Welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you stopped by. I happen to be one of those people who lives to eat, and the only thing I love more than eating is hanging out with my family and friends. Grab a cup of coffee and sit down to my daily devotion. I can't wait to tell you what's on my mind today....

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jump for Joy!

I have, in my childhood photo album, a picture of me with a plastic guitar and a gigantic smile.  Directly behind me, my father has a small piece of plywood on which he is cleaning frog legs.  No lie.  I must confess, since I was a little child, I have loved frog legs.  In fact, in recent years, a good friend has ordered them for me in a restaurant in a tiny town in Virginia.  Yep.  I still love them.  Some people make the infamous claim, "Tastes like chicken," but I find this claim to be, yet again, ridiculous.  The only thing that tastes like chicken is chicken.  Frog legs taste like frog legs.  They are good and light in flavor and, oh, so tiny!  They would make the most perfect finger food at a fancy event because they are protein, and they don't require dishes or forks.

When I was in high school, we dissected frogs.  It was what we did back then.  But my Biology teacher went a bit further and gave us all frying pans.  We held them over our burners and put frog legs in them.  Something interesting happened: the frog legs would jump!  I didn't ask too many questions, but I assume that those particular legs were not more than 30 minutes or so away from their previous owners.  Whatever the case, the fact remained: the legs that had been dead seemed suddenly to come alive. 

Sometimes I feel like a frog leg, separated from a body that gives life.  I feel like I don't have the power to withstand another day.  Maybe I have something that can give sustenance to another, but I don't feel like I, myself, am receiving life.  If I don't find the remedy quickly, I almost always find that my body becomes tired and weak. 

Currently, I am ministering to a lady who is weak in her body.  She cannot find rest at night, and her physicians have heavily medicated her to the point where she is in a fog throughout the day.  She is becoming more and more separated from the people and things around her.  It looks like she is moving away from her source of life.  A difficult spiritual situation has rendered her body nearly immobile.  I know it's almost irreverent, but I keep thinking about the frog legs, and Bible verse comes to mind. "If that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, He will quicken your mortal body!"

God's Spirit is powerful.  He dwells in us!  If we only could grasp the weight of this concept!  The very presence of the God who created the heavens and the earth dwells in us.  How beautiful!  How amazing!  The presence of God is powerful, and He not only touches our spirits but our very bodies, as well.  We cannot regard this too lightly.  We should rely completely on the all-sufficient presence of the Lord.

I am praying for my sweet friend.  Her son is with her now, and he is not a Christian.  I am praying that God would do a miraculous and swift work in her life so that he can see that Jesus Christ is the real, true God.  I am praying that his eyes would see it all - just like my eyes witnessed the jumping frog legs in Biology class.  Let your quickening come, Lord Jesus!

Blessed in Giving

Everywhere I go, someone is putting food in my mouth.  I am currently in Japan, and these people have been given a corporate gift of hospitality!  They are so nice, and they anticipate everyone's needs and wants - even though a terrible earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster have recently tormented their nation.  The news is a constant barrage of terrible photos, videos and updates of relief efforts.  In the middle of it all, they are so genuinely kind with one another.  It is very humbling to see such a gracious response to such terrible events.  I probably don't need to remind you of America's response to such things as Hurricane Katrina or California's Northridge earthquake.  Not so gracious. 

Yet in the midst of it all, everywhere I go, people are giving me tea and feeding me.  They couldn't stop if they wanted to.  It is engrained in the society, the very fiber of Japan.  At one house alone, my long time friend, Mrs. Nagatomi, gave me her homemade bacon, yuzu koshyou, kimchi and konyaku.  She intends to send me home with 6 kilos of brown rice from her garden, as well.  Another dear friend brought me oranges from her yard and a strawberry cake.  Still others have made meals for me.  I have politely tried to refuse each one, telling them that they need to conserve for themselves, but they just won't hear of it.  Giving makes them happy.  And everytime I leave another family's house, we all shed tears of joy at having met again, and we express our desire to see each other again.  I am so blessed.

This brings to mind what Jesus Himself said: It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35) Truer words were never spoken.  I remember many times when I was not feeling well and had a Bible study planned.  I didn't want to go, but I was leading it, so it was a necessary event.  Almost grudgingly, I would leave the house. But...after leading people into the understanding of the Word of God, I felt so happy!  I felt so blessed!  I left every single Bible study with my feet in the clouds. Other times, people dropped by the house, and I wasn't really up to hospitality.  Just a few minutes into fellowship, I was filled with joy.  Still more often, the Lord would impress on Wayne and me to give monetarily to someone or some cause.  We would weigh the cost and consider the obedience.  Each and every time that we have given at our own cost, we have been so filled with joy and so blessed in our own circumstances.  God is faithful to His Word. 

Biblical truth applies to everyone.  It is not just for the Christian.  When someone gives, they receive blessing.  I often find it very hard to receive, especially in countries or situations where I know the other person does not have much to begin with.  But their giving is rewarded.  In fact, my receiving their gifts blesses them.  It's hard to see this with natural eyes, but in the spiritual sense, I understand this principle.  My dear Japanese friends give to me out of the suffering of their nation.  It makes them so happy to do so.  It's difficult to understand, but they have cried tears of joy and thanked me for caring for them so much.  I am humbled, but I, too, and blessed.  We all walk away being lifted in our spirits.

God's plan is not one of selfishness.  Rather, His plan is that we all love each other.  In this way, He can make Himself known.  And in this way, we can lead others into His glorious presence.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Treasure Seekers

I am currently staying in the home of my Japanese friends.  My hostess is a wonderful cook, and she has been busy preparing delicious foods for me every evening.  Two nights ago, we ate fresh scallops that were gathered from the ocean only hours before.  You can't get much fresher unless you are on a boat, eating them raw.  We grilled them right on the table, pouring soy sauce in the shells along with a pat of butter.  They were so very tender and delicious.  I was happy to be in Japan. 

If you just look at the scallop as it is, it doesn't look very appetizing.  In fact, many of the treasures of the sea are the same way.  Upon first seeing an oyster, would you think it was an edible thing?  How about a lobster?  I really do contemplate things like, "Who was the brave soul who captured and ate the first lobster?"  But the sea is brimming with wonderful little treasure just waiting to be found.  Many of those things are far below the surface, though.  In fact, many of these things require a bit of a dive. 

The treasures of God are often similar.  So many good things lie on the surface of a relationship with God.  In fact, you can get along quite nicely simply skimming the surface and never even notice a lack.  However, if you really want a treasure, you need to go deeper.  It can never be fully satisfying to settle for surface things. Think about the relationship that you have with your friends or spouse.  If you only stay on the surface, you remain an acquaintance.  I guess you could get along with a remote friend in that fashion, but if you really want a good relationship, you need to go deeper.  You need to open up the guarded areas of your life and allow the friendship to touch your life in a more impacting way. 

The full and rewarding friendship of God is like this.  When we open every facet of our beings to His impacting presence, a deep and fulfilling experience can occur.  The true treasures of a life in Christ can be realized.  Just like a diver can go deeper to seek hidden treasures, we can pursue the riches of God.  "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"  (Romans 11:33)  As with any friendship, if I want to go deeper into my relationship with my Savior, I need to spend more time with Him.  I should talk to Him as often as I can.  I should eat with Him - feasting on His Word. 

If there is a treasure to be found, I want to find it!  If there are riches to be had, let me have them!  I am hoping to go deeper and deeper in God with every passing day.  Every time I eat a treasure from the sea, I am reminded that I can dive into a full experience with God.

