If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this puzzling assortment of letters and words. The “game” is to look for the first three words you recognize, so if you haven’t played the game yet and would like to, take just a minute and look until you recognize three words.
Have you found them? According to the game going around, those three words define reality for you. What did you find? Not that it matters, but I found “creation,” “power,” and “family.” I considered how those words might define my reality, but I was a little disappointed. I looked back and found words like “love,” “gratitude,” and “purpose” that I might have preferred. I also found “breakthrough,” “miracles,” “health,” “alignment,” “selfcare,” “lessons,” “connection,” “money . . .” the longer I looked, the more options I found.
Are you satisfied with the first three words you saw?
As a game, it’s fun and a little provocative, but it made me stop and think about this question: If I could have any three words define my reality that I want, which three would I pick? How about you? “Love, grace, and mercy” come to my mind today, but maybe I’d pick three different words if I gave it even more thought.
Our reality isn’t really defined by words on a page, although if we believe something defines us, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, today’s reality doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s reality. In fact, we can change our reality by changing our focus. What if we think hard about what we would like to become, and head in that direction?
“As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Jesus told us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth. This is excellent advice, and as I survey my life, I realize how badly I’ve failed in this area! I’m surrounded by such abundance that my closets and drawers are stuffed. What is wrong with me? My lame excuse is what I call “Depression Consciousness” I wonder if it’s a diagnosis . . . I took too much to heart the training of my parents who lived through America’s Great Depression during the 1930’s (nearly a hundred years ago now!) and learned that every bit of scrap anything was worth keeping because it just might come in handy someday. However, that’s really no excuse for hoarding more than I need, which is in fact what I’ve done. I need to change my ways!
Many of you are probably neat as a pin and this is not your weakness, so hats off to you!! I grew up helping my spiritual mother (who was a millionaire) empty the last crumbs of bread from the wrapper onto her bird feeder (along with commercial bird feed). “Waste not, want not.” Good training, for sure, but some of us (like me) need to relax our grip on material possessions and unload our overabundance into the hands of charitable organizations whose mission is to help the poor (not just get rich on our donations; there is a difference, so I hope we’re all intentional about where we contribute our used clothing and no-longer-needed house wares). As a Christian, I like to contribute to organizations whose mission is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world, but if you’re not a believer, you may have other priorities.
On an even deeper level, I’ve been exercised by meditating on this command to recognize that my favorite earthly treasures are actually not “things.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19). My favorite treasures are the people I love, and my guess is that—if you stop to think about it—this will be true for you also. So, what is Jesus trying to teach us about not laying up treasures in this context? Moth and rust may not cause the demise of the people we love (more likely illness), and it’s rare (although it does occur) that “thieves break through and steal” our loved ones.
Still, all earthly treasures, whether people or possessions, will not last on this earth, and I think this is the point. Jesus is warning us that what is physical is not eternal, and we should not set our hearts on that which is only ephemeral. Instead, God wants us to “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).
I’m sure this does not mean to withhold our love from those around us. The Bible from beginning to ending teaches us to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 37-40). So, Jesus doesn’t ask us “not to love” those around us, He tells us not to “set our affection” on them.
What does this mean to you? To me, it means I need to stopping hoarding material possessions and adding to my collections of “things.” (Yes, even tea cups!) I need to open my hands more completely to the needs of the poor and clean out my closets! AND—I need to hold my family and friends with open hands, recognizing that even my most precious possessions on earth are gifts God has granted me for time rather than eternity. I need with great soberness to acknowledge that only those fellow human beings who are reborn into spiritual life will go into eternity with me, which intensifies my desire to pray for others and shout out the good news of the gospel from the rooftop of my life! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Jesus Saves (—Priscilla J. Owens, 1881, Public Domain)
“We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Spread the tidings all around: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Bear the news to every land, Climb the mountains, cross the waves; Onward! ’tis our Lord’s command; Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
“Waft it on the rolling tide: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Tell to sinners far and wide: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Sing, you islands of the sea; Echo back, you ocean caves; Earth shall keep her jubilee: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
“Sing above the battle strife: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! By His death and endless life Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Shout it brightly through the gloom, When the heart for mercy craves; Sing in triumph o’er the tomb: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
“Give the winds a mighty voice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Let the nations now rejoice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Shout salvation full and free; Highest hills and deepest caves; This our song of victory: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”
Matthew 6:19 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”
Would you like a recipe for super yummy, super healthy muffins . . .so good that even if you don’t need to be gluten-free you’ll still enjoy them?
