Happy Halloween…and Even Better—Happy Reformation Day!

I was going to try to keep on task and write about Hindu cremations today,  but it’s snowing really hard and heavy—first snow of our winter—,
and that just changes everything, doesn’t it?  I can’t quite concentrate on 102° heat and the acrid scent of burning flesh   when I see swirling snowflakes out my window
and know there are jack-o-lanterns are sitting on our front porch.   Besides, we’re going to our kids’ (Dan and Brianna’s) annual Halloween Party tonight, and I can’t help but think about how much fun it’s going to be!  Last year we missed, because we were in South Africa touring Table Mountain and watching hippos duke it out on the Umfolozi River.  I thought about dressing like a hippo,
but I wasn’t sure how to bring along a river…Two years ago Sammy was dressed up like Super Man,  and now, it’s little Elanor who’s just learning how to sit! I’m not sure how the kids are going to be dressed tonight, but you can be sure Alan and I are superman-excited to see them!

However, there’s something way more wonderful that’s being celebrated today, and that’s the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day! Three of our kids and their families have converged in Germany and are in Wittenberg right now, joining in the wonderful celebration there. It may take a few days before I get any photos, but I just want to say how thankful I am for the work and insight of Martin Luther, who understood the supreme importance of translating the Bible into the common language so that we (all people) could read God’s words for themselves and understand His message about how to be reconciled to God and go to heaven! It’s not by being good (because none of us will ever be perfectly good), but by trusting in the One who is good and died in our place, Jesus Christ. Have you read the Bible? Do you believe in the One who will save us by His precious blood, “by faith alone”?

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). (We are created by God for good works, but we are saved by faith in the good works of Jesus, so we never have to fear being rejected by God on the basis of our falling short of His perfect standard.)

P.S.—Just like snow changes everything, so does Jesus!
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

The Many Faces of India

We were having dinner with friends last weekend, and the question came up: “What did you love best about your trip to India and Nepal?”   Certainly visiting the Taj Mahal  and our flight-seeing tour of Mt. Everest were phenomenal highlights,  but I think the most fascinating and compelling aspect of our adventure  was being immersed in a seemingly unending sea of people,  each with a face that arrested my attention and captivated me.  Did  you know that India is second only to China in population  (1.4 billion in China versus 1.3 billion in India)  but is only the 7th largest nation by land area?  Putting this into perspective for Americans: America has a land mass of 9.5 million square kilometers and a population of 324 million people.  India has about a third as much land (3.2 million square kilometers)  and over a billion more people!   So, the population density feels totally overwhelming!  On the other hand, I was fascinated by the faces.  The children and young people were beautiful,  and the old people had faces that I’d really only seen in pictures.  I don’t know how old some of these people were, but they looked ancient, like I imagined the aged patriarchs might have looked thousands of years ago.  And everywhere, people were working, bearing heavy burdens,  living with a patience born of suffering and the determination to survive.  I fell in love with the people. Their beauty. Their courage.  Their strength. Their productivity.  I’m sure there are many desperate and dark works of evil in India  (as there are in America too),   but what I saw was people who were surviving in conditions  that most Americans would consider intolerable.  No wonder Mother Teresa spent her life trying to help!  There is such amazing need…such overwhelming need…such endless need.  It has really made me stop and pray. “Lord, what would you have me to do?” Over the next few weeks, I hope to share more about India and Nepal,  but please know that behind all the trappings of culture  and the surprises and problems we encountered,  the people of India and Nepal are dynamic and wonderful. Each one is a unique creation handcrafted by God and stamped with His image.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” Genesis 1:26-27).

