The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

This verse, “the joy of the Lord is my strength” is found in Nehemiah 8:10. The descendants of the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem from the exile in Babylon. Ezra, the servant of God, read the law of the Lord to them. They were overcome with grief and they wept. They realised how they far they had drifted away from God. But God was merciful and loving. Through the grace of God, He reconciled us to Himself.

“The joy of the Lord is our strength”. This strength means God’s grace. In times when we are weak and frail, God’s grace will strengthen us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38). When we first and foremost put God first in our life, and love Him, we will experience radiating joy that comes only from Him.   

As children of God, we have the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Even in trying and difficult times, we can experience the joy of God because of His grace and His love that never leaves us or forsake us. God’s grace and love give us strength to face the day.   

“A Man of One Book”

Today we remember the legacy of our spiritual forefather, John Wesley, the man who started the Methodist movement. John Wesley became a missionary to America. Unfortunately, he failed in his mission trip and returned to England with a broken heart and discouraged spirit. He had all the head knowledge about God, but he did not experience God yet. 

On 24 May, 1738, John Wesley unwillingly attended worship at a Moravian ‘Religious Society’ meeting on Aldersgate Street in London. It was during this service that he felt his “heart strangely warmed”, as he experienced God’s love in a most personal way. Until then he had only known God in his mind, but not in his heart. Now he understood the value of a personal experience of God that would bring assurance of salvation to the believer.

And this changed his life and his ministry.

As a result of this change in his heart, John Wesley said he wanted to be “a man of one book”. He said, “Let me be a man of one book”. He wrote about it in the preface of his book, “Sermon on Several Occasions” (1746-60).

He wrote, “I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore.

God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.

John Wesley graduated from the Oxford University and was a lecturer. He had impressive knowledge, yet, out of all these books and knowledge, he said, the Bible was the most valuable and precious.

John Wesley truly believes that the Bible is the revelation of God. Bible is the infallible Word of God. Bible is precious. The Bible helps us to understand about the way to eternal life and how we should live our lives on this earth. That’s why he so confidently said, “Let me be a man of one book”.

This book—the Bible, has become the compass in the way he lived his life, and it sets the standard for him in serving God and the community. It was his guideline and moral compass.

John Wesley put an emphasis on God’s Word in his life and ministry. He had this strong desire for God’s Word.

Do you desire God’s Word? Is God’s Word the guide and compass in your daily life?

Do you spend time reading God’s Word?

Apostle Paul also recognised the importance of God’s Word. In his last pastoral letter to Timothy, Apostle Paul mentioned the importance of the Bible.

Paul wrote:

  • Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (verse 15)

Reading the Bible once in a life time is not enough. There is no such thing as know it all when it comes to reading the Bible. It is not like a text book for a subject, you only need it may be only for one semester then you resell it to your juniors.

The Bible is also not a romance book, you only read it once, it made you feel good and after that you donate it. The Bible is not a book you borrowed from the library and never see it again after returning it back to the library.

It is a love letter from God to us, but as lovers in relationship, we will keep reading the letter because every time when we read the letter, we will feel the sweet feeling and that we feel loved. When someone you love sends you a letter or a SMS or WhatsApp, you will enjoy reading it again and again. Likewise, in our relationship with God, when we read the Bible, Our heart is warm by the love of God. 

The Bible is meant to be read daily.

Paul wrote to Timothy, “continue in what you have learned” (verse 14). Continue to learn more about the Bible. It is a journey. There is never an end to it until we die. We can’t learn everything about it in our lifetime.  

“Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of”.

Don’t let your fire die down for God’s Holy Word. Continue to guard your heart and guard your faith, because it is only through God’s Word that you will receive salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Apostle Paul also mentioned about Timothy learning the Bible from his mother and grandmother. Reading the Bible on our own in our quiet time with God is important. But don’t neglect from learning from someone. I have mentors and friends. We go for Bible seminars to deepen my understanding about the Bible. I listen to sermons from other guest speakers and talk about sermons with my friends. The church organizes a lot of Bible seminars for us to deepen our knowledge in the Bible. Always keep learning the Bible from reliable sources.

My parents had always been nurturing my sister and I spiritually. When I was young, my mum read Bible stories to me and my sister before bed when we were little children. It was always the favourite part of the day for me because I enjoyed the stories and the colours and pictures of the children Bible. Our parents sent us to Sunday school, we enjoyed the arts and crafts and the Bible stories. I praise the Lord for the spiritual legacy of my parents.

My maternal grandma lived to be a hundred years old. Despite her old age, she spent a lot of time in her room in prayers and reading the Bible. She prayed for each of her children and their families, her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She hunger for God’s Word so much that she continue to read the Bible despite failing eyes due to old age. I have this legacy and example to follow. At her funeral, my aunties, uncles and cousins were testifying what a woman of God grandma was. And we all strive to be like her, a woman of prayer and a woman of one book, the Bible.

