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Monday, April 14, 2014

FRESH BREAD SHARED

My grandmother baked bread. My mother baked bread. I can smell our kitchen on baking day in my imagination--one of the favorite nostalgic fragrances of my growing years.

FD 1.jpgI don't bake bread. I buy it from the bakery--real bread, hot from the oven, in a loaf, not sliced, the whole grain kind, chuck full of fifteen grains with seeds all over the crunchy crust. The kind of bread that when you take a bite, you can actually chew it and savor every mouthful. I time my purchase to the day and hour when the baker promised that a new batch is due from the oven each day. I want to smell the primal fragrance of daily fresh bread.

I love to eat bread. Oh, I know that bread is loaded with carbs, but they are offset by the natural fiber and mega-nourishment. I'm willing to eat leftover bread if I must, since it retains its food value, but I miss its fresh-baked scent. I really don't like to eat or serve yesterday's bread although you can freshen it with a little moisture for a few seconds in the microwave.

I take joy in sharing fresh bread. I'd rather invite a friend over for coffee and fresh bread with real butter. You don't even need jam. Perhaps with some cheese and fruit. It's a feast for the taste buds rather than indulging in some sugary confection loaded with calories which assaults the appetite.

Throughout the world and over the centuries bread in its various forms has been the essential, primary staple. When Jesus declared, "man shall not live by bread alone" and "I AM the Bread of life," He was giving us His eternal perspective. "Give us this day our daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer shows us the Father's concern for our basic daily provision as well as pointing forward spiritually toward the sacrifice of His own body for our salvation on the Cross and memorialized in the Eucharist--His real Body and Blood.

I want to offer fresh bread to those who look to me for encouragement, spiritual help, and guidance. I don't want to offer stale bread. As I feed afresh on the Bread of the Word of God for the needs of my own soul, the Lord multiplies the loaves and provides more than enough for me to share afresh with others.

FRESH BREAD

A fresh touch from You
how I long for it, Lord!

My spirit grows stale
from fast food on the run
trying to sustain myself
on yesterday's bread or
spiritual glazed donuts
and empty junk food.

Each day I need to taste
fresh Bread of Life
*prepared by Your hands
in the early morning
upon a fire of charcoal
as You provided breakfast
fish and bread generously spread
for those who followed You
beside the Sea of Tiberius.

Give me this day my daily bread
Homemade Bread of Your Word prepared
by nail-pierced resurrected hands
kindling burning first-love in me.

Since I have tasted of You
I cannot live on instant food
I cannot walk or work sustained
by man's baked goods alone
even freshened in a microwave oven.
I must have Your wholesome Bread
delivered fresh each day
from Your heart to mine.

Only that will satisfy and nourish
others who look expectantly
for me to share generously
the fresh Bread You've first given me.    
-------
* "And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid,
 a fish placed on it, and bread...and Jesus said to them, 
'Come and have breakfast.'"
  (John 21:9, 12)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

HOW TO PREVENT RUSTING

Wa
When I was a child of about kindergarten age (a reach back of more than eighty years), I remember my father's sharpening wheel in his garage workshop. It was made of some kind of rough, abrasive stone. He didn't have an electric motor until many years later. 

If I promised to be careful, Dad allowed me to turn the handle of the wheel while he held a sickle blade, a file, or an ax against the wheel to sharpen it. It was fun to see the sparks fly as the wheel whirred and the tool emerged with a new cutting edge. Dad squirted lubricating oil on the blade during the sharpening process.bout kin
my father's sharpening wheel i
f more than e(a reach back of more than eighty




My Czech grandmother who lived with us brought a lead-gray sharpening stone with her from Europe and she took charge of keeping all our kitchen knives sharp. She also applied oil to the stone to get a fine edge on the blades as she rubbed them skillfully against the stone. She put more oil on afterward to prevent rusting, as did my Dad on the sharpened sickle.

For many reasons, we as Christians may grow dull in our lives and witness as the years go by. We may become slack and lazy in nourishing our spiritual lives. On the other hand, we may be too active or busy without taking time to renew our own cutting edge. If we continually give of ourselves to others in teaching, preaching, or other service, we become depleted. Without continual attention to our spiritual keenness, we soon become instruments that God can no longer profitably use. 

