STARTING OVER

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! [Psalm 126:1-3 (NLT)]

along Stagecoach trailWhen the first group of exiles returned from Babylon, they rebuilt the altar and celebrated the Festival of Shelters. Seven months later, after laying a new foundation for the temple, the people again gathered for a celebration. Trumpets blew and cymbals clashed. They sang responsively with one chorus chanting, “He is so good!” and the other answering, “His faithful love endures forever!” In the midst of the crowd’s great shouts of praise, however, weeping could be heard.

Those shouts of praise were from the younger people: the ones who knew nothing of the glorious temple that Solomon had spared no expense in erecting. They’d never seen the doors and walls decorated with carvings of cherubim, flowers, and palm trees and completely overlaid with gold. They’d never walked on the porch or gazed up at the two 27-foot tall pillars of bronze topped by 7-feet chapiters decorated with lilies and pomegranates. For the younger people, the temple foundation was a beginning but, for those who’d seen the once magnificent temple, it was a painful reminder of all they’d lost.

50 years earlier, all of Jerusalem had been looted and destroyed. To those who’d seen the thriving city, splendid palace, and ornate temple, the smaller foundation in the middle of Jerusalem’s rubble was a poor substitute for what once was. David had amassed 1,000 times more money for the construction of Solomon’s temple than they had for this one and they knew it could never come close to matching the first. Standing in the midst of the city’s remains, they were disheartened. I imagine those returning to their homes along the Louisiana coastline after Hurricane Laura feel much the same way as they look at the devastation surrounding them.

In the years that followed, the Judeans encountered opposition to rebuilding the temple from their enemies. The real enemy, however, was their own discouragement and apathy. Sixteen years after they celebrated the temple’s foundation, God’s house still was unfinished while their own homes had been built (quite possibly with the lumber initially meant for the temple). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah called for the completion of God’s temple. The Lord’s message through Haggai was simple and direct: “Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.” [1:8] The people obeyed and, four years later, the second temple was dedicated.

I suppose we could call COVID-19 the “great detour” of 2020. It’s been our exile to Babylon and, while it hasn’t lasted decades, it sure feels that way. This year’s events certainly caught us off guard. Unless we were epidemiologists, most of us thought things would be back to normal by now. We now understand that, when this pandemic eventually is over, the world to which we return will not look the same. While it won’t be the wreckage of an uninhabited and destroyed Jerusalem and a vandalized and demolished temple, it will be vastly different from the one we left in March. Like the Judeans, we will have to rebuild and, like them, we will have to fight our greatest enemy: discouragement. Let us “Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” [Haggai 2:4b] Let us remember, “He is so good! His faithful love endures forever!”

Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. [Psalm 126:4-6 (NLT)]

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UNDETERRED (Part 3 – Mark 10:46-52)

Lots of people told him crossly to be quiet. But he shouted out all the louder, “Son of David – take pity on me!” [Mark 10:48 (NTE)]

hibiscusWhen Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, the crowd surrounding him kept telling him to be quiet. Not about to be deterred, the blind beggar just shouted louder. Another man in Jericho was as determined as Bartimaeus: the short and much disliked publican named Zacchaeus. When the little man couldn’t shove his way through to the front of the crowd to catch a glimpse of Jesus, he climbed up a tree (an extremely unseemly behavior for a man of his position).

There are many other stories of such dogged determination to see Jesus. In spite of the disciples reprimanding them for bothering Jesus with their children, some parents persevered in getting their little ones blessed by Him. We have the sinful woman who followed Jesus into a Pharisee’s house so that she could wash His feet with her tears and anoint them with her perfume. That she hadn’t been invited to dinner didn’t stop her from worshiping the Lord. In spite of trying to keep His whereabouts in Tyre a secret, a Syrophoenician woman doggedly tracked down Jesus. When she fell at His feet and pled for her daughter’s healing, the disciples urged Jesus to send her away. Refusing to leave, she even dared to debate with Jesus about her request (inappropriate behavior for a woman of any nationality)! The woman with the bleeding disorder was so intent on touching the rabbi’s cloak that she broke Jewish law and risked public humiliation and severe punishment to get to Him. Two blind men were so determined to see that they followed Jesus right into the house where He was staying. Consider the four friends who carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus only to find the doorway blocked. Unwilling to accept defeat, they cut a hole in the roof and lowered the man down to the Lord.