"You're so Fruit!" (as my good friend says)

I am seated in the airport now with me Americana coffee and some fancy organic fruit and nut bar. I prefer to be in control of my breakfast ingredients, but when I have to be at the airport by 6:30, I don't really nitpick. I love granola bars but by the time I read the nutritional value, I realize that I may as well have eaten a candybar. This one made better claims. It is supposed to be nothing but whole grains, nuts and fruit. Obviously, I enjoyed it, and it set my mind on thoughts of the binding ingredients. Usually, these things are bound by scads of sugar. What held this little treat together? The fruit.

That is interesting. We are all aware of the fruit that the Holy Spirit is bringing out in our lives. There is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23) These things are displayed in our lives in a way that enables us to interact with others in a Christ-like fashion. This fruit is the very thing that binds us together.

We know that we share the common bond of Christ, but sometimes we find personal differences to be difficult to navigate. In these times, it us the fruit of the Spirit that has brought us to a place where our unity is sweet.

If you want to use fruit as a binding agent, a boiling and crushing must take place. We don't receive this fruit simply to display it in a beautiful bowl; rather, this is given that we might share one with another.  Living together and working together is not always an easy task.  Sometimes, it is the very thing that brings the boiling and the crushing!  If we don't have the binding of the Spirit of God in our lives, all that is left is a pile of (sour) grapes, flakes and nuts.  But mixed with the fruit of the presence of God, we are bound together in a pleasing fashion.  Thus, the granola bar!

Over the past few days, I've given much thought to the absence of the fruit of the Spirit.  If this fruit is not present, what remains is hatred, bitterness and apathy along with depression, stress, strife, impatience, mean-spiritedness, rough manner, bad character, infidelity and a lack of control.  Wow.  That leaves a bitter taste, doesn't it? In fact, some of these things strike a little too close to home, don't they? 

I would much rather yield my life to the minor and temporary crushing so that God's character and Spirit can shine through in my life.  I am huge fan of a really good granola bar!  And I welcome the fruit of the Spirit in my life so that I can experience wonderful fellowship with everyone around me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Crock Pot Grace

As I type, I'm munching on one of my favorite morning treats: toasted Ezekiel bread with peanut butter and my mother's crock pot apple butter.  At this moment, I am very happy to be alive!  It's very rare that I sample something made in the crock pot that I don't just love.  Mama's apple butter is no exception.  It is a perfect balance of tart and sweet.  The spices are bold - the way apple butter spices should be.  The taste of apple is highlighted brilliantly. 

Cooking things in the crock pot is such a favorite way to prepare a meal.  I can put something in, with very little regard, first thing in the morning and come home later in the day to wonderful smells.  I have no fear that my house will burn down or my food will be ruined.  The crock pot cooks at such a low and even temperature that it all comes out perfectly tender when it's time to eat.

When Wayne and I were first married, we went on our honeymoon and then trotted off to Japan.  I had already been there teaching English for more than a year, and he came and taught, as well.  We did not have the luxury of a normal first year of marriage.  We were not close to family and friend who could offer advice - or even a shoulder to cry on when the first fight broke out, etc.  The people around us could not speak to us about our heart issues.  They wouldn't if they could.  It's just not the Japanese way.  We couldn't afford to call home.  This was before Skype and emails were the thing.  Making a telephone call from Japan was somewhere in the vicinity of 600 yen per minute (at that time around $6/min).  If we had a struggle, we had to work it out.  This is what I like to call our microwave experience.  In fact, our entire courtship had been long distance.  We had not had the opportunity to get to know each other in a close environment before we were married.  The microwave did its job.  We were zapped with all sorts of things and had to learn to overcome them quickly.

This is not the typical way that God works in our lives, though.  He most often uses the crock pot to get us where He wants us to go.  Very few people will ever have instantaneous experiences.  God does not choose to touch our lives and bring immediate lightning bolts of sanctification.  Instead, He chooses to walk us through the process of the cleansing of our minds, hearts, spirits, emotions in a slow cooker fashion.  He brings a tenderness to us that is indicative of His lengthy sustaining works.  Sometimes we think that we will never get over the many problems that continue to surface in our lives.  The enemy wants to tell us that we have been forgotten and that nothing has changed.

Have you ever opened the lid of your crock pot after a few hours?  It looks like raw meat is still sitting in the bottom of the pot.  The onions are still crispy and pungent.  It really doesn't look like much has happened.  In fact, it doesn't look like much has happened until the last hour or so.  And then...suddenly...the results are there!  There is a cooking and a tenderizing that is visible.  The slow even process and the thorough marination of God's presence in our lives renders a beautiful work of grace.  Do not be tempted to force God's work in your heart or on the people around you.  God will do all things well.  Philippians 1:6 reminds us that  " 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."  

The next time you put something in your crock pot, thank God for the same sort of work that He's doing in your life.  We are too eager to say, "Hurry up, Lord!"  when we ought to be patient.  Our patience allows time for a more thorough, tender outcome.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Credit Cards and Peanut Butter

The kids and I were at a Cracker Barrel a couple of months ago, and the line to pay was pretty long.  I stood in line while the gentleman - who looked a little like an off-season Santa - rang us up.  When I got up to the register, I handed him the bill and some cash.  He loudly and excitedly exclaimed, "Oh, good!  There are two things I despise: credit cards and peanut butter!  Peanut butter is an abomination, and I wish I could get my hands on the guys who ruined peanuts!"  I turned my head around slowly, thinking, "Surely he's talking to someone else?" But we were all stunned by this sudden vehement outburst from this otherwise cheerful little man. 

I have to admit that, for me, peanut butter holds a celebrity status in the realm of my food fascinations.  I revere the man who developed peanut butter!  The fact that Cracker Barrel Santa does not share my opinion is mind-boggling.  George Washington Carver is my hero.  I am not saying this lightly, either.  This man was so inspired by God that he changed the course of agriculture in the South.  He developed over 300 practical uses for the peanut, increasing the demand for a crop that could grow in Southern soil without the threat from the destructive boll weevil.  Enterprise, Alabama has a boll weevil statue in the center of town.  In my opinion, this classically formed Greek goddess should be hoisting George Washington Carver instead of the huge bug.  After all, the bug was the problem, Mr. Carver was the solution

Very often, things look so dim in our lives.  It looks like all is lost.  The South was going under financially because their crops were being destroyed.  People were going hungry, and it looked like the end was imminent.  The cursed bug was ruining everything, and it seemed like all was lost.  But isn't it amazing that God Himself had a plan?  He took a former slave from Missouri and sent him into the deep South with a purpose and a plan, confirming that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

We cannot look at things with our natural eyes!  We need to keep the hearts of our spirit open to see what things God wants to accomplish.  He does not want us to meet destruction; instead, He longs for us to know favor and prosperity.  He wants to establish us as pillars in a struggling world.  We are placed here in these crazy circumstances to be a source of strength and redemption for people who are falling into deep pits all around us.  God will work all things out for good in your life!  You are called according to His purposes!  The enemy wants to make you think otherwise.  He wants to blind your spiritual eyes so that all you see is natural circumstance.  Don't be fooled, though!  God can take all the bugs and pests that the enemy wants to send your way and erect monuments of His glory and deliverance in your life!  Keep your eyes open.  You will see your deliverance.  I am certain of this.

Yep.  Peanut butter is a good thing.  George Washington Carver was a man after God's own heart, and he was able to bring a godly purpose to many.  I don't like credit cards, but I sure do love my peanut butter!

The Running of the Shrimp

One of the great memories of my childhood was going out on a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico.  We lived down near the Gulf in South Alabama.  Many of our friends had homes on the coast, and we were privileged to go out with them.  There is a brief time every year when the shrimp run.  No one can predict the exact moment this will occur, but the minute the shrimp show up, everyone jumps in the car and heads to the water.  Every boat goes out, and people begin to cast out every single net they can find.  All hands are on deck for this phenomenon because the bounty that can be had in these few hours is enough to fill most freezers for everyone involved.  This shrimp run can feed all your friends and family for the year.  It is an amazing thing to see. 

