Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To have, to hold or!?

As I read  Matthew 13 recently, Jesus explained the parable of the weeds analogy in the passage  If the weeds share the same space as the desired crop, it would be nearly impossible to root out one and leave the other to grow once either or both were a significant size.....thus the land owner told the servants to wait --- allow them to grow together and then sort the weeds out at harvest time. We have often heard Jesus' story of planting seeds in a variety of soils and for the most part understand the symbolism there.  In the previous post, I discussed the mustard seed and the yeast: although tiny, they make a HUGE difference.  Moving on, I had read multiple times the parable of the net in Matthew; but never have fished or any desire to go fishing, I did not "get" the significance of the story.   In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus stated about the kingdom of heaven:

47“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Let me say for the gazillionth time, I do not have one problem saying: I am NOT a theologian, nor a fisherman nor a philosopher. I am a professional question asker, though (One of my husband's nicknames for me is "Madame Prosecutor"). I have two friends who thoroughly enjoying fishing whom I questioned and am deeply grateful for their input. Prior to the discussion, I assumed that all fish caught were usable: once caught, it was merely a process of being "graded" by size and the smallest ones were thrown back into the water because they were too small to be of use. Steve and Brent corroborated testimony that there are target fish anytime one decides to go fishing. While you may hope to bring in a certain species, inevitably others will be caught; some are worth saving and others, less desireable are not. Regardless, those who fish cast their line or net. They dream big of being able to land lots of large fish -- to recount an even bigger story!

I learned is that while attempting to catch target eatable fish, You WILL catch "trash fish". These specimens will damage your equipment and potentially even those the person who is fishing. Some species are mean; they may even have a multitude of slicing, sharp teeth or spiny, poinsonous fins that will slash your hands as you attempt to free them. When casting a net, the fishermen in the aforementioned scripture passage had no control over what came up with the net. When they pulled up the bounty, inevitably they would sort through the catch to keep the ones they wanted and throw back some; but they would throw away the bad fish.

Throughout my life---and possibly yours---there are persons that have crossed my path (or floated into my net) that have been mean. They may even slice with sharp words or spiny comments and yes, even poisonous, toxic actions. When you attempt to cut them free them from your net, sometimes they do even more damage and embed themselves further. One relationship in particular is a painful memory: this person had nothing good to say--EVER-- about anyone or anything. We had recently moved to the community and in my loneliness of attempting to build new friendships, this person bit the line I cast. In fact, in hindsight, they all but jumped into my boat uninvited. It did not take long before I realized that if their words of gossip and questionable actions were not good while with me, behind my back they were gossiping about me and not acting honorably. I did not realize intially how this toxic friendship was knicking away at my time with God, my family and other relationships. Yes, it left scars, but by God's grace, I removed my hands and my heart before I got totally sucked in. I had to refocus on catching the target that I desperately needed: loving people who are hungry for God. Sometimes those who fish are blessed and catch what they want quickly. Other times they go home with nothing, only having caught maybe a bit of refuse or catching plant life growing....

So it is with our desire to mature and build healthy relationships: just as good fish drawn in by the net can nourish our physical body, our spirits are nourished by mature, Christ-like people. God indeed uses what we "catch" to teach us; yes, there are still plenty of harmful, trash fish wherever there is enough water for them to thrive. If not pulled out, some of these "fish" will consume the entire population of healthy, native ones-- if they are not stopped, BUT we must continue to fish. Don't let the poisonous, spiny, harmful ones stop you. To collect the good, you must continue to cast your net.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Smallest Thing

Mustard Seed
No domestic goddess here.  Never stood a chance.  My mom set an outstanding example of reading or playing cards or United Methodist Women or even visiting older adults at the nursing home. Cooking happened at our house but primarily, like in my own home, for survival rather than enjoyment! Given the choice, I will gladly do dishes so that I don't have to cook.  Any day of the week, give me dish duty.

Fully Grown Mustard Bush
This morning I was reading from Matthew and came across the parable---all one verse of it in 13:33--of the yeast in the dough.  To understand it better, one must consider the neighboring verses. Prior to the yeast, Jesus was teaching first sowing seeds, followed by another story about weeds being sown by the enemy amongst the choicest seed available in an attempt to sabotage the harvest. Continuing on with the gardening idea, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. In Biblical Palestine, mustard was the very smallest of all the seeds known to man, but it would sprout and grow to bushy tree, some 10' tall;  big enough that birds could rest there.  Possibly the same birds Jesus spoke of when He told us not to worry about what we would eat or drink or what we would wear.  That's another story BUT note that the mustard seed is SMALL, nearly microscopic grows to become HUGE.

