PATIENT ENDURANCE

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. [Hebrews 10:36 (NLT)]

giesbach falls - switzerlandWhile France was in lockdown because of COVID-19, French marathon runner Elisha Nochomovitz ran a solo marathon on his 26-foot apartment balcony. Having to make around 3,000 laps meant Nochomovitz was unable to get momentum or gain any speed before he had to turn around again. Finding it harder than any other race he’d run, it took the runner six hours and 48 minutes (more than double his usual time) to complete the 26.2 miles. Struggling with self-doubt, he imagined an open window through which someone was telling him he couldn’t finish. Rather than listen, however, he closed that window. “In the end,” said the runner, “it’s only about the mind!” Nochomovitz showed endurance!

The book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians some time before 70 AD. Although they’d successfully weathered previous adversity, including public ridicule, beatings, seizure of their property and even imprisonment, they seemed to be facing another wave of even more severe persecution. Beginning to lose heart, the Hebrews were listening to their minds’ voices shouting from the windows and telling them to quit and these early believers were contemplating leaving the Messiah Jesus and returning to Judaism.

Two weeks after Elisha Nochomovitz ran that balcony marathon, he ran another one. The endurance and confidence developed in his first run helped him in the next and, in spite of adding five miles to its length, he cut his time by two hours. Instead of listening to the inner voice of discouragement, Nochomovitz heard his neighbors cheering him on from their balconies.

After warning the uncertain Hebrews that turning their back on Jesus came dangerously close to apostasy, the letter’s writer told them that, “We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.” [10:39] Reminding his readers of the endurance they’d developed during their first trials, he gave them a rundown of more than a dozen examples of faith from the Hebrew Scriptures. After holding up Jesus as the prime example of faithful endurance, the writer assured them of a cheering section of Biblical heroes whose lives proved that perseverance and endurance in a believer are doable!

The Christian life is more like a marathon than a short sprint and every challenge is an opportunity to increase our endurance. When we hear the voices of discouragement, doubt or fear, like Nochomovitz, we must shut the window on them. Let us look instead to the examples of those who’ve gone before us and hear the witnesses of faith cheering us forward to finish the race!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. [Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)]

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GIVE PEACE A CHANCE

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. [Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)]

mourning doveIn 2 Samuel 20, we find the story of the “wise woman from Able.” Even though David and his men had suppressed Absalom’s revolt, hostility remained between the people of Judah (David’s tribe) and the ten northern tribes of Israel. When a “troublemaker” named Sheba led the men of Israel in rebellion, Joab and an army of Judeans pursued him. After Sheba’s men found refuge in the town of Abel, Joab’s forces raised a siege ramp against the ramparts of the city and began to batter its walls. Knowing the city and all of its inhabitants would be destroyed once the walls were breached, a “wise woman” came to the wall and asked to speak with Joab. After reminding him that her city was famous for the wisdom of its inhabitants, she assured him of their loyalty and inquired what it was he wanted. Telling her that all he wanted was Sheba, the woman struck a bargain with him and traded the life of Sheba for the safety of the city. After she convinced the town to turn over the rebel leader, his dismembered head was thrown over the city wall, Joab and his army withdrew, and the city was safe.

Like many Old Testament accounts, this story is gruesome, but that shouldn’t keep us from its lesson. With famine, disease, destruction, and death threatening the besieged city, Able’s men wouldn’t stand idly by while their walls were under attack and some of Joab’s troops surely would fall before they conquered the city. When it comes to war, while one side eventually may lay claim to victory, no one ever wins. Instead of coming to the city wall armed with weapons as did Joab, the wise woman of Able came armed with reason. Simply by saying, “Let’s talk!” she discovered what he wanted, determined a solution, and saved lives on both sides of that wall.

It was this nameless woman who defused the situation but that’s what Joab should have done. When God gave the Israelites all those laws in Deuteronomy, He gave them some about warfare and, before attacking a city, they were to offer the inhabitants terms for peace. [20:10] Joab, however, immediately launched an attack (but we know from the rest of Joab’s story that he was a man of treachery and not of God). Wisdom, however, comes from the Lord and the wise woman of Able knew God and His word!

Unlike Joab, we’re not likely to be chasing a rebel army and, unlike this unnamed woman, we probably won’t need to save an entire city from death and destruction, but consider what might happen if we always sought peace before conflict? What if, the next time we’re in a disagreement or dispute, we were more interested in resolution than victory? Instead of trying to change someone else’s mind, what if we opened ours? What if we discussed rather than disparaged and negotiated rather than litigated? Instead of insisting we’re right, what if we tried to reconcile our differences? What would happen if we said, “Let’s talk!” and then really listened? What if we asked, “What can I do to make this right?” and then did it?