Part of the "event" is that everyone sets up their fry pots on their decks or under their stilted homes, and a big feast ensues.  Because the hour can't be predicted, people may be out shrimping at any time of day, and they come back in to vats of popping oil, waiting to cook up the succulent little beasts. They gather food and come to be fed.  They go back and gather more and come back and eat again, being filled while they go about the work of the harvest.

I remember going out on a shrimp boat with friends.  I was very young, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I don't think that this was during the shrimp run itself, but when we hauled in the nets, we were shin-deep in shrimp.  I don't know why I thought that shrimp and only shrimp would be hauled in, but that was my youthful opinion.  To my excitement, so much more came in.  There were buckets of crabs, several flounder, quite a few octopi, other various mollusks and fish.  There was an unexpected variety in the catch.  I expected some shrimp, but the sheer quantity of shrimp blew my mind!  I did not expect the other little culinary surprises that came with the intended catch. 

I think that this very hour in which we live is similar to the Gulf's famous shrimp run.  I think that at this moment in our lives, all we have to do is begin to cast nets.  The current natural disasters, the shaking and tearing of the earth, the resulting threats - these are causing the hearts of men and women to "run" toward a faith that is real.  Joel 3:13-14 talks about a harvest that is ready.  "Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow--so great is their wickedness!  Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!  For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." 

The wonderful thing about gathering the harvest is that we can't even begin to fathom the variety of the harvest.  We may think we know what God is doing.  We may think that He will stir the hearts of this particular group or that individual, but God is doing something greater than we can imagine.  You will find fruit in unexpected places.  You will pull in nets that overflow with surprising catches.  Do not be timid in this hour because God is bringing in a great catch.  All we have to do is cast the nets!  Watch the run, be ready, grab the harvest!

I Wish I'd Thought of That!

Over the weekend, I attended a women's conference.  I like getting away with groups of women.  We always have such a wonderful time because we are able to let go of all the responsibilities of maintaining a household long enough to be filled with God's word, minister to one another and just hang out.  One of the fun things about such a weekend is that we all bring snacks to share.  The snack room had everything from fresh fruit to full-sized chocolate bars.  We are all so normally disciplined, but we threw caution to the wind and ate crazy things--at midnight and beyond!  Yes, children, we stayed up late AND ate junk.  There are no bedtimes at a women's conference.  We talk into the wee hours of the morning, and we laugh at almost everything.  The only downside to this is that conference centers usually serve breakfast some time around 7a.m.  Why?

Don't these people know that we will be up all night?  Didn't they see us line dancing in our pajamas?  Didn't they realize that we just watched a romantic comedy until midnight and then started fellowshiping?   Most likely they were asleep....because they had to get up at 5a.m. to make sure our breakfast would be ready by 7.  It's a vicious cycle and one that must be broken at a future conference.  In fact, I volunteer to bring the muffins so that we can all sleep until 8:30, at least.

My dear friend found a way around this, though.  She brought her own breakfast.  She had a secret stash of granola bars and fruit.  She also brought her own coffee pot...from home.  I kid you not!  Since the morning session didn't start until 9:30, why in the world would she need to be in the cafeteria by 7?  All she needed was a hot cup of java and a little bite. I am in complete agreement with this and, quite frankly, a little jealous.  I only wish I had thought of it before last weekend!  I, too, would have hauled my coffee pot out to the woods for the conference. 

So often I find myself looking at someone else or reading what they've written or hearing their comments, and I think, "I wish I came up with that!"  Some people are just so clever that I want to follow in the same line of thinking.  The pastor's wife who led the weekend retreat is one of those people.  Every time I hear her speak, I laugh at her quick-witted remarks and marvel at the wisdom of each vignette, and I think, "I wish I said that!  It is so funny and so right!"  The way that she processes the everyday things that she sees shows that her vision comes from God.  She sees what is tangible and turns it into a lesson for the rest of us.  I love that.

Proverbs 16:3 tells us to "commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans." Creative thoughts, actions, words don't just happen to us.  When we are following the Lord, He drops these things into our spirits.  When I am committed to doing everything as if it were for Him, He gives me the creative ideas that help to make my own ways better.  He helps me think of things that will not only benefit me personally but that will bring life to others, as well. 

My girlfriend's coffee pot was clearly a good idea - I actually think it was a God idea!  She had the time in the morning to read her Bible in peace before being rushed into early morning conversations. She could focus on her quiet time without being distracted (even by the great fellowship of other women of God).  She was committed to spending her time with God. 

Look for the creative plans that God will establish in your life.  He can organize a schedule better than anyone I know.  We are always busy, but if we commit everything to Him, He will give us great ideas that make even very simple things better.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reel 'em In!

Today is St. Patrick's Day.  Our family has always longed to go to Ireland.  My husband's Scots-Irish blood demands that we make a visit sooner or later.  My visions of Ireland are of fishermen in cableknit sweaters whistling while they work -- (do you remember the Irish Springs commercials of long ago?).  The closest I have gotten, though, is Scotland.  One summer we decided to swap houses with friends of ours who live in Bathgate.  We had the most wonderful time!  It was beautiful! ....cold and rainy for a July but really quite breath-taking.  I was amazed at the lush green hills and valleys capped by ethereal fogs that frequently rolled in.  We drove all over the place and tasted local foods at every restaurant, pub and street fair that we could attend.  One of our favorite dishes by far was Cullen Skink.

Cullen Skink is a stew made with smoked Finnan haddie, potatoes and onions.  It was so delicious!  It hit the spot when we were cold.  I never would have imagined that I could love a smoked fish so much.  In fact, I don't recall having much smoked fish in the deep South USA.  I have had smoked salmon brought in from  Alaska, but that's entirely different.  Sometime last year, Wayne and I made our way down to the Florida Keys and had a smoked fish dip that made my taste buds happy.  I have searched the recipe and will soon attempt a batch of my own.  If you think that fish is fish, you haven't tasted the many ways it can be prepared!  Not all fish are the same!

All day today, my son attempted to fish in a little pond near our house.  His attempts brought up a few brim and a passel of turtles!  The gentleman who is staying next door has chuckled over the past 2 days while he says in his Canadian accent, "You gotta count to one and a half and then set the hook, eh?"  Fishing just comes more naturally to some.  I, myself, am not a fisherman.  It takes some effort on my part to sit still and stare at the water.  I'd much rather be walking along, doing my own thing.  And while I am no good at catching actual fish, I hope to become very good at fishing, nonetheless.

In Matthew 4:19 , it says, "'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.'"  I like the idea that we can cast the word of our testimonies and reel in souls for the Kingdom of God.  When we watch fishing shows on TV, we see that the fish that are caught come in all shapes, sizes, colors.  But I love the most when we can see a ship haul in great nets teaming with huge catches.  It's amazing to see the fish spill into the boat.  It's overwhelming that time after time we can bring in huge catches...only to discover that we can't exhaust the wealth of fish still in the sea.  There will always be more fish.  Our job will never be done.

St. Patrick must have had great visions of the fish to be caught in Ireland!  He was taken as a slave into that country and then later rescued.  He studied hard to know the Word of God and then begged to go back to the Irish people to lead them to the Lord.  I'm grateful for the men and women who have gone before us into the difficult places, introducing the Lord into various cultures.  There is still much to be done in the world, but the way has been paved by the pioneers of our faith.  I hope to make a dent somewhere...to catch more fish. 