Then the yeast parable.  Some versions say the woman used about 60lbs of flour.  Keep in mind she did not pour this glutenous mixture into her Kitchenaid Industrial stand mixer.  When I thought about making dough is such large proportions I had to consult with my dear friends who make dough in 150 lb. batches for their business multiple times each week.  Having never ever made one loaf, I paid close attention in an attempt to wrap my mind around the whole yeast thing.  Yeast is so small that you need a microscope to see this fungi.  The yeast that comes out of one packet are actually billions of molecules that cling together to form what the naked eye can see.

Because this is an important part of their livelyhood, they are pretty particular about making their dough. Ticky is what we call it in the south. They go so far as to take the temperature of the bowl and the temperature of the flour so as to calculate the best temperature for the water they will add to the yeast.  Water that is too hot will kill the yeast; too cold and it will not reactivate the yeast. The dough is mixed for a specific amount of time so that the temperature doesn't rise too much in the dough and so that the dough will remain tender.  Did you know that, like humans, yeast likes sugar?  As it consumes the sugar in the dough, it puts out (also like humans!) carbon dioxide.  In the bowl to the right, the CO2 from this interaction is what makes air pockets and helpts the dough rise.  If you want to know more about such things, check out this cool website.

The rising and gastuous arrogance remind us that this parable is the only time the term yeast was used in a favorable light in the Bible.  Yeast most often referred to bad influences or corruption (as in Jesus talking about the Pharisees).  In the Old Testament Passover celebrations, houses were cleansed of all yeast and bread was made "unleavened" to remember that their ancestors made it to be taken with them in their flight from Egypt to the Promised Land.  If Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven growing like a mustard bush to become huge and noticeable, the yeast would have more or less an opposite effect.  In fact, Matthew records Jesus saying the woman mixed or "hid" the yeast inside the dough. Too much yeast will ruin the bread's taste.  Too little yeast and it will not rise sufficiently. The purpose of the yeast is be a supporting, behind the scenes character.  Dough often rises slowly.  In a world of "I-want-it-now" where we can get our next meal in a matter of seconds at a drive-thru window, waiting for bread to rise or mustard bushes to grow takes time and patience.  So does our relationship with God, so that we can see and know the kingdom of heaven.

Once the dough has risen, my friend said it is "punched down" and kneaded to eliminate unnecessary air.  In the picture at left, the dough is starting to look good because I can envision the finished product.  There have been times in my life when I felt "punched down" whether it was because a friend or family member let me down; I was sitting at home sick when I had better/more important things to do; or any other number of things I perceive as unfair.  How could God allow my sails to be deflated when there are so many things I should be doing or saying to help Him look good?  By the same token, I've gotten in trouble for saying and doing because often I don't know when to stop.  Oooooo wheeee, I have made some BIG messes and trying to take back things I shouldn't have touched in the first place....yep, I deserved to be punched down.  Kneaded so as to remove unnecessary hot air......but a good baker knows that some of the best breads are the ones that rise, are kneaded, punched and the cycle starts over again of rising, then kneading.

So today, Lord, I ask that you punch me down. Deflate me.  I want the yeast of Your Holy Spirit to bring life giving power to rise out of the messes I sometimes find myself in.  I know that the truth of the matter is that I learn and grow best in the kneading and punching of life.  They are not situations I would choose but please use them to help me be the woman You dream for me to be. A place where You can put Your mark on me because You were kneaded and punched down by those You can to save.  Knead me, Lord, with hands of love.  Proof me like bread dough, so that the world will see You instead of me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


I confess up front that I am not a theologian.  I have been around the block a time or two before but I learn best by watching and I've been blessed to hang out with some folks who have lived their faith and prayers in real and specific ways.  For the last several months, God has been laying some things on my heart; one of them is going back to the basics of the faith.

With the approach of the holy season of Lent coming up in just a few days, fasting is a basic Christian belief that is rarely spoken of.  Lent is one of the seasons of the church year, celebrated for centuries.  Lent is the period of time prior to Easter when Christians traditionally remember the sacrifices that Christ made as a human on earth and specifically when he spent 40 days in the wilderness alone prior to His earthly ministry.  Although He was tempted, Jesus victoriously answered Satan each time through use of scripture and prayer.  Following the three temptations in the wilderness, Satan is not recorded again addressing Jesus directly in the Bible. Multiple times indirectly, like a bully who "snipes" at a would-be victim just to aggravate them.

