Joy Made People Cry. When has Your Joy Ever Made You Weep?

The Temple of Solomon was an amazing structure, built in about 950 BC by thousands of artisans who hand-crafted every stone. It was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II when Babylon overwhelmed Jerusalem. When Ezra returned in 538 BC, Israel performed the back-breaking work required to rebuild the temple. This project affected not only their religion, but their entire sense of community and JOY.

How joyful are you? In a world where everyone seeks happiness, its seems that sometimes pure joy is in short supply. Perhaps we can discover it in this passage:

Joy that Showed

“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 4:11-13, NIV).

joy

When the Israelites were able to return to build the temple, it was a moving experience. They had gotten permission from Cyrus to leave Babylon, and then created a plan and traveled back together all the way to Jerusalem. The people who returned performed exhausting manual labor with a sense of urgency: they were rebuilding God’s house! They worked together to clear away debris, and to move huge stones into place for the foundation. When it was laid, the older workers wept aloud, while the younger ones gave a great shout of praise that carried their joy into the heavens.

Restoration

It was an exciting time for many whose lives had been torn apart, or who had lived their entire lives in exile, away from the homeland they dreamed of. They sang praises; they rejoiced with thanksgiving! As Ezra says, their emotion was so overwhelming that “no one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping” as people cried out, filling the air with emotional exclamation points. They were refreshed and excited, newly reminded of God’s goodness and love!

As you reflect on the emotion of this scene, ask yourself: what represents rebuilding God’s temple to you? What godly thing have you been missing in your life, which being restored would cause you to shout with joy? Is it a mountain top where you once rejoiced? Is it a place of service where you felt useful? A calling you have neglected to follow?

I bet almost all of us have some special place in our relationship with God where we long for restoration, and for the chance to feel His love and goodness anew. Consider the possibility of making a plan, of enlisting friends and family to travel with you, and of returning to the place where you, too, would shout for joy! Or weep for joy. Or, just go into your prayer closet today and seek the Lord in the privacy of your own heart. I think God will meet you there either way.

Choose Joy

Perhaps you, too have felt alone, with all your laughter stilled;
Perhaps you’ve been knocked down a peg, and needed to rebuild.
Go and seek the Lord. He can restore what has been taken,
And He’ll be your foundation whether all the world’s been shaken.
Stand before Him. Choose to sing to Him, and lift your voice!
Claim His promise to restore. Believe. Receive. Rejoice!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Idolatry You Should Forsake: Worship Like You Mean It

An Accusation You May not Like

Most of us would scoff at the idea that we would practice idolatry. We are sophisticated church-goers who live in the twenty-first century! And yet most of us engage in it without even feeling guilty about it… “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly.“ (Ezra 10:1, NIV)

Ezra returned to Israel from exile in Persia to rebuild the temple. Upon arriving, he learned that the people who had remained in Israel had taken up with local women and local gods. They were bowing down to little idols and figurines in supplication and praise. He became utterly convicted because Israel was practicing idolatry and worshipping lesser deities instead of God. In the Jordan area people worshipped the sun, and local gods who were thought to govern fertility or rain.

Idolatry and Desire

Before you smile and say, “How quaint and ignorant”, consider this: Pagan worship was very connected to carnal desires that all men have. (And yes, in the ancient world, temple-goers/worshippers were men. Women stayed at home.) So at the temples or High Places, all kinds of lustful and sensational activities drew the men deeper into “worship”. Besides sacrifices, temple practices included dancing by temple priestesses and repetitious music which was designed to help men achieve a catatonic state of ecstasy; there were also stimulants and temple prostitutes to add to the local worship experience. (In Greece and Rome, men consorted with young boys and frolicked in bath houses.) Understand this: When a man said, “Honey, I’m going to worship at the temple”, he had more than prayer on his mind…

In our modern world, we may feel a little smug because we don’t bow down to little statues, but trust me—we practice idolatry pretty much every day when we put any other thing or desire in front of our love for God. We love our stuff. We covet. Our motives can be selfish. Be honest now, does anything ever get between you and God? Ever have ANY desires that you want more than Him? Any things you want to do more than you want to worship God? Yep, those things aren’t little statues, but they ARE idols. So, take a little inventory. What do you worship? (Hmm, a question much like, “What’s in your wallet?”)

idolatry

Something to Cry About

Ezra was so stricken with grief over the danger of sin that he confessed and wept openly before the whole assembly. There are a lot of verses from the Bible that we use to express optimism and joy. We rejoice in our salvation. We know that Jesus came that our joy might be full. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But when is the last time that you went to church and had a good cry, and wept openly in front of God and everybody?

Now, I know we feel that we can cry out to God when misfortune strikes, when life seems unfair, or when we are hurting over something that has happened to us or someone we love…That is an appropriate time to cry, but that is not the kind of crying Ezra is talking about here: When was the last time you wept in a worship service because of something YOU have done (or haven’t done) before God? When were you inconsolable in worship, not because of some bad circumstance, but because you realized the magnitude of both YOUR offense to God and the price He paid for your redemption?

Where Do You Spend Time in Worship?

I think our worship today often falls short of what it could be in terms of being transparent and repentant before the Lord, particularly in churches where expression is frowned upon, and God’s Spirit is limited to what time the local NFL game starts. Perhaps that’s because many of us are only partly committed to worship, and EACH OF US falls short of being truly repentant and vulnerable when we go to church. Could it be that we worship our own sense of decorum more than we worship the Lord? Do we worship appearances more than transformation? James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

True Worship = True Emotion

Ezra led the people of Israel by confessing, weeping, and bowing down before everyone in the house of God. The large assembly that gathered around him expressed their fellowship by weeping bitterly alongside him, by sharing his conviction over how he had fallen short of true commitment to the Lord, and being repentant over his sin. When is the last time you wept bitterly over your sin? When was the last time the whole church bowed before God in genuine emotion to confess and express true repentance?

Here’s the problem: I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to go blurt out my sins in front of everyone at church. And I’m pretty sure most of you aren’t ready to hear me do that, either. But perhaps I can take some steps in that direction by being more honest in my confession before God, and a little more distraught about the idolatry in my life. I bet if enough of us did that BEFORE church, we’d have a different experience when we got there.

No Shame in His Game

Ezra bowed, and prayed and cried with love that couldn’t be denied–
No pretense here, no foolish pride, just honesty from deep inside.
And all the people wept and prayed, forsook the idols they had made,
Left the coolness they displayed, and bowed in grief and awe, afraid…
Israel joined–no one declined–to leave their idols far behind.
What about YOUR secret mind? If you looked closely, could you find
Some altars of idolatry that none suspect, and none can see?
Confess and weep. Repent and see that if you pray transparently,
Your worship wouldn’t be so lame, your church would never be the same
And You won’t check the time in worship, waiting for the Cowboys game…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread