ATTENDING TO THE PRESENT

dawnYet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

C.S. Lewis’ religious satire The Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters written by the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of acquiring the soul of a young man. Screwtape’s suggestions of ways to cause the fellow’s damnation could be described as a self-help book in reverse. As the diabolical demon advises Wormwood in methods of temptation, the reader learns Satan’s assorted strategies and ruses and what not to let happen. While walking the other morning, I thought of Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood regarding the young man’s focus of attention.

To beat the heat of Southwest Florida, I start my walk while it still is dark. When crossing one of our bridges, the previous night’s full moon was on my left and the coming day’s sunrise on the right. Caught between the day that was and the day yet to come, I thought of Screwtape’s words that God prefers man to be concerned with either the present or eternity rather than yesterday or tomorrow. When in the moment, he is “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, [or] giving thanks for the present pleasure.”  When considering eternity, he is meditating on God. Wanting neither of those things, Screwtape advises Wormwood to get the young man to live in the frozen past or the unknown future.

Of the two methods, Screwtape prefers getting him to live in the future: either in perpetual anticipation of the rainbow’s end or in constant fear of the horrors tomorrow may bring. Clarifying his point about the future, Screwtape explains that God expects man to make plans but planning for tomorrow’s work actually is today’s duty. God, however, doesn’t want man to place his expectations in the future. Naïve optimism and unrealistic expectations inevitably end in disappointment while anxiety and distress rob the present of joy. Unlike God, the demons want man to be “hagridden by the future” and so obsessed by images of either a surefire windfall or a pending catastrophe that he will be willing to do anything to attain his pipe dream or prevent the disaster. If there ever were a time we’re tempted to live in a pre-pandemic yesterday, ignore reality and view tomorrow with rose-colored glasses, or be so fearful of the future we can’t face it, that time is now. When we focus on yesterday or tomorrow, we’re playing right into our enemy’s hands.

Standing on the bridge, I knew God wanted me to attend to the present—to leave yesterday behind and accept with faith what tomorrow brings. As I walked forward, however, I remembered that He also wants me to attend to eternity—to look beyond time to Him: the Eternal One who holds yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity in His loving hands.

God has set Eternity in our heart, and man’s infinite capacity cannot be filled or satisfied with the things of time and sense. [F.B. Meyer]

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:31-34 (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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PROTECT THEM, LORD

I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. [Psalm 18:1-3 (NLT)]

mockingbird chick

Back when parks were open and the world seemed a safer place, we witnessed a parent’s nightmare. While the father was changing his toddler’s diaper, his four-year old daughter wandered away and disappeared in the zoo! We saw him frantically asking people, “Did you see a little girl in a pink bike helmet?” As he went racing down the path toward the alligators and lions, we went toward the lemurs and play area. Fortunately that pink helmet made her easy to spot as she stood watching the black bears lumber through their enclosure. While walking her back to her father, I said a prayer of thanksgiving that she would return safely home that day.

I thought of that anxious father the following day when reading Pearls Before Swine, a comic drawn by Stephan Pastis. Goat was extending sympathy to Pig for his grandma’s death when Pig carried him off. In the next few frames, Pig carted off his friends Duck and Cat. All of Pig’s friends were stuffed in a box labeled “Bad things stay away!” A sign above them read, “SAFE PLACE WHERE I CAN KEEP AN EYE ON EVERYONE I LOVE SO NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN TO THEM.” In the last frame, Goat tried to explain that life doesn’t work that way but Pig said, “Don’t distract me. I’m standing guard.”

Like Pig, I wish I could keep bad things from happening to those I love. Of course, if parents and grandparents could, we’d erect a wall of protection around our loved ones to shield them, not just from death, but also from pandemics, heartache, injury, disappointment, and pain.

It would be a miracle if the worst that happens to that little girl is getting lost at the zoo. While her pink bike helmet may protect her when she falls off her trike, it’s of little use elsewhere! We live in a fallen world: a world with disease, defiance, pain, sorrow, falseness, mistakes, greed, betrayal, loss, violence, malice, and death. Chances are that our children and grands will wander further astray than to the bears’ enclosure at the local zoo.

We protect our gates, are cautious of what we allow into our homes, wear masks, sanitize, wash our hands, and stay alert to the dangers around us but what about when our loved ones leave home to lead their own lives? Unlike Pig, we can’t stuff those we love in a box and stand guard over them night and day. Instead, we teach, encourage, warn, guide, lead, love, discipline, forgive, pray, equip them, and then let them go. Although we provide them with God’s armor, we can’t make them accept or wear it. Sadly, there is no fool-proof way to protect our loved ones from Columbines or Sandy Hooks any more than we can from pandemics, disappointment, grief, cancer, mental illness, rejection, failure, or death.