Recently my Chicago kids visited, and Linda helped her oldest (aged 7) make us “Super Hero Muffins,” which were so moist and delicious that it was hard to believe they could also be good for you, but I think they are! 🙂 Want to know how? Here is Linda’s recipe (inspired by but considerably changed from what she could find online):
Start by preheating your oven to 350°F. and then grate: 1 cup± carrots (about 2 medium carrots; you can give or take a little on the one cup) 1 cup± zucchini (about one large zucchini)
Place in a large mixing bowl, and then add: 3 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 6 tablespoons melted butter (can replace with 3/4 cup coconut oil if you want your muffins to be dairy-free as well) 1/2 cup sugar (can also use maple syrup if you want) 2 cups almond meal (if you don’t need to be gluten free, you can use regular flour) 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (use gluten-free if sensitive) 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup dark chocolate chips (or 1/2 cup raisins or currants if you prefer) Optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or other favorite nuts) 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Mix in the blender just enough to make sure all the ingredients are well mixed, then scoop out and divide the mix evenly into twelve cupcake liners in a baking tin.
Bake at 350°F. for about 30 minutes±, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Enjoy for breakfast, lunch, tea time, dinner, or midnight snack . . . anytime you need to be a super hero!! 🙂
“Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 31:24)
As a short woman living in flat state, I can’t even see the dust on top of my refrigerator, so don’t ask me what’s on my neighbor’s roof . . . or even what it’s made of!
In fact, half the time I don’t even know what’s on top of my own roof! 🙂
However, a couple of years ago in the fall, Alan and I traveled through Nepal, a country which calls itself “The Roof Top of the World” because it’s home to 8 out of 10 of our world’s highest peaks. (Although technically it is second to Bhutan in average elevation [at 10,715 feet, versus 10,760 in Bhutan].)
While riding high up in a big bus traveling through the mountains of Nepal, I was often able to look down on homes and was fascinated by all the materials and methods these inventive people use to protect their homes from the elements.
To be sure, some of the homes were beautiful, new, and in excellent repair,
but those homes were more exceptional than standard.
By comparison, this home seemed like a pretty prosperous farm.
But, the roofs on some of the homes seemed really inadequate to shelter those who lived within. 😦
The average “prosperous” shops along the highway we traveled had tin roofing.
Some of the more upscale building projects included tin and shingles, which I bet was a pretty effective combination.
Many of the multi-storied apartment buildings had concrete roofs and balconies, which seemed like a very secure method for protecting the occupants!
Before our trip was over, I’d seen just about every type of roofing material imaginable!
Beyond the problem of what materials to use was the issue of how to keep the roof on!
I suppose there are many high winds living in the mountains, so most of the roofs were reinforced with heavy materials such as these rows of bricks.
The other issue is that destructive earthquakes are very common.
I’m not sure what happens when an earthquake shakes the ground of places like this, edged with heavy boulders . . .
Over the course of our trip, I saw all sorts of unusual things on rooftops!
My personal favorite were the monkeys, although we were warned that they are cunning thieves with bites worse than their barks, so we were told to beware!
Surveying all the rooftops on my journey made me think about my own “house” and what I use as “roofing material” (if you will) to protect it.
The Bible says that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God wants me to make my body “home” a place of beauty that will glorify God, and I suspect He wants me to have a secure “roof” protecting my life as well.
Physically, I believe that means to be healthy, clean, well-groomed, and modestly (but attractively) dressed . . . in good repair! Spiritually, that probably includes having my head—my mind—pure and protected too!
Not all of us can be rich and have well-protected roofs materially, but we can all be rich and well protected spiritually if we want to be!
God invites us to let Him be our rock, our fortress, our high tower, our refuge, and our “roof top” if you will! He can provide for us in ways that we could never provide for ourselves—physically and spiritually!
“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.” (Psalm 61:1-4).
Pass It On (—Kurt Kaiser, 1969)
“It only takes a spark to get a fire going, And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; That’s how it is with God’s Love, Once you’ve experienced it, You spread the love to everyone You want to pass it on.
“What a wonderous time is spring, When all the tress are budding The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming; That’s how it is with God’s love, Once you’ve experienced it. You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring, You want to pass it on.
“I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found You can depend on him, it matters not where you’re bound I’ll shout it from the mountain tops I want the world to know The Lord of Love has come to me I want to pass it on.”
Want to get closer to God but sometimes feel confused by all the voices out there describing their experiences in ways that seem contradictory to your understanding and foreign to anything you’ve experienced? How can you tell what’s real, what’s imaginary, what’s possible, and what’s impossible?