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

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A LONG SABBATH 

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen. “Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!” [Luke 10:40 (NTE)]

madagasgar periwinkleNo one has remained untouched by the trials and misfortune of this challenging year. That’s why my friend admitted feeling uncomfortable when acknowledging that she’s come to enjoy the downtime and slow pace of sheltering in place and social distancing. I had to agree with her. You see, pre-pandemic, we’d been more like Martha than Mary and our lives were filled with activities and obligations. I never seemed to have quite enough time and often felt overwhelmed by obligations. In an odd way, we both feel blessed by the slower pace of this quieter time.

When Jesus came to dinner, Martha was honored to host the famous rabbi. Fulfilling cultural expectations, she busied herself with her domestic duties. Wanting to impress her guests, she probably did whatever the 1st century equivalent was of setting the table with the finest tablecloth, Lenox china, sterling silver, Waterford goblets, flower centerpiece, and candles while preparing a four course gourmet dinner and baking a triple berry pie from scratch. Breaching society’s expectations, however, her sister Mary sat with the men at the feet of Jesus.

Translated as distracted or frantic, the Greek word used to describe Martha’s state of mind is periespato. Meaning drawn away, it indicates being pulled in different directions at once, just as a hostess is when she’s got meat on the grill, rolls in the oven, a pot boiling on the stove, water glasses to fill, and guests in the living room! Not knowing which way to turn and thinking Mary was the solution, Martha complained to Jesus. When He told her only one thing mattered, He may have meant one simple dish was all the men needed. It’s more likely that He meant spending time in His presence was the important thing, which was what Mary was doing. While busy Martha was working to feed Jesus, contemplative Mary was feeding on His words.

Life has taken on a simpler shape during this pandemic and I’ve learned that activity doesn’t necessarily mean accomplishment. Like Martha, I’d become distracted while trying to serve the Lord. Now, with my calendar cleared of concerts, plays, date nights, guests, fund raisers, lectures, assorted appointments, classes, tours, and get-togethers, I’m taking the time to be like Mary: to be with Jesus at His feet.

On the seventh day of creation, God rested from His work, blessed the day and made it holy. When He gave us the Sabbath, it was to be a day of rest, refreshment, and recuperation dedicated to the Lord. Sheltering in place is like a very long Sabbath. Requiring us to depend on God’s provision, it affords us a beautiful opportunity to step out of our normal routine and into God’s presence. Let us all make the most of this extended Sabbath. May it become a blessed opportunity to become less like Martha and more like Mary.

“Martha, Martha,” he replied, “you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42 (NTE)]

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THE RAINBOW

chicago rainbowI will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. [Genesis 8:21-22 (NLT)]

Tears are the material out of which heaven weaves its brightest rainbow. [F.B. Meyer]

With everyone stuck inside because of the rain, the day had been challenging as my son and his wife tried to get in eight hours of Zoom meetings, conference calls, report writing and computer programming while keeping their two youngsters busy (and relatively quiet). The rain finally stopped shortly before dusk and, when my grand ran out onto the rooftop deck to celebrate her freedom, she stopped in amazement. There, above the city, a city plagued not just by COVID-19 but also by gang violence, shootings, racism, rioting, and poverty, was a beautiful ray of hope: a double rainbow.

Rainbows are among my favorite things. The glory of the Lord “looked like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day,” to Ezekiel and John described the Lord’s glory circling Him like a rainbow and glowing like an emerald in Revelation. The rainbow shows us God’s light in the darkness of our troubled world and is probably the closest thing we have to seeing His radiance while we’re on this side of the grass.

Scripture’s first mention of a rainbow is in Genesis 9. Once the floodwaters had receded and the earth was dry enough, God told Noah to leave the ark and release all of the animals. Even though God knew mankind’s heart was still inclined toward evil, He gave us another chance with His promises to never again destroy every living thing by flood and that the normal cycles of nature would continue as long as the earth existed. The rainbow provided Noah and future generations with a sign of God’s covenant.

After a rain storm, with its clouds, thunder, and lightning, we frequently are blessed with a rainbow: a beautiful reminder of God’s love, mercy and faithfulness. It reminds us of both God’s grace and our sinfulness; after all, it was mankind’s sin that caused the flood in the first place! Rather than saving us by putting us on an ark of cypress wood, God saved us by putting Jesus on a cross. The rainbow reminds us of our redemption and salvation; because of Jesus, we have an opportunity for a new beginning. God packed a whole lot of supernatural meaning into a natural phenomenon when He hung the rainbow in the sky!

Before Noah and his family left that ark, they’d been in close quarters with one another and all of those animals for a year. If we think sheltering in place is challenging, imagine doing it with four families and an enormous menagerie but without the internet, Amazon, Netflix or Door Dash. Today’s bad news, like rain, keeps showering down and we’re in a season that seems to have no end. The storm clouds of life can obscure God’s presence but, when we remember that He is in the storm with us, we might just see a rainbow! Like my grand, I love seeing rainbows; they remind me that God is faithful to His promises for “all generations to come.”

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow. [G.K. Chesterton]

I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. [Genesis 9:12-15 (NLT)]

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IT’S NOT FOUND UNDER THE SUN

I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. … So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. [Ecclesiastes 1:14, 2:17 (NLT)]

queen butterfly

The story is told of a great king who ruled a large prosperous kingdom. Rich, powerful and considered wise, he lived in a splendid castle, was attended to by many servants, and surrounded by nobles and beautiful women. Lacking nothing, he drank only the most exquisite wine and ate only the most delectable food. The king, however, never felt content. Even though he kept his servants busy searching for more gorgeous flowers for his garden, better chefs for his kitchen, finer tailors for his robes, faster horses for his stable, and larger rubies for his crown, true happiness and peace escaped him.

Despairing of ever feeling content, the king finally sent his servants in search of the happiest man in the kingdom whose coat they were to bring back to the castle. The discontented monarch was sure that, by possessing the coat of that happy man, he finally would find peace and contentment. Although the royal servants searched high and low, they returned empty-handed to the king. When he asked why they couldn’t find the happiest man, one servant hesitantly admitted to finding him. When the angry king demanded, “Then why didn’t you bring me his coat?” the servant meekly replied, “Because he has no coat!”

Although God gave Solomon the gift of wisdom early in his kingship, that wisdom didn’t prevent him from ignoring the advice of his father (David), making poor choices, filling his life with worldly goods, and disobeying God. Like burn ointment or hand sanitizer, even Solomon’s wisdom was useless when not applied! Filled with regret at the end of his life, Solomon used the word “meaningless” at least forty times in Ecclesiastes. With its message, Solomon wanted to spare future generations the bitter lesson that life only lived “under the sun” is meaningless and empty; the meaning of life cannot be found apart from God.

If the king in my story had read Ecclesiastes, he would have known that security, contentment, and happiness will never be found by wearing the coat of a happy man. They can’t be found in wealth like Solomon’s, possessions, achievements, learning, power or pleasure. The last chapter of Ecclesiastes, however, tells us how they can be found: by seeking our fulfillment “above the sun” in God. We don’t need the wisdom of Solomon to know that true contentment, peace and even joy can be found only in a relationship with God.

We must learn to live on the heavenly side and look at things from above. To contemplate all things as God sees them, as Christ beholds them, overcomes sin, defies Satan, dissolves perplexities, lifts us above trials, separates us from the world and conquers fear of death. [A.B. Simpson]

Remember your Creator now while you are young, before the cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. … Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. [Ecclesiastes 12:6a,13 (NLT)]

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HE “HAD” TO GO THAT WAY (John 4:1-42 – Part 2)

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. [Colossians 3:11 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronJerusalem and Samaria may only have been about 40 miles apart but centuries of hostility separated them. Both politics and religion alienated the Jews from the Samaritans—much as they did Catholics from Protestants in Northern Ireland during the violence plagued decades of The Troubles. Because of the enmity between the people, even though the shortest path from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria, most Jews detoured east to avoid Samaria entirely. John 4:4, however, tells us that Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria. The word used was edei meaning “it was necessary.” Why?

We certainly know Jesus didn’t take that shortcut through Samaria because He was in a hurry. After meeting the woman at Jacob’s well, He lingered there for two more days. It would seem that route was necessary because Jesus and the disciples had a divine appointment in the Samaritan village of Sychar. The appointment wasn’t just with the woman but also with the townspeople who would hear His message and come to believe.

While Jesus rested at the well, the disciples went into town to buy food. Because the gospels aren’t in chronological order, we don’t know if this happened before or after another Samaritan village had spurned the disciples and James and John had suggested raining fire upon it. [Luke 9:53] This time, however, the Samaritans welcomed them. After the disciples successfully obtained food, the village begged Jesus and His men to stay. That divine appointment clearly prepared the disciples for the command Jesus later gave at His ascension: “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” [Acts 1:8] Did that divine appointment also include a valuable lesson about not judging an entire people by the bad actions of a few?

Whether it’s because of politics, history, language, race, religion, ethnicity, past grievances, or simply because we don’t know them, we tend to dislike people who are different from us. Thinking in terms of “them” and “us” we define others by our differences. Perhaps it’s time to start with our similarities: we all are children of God! We’re told to love our enemies but how can we do that if we don’t know them?  Animosity begins someplace but, then again, so does relationship. Maybe we’ll find “they” aren’t our enemies at all!

The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend. [F.F. Bruce]

But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. [Luke 6:27-31 (NLT)]

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