My aunties and uncles from my mum’s side of the family are godly women and men. They inspired me so much by the way they live their lives and the way they love the people around them.  It was through these examples of godly parents and grandma, aunties and uncles that I became sure of my salvation. And they read their Bibles.

Let’s remember to read our Bibles. It is food for our souls.

  • Victorious living (verse 16-17)

There is a story about a man named. In just six months, Gerald’s life fell apart. An economic crisis destroyed his business and wealth, while a tragic accident took his son’s life. Overcome by shock, his mother had a heart attack and died, his wife went into depression, and his two young daughters remained inconsolable. All he could do was echo the words of the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).

The only thing that kept Gerald going was the hope that God, who raised Jesus to life, would one day deliver him and his family from their pain to an eternal life of joy. It was a hope that God would answer his desperate cries for help. In his despair, like the psalmist David, he determined to trust God in the midst of his suffering. He held on to the hope that God would deliver and save him (Psalm 22: 4–5).

That hope sustained Gerald. Over the years, whenever he was asked how he was, he could only say, “Well, I’m trusting God.”

What does God do with people who put their trust in Him? God certainly honored that trust. He gave Gerald the comfort, strength, and courage to keep going through the years. His family slowly recovered from the crisis, and soon Gerald welcomed the birth of his first grandchild. His lament is now a testimony of God’s faithfulness. “I’m no longer asking, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ but God has blessed me.”

When it seems there’s nothing left, there’s still hope.

The Bible is God-breath, it is the Word of God. There is power in God’s Word. It sustains us during difficult times.   

As in Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul also said that the Bible is the manual for victorious living.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that they servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (verses 16-17)

So that we will not end up like hot messes in our lives. God’s Word teaches us, rebuke us and correct us and train us to be righteous people, living lives which pleases God.

John Wesley gave us some practical ways to read the Bible.

In his book which was published in 1765, “Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament”, he wrote that reading the Bible should include these basics:

a. little time

You need to spend time to read the Bible. John Wesley said every morning and every evening, every day. You need to spend time to read the Bible. Make time in your schedule for Bible reading.

b. a chapter

John Wesley was saying read a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from New Testament. If you can’t do that, you can read a chapter.

c. a single eye

Read the Bible with a single eye means that we have to figure out what we can apply in our daily lives. After reading the chapter, what we should apply in our daily lives?

d. a constant eye

Have a constant eye to the analogy of faith: the original sin, justification by faith (because of faith, we are saved, and not because of good works), the new birth we have through Jesus Christ, Inward and Outward Holiness (emphasizing on Holy living).

e. pray

While we read the Bible, we pray. We pray for the Holy Spirit to give us understanding to understand the chapter. We also pray that God’s Word will be written in our hearts as we read.

f. pause

While we read, we also should pause and examine ourselves by what we read. Examine our hearts and lives. This will result in giving praise to God when He has guided us to a path of blessedness, or at certain parts, we identified with the sins mentioned in the Bible, we then ask God for forgiveness.

g. power

The Bible gives us power to live a victorious life. Like the examples of my grandma and also the story of Glenn, we see people living victorious life because they are people of one book, they love God more than anything else, and they were able to weather storms in their lives.

The Bible reading method I personally like to use is the ACTIONS.

A-adoration (praise God. Who God is in this passage?)

C-confession of sins (what are the sins this passage is talking about? Am I committing this sin? Confess it to God)

T-thanksgiving (according to this passage, what can I give thanks to God for?)

I-inspiring verses (which verse speaks to me the most?)

O-obedience (what is the one thing or things God is asking me to obey?)

N-now action (what is the action I have to take?)

S-share (share with others the new insights you have received from reading the Bible today)

I find that using ACTIONS is helpful in my personal Bible reading.

The Bible is a very powerful book. It is God’s Word. It has power. Let us not abandon or neglect it. It is God’s love letter to us, it is the teachings, source of wisdom and instructions for us while we are here on earth.

The Holy Spirit worked in the heart of our spiritual forefather, John Wesley. He then was remembered as “a man of one book”.

May the Holy Spirit inspire us to fall in love with Him and His Word. May God help us to follow the teachings of the Bible in our daily lives. May we treasure God’s Word and mediate on His word day and night. Let’s pray that we too, will be “men and women of one book”, and live victorious lives.

My responses on Dr Strange’s Multi-verse

Dr Strange is one of Marvel’s superheroes. In the past decade, Marvel has been rolling out movies for its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The first installment of Dr Strange was a part of Phase Three of the MCU.    