We must take in fresh resources to build ourselves up. Spending time alone with God in prayer and His Word is not a luxury or an option. It is essential. Routine, casual reading of the Word of God will not in itself restore our blunt edge. We need the lubricating Oil of the Holy Spirit to quicken us. It is His holy anointing that keeps the sparks in our witness, in our service, and in all the relationships of our daily lives. That applies to the homemaker, the student, the wage earner, and retirees as well. 

The Oil of the Spirit protects us from damaging rust. Grandma used to say that no knife was so dull that it was beyond restoration. She could still obtain an edge like a razor. Her old favorite meat cutting knife had a blade so thin that the straight edge was worn to a curve with much use and many sharpenings over the years. 

The Holy Spirit is the Great Restorer of cutting edges in anyone's spiritual life. Jesus promised to “make all things new.” No one is beyond restoration. We can't live on past experiences or yesterday's sparks. Our lack will soon be exposed.

 
RUT OF YESTERDAY

I'm inclined to ride on the past:
on previous experiences with God
bygone touches of His grace
starving on stale manna
snacking on scraps of blessing
leftovers from days on higher ground.

I hang on to the coattails
of what has been:
the way of least resistance.
Who will know?
I hide behind my reputation
gained in a former day
and camouflage my deficiency.

But the facade crumbles:
my aridity is exposed
my weakness shows and soon
there are those who observe
how sluggishly I walk in the Spirit
that I face forward but
slide backward losing ground.

The upward way, the onward way
is to keep advancing
and not hiding in shadows of the past
but keeping pace with God.

Lord, touch me with Your fire
inspire me to press on from glory to glory.
Renew me again and again.
Don't let me get stuck in the hitherto
bogged down in the already
in that muddy rut of yesterday.






















Saturday, April 12, 2014

OUTSTANDING WOMAN OF COURAGE!


(I can't resist passing on a great story of love and courage)


For half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as a heart-stirring American hero. He lifted the nation's spirits when, as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he was blasted alone into orbit around the Earth; the enduring affection for him is so powerful that even now people find themselves misting up at the sight of his face or the sound of his voice. But for all these years, Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone who he has seen display endless courage of a different kind: Annie Glenn.

They have been married for 68 years. He is 90; she turned 92 on Friday.

This weekend there has been news coverage of the 50th anniversary of Glenn's flight into orbit. We are being reminded that, half a century down the line, he remains America's unforgettable hero. He has never really bought that. Because the heroism he most cherishes is of a sort that is seldom cheered. It belongs to the person he has known longer than he has known anyone else in the world.

John Glenn and Annie Castor first knew each other when - literally -- they shared a playpen.

In New Concord, Ohio, his parents and hers were friends. When the families got together, their children played.

John -- the future Marine fighter pilot, the future test-pilot ace, the future astronaut -- was pure gold from the start. He would end up having what it took to rise to the absolute pinnacle of American regard during the space race; imagine what it meant to be the young John Glenn in the small confines of New Concord. Three-sport varsity athlete, most admired boy in town, Mr. Everything.

Annie Castor was bright, was caring, was talented, was generous of spirit. But she could talk only with the most excruciating of difficulty. It haunted her. Her stuttering was so severe that it was categorized as an "85%" disability--85% of the time, she could not manage to make words come out. When she tried to recite a poem in elementary school, she was laughed at. She was not able to speak on the telephone. She could not have a regular conversation with a friend.

And John Glenn loved her. Even as a boy he was wise enough to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on knowing a rare and wonderful girl. 

They married on April 6, 1943. As a military wife, she found that life as she and John moved around the country could be quite hurtful. She has written: "I can remember some very painful experiences -- especially the ridicule." In department stores, she would wander unfamiliar aisles trying to find the right section, embarrassed to attempt to ask the salesclerks for help. In taxis, she would have to write requests to the driver, because she couldn't speak the destination out loud. In restaurants, she would point to the items on the menu.