Bartimaeus and the rest of these people were not about to be deterred from coming into the presence of the Lord. Are we anywhere that resolute in worship, study, praise, and prayer? Would we fight our way through a crowd, climb a tree, refuse to leave, risk humiliation or punishment, go where we weren’t welcome, or cut a hole in someone’s roof? They did and their determination was rewarded. Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ plea, visited Zacchaeus, blessed the children, forgave the sinful woman, and healed the Gentile woman’s daughter, the bleeding woman, the blind men, and the paralyzed man.

While questioning our determination to be with Jesus, we also might ask ourselves if we might be like the ones who hinder or discourage people from coming to Christ. Are we like those who shushed the blind beggar, elbowed Zacchaeus, scolded the parents, wanted to send away the Syrophoenician woman, reminded the sinful woman she wasn’t welcome, shut the door, or blocked the entryway? Do we openly welcome the very people Jesus came to save: the socially unacceptable, weak, troubled, different, disenfranchised, vulnerable, and unclean? Let us be like those who, upon hearing Jesus’ call, said to Bartimaeus, “Cheer up. Come on,” and led the blind man to the Lord!

Then they too will answer, “Master, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t do anything for you?” Then he will answer them, “I’m telling you the truth: when you didn’t do it for one of the least significant of my brothers and sisters here, you didn’t do it for me.” [Matthew 25:44-45 (NTE)]

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RECIPE BASICS

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. [Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)]

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. [1 Samuel 15:22 (NLT)]

While creativity is encouraged in both cooking and prayer, there are certain procedures for both that should be followed to ensure good results. For example, before a cook even begins, his work surface, utensils, and hands should be clean. In prayer, instead of starting with clean bowls and spoons, we should wash ourselves of any resentment or anger and start with a forgiving heart.

Even the most creative chef knows there are some cooking rules that simply can’t be broken: egg yolks can’t get mixed in with whites in a meringue, fudge needs to be cooked only to the soft ball stage, and poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees. Prayer has rules, too. For example, a willing, obedient and thankful heart is a necessity. In addition, just as leavening of some kind must be added to any bread recipe, we must have faith in God and the power of our prayers. Without leavening, no matter how delicious the rest of the ingredients, the bread won’t rise. Without faith, no matter what we’ve said or how nicely we’ve said it, our prayers won’t rise to God’s ears!

Some recipes, like risotto, require patience and persistence in preparation and others, like a 20-pound turkey, take a long time to bake. We have to be patient and persistent in prayer as well. The answers to our petitions aren’t like instant potatoes—they often take time. Just as pans should be greased so baked goods won’t stick, we need to lubricate our prayers with a large amount of humility if we want them to come out easily. Any good chef knows to use only fresh wholesome ingredients. Self-righteousness and pride will spoil any prayer and are as vile to God as rancid nuts in granola.

Anyone who watches cooking competitions knows that presentation is judged. God however, doesn’t score our prayers on their aesthetic appeal and extra points aren’t awarded for fancy words as they might be for fondant flowers or a strawberry fan. If God judges our prayers at all, it would be on things like sincerity, motives, repentance, obedience and willingness to submit to His will!

Finally, a good chef doesn’t offend a gastronome with bland or tasteless food; he honors him with bold flavors. A true connoisseur of prayers, our God is awesome and capable of anything and everything. Let’s never insult Him with insipid or weak petitions. Like a gourmet chef, we must be bold with our offerings. When cooking in God’s kitchen, let’s give Him everything we’ve got!

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. [Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)]

He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” [Luke 18:27 (NLT)]

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THE ARTIST

And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand. [Isaiah 64:8 (NLT)]

What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, “Stop, you’re doing it wrong!” Does the pot exclaim, “How clumsy can you be?” [Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)]

horseSeveral years ago, while spending the winter in the mountains, our morning walk took us by an art gallery. We frequently stopped to chat with the owner, look at the latest acquisitions and watch the progress of a local sculptor who had set up shop in the gallery. Working in clay, he was crafting the model for what would eventually be a cast bronze sculpture. As the final shape began to emerge, the artist continued to tweak it with small changes, a little pinch here or a small adjustment there, each time making it a better representation of a cowboy and his string of horses. Envisioning the final product and assured that it was nearly ready for casting, my husband and I made a pre-cast purchase of the piece.