In the first movie, we join Dr Strange as he went through a series of crises. He was a skillful neurosurgeon. One eventful night, he got into a terrible car crash that disabled his 2 hands. Desperate to recover completely from the injury, he went to Nepal to seek for healing. It was during this trip that he met a group of sorcerers and was guided by the Ancient One to master spells and magic. He slowly regained his health and received his calling to be a sorcerer.  

I enjoyed the first movie. It was refreshing and the CGI was spectacular. The second movie explores traveling in “multiverse” (the existence of dozens of other universes). A character named America Chavez had the superpower to travel across these universes was introduced. She claimed there were other Dr Stranges in the multiverse. To prove her point, she showed Strange the corpse of another Strange from another universe.

This movie picks up from Disney Plus’ WandaVision whereby Wanda used dark magic to bring her deceased husband back to life. Wanda also used this dark magic to create a pair of twin boys: Billy and Tommy. This family of four was in a magical world; they do not exist in the real world. Wanda got obsessed with being with her family in this magical world that she would do whatever it takes to have her family with herm including harming others by using dark magic. Wanda knew America Chavez possessed the power to travel multiverse, and she would chase her through multiple universes to steal the power for herself. That was the only way she could be with her made-belief family.

Throughout this movie, Dr Strange and his companion, Wong, protected America from Wanda. There were entertaining scenes especially when Dr Strange traveled in different universes and how they had different rules compared to living on Earth.    

However, I was taken aback by how dark the movie was. This movie is rated PG-13 but it was filled with magic spells and sorcery and violent scenes of killing and jump scare scenes. You might not enjoy this movie if these are the things that you find disturbing. I saw little children in the cinema. I wonder if they got scared.

What does the Bible say about Multi-verses?

One of the major themes of this movie is the multi-verses. Every person in the universe has alter egos that exist in other universes, and it could be a few of them. The alter egos appear in your dreams. Marvel seems to be going with this direction with its latest movies. In 2018, there was “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” whereby there were different Peter Parkers, Spider-men and Spider-women all exist concurrently from different Spider-universes coming together to beat the bad guys. Multi-verses are a common themes in entertainment: movies, books and video games.  

Are there multiple universes? The number of universes wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. But the Bible tells us is that God created the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1:1). And God said it was good (Gen 1:25b). Everything God has created was good and pleasing in His sight. The universe was made so wonderfully by God. There are always new discoveries that we human beings noticed about the universe and our world every day, because this is how vast and great our universe is! Our simple human minds can not grasp the depth of God’s love and creativity!

One thing I know from the Bible is that there is only me in the universe. And I was created with much thought and love by God my creator.      

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

He loves us with an unconditional love. He sent His only Son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for us (John 3:16) so that we will not perish in sin and death. For us who believe, we will be with Him in His Kingdom someday.

Even if there are multiple universes, I know there is one of me that is wonderfully made by God and deeply loved by Him.

Loneliness and temptations

Another theme of this movie is about loneliness and the temptations in order to overcome it. In one of the opening scenes of the movie, Dr Strange was attending the wedding of his former love. Throughout the movie, as he traveled to multi universes, he would search for the other Christines, wanting to see if they had any success in other universes. 

As for Wanda, after losing her husband (who was sacrificed in Avengers: Infinity War, in their fight against Thanos), she was consumed with pain and loneliness. She succumbed to using dark magic to create a family of her own.

Both characters were lonely but they responded differently. Dr Strange was tempted to use dark spells so that he could have Christine in his life again. But he overcame this temptation.

Being lonely is a real issue that we all face from time to time. In times of loneliness, we will feel weak and it is easy to fall into temptations. Men and women of God are not exempted from loneliness. Prophet Elijah was lonely and depressed. Moses was lonely as he led the millions of Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land.  

Praise the Lord that Jesus Christ understands when we are lonely. He had gone through it Himself. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus Christ came into this world and into our lives to destroy loneliness. We are not truly alone because He is with us. 

What comfort is God’s Word to us: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

Horror elements

When my friend told me he had watched it and it was a scary movie, I doubted him. How could a Disney-Marvel be scary?

It really was! There were some scenes that were terrifying, for example: (1) half of Wanda’s face was covered in dried blood, (2) Dr Strange possesses a rotting corpse with half of its face rotted off, (3) demons were screaming and flying around when Dr Strange was performing his sorcery, (4) people with demonic eyes, (5) rituals of casting spells and the chanting of spells, (6) gore and violent killing scenes.   

I am a Marvel fan but was surprised it is heading to this dark path. If you are planning to watch it, I suggest not to watch it with young children because some scenes are scary and violent. The acting by the cast was superb (especially Wanda, played by Elizabeth Olsen), though the script/storyline was just ok. Basing on entertainment value, I will give it a 2.5 out of 5.