A fine musician, Annie, in every community where she and John moved, would play the organ in church as a way to make new friends. She and John had two children; she has written: "Can you imagine living in the modern world and being afraid to use the telephone? 'Hello' used to be so hard for me to say. I worried that my children would be injured and need a doctor. Could I somehow find the words to get the information across on the phone?"

John, as a Marine aviator, flew 59 combat missions in World War II and 90 during the Korean War. Every time he was deployed, he and Annie said goodbye the same way. His last words to her before leaving were: "I'm just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum." And, with just the two of them there, she was able to always reply: "Don't be long."

On that February day in 1962 when the world held its breath and the Atlas rocket was about to propel him toward space, those were their words, once again. And in 1998, when, at 77, he went back to space aboard the shuttle Discovery, it was an understandably tense time for them. What if something happened to end their life together? She knew what he would say to her before boarding the shuttle. He did -- and this time he gave her a present to hold onto: A pack of gum. She carried it in a pocket next to her heart until he was safely home.

Many times in her life she attempted various treatments to cure her stutter. None worked. But in 1973, she found a doctor in Virginia who ran an intensive program she and John hoped would help her. She traveled there to enroll and to give it her best effort. The miracle she and John had always waited for at last, as miracles will do, arrived. At age 53, she was able to talk fluidly, and not in brief, anxiety-ridden, agonizing bursts.

John has said that on the first day he heard her speak to him with confidence and clarity, he dropped to his knees to offer a prayer of gratitude.

He has written: "I saw Annie's perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her and love her even more." He has heard roaring ovations in countries around the globe for his own valor, but his awe is reserved for Annie, and what she accomplished: "I don't know if I would have had the courage."

Her voice is so clear and steady now that she regularly gives public talks. If you are lucky enough to know the Glenns, the sight and sound of them bantering and joking with each other and playfully finishing each others' sentences is something that warms you and makes you thankful just to be in the same room.

Monday will be the anniversary of the Mercury space shot, and once again people will remember, and will speak of the heroism of Glenn the astronaut.

But if you ever find yourself at an event where the Glenns are appearing, and you want to see someone so brimming with pride and love that you may feel your own tears start to well up, wait until the moment that Annie stands to say a few words to the audience.

And as she begins, take a look at her husband's eyes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GREEN IS ON THE WAY!

 

(Sort of an adapted encore by request)



GREEN is bursting out all over! No, not the Shamrocks and things associated with the Emerald Isle and Saint Patrick. Been there, done that--we already celebrated that kind of green last month.

NOW it is time for April showers. God has His paintbrush dipped into a massive paint can labeled "Green" while I imagine Him holding a humongous umbrella over Himself.

It seems that suddenly my whole world has turned green! The grey, dull drab of winter has given way to spring almost overnight.

When I look out the picture window from my kitchen table over the woods and vales of the Shenandoah Valley, flourishing greenery stretches as far as my eyes can see. After God's pyrotechnic-like display for several recent stormy, windy, cloudburst nights accompanied by hiding-under-the-blanket thunder boomers, new bursts of green everywhere make it seem as if I’m living in an Amazon rain forest.
I meditated on God's marvelous idea and design to not only give me eyesight but all of my senses so that I can enjoy what He has created. I can see multiple shades of green touch the fresh green, (except the poison ivy kind!) breathe it in, hear the wind rustle through the green leaves, even taste it (in salads)!

Thank You, Lord, that I am not colorblind but I can appreciate the generous, artistic splashes of color in this world which You fashioned for Your glory and the pleasure of man and then sent him forth to cultivate it.

 I praise You, O Master Artist, for selecting the background color of green when you started painting Your Earth canvas.

I'm including my poem below in my current book-in-progress "STILL MORE: FLOURISHING ON MY SUMMIT" in chapter seven entitled "Nature Flourishes on my Summit."


GOD LIKES GREEN!

Obviously, GOD LIKES GREEN.
It must surely be

one of His favorite creation colors

not only for splendor and beauty
 but as a manifestation of life and growth:
"essential to production of carbohydrates

by photosynthesis."