Tim Anderson’s new book, Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God, comes out of more than thirty-five years of his own life experience in studying, practicing, and teaching the Bible. His book is a truly helpful resource for systematically working through the scriptures in order to understand intimacy with God as communicated in His own words (the Bible)—and as distinguished from some of the contemporary cultural ideas which may (or may not) be consistent with orthodox teaching.
If you’re anything like me, most of the time you want to just “sit and soak” in the soothing presence of God. I love to start each day by meditating on the Bible and praying, memorizing especially helpful passages and worshiping our great God. As a wise friend once said to me, “No day is wasted that’s begun with worshiping God!” Amen.
However, if you have more time to invest and are serious about developing intimacy with God, not simply soaking in the sunshine of our loving Father but in delving deeper into His glorious complexities, then Anderson’s book is definitely worth the wading. It’s very dense. Not a one-night stand! It took me weeks to study and process, and I didn’t agree with everything. (Specifically, I spent over ten years meditating my way through the Song of Solomon and am convinced that it’s a gorgeous [non-sexual, spiritual] allegory of God’s relationship with Israel and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the Church as well as a human love song.)
That one exception aside, I found myself very much enriched and deepened as I did the hard work of pondering the scriptures focused on the various aspects of people in relationship with God. I especially appreciated Anderson’s chapters discussing intimacy with the Holy Spirit (chapter seven), the role of suffering (chapter 8), and how to assess songs (chapter 9).
Have you ever heard a worship song and said to yourself, “That doesn’t seem right to me!”? Well, it may be wrong! Tim helps the reader develop an ability to analyze music for content, which I think is very needed for our worship leaders! A great song isn’t simply about the music. We all love singable songs, written between C and shining C (at least if you can’t sing like a meadow lark). We all love catchy tunes. We all love lyrics that are fresh and have something new to say. However, if the lyrics aren’t consistent with what we know of God from the scripture, then no number of catchy hooks or riffs can justify a message that’s adrift.
Finally, and this isn’t one of the points in Tim’s book, but as a warning to those of us who’ve spent years in academic circles exercising our brains, the Bible says: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Talk about pulling no punches! If we want to experience intimacy with the God of the universe, who is not only love and light and life but the epitome of goodness and holiness, then we’d better be prepared to pray earnestly: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ultimately, to draw near to the God of Goodness, we must be willing to “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Otherwise, no amount of study will help us come into the presence of God. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). At the end of the day—and beginning of each new day—the bottom line is: Are we trusting and obeying God? If we are, we’ll be growing in intimacy with Him.
“But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).
“Trust and Obey“ (—John H. Sammis, 1887, Public Domain)
“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.
Refrain: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
“Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, But His smile quickly drives it away; Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear, Can abide while we trust and obey.
“Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share, But our toil He doth richly repay; Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross, But is blessed if we trust and obey.
“But we never can prove the delights of His love Until all on the altar we lay; For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows, Are for them who will trust and obey.
“Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet, Or we’ll walk by His side in the way; What He says we will do, where He sends we will go; Never fear, only trust and obey.”
“When God opens our eyes for his word, we see into a world of miracles. What previously appeared dead to me is full of life, the hard demand becomes the graceful commandment” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
Have you ever gotten into the habit of fasting? To date, I have not, but I’ve been thinking very hard about it! As a young person, every once in a while, I would get an ascetic urge to fast out of a desperate desire for God to move in someone’s life (based on Mark 9:29, “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting“). I could make it for about one 24-hour period before I’d give up! Man, how did Ghandhi ever do it?? I marveled at his will power and my lack of it!
After marrying, my husband—due to his medical training—did not want me to fast even for one day for my own health’s sake while nursing or pregnant . . . which was most of our married life into my early forties. So, in the spirit of Numbers 30:8 (although I didn’t believe in taking a vow as such, based on James 5:12*), I (somewhat begrudgingly) gave up fasting as a favored means of focusing more on prayer and hoping for deliverance for beloved friends from various maladies.
Fast forward twenty years, and in my sixties, I began partial fasting during Lent, which has definitely had ample benefits: helping me focus on prayer and appreciation for Christ’s sacrificial life for me, as well as weight control, although I never really experienced specific answers to prayer as a result, nor did I end up feeling any more “holy” or “spiritual.”