We returned to our Midwest home and waited for the bronze to be completed. Nearly a year later, the gallery informed us that the piece remained a work in progress. They offered us a refund and, impatient and unsure of ever seeing the completed work, we accepted. Two years later, we walked into another mountain gallery and saw the finished piece. While the original concept was still recognizable, the beautiful final product was different (and better) than what we’d expected (and we regretted our impatience).

Works of art rarely are created overnight; they require time and fine-tuning. God, like the unhurried sculptor, doesn’t rush as He works on us. Wanting a masterpiece, He isn’t going to complete us in a few months and the process of sanctification goes on for a lifetime. There is always something in us that needs some modification, even if it means a little squeezing, twisting or pulling one way or another. Just as my husband and I couldn’t visualize exactly how the completed sculpture would look, we’re never quite sure what it is God has in plan for us or how He is going to accomplish it.

Although we didn’t trust the sculptor’s skill, we must trust in God’s heavenly artistry as His expert hands do their holy work on us. While the artist eventually was satisfied enough to cast his work in bronze, God is never quite finished with us; we remain a work in progress until our very last day.

Let us be clay in His hands!

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. [Philippians 1:6 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

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CARKING CARE

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. [Psalm 55:22 (NLT)]

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers spanning from the sixteenth through the late nineteenth centuries. Having grown up with the King James Bible, its antiquated thees and thous along with verbs forms like wilt, didst, and makest don’t bother me. Their formality actually adds to the beauty and charm of the prayers. Although context usually explained outdated words like nethermost, subserve, and extenuations, I had to look up a few new words like peradventure.

Although I’d never seen the word carking, I immediately knew what the author meant when writing, “Deliver me from carking care…” Sounding like a crow’s unpleasant cry, the phrase “carking care” sounds as disagreeable as what it describes: oppressive worry!

The word cark comes from the Old North French carkier (to load, burden) from the Late Latin carcare (to load a wagon or cart). Carcare is also the source of the word cargo. In English, carking literally means putting on a load or burden and carking cares are concerns that have become burdensome. It’s as if we’ve loaded all of our worries into a wagon and are carting around that troubling cargo. Although we grow weary of the heavy burden, we continue carrying it in our hearts and souls.

Right now, I imagine we all have some major concerns. We fret about children who have missed out on school and family members who must fly, care for the sick, or meet the public in their jobs. We’re in another unpleasant season of politics and the media is filled with incidents of mask rage, protests, civil unrest, and financial woes. If we’re not out of work, we have friends or family who are. Loved ones remain isolated in retirement and nursing homes, bills are piling up, supply chains are broken, businesses are closing, and some people still haven’t gotten their unemployment checks. Vacations, weddings, reunions and even memorial services have been put on indefinite hold, no one knows how schools will function safely, and the COVID dashboards seem to have nothing but bad news. Here in Florida, with hurricane season upon us, we also have the dubious honor of being called the “epicenter” of the latest coronavirus surge. We find ourselves weighing the risks before having a repair man in the house, getting carry-out, or venturing out to the beach or grocery. We’re moving into our fifth month of this pandemic and, with no end in sight, people everywhere are feeling assaulted on all sides. Regardless of their faith, I doubt that anyone feels completely free of cares.

Living in a fallen world, we always will have troubles and concerns. The good news is that they don’t have to be carking ones—we don’t have to carry that cart of cares because God will carry them for us. For that to happen, however, we have to unload our wagon of cares and give them to God through prayer. John Calvin wrote of believers relieving “themselves of their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom…that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.” As we pour our concerns into God’s bosom, let us join with the anonymous writer in his prayer: “Deliver me from carking care, and make me a happy holy person….Teach me to laud, adore, and magnify thee, with the music of heaven, And make me a perfume of praiseful gratitude to thee.”

Perhaps what our Father would have us learn is that worry is not for Him to take away, but for us to give up. [Kathy Herman]

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)]

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. [Romans 8:38 (NLT)]

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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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