It was God who thought up
that marvelous synthesis process
without which we could not live!

Look at the generous way
God lavishly splashes green around:
laying a verdant carpet for me to walk on
providing it for animals and man to eat
decorating trees with green in spring
displaying multi-hues of green foliage
keeping evergreens unchanged
to contrast with blankets
of white winter snow
embracing plants and flowers
with green leafy arms
that can climb walls of buildings
while providing lettuce and spinach
for my nourishment.

What a sense of humor God must have
to grow green veggies in whimsical shapes
like asparagus, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
and swish green into seaweed
in the ocean while floating green watercress
in quiet, fresh streams!

Yes, GOD LIKES GREEN:
"The righteous will flourish and grow
into old age full of sap
and very GREEN"*
That means me!

Clothed in the righteousness of Christ
not in my own achievements
I should not be
like withered leaf and brown
but full of inner vitality
flowing from His dwelling in me
and I abiding in Him
flourishing like a green palm tree
bearing fruit in all seasons of my life.*

Since God is so partial to GREEN

then GREEN I aspire to be

full of Divine chlorophyll
to please Him joyfully!

*Psalm 92:12-15

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

WHEN WE'RE ALL SHOOK UP

Photo: The Boogy manAdversity shook the apostle Paul's tree, but the Galatians benefited from the dropping of his good fruit.
  
Paul was apparently suffering from some kind of bodily illness. He was not specific about it when he wrote about it in Galatians 4:13 but he went into detail about his dilemma in the twelfth chapter of Second Corinthians. Because of the context, it is speculated that Paul might have had a severe, miserable eye problem, perhaps painful, disfiguring, and chronic. He seems to have been forced to change his missionary itinerary and time schedule to stay in Galatia somewhat longer to recover. He referred to the problem as his “thorn in the flesh.” It must have been no small thing because three times he prayed intensely to be healed. 
 
God didn't even heal the apostle Paul in spite of his persistent praying.

God denied his request but answered him in a more excellent way. (2 Cor. 12:7) Whatever the affliction was, Paul took advantage of the prolonged negative circumstances to preach the gospel instead of indulging in a pity party. "...It was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you...." 
 
In chapter five of his letter to the Church in Galatia, Paul taught and demonstrated by his life what the Fruit of the Spirit is all about. That Fruit doesn’t suddenly appear in our lives as do the Gifts for ministry given by the Holy Spirit. The Fruit of the Spirit grows gradually from bud to blossom to full fruit as it does in nature. We develop the fruit of our Christian character; it matures as a gradual process throughout our lives. To progressively “bear fruit and more fruit and much fruit" is the express will of God for His children—but it doesn’t happen overnight like Jack’s beanstalk in the fairy tale.

Early fruit is usually not sweet because it isn't ripe, it hasn't matured. Time hasn't mellowed it; it tends to be tart. The seeds it contains in the early stages are not fully developed either, and so they can’t reproduce in a normal way. The longer the fruit remains on the tree connected to the flowing, vital sap of the tree, the sweeter it becomes. Mature fruit should be the sweetest in nature and in our lives. 
 
Eventually, to accomplish the purpose of fruit bearing, the fruit has to be separated from the tree. It has to be picked, or dropped when it is ripe, or someone or something has to shake the tree. Whatever “fruit of the Spirit” God is developing in our lives is always meant for the benefit of others, not for ourselves. 
 
Scripture often uses the analogy of a fruit-bearing tree and a faithful Christian. A bodily illness or other affliction or adversity can shake us up and result in spiritual fruit falling from our tree. That fruit can be good or bad depending on its condition while growing on the tree. Hopefully, we’ve been developing good fruit.

We express through our attitude and temperament and character those godly virtues listed in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All those aspects of fruit are meant to affect and nourish everyone with whom we come in contact. Our fruit contains seeds which God has been growing in us for a lifetime. They have the potential of reproducing our Lord's character in the lives of others.