It wasn’t until just lately, as I studied for this post, that I realized fasting was not a usual part of weekly life for Jewish people during Jesus’s time. In fact, my beloved husband was completely indemnified when I learned that the ancient rabbis forbade scholars and teachers from fasting lest it interfere with their studies! (And, I think caring for infants is every bit as important, don’t you?) I was also surprised to discover that there is really only one official fast day prescribed by the Mosaic Law: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). This is the holiest day of the year in Judaism, also known as Yom Kippur, and it was just observed this past week on October 8. This annual fast lasts approximately 25 hours, from the time the sun sets on Yom Kippur until three stars appear the following evening (October 9). The purpose is to set aside usual pleasures and activities (including eating and drinking) in order to spend the time in reflection both personally and communally, repenting of sins from the past year.
I love this explanation from ReformJudaism.org: “Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul to reconciliation with our fellow human beings, ourselves, and God. As the New Year begins, we commit to self-reflection and inner change. As both seekers and givers of pardon, we turn first to those whom we have wronged, acknowledging our sins and the pain we have caused them. We are also commanded to forgive, to be willing to let go of any resentment we feel towards those who have committed offenses against us. Only then can we turn to God and ask for forgiveness. As we read in the Yom Kippur liturgy, ‘And for all these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement.'” Amen? This sounds exactly like the teaching of Christ on forgiveness too: ” For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
So, what does all this have to do with fasting, or putting the “feast” into fasting, or the opening quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer? This is what I think after a lot of prayer about fasting: Jesus doesn’t tell us to fast, but he does tell us how to fast when we do. Unlike many religions, which require fasting as a means of obtaining grace or increasing spirituality, the Bible teaches us that holiness comes from trusting in God, repenting from sin and avoiding evil. In Isaiah 58:6, God declares, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” God doesn’t require intentional deprivation. Instead, He wants us involved in actively caring for others. And what about this one from Zechariah 8:19? “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.” God isn’t looking for asceticism; He’s looking for positive action!
I really believe there will be times in our lives when we are so distraught over something that we don’t feel like eating, and we may even intentionally fast for a specific time in order to focus on prayer and seek God’s will and favor. (Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.) However, Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast routinely. In fact, when the Pharisees grumbled against Jesus for not requiring his disciples to fast, he answered, “Can the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days” (Mark 2:19-20). We don’t have Jesus today, but He has given us his Holy Spirit to abide with us forever. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate to turn our weeping into “joy and gladness,” with our thoughts being focused on loving the truth and peace and sharing what we have with others “in cheerful feasts.”
However, when you do feel a need to fast, do it with a pleasant face, uplifted heart, and trusting spirit. Remember that your heavenly Father sees your needs, hears your prayers, and will reward you.
Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:16-18, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
*”But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).
Have you ever had a piece of an Arnie’s “Dutch chocolate torte” cake? Until we moved to Grand Rapids, I always wanted a Mardi Gras cake for my birthday, but after discovering one of Grand Rapid’s best culinary achievements, I began looking for excuses to buy Arnie’s Dutch Chocolate Tortes. They are “the best,” and they’re hard to beat for a birthday party or special occasion, because Arnie’s Bakery also has masterful cake decorators, but if you don’t mind your cake looking less than perfect, I’ve developed a cake that at least competes in texture and flavor, and that’s what really counts, right?—especially if you can save $25 in the process! 🙂
Kathi’s English Chocolate Torte Serves 12- 18 (very rich!) (Okay, so maybe it should be “Dutch,” but I’m not Dutch. “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much!” ?? 😦 Well . . . I won’t go there . . .)
Bake your favorite chocolate cake. I used a Betty Crocker Triple Chocolate Fudge cake, but make your own or use your favorite. (I find that Duncan Hines cakes are too soft, but home made or most store-bought mixes work fine.)
Use two pans, and after they are baked and cooled, cut each layer in half with a thread just when you are ready to frost.
Butter cream Filling: 2 pounds plus three cups powdered sugar 1 cup softened butter 3/4 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 teaspoon salt
Frost cake completely: each layer, the top and sides, and chill in the refrigerator until firm (several hours or overnight).
Then, entirely frost the top and sides with chocolate ganache. Here’s how:
1 cup heavy cream, heated until it just starts to boil, then turn off the heat and immediately add 16 oz. (two cups) dark chocolate chips.
Whisk until it’s totally smooth.
Cool to room temperature, and then carefully drip over the chilled cake, spreading the ganache and smoothing it from the top down as you go.
Return your masterpiece to the refrigerator and chill until the ganache is also firm.
Take it out of the refrigerator just minutes before serving. It’s easiest to cut if it’s cool, but it tastes best if it’s room temperature, so find the “sweet spot” time wise (maybe 10-15 minutes; if you want to serve it straight out of the refrigerator, try microwaving a single piece for 10-15 seconds to make it just about “perfect!”).
“Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 106:1).