Family Bible Study lesson for June 9: God Wants Me to Be Joyful
May 17 2002 by James Baldwin , Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,9-17

Family Bible Study lesson for June 9: God Wants Me to Be Joyful | Friday, May 17, 2002

Friday, May 17, 2002

Family Bible Study lesson for June 9: God Wants Me to Be Joyful

By James Baldwin Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,9-17

Frederick Buechner has written a little book entitled "Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC." He defines joy with these words: "In the Gospel of John, Jesus sums up everything by saying, 'These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full' (John 15:11). He said it at the supper that he knew was the last one he'd have a mouth to eat. Happiness turns up more or less where you'd expect it to - a good marriage, a rewarding job and a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it." It might even be found at church.

Attentive hearing (Nehemiah 8:1-3) The people of Israel were hungry for the word of God. We have to remember these people had been in exile in a foreign land. While in exile, the people of Israel found it difficult to worship and praise their God. "How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" they cried (Ps. 137:4). Although some had been back in their homeland for several years, they had no place to worship. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city walls and the temple (Neh. 2:4-5).

Now, several years and much opposition later, the temple had been restored and worship had resumed. They found great joy in being able to hear the word of God once again.

It may be hard for us to imagine life with no church, no Bible and no community of faith. When I think of the number of people who leave their Bibles at church and never miss them, who never attend Sunday School or mid-week Bible studies, I wonder what it will take for us to hunger for the word of God again.

Fervent worship (Nehemiah 8:5-6) If the type of worship described in these verses had occurred in most Baptist churches I know there would have been a special church conference, and a "come-to-Jesus" meeting with the worship leader. Hands lifted over their heads, faces bowed down to the ground, shouts of "amen." Accusations of fanaticism would be quick in coming.

The Bible is full of worship experiences we would consider inappropriate.

"Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth" (Ps. 100:1).

"Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and the lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and the flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals" (Ps. 150:3-5).

We have to ask whose standards we are to follow when we come into the house of God. I contend that if it is God's house, then we operate by God's rules. I believe that if we could get beyond feeling that we have to control the Holy Spirit, we might truly enjoy worship, as the people of Israel did.

Joyous celebration (Nehemiah 8:9-17) A grade school teacher asked her students to bring a symbol of their religion to class. A Jewish student brought a menorah and told of the significance of the candles. A Catholic student brought a rosary and described each of the beads on the necklace. A Baptist student brought a casserole dish.

Sharing a meal together was an important part of the celebration for the people of Israel. They were encouraged, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared."

Even in New Testament times we discover that the early church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42).

Walls that divide people tend to crumble when you have butter dripping down your chin.

The Israelites also reinstituted the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:37-40). They returned to an old tradition that had been neglected for generations, and they found "great joy" in doing so.

Traditions should not be discarded simply because they are old. They lose their value only if they become routine. Old traditions done with passion and enthusiasm can help a congregation maintain its sense of heritage, while facing the challenges of a changing world.

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5/17/2002 12:00:00 AM by James Baldwin , Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,9-17 | with 0 comments
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