Have you ever gotten a fresh start after a big failure or time of trouble?
One of the ministries I enjoy working with in my church is called Celebrate Recovery. We help people recover from hurts, habits and hangups. The stories I hear of people who have found new life after being messed up encourages my heart and inspires me to keep trusting Christ for changes in my life.
A man recently gave a personal testimony of living on the streets of San Francisco for 20 years, supporting a $200-a-day meth habit through stealing bikes, breaking into cars and selling drugs. He finally broke free and got sober through a program at the Salvation Army in Stockton.
As several churches in town continue on our journey through the Bible in what is called "The Story," we come this week to a new beginning for the people of Judah. They had been delivered over to exile in Babylonia for their idolatry, rebellion, violence and oppression. Now a new king in a new empire, the Persians, was sending them back to the land to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem and renew their national existence.
How excited they were. Psalm 127:1 expresses their joy: "When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed." They could hardly believe that this was real.
But new beginnings do not mean that life is now smooth and easy. Sometimes, we idealize the new beginning to such an extent that we open ourselves up to disappointment when the reality hits.
This happens to many who get married. Things start out with a romantic notion of "happily ever after," only to find that that spouse has some bad moods and strange habits that you had not noticed before marrying.
Often the person recovering from some kind of addiction or destructive habit expects life to now flow smoothly. He is caught off guard when he faces times of depression or loneliness or boredom.
The people of Judah had expected the return to the land to mean that God would make everything smooth for them. They were caught off guard when their neighbors opposed the rebuilding of the temple. They did not want Judah to become strong again and throw off the balance of power in their territory. So the people of God slowly pushed their zeal for God into the back corner.
The problems and the opposition they were facing made them feel that God was not really taking care of them, so they let the rebuilding of the temple slide and concentrated instead on making their own homes nice. God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to tell them, "I am with you, declares the Lord."
If your new beginning has not been so rosy for you, maybe you need to hear the same words this week: "I am with you, declares the Lord."
Steve Newman is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lodi.