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
(Traditional Gaelic Blessing)

Made for Me

Mollusks and seaweed are two things that I have never truly developed a taste for.  Don't get me wrong, I have eaten my fair shair of each.  Mollusks have wonderful flavor and add a beautiful depth to soups, stews, sauces, etc, but I'm not too fond of the texture.  As far as seaweed goes, it's the taste that puts me off.  I know how healthy it is, so I continue to eat seaweed when it is offered.  I just remember that scent being blown into my nostrils from hot summer days on the Gulf Coast.  I guess I associate the flavor with the way my nose turned up at the smell of a such days.  In any case, I eat both of them...I just don't like them.

Yesterday, my daughter and I went for a walk along the beach.  The weather was perfect, in the low 70's.  The sun was shining, and the beach was clean.  The only smell that came to our noses was that of the warm sea breeze.  We walked a good long way, and turned around to come back.  Along the way, we came across a bag and took that as the perfect opportunity to scavenge for seashells.  Maggie loves to collect shells and reaches her hand out for every little fragment that has an element of beauty.  The shell itself does not need to be intact....just the beauty.  I agree with her.  Some shells are more interesting because of the way they have broken - especially whelks.  They break open revealing intricate twists and turns.  Their beauty lies not in their perfection - because the exterior is usually a gray or dull beige - but in their brokenness.

As we walked along, I heard myself say, "Keep your eyes open!  You never know when something amazing will present itself!"  She reached down to pick up another fan-shaped shell - she already had about 50 of them - and I said, "Why don't you just let God enjoy that one?"  My thought was that she would leave it there.  She smiled up at me and said, "He made it for me."  How many times have I told her that?  I truly, sincerely believe that my Creator made certain things just for me.  When I'm driving in my car and see a spectacular sunset that takes my breath away, I thank Him.  He didn't have to make it pretty, but He did.  He knew I'd be looking.  When I bend over to smell a heavily scented flower, I thank Him.  He didn't need to make the smell so enticing to me, but He did.  And when I walk along the beach and reach my hand down to scoop up some little gem of my own finding, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my Lord made that shell just for me and placed it in my path.  In His all-encompassing knowledge, He knew that I would reach down and hide the shell away in my pocket...that I would wander back to the house and put it in a jar...that I would look at that jar over and over and smile.  Sure, a little mollusk of some sort enjoyed my shell for a while, but it was mine all along.  God knew.  

Our Father loves us.  He made everything with us in mind.  As a homeschool mom, sometimes I give the kids little "projects"...I might say, "Take the beans in this little bag and then look up the various colors of beans.  Use only those colors to paint a picture, and incorporate some of these beans."  That's a lot of "busywork," but it keeps them happy for a moment. As smart as we think we are, I have a feeling that scientists are just doing a lot of "busywork."  God knows everything.  It doesn't need to be figured out.  He made it all, and He did so with a perfect plan.  That perfect plan often involves us and the joy that benefits us in our days.

We often get so bogged down just trying to meet our own needs.  We spend countless hours worried over how our ends will meet or how we can accomplish this or that.  Matthew 6:8 tells us, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."   Sure, we have to put our own hands to the plow and work, but God will not leave us abandoned, fending for ourselves.  He will see to it that our labor is not in vain if we are submitted to His will.  In addition, He will provide beautiful things for us along the way.  It is His great pleasure to do so.  He loves us more than we can imagine.

I may not like to eat mollusks, but I sure do like to collect their shells.  The birds can eat them.  The fish can eat them.  I don't mind as long as the sea coughs up their little shells once they're empty!  Maggie and I will find them.  After all, they are ours

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Keeping it in the Family!

I really have been led down memory lane today.  I got an email from my long lost cousin.  We were talking about my fascination with food and the daily devotions that I find in it.  His response was so evocative that I had to give it to you just the way he said it:

"That is neat that you have an interest in Grandma's cooking because I do, as well. I spent a lot of time with her during the many summers. You know we lived there next to her for a couple of years. The local school was my first school. I remember climbing up and sitting on her kitchen counter and just watching her cook. I use to climb the fig trees for her and pick the ones at the top. I was so little that I would not break the branches. These were the days she taught me to tie on a piece of thread to the leg of June bug and fly it around like a remote control bug. Ha! She taught me how to stir the figs when we were cooking them so that they would not get broken up during the process. She taught me how to check the syrup dripping from the spoon. This was how she knew the figs were ready for canning. I sat with her many times in the old swing underneath the pecan tree and she would tell me stories of how they used to make lye soap, hominy from corn and many other things. I use to help her and her sister GreatAunt Bill who live next to us hang rabbits on the clothes line with old shoe strings and prepare them for slaughter. I have many old stories.
   You know I have a unique perspective on Grandma because I lived next to her sister Great Aunt Bill, her brother Great Uncle Ollie and her other sister Great Aunt Olar. I use to sit with them, as wel,l and learn stuff and hear stories. I am a good cook and still cook my dumplings like she did - except I don't have the rolling pin that she used to use. I think it was and old Goose neck Elixar bottle. She would hold the bottle neck and rolled the bottle with the other hand. She taught me how to make up buttermilk pancakes in a quart jar. She said Grandpa like his pancakes small about the size of a large mouth Quart jar - which is neat because that's how my dad liked them. And who could forget her moist pound cake where the lemon would rise to the top and make that little lemon trench along the top of the cake?" 

Food is passed down through the generations.  Not just the food but everything else, as well. We take what we know and teach it to the next generation.  We take the good that we have learned and pass that along to our children, and sometimes we talk about the bad things that we've seen as well.  I have learned as much from the good in my life as I have from the bad.  A lesson is a lesson.  In Deuteronomy 4:9 God is commanding His people to walk in obedience and to remember how He has gone before them.  He says, "Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them."  There is great value is training up each successive generation. If done properly, those who come after us will be wiser, stronger and accomplish greater things that even we did.

I am doing everything that I can to train our children in the Word of God.  I am teaching them how to hear His voice.  I am leading them in paths paved with good decisions.  From time to time, we make mistakes, but even then, they witness our repentance and hear our apologies.  This is how it should be...from one generation to the next.

I loved everything my Grandmother cooked.  But that's not to say that I haven't added my own twist to an item or two.  Doubtless my children will take their cues from me...and add even to what I've changed.  The flavors will probably evolve a bit from generation to generation, but the foundational ingredients will remain.  Techniques will most likely stay close to home.  After all, the fig doesn't fall far from the tree. 

Japan's Sweet Tangerines

Wayne and I lived in an area of Japan that was well-known for its green tea production and massive tangerine farms.  Some of my very best friends in Japan own one of the largest organic green tea farms in the country.  Their setup is incredibly impressive.  We picked tea with them several years.  We also made several trips to pick our own tangerines, but these are no ordinary tangerines.  They are the sought after Japanese mikan.  These little parcels of sweetness have skins that almost peel themselves on command.  They are seedless, and when you pop a section in your mouth, juice bursts into every nook of your mouth with surprisingly concentrated citrus flavor.  They are unmatchable.  We have tried and tried to find something as delicious as the mikan, but we haven’t found anything that even comes close.  Some tangerines have wonderful zipper-peel skin – but they lack the flavor.  Others have a burst of flavor – but they have seeds.  We just haven’t found the same perfect combination here in the States that exists in Japan. 
We asked one Japanese mikan farmer what was the secret of the sweetness.  He told us, “You must wait 21 days.”  We had picked multiple large boxes of tangerines, but when it was time to go, he took the boxes from us and put them in the barn and gave us older tangerines.  At first, I was a bit offended, but then he told us that the secret was to let the natural sugars begin to break down before you dig in.  21 days seemed to be the perfect amount of time.  Funny thing is, we were recently at a farmer’s market in California.  They had wonderful tiny tangerines that came very close to the Japanese mikan.  I asked the farmer, “How long do you wait before you eat them?”  Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Three weeks.”  The taste is far superior to what we can buy here in a supermarket.  That three weeks period has to occur in just the right conditions before the sweetness is rendered. 
In our lives, we come in contact with many people who are searching for something that they just can’t find.  Maybe they can find a part of what they are looking for, but the total package eludes them.   Many people come to us for counsel, and we try to offer what the moment demands, but even that is imperfect.  They may take with them one little bit of what we’ve said, but they don’t often hear the whole message.  Like the little tangerines, I find that the words that I have to offer others are most potent when I’ve taken the time to take their situation before God.  I must wait patiently on the Lord to hear what He wants to say.  I cannot assume to know the wisdom of the Lord on my own.  Instead I have to get to a place where I can be quiet and hear His voice.  
"For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course." (Proverbs 2:6-9)  I often have a part of what someone needs to hear, but I need to refrain from speaking until wisdom is imparted.  God always has every piece of the puzzle to perfection in the counsel of our lives.  Sometimes we hear it immediately, but sometimes we find that we need time to seek His face and listen for His voice.  If you find yourself in a time of waiting, do not worry at all.  The truth is that the sweetness of God's counsel will be greater when it comes. 

Point of prayerI will be leaving for Japan in less than a week to offer grief counseling.  Their nation has been literally shaken to the core over the past several days.  I am believing for God’s grace and mercy to be showered on them in the coming days, weeks, months.  It is my desire to be a conduit of His peace.  Please pray that the counsel of the Lord will be sweet and satisfying to Japan.

Shaken, not Stirred

Wayne and I lived in sunny California while he was obtaining his higher degree from seminary.  While we were there, we became thoroughly acquainted with the haute cuisine of the West Coast.  We loved almost everything we got our hands on.  Restaurants prepared the freshest cleanest foods.  Nothing, it seemed, came from a freezer, can or box.  But the thing that we enjoyed as a meal most frequently was a great big blended juice from a local juice chain.  I loved the wild berry smoothie with fiber and antioxidants.  I could have had it everyday! And then…we moved back home.
At that time, North Carolina had not yet gotten into juicing.  (To this day, even, we don’t have access to a juice bar on every corner like we find in California, but we are making headway!)  We returned home and suddenly found ourselves trying to replicate the wonderful flavors we had so enjoyed out West.  We had a regular blender, and we would freeze peeled bananas, blueberries and strawberries.  To our frozen fruit, we would add milk, orange juice or plain yogurt and a mighty powerful green powder that included young barley shoots, algae, seaweed and other super greens. 
When our first child was weaned from mother’s milk, the first thing he wanted was a cup filled with one of these frozen concoctions.  He wouldn’t touch the stuff if it didn’t contain the mighty green powder!  He had grown accustomed to the healthy flavor of it all. 
I appreciate a thoroughly blended smoothie, but when it comes to my own life, sometimes the churning of life itself becomes overwhelming.  Lately, we’ve seen a rise in natural disasters and tumultuous circumstances.  It seems as if all of us have been poured into a blender of chance and left to fend for ourselves.  If you turn on the news even for a minute, you’ll see that the state of the world is in great peril.  The great news for us as believers in Jesus Christ is that we have a firm foundation under our feet.  Even though things become shaky all around us, we can stand upright in the saving grace of our Lord.  
"I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you.' declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 41:13-14) What a firm foundation!  We have nothing at all to fear.  Things may shake all around.  Disaster may come, but we are safe in the arms of God.  I, myself, was there in Haiti when hundreds of thousands lost their lives.  I am confident that God was with me.  Even if I had lost my life, I would rest safely in the arms of God.  My life here is temporary.  My future with my God and King is eternal.  I am at peace.
I believe that the days in which we live will begin to shake even more as the glory of the Lord is revealed and the enemy is defeated on this earth.  Satan is making one final effort to gain control.  He’s frantic even in his approach.  But God is on the throne.  Make no mistakes about it.  Circumstances will continue to quiver, but God Most High will be unshakable. 

Rich Beyond Belief

Last night, our little girl made the most delicious little cupcakes ever!  She has a little machine that is designed just for that.  She can make cupcakes, brownies, cornbread, tiny quiches…anything that can be fit into little paper liners and baked!  She’s becoming quite the pro at all foods tiny and cute, and last night’s cupcakes were beautiful and satisfying.  We only ate one of the mini cakes a piece because they were super rich – the kind of rich that makes you close your eyes and say, “Mmmm.”
Back when I was in high school, there was a commercial for one of my favorite candy bars – Skor.  I’m not sure if these are readily available these days, as I tend to avoid candy aisles at all costs, but I really love toffee, and there’s nothing better than chocolate covered toffee, is there?  The commercial said, “You can never be too rich or too thin.”  Ain’t that the truth.  It just never applied to me.  I remember working with a girl once who did everything in her power to gain weight—she just couldn’t do it.  How crazy is that?  I told her that if she just spent one week at my table, I could pack the pounds on her, but she didn’t take me up on it.  As for the too rich part?  I do know a few people who have more than they can ever spend.  The funny thing is that they aren’t very happy. 
So what is the quest for riches all about?  It seems that our society is on a never-ending mission to get more.  If you’ve ever watched a late night info-mercial, you know that people are being presented with scheme after scheme to get rich quick.  Promises are made at every turn to transform your poverty into millions!  The lottery is a growing craze that promises to pay out hundreds of millions at times.  What is this all about?
I believe that deep in our heart of hearts, we were designed for riches.  We were designed to acquire something that goes beyond wealth.  We were designed for true riches. Philippians 4:19 says ," And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus."  The riches that are found in God are incalculable.  They are without end.  There is a limitless supply to the availabilities of the Kingdom of God.  We are blessed, not fortunate.  Fortune is something that may or may not happen - something that occurs randomly.  Blessing is something that is given freely, without recompense.  God's blessing, His true riches, are for each of us who walk in submission to His perfect will.  

So, no, I can never be too rich.  I will continue to go after the wonderful blessings that await me.  And…along the way…if my daughter wants to make me an amazing cupcake or two, who am I to refuse?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sweeter than Honey!

I can’t believe I did it.  I just threw away half a kitchen’s trashcan worth of candy.  It pains me even to write about it.  Candy.  What was I thinking?  I was thinking that after all the Halloweens, Christmases, Valentines and Easters that we just did not need another bite of anything that was made up primarily of sugar.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem, though.  I do love my candy.  I love good toffees and butterscotch.  I love my cayenne pepper dark chocolate.  I love cinnamon candies.  I love coffee candies.  I like good old-fashioned Mary-Janes and Bit-O-Honey.  My list is long and sweet.  If it has sugar, I won’t refuse it.  It doesn’t help, either, that I seem to be aging by the second.  Sugar is no longer my friend. In fact, I think my lifelong companion has actually turned on me.  Pounds are creeping up..I used to be very good at out-running my age, but the heavier I get, the slower I become, and the slower I become, the easier my age catches up.  Which is why….I just threw away half a kitchen’s trashcan worth of candy. 
I wonder if the Psalmist had the same problem? In Psalm 19 he said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the Lord are true, making wise the simple... More to be desired are [the Lord’s words] than much fine gold and sweeter also than honey, even the honeycomb.”  It seems that the writer found the solution.  Our greed, whether for riches or other indulgences, can be better satiated in the Word of the Lord and the standards He has established for us. 
I do love food – and especially sweets – but nothing can ever take the place of the satisfying words of God.  He meets every need.  Sometimes, we try to fill our own voids by literally filling the cavern of our stomach.  The cycle seems never-ending.  We eat and remain hungry…so we eat more.  There is a solution, though.  We can be filled with the presence of God and feed on His Word.  God is the only thing that will ever sustain us.  He is the only source that does not leave us hungry.  God satisfies…better than that famous candy bar with the chocolate, caramel, peanuts and nougat. 
I will always love my sweets, but I will not turn to food for my comfort. I would rather be filled with the Word of God - sweeter than honey!

Fish-eyed Fool!

Everybody wants to be a little bit smarter.  Which is why when I was offered a meal that would make me smarter, my interest was peaked.  I was living in Japan, a single young lady, and people took it upon themselves to educate me in culture and things which can only be described as heresay.  I took the bait.  A teacher,  a young lady who wanted to learn English and I went on a drive that would take us to a restaurant which promised to increase my very brain cells.  They were very quiet about the ultimate destination, so I just went along.
To start the day, we went to a Japanese theme park.  They had some really great rides, but apparently I was the only one brave enough to ride them.  The park was filled with people, but no one wanted to be twisted, flipped, rolled, jerked or thrown into the air, so I got all the fun to myself!  Then we went to the restaurant where all my voyages for wisdom were to be rewarded. 
As my meal was being ordered, I happened to notice the price tag.  A whopping U.S. $300 was the equivalency.  I was too stunned to make any comment and didn’t really want to seem tacky, so I kept my mouth shut.  However, I knew right then and there that I would have to eat whatever was put before me – it simply cost too much for me to leave anything behind.  The meal was brought out in stages.  I was given miso soup and salad. In addition, I was handed various side items, including seaweed and assorted pickled things and a generous portion of thinly sliced whale blubber in a yellow miso paste.  Finally, the moment had arrived.  The food that would make me brilliant was brought to the table and unveiled.  There on my plate was the largest eyeball I had ever seen.  Said eyeball belonged to a deep sea tuna.  It was huge, and if any preparation at all had been done, I didn’t notice.  My friends watched me with curiosity.  All manner of excuses came to mind, such as, “I’m already so smart I blow your mind as it is.  Don’t you think I’ll have an unfair advantage?”  or “I really like not knowing much.”  Or “Actually, I’m so smart that I know well enough not to eat that thing.”  But nothing came out of my mind.  I picked up my chopsticks and began the task before me.  I must say that I don’t remember any flavor in particular.  I remember texture, and it was not at all pleasing.  But I did it.  I will never be conquered by a bit of flesh. 
The quest for knowledge is a curious thing.  People will go to all sorts of  libraries, universities, mountaintops, deserts, oddly dressed teachers with wild hair, or teachers with no hair at all, but it seems like few go straight to the source.  Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” God is the source.  The word “fear” here confused me as a child, but I know now that the fear at work here is not unsimilar to a fear of the ocean.  When I stand by the crashing waves, I’m not actually frightened, rather I respect the power that is there and know enough not to abuse my own limited abilities trying to get the ocean to do as I bid.  God is all-powerful.  He is all-seeing.  He is all-knowing.  Any attempt to treat the God above all gods any differently is, indeed, foolish.  Making the first step to acknowledge who He is will always be the first step toward wisdom.  Sure, we can be smart about some things on our own, but can we really be wise? 

Joyous Feasts!

I love a good feast.  The other night, a dear and true friend of mine volunteered to make heavy hors d’oevres for the ladies before we went to a concert.  We all agreed since it would be easier on our schedules than trying to go to a restaurant with a large group and little time.  When I walked in the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  This gal went above and beyond the call for any hors d’oevres.  In fact, that word, as impressive as it is, pales when you stand it beside the spread of food that my friend put on the counter.  There were meatballs, two fancy kinds of shrimp.  Four hummus dips, an artichoke dip, a pecan encrusted cheeseball, veggies and dips, chips, crackers.  Oh, my!  Forgive me if I drool a bit, but this was over the top.  In the limited amount of time that we had, I managed to scarf down two plates of food, and then we all trudged off to the concert – Anita Renfroe (funniest lady on the planet) and Mandisa.  I was not disappointed by a single moment in the evening.
The meal was so quick, though, that I don’t think that my friend had the opportunity to realize how very pleased we were to be in her home, eating her food!  We ate and ran.  A feast like that is made to be savored with much time and good conversation.  But I wouldn’t have traded it for any restaurant in town.  This gal can put out some good eats, and I’m sure that her husband was more than happy to help her get rid of the leftovers. 
I love the 23rd Psalm.  There is so much comfort in it.  There’s even a little hidden pleasure tucked away in there.  “He prepares a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”  I have to suppress a smile here.  I know I’m supposed to be all serious and comforted in my valleys with my running over cups and all, but I really do like the thought that my Lord will bless me right in the face of the enemy himself.  Satan, this roaring lion who wants to devour me, comes at me with great force and constant attack.  He makes me sick.  I’m so done with him.  That is why I get so excited by the blessings of the Lord.  It’s as if I can take my blessings and look the enemy right in the eye and stick out my tongue and do that little tune that every elementary child knows…na na na na na.  If the enemy doesn’t want to see me blessed, he can go away.  He’s just not that smart. 
God enjoys heaping blessings on us.  He is ultimately victorious, so the enemy poses no threat to Almighty God; therefore, with great pomp and circumstance, I can come to the feast that God prepares for me.  I do not need to keep one eye trained on the enemy in fear that he will retaliate in some horrible way.  I accept my feast.  I revel in it.  I savor every single blessing that my Lord gives.  And, thankfully, I am not rushed.  God is so happy to spend time with me in conversation as I enjoy every good thing that He hands me.  The Creator dishes out all manner of wonderful things just for us.  He doesn’t have to be so generous in His blessing.  He could hand us little things like snacks but He chooses to prepare feasts.  And feasts are so much better!
Thank you, Sherry, for your generosity!  I enjoyed your feast!  You have given me a bountiful reminder of the goodness of God. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Never disappointing--shrimp and grits!

Have you ever ordered a menu item that sounded so amazing only to be left a little disappointed by the whole thing?  Happens to me all the time, but it's never been quite so bad as our recent trip to a great food city.  Wayne and I went to the restaurant of a very famous chef.  I ordered my favorite dish - shrimp and grits.  Any time a menu offers either shrimp and grits or fish tacos, I will most likely be ordering one of the two.  They are my two favorite flavor combos.  I love the blending of spicy with mundane ingredients.  And on this occasion, I was looking forward to the shrimp and grits that a chef with a household name would produce.  I was sadly disappointed.  The shrimp had a grainy, fishy taste, and they were not spiced like I would have thought they would be.  The grits weren't as creamy as cheesy as they could have been.  All in all, it was a bland little production literally leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

On so many occasions throughout my life, I have been around people who had great bitterness in their hearts toward the church.  Pastors and other leaders made promises that they didn't keep.  Maybe their lives did not have integrity, revealing hypocrisy.  Other times, the people themselves were broken and seeking refuge only to be swept aside in favor of new programs or building funds.  I've seen it all too often - people being disappointed by the church.  This is such a sad thing for me.  I understand how this happens.  I have been both hurt and have hurt others, I'm sure.  The dawning truth is that the church is made up of humans.  We are only that: human.  We can never be perfect, and we can never be above making tremendous mistakes that bring pain to others.

People can always disappoint us, but there is One who will never, ever bring such pain to our lives: God.  God's Word offers blessing.  He promises so many wonderful things, and He does not rescind His promises.  Numbers 23:19 tells us that "God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind.  Does He speak and then not act: Does He promise and not fulfill?"  No.  God will not offer healing to a broken soul and then walk away.  He will always accomplish that which He has spoken.

Any time I meet someone who shows a lack of faith in the Body of Christ, I am happy to point out that as a body, we will fail.  We will disappoint.  But God will never fail you.  He will not disappoint you.  We too often put our faith in the institutions of man, rather than putting our faith in the being of the Almighty God.  Our perspective needs to be adjusted.  We need to find a place of worship--a place that leads us into the presence of God.  From there on, we can gain everything we need from God Himself.  Sure, the programs and aid of a church will always be helpful, but we cannot rely solely on the institution of church to meet our needs.  God is the one who promises and follows through.  He will never leave you wanting.  He will never leave bitterness in your mouth.  He will always satisfy you in a sweet and satiating way.

I will continue to order shrimp and grits, and I will continue to be disappointed, I'm sure. There is only one restaurant that, in my humble opinion, delivers every time: Red Bone Alley in Florence, SC.  Yeah, I know.  It's inland South Carolina.  I can't explain it, either, but it's the best I've ever had.  All other shrimp and grits will always be compared to this one.  And every time I go there, I am guaranteed not to be disappointed!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Goodness and Gumballs!

When I was a little girl, our next door neighbor was a widow and a lonely one at that.  We lived in a dry county, one that did not sell alcohol, but this lady managed to find an honest-to-goodness bootlegger who kept her in supply.  She was a well-to-do lady, and her home was filled with antiques.  She was busy in society - a giver in the community - but she was empty inside.  This lady was my friend.  I was a little girl and she an old lady, but I played in her yard while she gardened.  I helped weed her flower beds and haul baskets of leaves to the curb.  I swung in her trees and kept the conversations going. 

One of the wonderful things about going next door was that she had a mudroom filled with commercial gumball machines, and she kept piles of pennies all around so that we kids could help ourselves to the gumballs.  To this day, I have a special fondness for gumballs.  I would almost rather have that than any other candy store treat.  There was every flavor imaginable!  It was so hard to decide between the grape or the green apple, the cherry or the pineapple!  Every fruity flavor possible!  ...and then there was the cinnamon, a personal favorite, and the mint.  She had it all. 

But there was something in my heart that kept me worried about my older friend.  Besides the fact that she was inebriated nearly all the time, something else just stayed in my mind on behalf of my friend.  As an eight year old girl, I recognized that she was not in relationship with God, and it disturbed me because I loved her so much and couldn't bear the thought that her life may not take her to Heaven.  One day, she saw my little face fill with pain, and she asked me what was wrong.  I told her, "I just don't think you are going to Heaven."  She laughed and said, "Of course I am!  I give a lot of money to the Baptist choir!"  She was serious.  I tried in my own childlike way to tell her that this was not the way of salvation.  You had to know Jesus, not just know about Jesus.  I think that I planted seeds in her heart that day.  She became quiet as we worked, but we didn't talk about it any more.  We moved a few years later, and she died some time after that.  I'm not sure where her heart was, but I look back on that moment, and I'm glad that it happened.  My mother was always talking to her and praying for her, but she heard from a child who loved her, as well. 

My father used to say, "Good people go to Hell every day."  It's true.  So many people are convinced that being good is good enough.  People have the misconception that they can get to Heaven simply by following the teachings of Jesus.  It's not quite enough.  You must follow Jesus.  It all boils down to relationship.  Do you know Jesus?  Have you talked with Him lately?  Have you fed your Spirit with His Word?  In order to have a good friend, you have to spend quality time with that person.  You really can't meet someone once or twice and then walk around telling everyone that said person is your best friend.  Relationships take time and commitment.  Think of Jesus in such terms.

Spiritually speaking, there are many choices before us.  You can follow a multitude of pathways to search for your soul's enlightenment.  It's like a child with a penny, facing 20 gumball machines!  The choices are immense, but spiritually speaking, only one choice is correct.  You must choose to follow Jesus Christ.  He is the way, the truth and the life, and no one can get to God unless they enter through personal relationship. (ref. John 14:6) Don't spend your life wondering about your eternity!  You can be secure in Christ.  Salvation is free...there are piles of "pennies" for your use!  You just have to reach out and receive the freedom that is found in Jesus. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Toboggan Kind of Love

Recently, Wayne and I visited with some friends of ours, and we had breakfast together.  The mother of Wayne’s dear friend is a sweet German lady whom we call “Oma.”  Oma is one of the most precious people I have ever seen.  She has gardening skills that any green thumb would envy.  She cooks such wonderful food.  And she loves her grandchildren and cares for them so beautifully.  The problem for me is that I can’t communicate with Oma.  She only speaks German, and I can only muster together a few German words.  Still, I watch her and understand the love that she has for her family is great.
We have had the pleasure of eating Oma’s breakfasts both here in the States and abroad in Germany.  She is a master at making jams.  Everything she puts on the table is over the top delicious.  When we were just with them, Oma served soft boiled eggs.  Each little egg had it’s own special egg cup, it’s own tiny spoon and its own carefully knitted hat to keep it warm.  I’m not joking.  It was the cutest thing I have ever seen.  Oma had made little toboggans for her eggs.  There was so much love for her family in that act.  No one has ever made tiny toboggans for my eggs!  I find myself slightly jealous! I would love to be on the receiving end of such sweet adoration.
In Matthew 23, Jesus is speaking to the crowds of people, to the Sadducees and Pharisees and to His Disciples.  His heart had been grieved by the teacher’s of the law, and He made the statement, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (vs.37) The compassion of God is so potent in this statement.  He’s saying how much He would love to bring them in close, to care for them and protect them, but they just weren’t willing to receive all that He had for them. 
I think that this is the heart of God over each of us.  He wants to hold us close to His heart.  He wants to protect us and keep us warm.  He wants to meet all of our needs.  There is usually just one problem:  we don’t receive.  What is it that keeps us from receiving the powerful love of God?  What has us convinced that total submission is a bad thing?  I have been in charge of my own life, and I have messed things up tremendously…and on more than one occasion!  I don’t want that kind of responsibility any more.  I am more than happy to give myself over to God completely.  “Submission” takes an ugly fall these days.  This is a word that has almost reached a 4-letter status, but the truth is that submitting our lives to God brings such great benefit.  Who wouldn’t want to be loved and coddled by Father God? 
I may never get tiny toboggans for my eggs, but I know that I will always be knit closely to the heart of God.  He loves me. He guards me.  He brings me close to His side and keeps me.  For this, I am grateful.

Don't Get Chopped!