Fasting is almost never addressed without prayer, yet nearly everyone will mention prayer: "I'll pray for you!" you may wave as you walk away from your friend who is facing surgery;  To the co-worker  in chemo you might say, "You are on our prayer list at church".  And as we pray, nearly everyone I know falls into the just-short-of-mindless supplications of "God, please bless ______ " which might be anything from spaghetti to snowy-headed Sister Susie at church with bad breath.  "Lord, please help me with ___" could be completed with anything and everything from a chemistry test to chronic fatigue to landing a new job.  I think you see my point: prayers that cover the bases but accomplish little else ..... and have no real expectation whatsoever of God actually answering.  Ouch.  Yes, I'm admitting that I'm often in the same boat.  While I'm loading up on ammuntition, let me fire one more round in this game of spiritual russian roulette: we all pray for God to bless America and fret that our country is going to hell in a handbasket.  Christians are told to "get out and vote" but how many do the preparation we SHOULD do prior to an election?  I'm talking about prayer, repentance and fasting.  I'm not talking about posting some sweet Christian meme to your social media.

Image result for fasting spiritual warfareThe traditional view of fasting is giving up food and utilizing the time we would have spent eating instead on praying: essentially it boils down to feeding the spirit instead of the body. Rather than focusing on where to eat your next meal, you choose to focus on Jesus, the Bread of Life.  Who says everything always has to be the same?  God created millions of us, all with different fingerprints, DNA and why do we have to fast identically?  The textbook definition for fasting would be giving up of food and/or drink to show particular devotion to God.  The Old Testament shows several examples whether it is Jehoshophat's call for the citizens of Judah in Chronicles or the citizen of Nineveh with weeping and repentance after old Jonah finally showed up to begrudgingly inform them of their sins.

To me, what fasting says about/from us to the Lord is pretty straight forward and simple: "God, I'm ready to get down to business.  I'm messed up. I need to do the little I can make things right.  To show you that I how serious I am about changing, I plan to do without ______ to remind me that I am nothing without You." It could be food.  You could also fill it in with anything from chocolate to bread or soft drinks (hmmmmm, there is a distinct food/beverage theme here) to more recently I gave up Facebook for several days---I don't think you'll find that form of a fast in either the Old or New Testament.  But everytime I thought about checking facebook on my smart phone or computer, I caught myself, stopped and refocused on God.  It made me realize that I spend entirely too much time on social media, for sure!

If you want to take the time to study fasting on your own and the record of it in the Bible, I think you'll be struck by one more hallmark that most Christians fail to consider: it is most often done in coordination with other people.  Recently I had a big situation happen that I had made an extraordinarily large mess out of.  For a length of time I poured out to God by myself with great passion and even more groveling, asking for Him to change me and show me how to make things right if possible.  But I really struggled over whether to ask two or three friends to join me in prayer. Part of  this struggle was admitting that I was human -- and to blame for at least part for the mess;  the other was simply the deception of the evil one whispering in my ear, "you should be able to handle this all by yourself!".

Image result for fervent corporate prayerThe Lord and I haven't decided what I should give up this year for Lent--- the annual fast that many Christians choose to participate in together.  Some give up things like I've already mentioned.  Others might add an activity as a form of discipline and desire to become more like Christ.  The main goal of fasting is pretty simple: ask God to take an ordinary person like you or me and help us focus on the Creator of the entire universe.....who created us and loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Friends, there are a plethora of alarms all around us, waking us, begging us to pray.  While there is nothing noteworthy about any single person amongst us, there is definitely potential. Remember a rag-tag group of people who went into hiding to devote themselves to continuous prayer in an upper room  (Acts 1).  What happened as a result of their getting serious with God?

It literally changed. the. world.

My Sopa de Pollo

My daughter, for several years, has talked with great love and passion about Sopa de pollo she has eaten several different places.  Our family loves Mexican food.  This is an easy recipe to use on a cold, wintry night.  Thanks, Ginny, for inspiring tu Mama to try new things!

Super Easy 
Sopa De Pollo
(Mexican Chicken Soup)

3 Chicken breasts, whole
Celery and Carrots: 1 Cup each, Chopped
2 Large Onions, chopped

Cover above ingredients in a large dutch oven with enough water to cover ingredients and cook until chicken is tender.  Remove chicken, shred and return to pot.  Add the following ingredients:

1 box (or 3 cans) Chicken Broth or Stock
2-3 teaspoons dried ground cumin
2-3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes
1 bag frozen corn (I prefer white shoepeg)
½ Cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt/pepper to taste

Simmer 20-30 minutes before serving.  Serve over Mexican or Steamed White Rice and garnish with fresh onion, avocado, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice and/or hot sauce.  Maybe even serve with fresh fruit salad, jalapeno corn bread or corn chips!

Like most soups, this is much better reheated.  Make a day or two ahead of time if possible!