Just as the fruit is not grown for the benefit of the tree, so our fruit is meant for others—for our families, our caregivers, if we are ill, or those for whom we care, our friends, those with whom we have rubbed shoulders in the public square or during common events of life, even, or especially, to our enemies or those who oppose us in some way. These all need to see Jesus in us even when we are hurting with actual pain, miserable with our weakness, suffering, perhaps losing control over normal aspects of our life through aging, or when we suffer bodily indignities through tests or medical procedures. God uses such happenings to shake our tree and dole out our fruit to others.

Let's not be quick to blame the Enemy of our souls for all of our afflictions, sufferings, trials, and distresses. It is not necessarily he who is shaking our life tree and causing our fruit to fall to the ground. Let's not give the Enemy too much credit. He does have designs on us for harm, but God may be using such adversities to further His own plans for us, plans for good and not for evil. 
 
We may feel that in adverse circumstances our witness opportunity is curtailed. That wasn't the case with the apostle Paul and it need not be so for us. On the contrary, the Lord may permit such harsh conditions to shake our life tree in order that our good falling fruit may become accessible to others. The shaking may not be a bad thing, but rather in fulfillment of God’s plan to show forth the life of Christ through us. 
 
As others “eat the fruit” that drops from us through our patient, loving, longsuffering, joyful attitude during our times of adversity, others are nourished, God has used us, and He receives the glory.

Monday, March 31, 2014

DID JESUS LAUGH?


We don't usually think of Jesus laughing. Wasn't He called a "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" in the prophetic Scriptures? 


Yes, He willingly and obediently followed His Father's plan to suffer and die on the cross at the young, vigorous age of thirty. In the prime of His life Jesus bore our sins in such an excruciating way to open heaven for us. 

 But the Scripture also says that He endured that suffering "for the JOY that was set before Him." 

Think about it--wouldn't you be surprised if He didn’t habitually laugh and enjoy food, companionship, jovial Jewish festivals, and a happy home life growing up? Wouldn’t you imagine that Mary and Joseph’s normal Jewish household was not a morose place but rather that there would have been plenty of merriment? 

Don’t you suppose He went over to His Grandma Anne's house for sleepovers, perhaps engaging in boyish horseplay with His boyhood buddies as they stretched out on His grandparents’ flat rooftop under the stars (that He created!)? Don’t you imagine Grandma Anne probably spoiled Him by keeping her "cookie jar" stocked with sweet dates or figs and other delicacies? 

Could you visualize Him as anything other than a normal, happy Jewish boy? The Jewish calendar had so many prolonged feast days for families to celebrate. Wouldn't Jesus have had fun along the way on their regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem with donkey caravans and camping out and roadside picnics all the while singing the joyful songs of Zion? 

Can’t you just picture Jesus participating in the festive Jewish group dances, and romping around the neighborhood with his apparently numerous cousins? Think of Him as an eager teenager anticipating fun with His relatives and neighbors and classmates from the rabbinical school. After all, Jesus grew up in a typical Jewish cultural environment that must have had its lighthearted moments.

As Jesus grew to manhood, dealing with the village customers in Joseph & Son Building and Carpentry Shop” probably had its humorous incidences too.

During His years of ministry, do you think that He would have been invited to weddings and dinners and banquets as frequently as Scripture records if He had been a dead pan, wet blanket, miserable guest?

Even some of Jesus' parables seem to be tongue-in-cheek, deliberate exaggerations to make a point. The listening crowd lounging on the Judean hillsides must have laughed with Him at His obvious embellishments in a story He was telling. 

Can't you just imagine Jesus joining someone whom He had just healed in a head thrown back joyful laugh of praise to God? 

Think about the little kids who were attracted to Him, whom He welcomed in His embrace and lifted up to sit on His lap—and think about the moms who not only didn't snatch them away in fear but intentionally brought them to Jesus for His blessing. Would they have trusted their children to a sour-faced, frowning grouch?