There is a show on the Food Network called “Chopped” that is pretty fascinating.  The hour begins with 4 different chefs, and they go through 3 separate rounds of cooking challenges.  Each time a chef is eliminated, and the winner is the one left standing, as it were.  The remarkable thing about the show, though, is the contents of the basket.  For example, a basket might contain a fish head, licorice rope, oyster crackers and a bottle of coffee liquer.  No one in the room has ever even considered putting any of those ingredients together at all, yet they have 20 minutes to come up with an appetizer.  This is the sort of challenge that is presented, and, quite frankly, I am amazed that a single chef can come up with anything at all that resembles food as we know it. 
I have watched quite a few of these Chopped challenges, and I find that the ones who win are the ones who maintain their cool and just start cooking.  The ones who are hyper or who begin to fret over the ingredients are the ones who either can’t complete the dish or just can’t seem to make flavors come together.  
Yesterday, I was thinking about a friend of mine.  I’ve been praying for her for many years now.  She is such a sweet lady, but she has been battling the same issue for so long now.  While I was praying for her, I was wishing that I could be near her so I could help her to understand that God wages war for her.  The enemy has convinced my friend that she can never win her battle.  He has told her that she is defeated, and she leans toward believing these lies because her struggles are real, and she can’t see the end of them.  But when I pray, I am more and more convinced that she will, indeed, be victorious. 
Satan lacks the power or the authority to defeat you.  I cannot stress the truth of this statement enough.  He simply does not have what it takes to overcome a child of God.  He can, however, convince you that you are defeated.  His lack of power and authority make him wily.  He comes at us through our own minds, lying to us, telling us that we are nothing, that we will lose the war over the situations in our lives.  But, this is the truth:  God is more powerful and has more authority.  Always.  God will always be stronger.  If you belong to God and have submitted your life to His care, He will always be victorious on your behalf.  It’s not about whether we can make sense of the things in our lives; rather, it’s about the fact that the God of all creation wages war for us.
Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  This is a rhetorical question…the answer is obvious:  NO ONE!  Do not believe the lies that the enemy whispers in your ear.  You can make it!  Your battles are not too difficult for God to handle.
I know that sometimes I, myself, am handed a “basket” of difficulties, but if I remain calm and listen only to the voice of God, I cannot be shaken.  This is the attitude of a champion.  Don’t be flustered by the enemy in your life.  Don’t be overcome by Satan’s powerless attempts to defeat you.   After all, you have the Creator of all that exists in your corner.  No thing at all is too difficult for Him. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bibimbop! Don't Stop! Bibimbop!

We just love eating with our friends! We recently had a meal with a young family who is very special to us.  The wife is Korean, and she is a wonderful cook!  Our favorite things that she makes are her spring rolls and her bibimbop.  So...two nights ago, we had the great pleasure of having just that.  They prepared food for us in their home, and three families got together for a wonderful evening.  I imagine that I probably need to explain bibimbop for the very Americans among us.... Bibimbop starts with a layer of rice.  Onto that, we place a selection of sauteed vegetables, including zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, spinach, young green soybean shoots, young green leaves that come from pea plants or other plants such as sesame, onions, etc.  The possibilities in veggie are endless!  A layer of bulgoki, or Korean BBQ, comes next followed by a fried egg.  Onto all of this, we put a beef stock and red pepper paste and then drizzle with sesame oil.  It sounds insane, but the flavor is so wonderful!  If you know me, you know that I very rarely mix food - or even allow food to touch - but this is my exception!  I go to town, chopping up the egg, mixing all of the ingredients together.  It just makes me happy.  The blending of spice, soy, sesame...it can't be matched.  No singular flavor overtakes the mouth, they all work together to create the flavor of bibimbop.

I like to think of the many nations that make up the Body of Christ as being similar to my bowl of bibimbop.  We each have our own unique flavors, if you will.  We each have definite tastes in worship, evangelism, outreach, but we can all come together to make one unique flavor in the presence of God.  Ephesians 4:4-5 tells us that "there is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  There is no singular people group whose flavor takes dominance on God's palette.  He savors the blend of each of us in our uniqueness, one with the other, to enjoy the sweetness of our collective praise.  The only stipulation?  That we do, in fact, praise Him with our lives.

I rather like the idea of being an ingredient in a feast.  There's much less responsibility to be the feast!  We each have a definite and important role to play in God's Kingdom, but not one of these roles stands alone in completing the task of the Kingdom. We work together as one Body, in one Spirit.  If we each fulfill our purpose, God's glory will be revealed.  If one portion of us refuses to take part, the entire flavor suffers.... if my bibimbop didn't have the egg, I wouldn't like it so much.  If the BBQ were missing, I might not even want to eat it.  If there were no sesame oil, it would just be bland.  However, altogether, the flavor is complete. 

I encourage you to find your role in your local Body.  Find the place where you can fit in and take part.  God is so very pleased when we participate in the collective purposes that He has laid out for our communities, our nations, our world.

Smaller Menu, Greater Quality

I get overwhelmed with too many choices.  I like for my options to be kept to a minimum; otherwise, it will take me far too long to decide.  This is why going to restaurants that offer spiral-bound menus is not the best idea for me.  Many family restaurant chains do just that...they hand you a small book to peruse in order to determine what food you'll be eating.  The other day, I went to a restaurant owned by a friend, and I absolutely loved the menu!  There were about 5 appetizers, 4 main courses and a couple of desserts.  You can't get much simpler than that.  Sure, I didn't have much to choose from, but what I had was a list of quality ingredients that offered maximum flavor. The place was filled, and people were waiting.  They weren't coming for the vast selection of menu items...they were coming for the excellent choices made available to them.  Wayne had the prime rib with horseradish, and I had a ginger and parmesan encrusted sea bass which rivaled any piece of fish I have ever put in my mouth.  Very simply, done right. 

In recent weeks, we've been involved with several people who have been facing certain issues in their lives that involve choices.  I am amazed that people can sit in front of me and tell me how a particular sin was beyond their doing...how they could not help themselves.  I've heard how their struggles are more difficult to overcome and how I can't possibly understand what it's like to be in their shoes.  While I agree that addictive behavior is more difficult to stop, choices are still just that--choices.  By very nature, sin is a choice that is made.  It doesn't happen to us.  It isn't something beyond our control.  If we didn't have the ability to control our lives, then such acts wouldn't be sin; they would be merely unfortunate circumstances.  However, all sin involves choice.  Period. 

Last year, we had the opportunity to take part in a missions school where one of the speakers was Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission.  On the very first day, Mr. Cunningham told us a story that had helped to shape him throughout his life.  He told of a barge that was doing work along the top side of Niagara Falls.  This was in the early 1900's.  If you've been to Niagara, you've probably seen the Scow wedged perilously against rocks along the upper edge of the Falls.  The story is that the crew was dredging on the American side.  The day had ended, and two men remained on board for the evening.  Somehow, the ties that were keeping the barge in place managed to undo, and the barge began to drift.  Before the men even knew what was happening, they were headed to the brink of the waterfall.  People on the shoreline began to call out to God and pray for the men on board.  As people gathered to see what was happening, the miraculous occurred: the barge found the only possible rock that could keep it from tumbling over, and the men were valiantly saved.  Mr. Cunningham told us that he had gathered several lessons from this early on.  1) remain anchored/tied to a secure place.  We can all understand this one.  We should stay firmly rooted in God and God alone.  2) don't for one second let your attention be diverted. The men might possibly have been able to do something about their situation if they had noticed immediately what was about to happen.  They were just relaxing, and didn't even notice that they were adrift until it was too late. It is all too easy for us to become "adrift" in our spiritual lives.  We can so easily lose focus that we get off track - often to the extent of losing course entirely.  We need to be aware and maintain focus on God and His purposes.  3) allow others to pray for your, to be in your life with accountability.  The people on the shorelines saw what was happening.  There was nothing that they could do.  Any attempt to step into the situation would have cost many lives. They did what they could, though.  They prayed, and they prayed with all their might for the 2 men on the Scow.  Sometimes, when we are personally involved in spiritually dangerous situations, we don't have the proper perspective even to know how to pray for ourselves.  If we allow others to have a place of spiritual accountability in our lives, they can pray for us effectively.  Do not for one moment think that you can handle all of your sinful choices and their consequences on your own.  Find people who are not condemning, who can pray with you and stand beside you in your peril. 

Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, if there is any praise, think about these things."  I have learned that if I remain focused on the things that are of God, I am less likely to make choices that offend His very character.  Since I know God and have made Him the Lord of my life, He lives in me.  If I am making choices that are contrary to His nature, I am grieving His spirit.  But when I make the definite choice to meditate on the Word of God, to praise Him throughout the day, to be in conversation with Him as I go about my life, I am not as vulnerable to making poor, ungodly choices.  Sin is not a series of mistakes.  It is a series of choices.