Why You Really Need Joy and Sorrow

Our thoughts for the past couple of weeks have centered around a Season of Hope, and our theme at East Side this year has been “Hope.” Advent is a season of hopeful waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

The last several weeks have been looks at the prophecies leading up to the destruction and exile of Jerusalem & Judah. Last week we looked at Isaiah 40 and the hopeful promise that God’s people would return home, and he would come to them! This week we see the fulfillment of God’s promise that the people will return home, but not all is joyful.

Ezra begins in the same way 2 Chronicles ends with a proclamation from Cyrus king of Persia. Ezra also wants us to remember that this fulfills the Jeremiah 25 & 29 prophecy that the people would return home from exile. God is keeping his promise to the people!

Ezra 3 tells the story of the reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem. The altar was rebuilt and the people celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). I find this a fitting first celebration for the newly resettled exiles. Tabernacles was to remind the Israelites of the time they lived in temporary huts during the journey out of Egypt. The entire festival recalls the journey out of Egyptian slavery/exile to the promised land; a fitting reminder to those having just journeyed back to the promised land from Babylonian exile. In both generations, God was faithful in keeping his promises.

Our text in Ezra this week ends with the end of chapter 3 and the laying of the foundation of the temple of Yahweh. I find this text both beautiful and haunting.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:11-13 NIV

Notice that everyone praised God in this moment, but the emotions were very mixed. Some were joyful to see this day come. Some were lamenting the loss of the original temple. What brought joy to some brought mourning to others. Excitement and weeping. Yet a great shout of praise came from all.

Our church family is much like this group in Jerusalem, a place of rejoicing and mourning. Sometimes those two feelings are so intertwined that we feel them all at once, especially this time of year. A friend recently reminded me Advent is a time for the church to come together as one, despite our emotions, in hopeful expectation of the second Advent of Christ.

For some the waiting brings joy, for others sorrow. We need both. We are called to rejoice together and mourn together because we are called to be together! The church becomes more like Christ when we rejoice and mourn together.

Wherever you find yourself in the emotional spectrum, you are welcome here. Join the body of Christ as we worship our God in hopeful expectation of his Advent! Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon text for 12/15/19 – Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 3:1-4, 10-13; Luke 2:25-32

Daily Psalms – Psalm 146

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 146-150

Psalm 146 is one of my favorites. As the psalter comes to a close today, we are reminded of many important beliefs and practices through these praise psalms.

I attended a funeral service yesterday that was life changing for all who were present. It was a celebration of a Christ-centered life well lived. As I read this psalm this morning I couldn’t help but recall all of these themes from yesterday’s service.

I will praise the LORD all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Psalm 146:2 NIV

We are called to praise our God as long as we live, no matter what life holds. In the good times and the bad, in joy and sorrow, in health and in death, we are to praise God!

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Psalm 146:3-4 NIV

Life is short. We are all from dust and to dust return. Nothing in this life lasts, therefore our trust should be in God alone.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.

Psalm 146:6 NIV

This is difficult to remember at times. When chaos seems to affect our lives it’s difficult to remember God is faithful. Yet he always has, and always will be faithful and we are called to join him in this faithfulness. No matter what life hands, no matter how much hurt or pain or destruction comes in this life, God is faithful. We are called to be faithful as he is faithful.

The LORD watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Psalm 146:9 NIV

This is a key theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. God is one who looks after the widow, orphan, and foreigner. We are called to do the same. God is compassionate and cares for those in need. We are called to do the same.

Today I am thankful for who God is and for what he has done. Though I don’t always understand why things work out the way they do, he is sovereign and faithful. He loves the sinners and abhors the sin. He cares for the needy and those whom society has forgotten. He is faithful forever, and loves us in spite of our faults. And he calls us to be just like him. And for that we praise the LORD.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 66

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.

Psalm 66:1-2 NIV

I love Psalm 66. It is a wonderful song of praise, but different than you might expect. You see, we tend to praise God for the good times. The psalmist here praises God for the good times, and praises God for causing the bad times!

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:10-12 NIV

Notice that the psalmist says it was God who “brought us” into some terribly painful situations. These led to refining (removing all the impurities), and eventually to a place of abundance.

We love to praise God for the mountaintops, but we rarely praise him for the valleys. The psalmist tells us to not only praise him for the valleys, but praise him while we’re in the valleys!

I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you —
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.

Psalm 66:13-14 NIV

Even in the darkest moments of trouble, we should be committing to worship. Even when we don’t know how the situation will turn out, we commit ourselves to praising our God. No matter the highest highs or the lowest lows, we commit ourselves to our God.

Praise be to God!

Daily Psalms – Psalm 13

Our Psalm reading today is Psalm 11-15.

I was planning on focusing on a different Psalm today, but in light of the tragedy unfolding, I will save that for another time. Today we just need to lament and pray.

Why is there such evil in the world? Why does it seem like wickedness rules? At the time of this writing NBC confirms at least 19 people have been murdered in a mass shooting today in El Paso, TX. Though I seek for answers I know the cause: The sinful nature of humans.

Psalms 11-14 are a series of laments. They ask questions of why evil exists, why wicked people inflict pain upon the innocent, and pleads to Yahweh for salvation. And then Psalm 15 gives us a glimpse of the coming (returning) Messiah Jesus. The reading seems to say “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Yahweh calls us to love him above all else, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus called these the Greatest Commands. And yet our culture says that God is not real, and promotes a culture of violence in television, movies, and video games that glorifies shooting whomever you don’t agree with. Our entertainment is death and destruction, and we wonder why these things happen.

We are not alone in our laments when evil seems to rule. Psalm 13, a psalm of David begs these same questions. “Has Yahweh forgotten us? How long will evil rule?”

Today we mourn great loss. Today we lament great tragedy. We beg Yahweh to move so nothing like this ever has to happen again. But David reminds us that Yahweh has not forgotten us, that he will not forget us, and that salvation is coming.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13:5-6 NIV

May the God of all comfort heal our broken land. Shalom.

Click here for today’s PSALM READING

Zephaniah

Sometimes when we’re faced with grief, or distress, or abuse, persecution, looming punishment and the like, we develop a feeling of hopelessness. When those situations evolve we often feel completely surrounded, as if there’s no way out. If only there were something to give us hope, then we’d be alright…if only.

Zephaniah was a prophet who’s ministry came to an end just six years after Jeremiah’s began.  And God’s people at the time had just come out of being under the rule of two very evil kings, Manasseh and Amon. And as we too often see, corrupt rulers corrupt their people.  God’s people had become very wicked themselves during this time and had turned their backs on God’s will.  The situation gets more interesting when we learn that they knew they had drifted away…they knew they had major problems, and they had lost hope.  And into this mix comes Zephaniah preaching a message of repentance and hope.

Zephaniah 2:3 – Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.

Zephaniah called the people to repent, and the people knew that God would eventually bless them, but Zephaniah made it clear that there would be judgement first, then blessing.  Our actions do cause us to face consequences. Sometimes even after we have repented, we still must deal with the consequences of our past actions against God, and that’s what happened to Judah.  They would see Judah fall to the Babylonians in 586 BC, but the good news is that they did repent!  And as a result they had hope for the future.  They were able to weather the storm, the destruction, and the hard times because they had hope in God’s promise to bless them for their repentance and righteous living!

Zephaniah 3:14,17 – Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! … 17 The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

There is a lot to be learned from the small book of Zephaniah.  God does not take sin lightly, and it will be punished.  But we can take hope from the words of Zephaniah because our God reigns, and he will rescue the faithful remnant of his people who worship him, and obey his Word.