In His itinerant ministry in adult years His favorite stopover when near Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha, and His good buddy Lazarus. That’s where He could kick off His sandals, anticipate Martha’s savory cooking, and relax. Of course He would engage in serious heavenly conversation but probably also in plenty of family small talk as He recounted tales of His preaching tours and some of the bumblings of His disciples who so often "just didn't get it." Likewise His leisure stopovers at Peter’s home in Galilee where He was warmly welcomed to enjoy the warm hospitality of Peter's family.

Well...draw your own conclusions...but with a smile. Just believe Jesus when He told us the reason He came into the world was "so that MY JOY may be in you, and YOUR JOY may be full" (John 15:11).




Saturday, March 29, 2014

HANDS OFF MY CLAY POT!

"Hands off my clay pot, people! Just leave me alone! I want to become holy all by myself."

That's how I feel when people interrupt my schedule, take up my time, frustrate me, irritate me, rub me the wrong way, and otherwise ruffle my feathers.

If it just weren't for people in my life, I would be so happy in my private comfort zone.

"What? Lord, did You say You are the One who sends PEOPLE into my life to MAKE me holy? That sounds far-fetched to me. You say that I'd just stay a diamond in the rough were it not for the abrasiveness of human relationships to make me into a precious gem to shine for You?  Please explain that to me, Lord....


 (A Personified Selection from Leona Choy's unpublished-yet book, GOTHIC ARCHIE AND OTHER IMMAGINEERINGS: Fables of God's Kingdom for Grown-Ups.)

The Interpersonal Relationship of Clods

We clods lay ignored in a huddled heap in our wooden crate on the back porch for so long that we lost track of time. 

The Man found us scattered in gullies and crevices on the mountain and brought us to this Unknown Place. At least Out There we could breathe. Here we were smashed one clump against another, quite homogenized globs of dirt, undistinguishable from each other.

“What do you plan to do with those muddy clods?” a curious voice asked.

“I’m going to turn each one into the likes of these,” The Man answered. We shoved at each other trying to see through the slats of the crate. 

The Man displayed to his friend a splendid collection of highly polished stones that sparkled like diamonds.

Our hopes soared! We fairly trembled with anticipation to think that each of us would quickly be lifted out of our anonymity and transformed one by one through some instant miracle into costly gems.

“Come along and I’ll show you how it’s done,” invited The Man.

He dragged our crate out of the shadows. But instead of picking us out one by one for a magical transformation, as we expected, He dumped all of us misshapen, mud-caked clods into a huge steel drum. 

Oh! How it hurt to be treated so ignominiously! The jagged edges of each clod hit and scraped against each other! Scarcely had we rolled over trying to get more comfortable, than steaming streams of hot water began to squirt over us. The Man shook an abrasive powder all over us, dribbled oil on the whole mess, then slammed the door and locked it. We were terrified in the utter darkness.

The Man flipped a motor switch and the steel drum began to rotate unmercifully fast. Scraping, grinding, banging, crashing, clod against clod we tumbled! How could we endure such deafening noise and pain and our forced contact with one another. Continual spinning, friction, jabbing, crushing, knocking. How long? How long?

“It takes time,” remarked The Man as He walked away with his friend while our pummeling went on and on...and on.

Much, much later He returned and flipped the switch off. The drum came to a squeaking halt. We were unceremoniously dumped out into a trough outdoors, nearly blinded by the sunlight. The Man turned a powerful spurt of hot water on us from a hose. Dirt poured away in a murky stream.Would our ordeal never end?

“Beautiful! Marvelous! Exquisite!” exclaimed The Man’s friend.

Breathless and dazed, we lay there stunned until we realized that he was talking about us. We looked at each other and gasped with disbelief. Each was different from the other—sparkling, brilliant and clean! We had been transformed from earthy clods to gems!

The Man lifted one of us in His palm. “Look,” He spoke with delight. “I can see My reflection on the surface of this one!”

He explained to His friend, “I can't polish one clod by itself to this perfection.  It takes the friction of many clods against each other, together with Oil, abrasive, time, and lots of hot water to get this marvelous result.”
******

From THE RESOURCE BOOK

1 John 3:2
“Beloved, now are we children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, 
we shall be like Him, 
because we shall see Him just as He is.”