I used to ask God to be with my children and grands until I realized how silly my request was; He’s with them always! I now ask God to guard them from evil by making His presence known to them and His voice heard by them. As I pray God’s blessing of protection over my loved ones, I give them to Him, trusting that He will bring them safely home, if not in this world, then in the next!

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love. [Psalm 5:11-12 (NLT)]

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FOLLOW ME

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. [Luke 9:23 (NLT)]

steamboat springs ski areaIt’s been five years since I’ve skied but I still remember that the three scariest words I ever heard when on the slopes were, “Follow me, Nonnie!” My grands loved to venture off the groomed runs into the bumps and through the woods. On my own, I never would have chosen to leave the main trail but, because I loved those little guys, I faithfully followed behind as they maneuvered between the trees and over the moguls.

Although my grands boogied joyfully off trail, I was far more hesitant. The children’s perspective was far different than mine. As they snaked through the trees, they saw the openings between them but my tendency was to focus on the pines blocking my path rather than the gaps between them. Seeing the moguls as fun friends rather than evil enemies, my grands stayed relaxed and loose and absorbed the bumps they encountered. On the other hand, seeing the moguls as adversaries, I stiffened in anticipation of trouble. Moreover, the little guys weren’t afraid of falling and, when they did, they just laughed, picked themselves up, and continued downhill. Although I rarely fell, my mind was filled with all the “what ifs” of falling: embarrassment, injury, or worse!

Life is a lot like skiing off trail into the heavy powder, bumps and trees. We can choose to see the difficulties in front of us rather than notice ways to get beyond them. If we keep our eyes focused on God, He’ll show us the way through, between or around the obstacles of life. Instead of stiffening up when we see the bumpy challenges ahead, we can choose to remain flexible and ready to absorb the impact when jolted around by life. When we trust God, He’ll give us the strength and ability to get through the moguls on life’s trail. We can be afraid of falling, humiliation or failure, or accept that missteps, disappointment, and loss are part of life. Resting secure in God’s love when we follow His ways, we won’t be afraid of crashing.

If I hadn’t followed my grands when they called, I would have missed some of the best times I’ve had with them. Enduring moguls, sore knees and occasional face plants in the snow were worth it. Our Heavenly Father has more in store for us than some thrills while skiing off trail. We certainly don’t want to miss all that He has to offer simply because we’re afraid of a few bumps and tumbles! Trust Him; He’s got a great plan. Just be sure to follow Jesus when he calls. Like skiing with the grands, it will be worth it when you do!

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27 (NLT)]

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YES!

You see, my dear family, we don’t want to keep you in the dark about the suffering we went through in Asia. The load we had to carry was far too heavy for us; it got to the point where we gave up on life itself. Yes: deep inside ourselves we received the death sentence. This was to stop us relying on ourselves, and to make us rely on the God who raises the dead. He rescued us from such a great and deadly peril, and he’ll do it again; we have placed our hope in him, that he’ll do it again! [2 Corinthians 1:8-11 (NTE)]

blue flag irisI know I’m not invulnerable but I never thought of myself as particularly vulnerable until now. Since I am well over 65, I am officially vulnerable to COVID-19, as is my husband; that knowledge, along with the terrible toll being taken by this pandemic, has put me on edge. Knowing that it is just a matter of time before someone I love is taken down by this virus has unnerved me. That my prayer list is lengthening by the day doesn’t make it any easier. Before this, I rarely had been apprehensive about my health or that of my family, uneasy about our finances, or concerned about the family business. I’ve endured my share of trials, sorrow, illness, and uncertainty but this combination of circumstances is the “perfect storm” that has shaken me to my core.

As I prayed reassuring Bible verses this morning, I realized how much easier it is to talk the talk than actually walk the walk. I wondered if the Apostle Paul ever was shaken by circumstances. Throughout his ministry, he suffered trials and persecution. He was stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, betrayed, and abandoned and yet it seems as if God’s abundant grace sustained him throughout his life. In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells of a time he felt unbearably crushed by circumstances, so much so that he thought he’d die. As he came to realize his powerlessness, however, he stopped relying on himself and came to trust and depend on God. Delivered by God from whatever the trial was, Paul boldly stated that God would deliver him again.

