasting love, I need to stay closely connected to the Lord. Then, as He continues to transform me and to mold me into His image, the ways that I act that are unloving and disconnected will start to change into His way of relating.

 

My prayer goes something like this. O Lord, let me seek to bring glory to you through the way that I live today. So, I ask that You would change the hard places in my heart into ones that lovingly embrace and that you would remove my self-directed thoughts and replace them with Your face. My Lord, I pray that You will guide and direct me to live as an ongoing expression of Your love. Grant me the endurance to be faithful to the calling of Christ for all of the days of my life. Amen.