Jumping ahead another ten years, however, we find Paul in a Roman prison. A few years earlier, he’d been released from his first Roman imprisonment (a house arrest) but now he was sitting in Rome’s Mamertine dungeon. Although he’d escaped a death sentence at his preliminary hearing, he fully expected to be found guilty at his final trial. Knowing his execution was imminent, there was no bold statement that God would deliver him. Nevertheless, in 2 Timothy, we don’t read the words of a man who is afraid or anxious; they are the words of a man who trusts God and lives by faith rather than sight. They are the words of a man who is calmly facing his future, whatever that may be, with confidence that God will bring him safely into His kingdom.

Rather than saying, “No!” to God, we see Paul saying an enthusiastic “Yes!” to all that will happen, whatever that may be. Like Paul, we must learn to rely solely on God and release our fears and anxiety to Him. To really do that, however, we also have to release our future – our hopes and dreams – to Him, as well. Let us trust in God: that He will give us the strength to endure whatever the future holds and that, in the end, He will bring us safely into His kingdom!

How to get through this? My prayer will be the words of former U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld: “For all that has been, Thanks. To all that shall be, Yes.”

For I am already being poured out as a drink-offering; my departure time has arrived. I have fought the good fight; I have completed the course; I have kept the faith. What do I still have to look for? The crown of righteousness! The Lord, the righteous judge, will give it to me as my reward on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. … The Lord will snatch me clear from every wicked deed and will save me for his heavenly kingdom. Glory to him for the ages of ages, Amen! [2 Timothy 4:6-8,18 (NTE)]

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DESPERATE TIMES (Mark 5:21-43 – Part 1)

When he saw Jesus, he fell to his knees, beside himself as he begged, “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.” [Mark 5:23 (MSG)]

mottled duclJairus, the leader of the local synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet. Telling Jesus his daughter was dying, Jairus begged Him to lay hands on her so she could be healed. Jesus went with him but, when He stopped to heal the woman with a blood disorder, news arrived that the girl was dead. Telling the distraught father not to be afraid and to keep believing, Jesus and Jairus continued on their way. Jairus had believed Jesus could heal his daughter; did he also believe Jesus could do something about her death?

A noisy crowd of friends and professional mourners had already gathered at Jairus’ home by the time the men arrived. When Jesus told them the child was sleeping and not dead, they scornfully laughed at Him. After clearing the room of all but her parents and three disciples, Jesus took the child’s hand in His and restored her to life. Astonishing everyone, the girl immediately rose and walked around!

As the synagogue leader, Jairus was one of the most powerful men in the community. Although a layman, he was responsible for the upkeep of the synagogue, ran the school, determined who would lead prayers and read Scripture in services, and probably had close ties to the Pharisees. Almost certainly, he was at the synagogue when Jesus restored a man’s hand on the Sabbath. Had he been one of those planning to accuse Jesus of working on the Sabbath? Until his daughter became ill, was he among those plotting against Jesus? It’s said that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and Jairus was desperate.

Sickness disrupts life in a way little else can; it can make us desperate. It made the woman with the blood disorder spend every shekel she had in search of a cure and then break Jewish law by touching Jesus’ robe. It made four men so determined they carried their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. When they couldn’t get in the door, they carted him up to the roof, dug through the tiles and ceiling, and lowered him down to into the house. That a respected and powerful upper class Jew would risk his reputation by falling to his knees before an itinerant rabbi who challenged the Pharisees and threatened the status quo, tells us how desperate Jairus was.

In a letter to a friend, C.S. Lewis wrote of “the necessity…which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted [because] so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.” Ours is not a “fair-weather” God, only there in good times, but often we seem to be “foul-weather” followers who only call on Him in stormy ones. God is with us in sunshine and thunderstorms and we should be desperate for Him in both.

Even though Jesus told Jairus not to tell anyone what had happened, didn’t he want to shout it from the rooftops? Perhaps not, since that would put him at odds with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Did Jairus become a faithful follower of Christ or, once he’d gotten what he wanted from Jesus, did his belief turn to skepticism? Did Jairus join with the Pharisees in plotting against the very one who saved his daughter? I’d like to think that having seeing Jesus resurrect his daughter, he believed Jesus was the Messiah and was one of the 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1. Since we never read of Jairus again, we can only wonder.

What about us? Are we desperate for a momentary rescue or a long-term relationship? Do we seek a miracle or a Messiah? Do we want to feed our stomachs or our souls?

Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. [John 6:26 (MSG)]

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