 

Rise Up, My Love (258): Spiced Pomegranate Juice

I want to tell you that everywhere we visited in India, I kept thinking of scripture verses that seemed to spring to life right before my eyes! This was even more true than in Israel, I think, because life in some parts of India today has striking similarities to what I imagine life might have been like in ancient Israel 4,000 years ago!  One of the common sights in India was vendors pushing carts loaded with lovely fresh fruits. (This was probably not so true in ancient Israel.) I don’t know how the vendors preserved their precious cargoes in the intense heat, but they were usually neatly stacked in orderly piles and looked very appealing.  Because of G.I. issues (which were constant for many of us) and very different bacteria in India, we were advised to abstain from fresh fruits unless we could personally wash them in bottled water and peel them, but on a steamy, hot day the thought of a glass of fresh-squeezed juice was certainly tempting! It’s with that thought in mind that I offer this Sunday’s commentary on the Song of Solomon:

Song of Solomon 8:2 “I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.” As we’ve discovered from earlier studies, the pomegranate was considered the choicest fruit in Israel. It was also conjectured by some to picture a mind filled with true and beautiful thoughts of Christ, and if this interpretation is correct, it sheds a special radiance on the bride’s ardent declaration.

What is the bride wishing to do? She is wishing to influence her husband to enjoy the “spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.” What exactly is that? According to one commentator, a kind of sorbet made from the juice of the pomegranate was a popular drink in the East.* Probably the bride had some such delectable specialty in mind, perhaps even one that was made from an old family recipe, since she refers to it as specifically coming from her own pomegranate and in the context of her natal home.

What is our Lord trying to teach us from this tiny gleam of Scriptural revelation? What are we as wives to desire for our husbands? What are we as believers to desire for Christ? If the pomegranate of the “temple” (forehead) is a mind filled with lovely thoughts about our husband, then the spiced wine made from “the juice of my pomegranate” would seem to be an offering of rich, flowing thoughts made by meditating on the one we love…in this physical world, our husband, and in the spiritual world, our Lord.

It is the bride’s desire to invite her husband to become intoxicated with the overflow of her thoughts and emotions as she meditates on his uinque beauties. What offering can you bring to your husband (or wife!) as a result of mulling over all the positive memories you have stored in the files of your mind? What are your thoughts about Christ? Go beyond simply describing who your husband and the Lord are, but also share what have they done for you. If you are reading this with your mate, why not take a few minutes right now and share your thoughts together?

If you can’t right now, would you consider writing out your thoughts now or this week sometime? Will you take time…maybe even just a half an hour for each mini essay…and write one for your Lord and one for your mate? If you’re looking for a “new fruit” to bring on your next mini honeymoon…why not bring along your thoughts to share? They will be even more thrilling to him (or her) than spiced wine (and shouldn’t cause any G.I. distress)!  🙂

* G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 554.

Bold’n Golden Banana Bread

Another favorite way of using up over-ripe bananas in our family—particularly on chilly fall days—is making a loaf of banana bread, which is really more dessert than bread but can also be used for breakfast if you’re in the mood. I like to add quite a bit of spice to give it a bolder flavor, and our kids love to add chocolate chips or nuts, but I grew up with plain banana bread, so I still think the old, classic taste is comforting and yummy without needing any extra pizzazz!

Bold’n Golden Banana Bread
(makes one rather large loaf; can serve 8-12)

2 ripe medium to large bananas
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butterBlend until fairly uniform and bananas are no longer lumpy bumps Then add together into mix:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup walnuts or other nuts (or even chocolate chips) as possible options, although it’s also great plain   Blend together briefly until thoroughly mixed, but don’t whip or beat it.
Pour into a well greased loaf pan and bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes or until it’s a deep, golden brown, nicely rounded on top, and doesn’t indent much when touched. Serve it still warm (if possible), either with or without additional butter.   My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes. My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Psalm 119:171-172).

 

The Taj Mahal: “Jewel of Muslim Art in India”

The Taj Mahal is in Agra, India, along the Yamuna River. It was voted one of the New7Wonders of the World in 2007
by over 100 million voters (largest poll in the world at that time).  It’s valued at over US$ 827 million and considered by many
to be the world’s premiere example of Mughal architecture.        It is perhaps the most perfect architectural monument in the world.  Commissioned in 1632 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, (Mumtaz Mahal, who died at the age of 38 giving birth to their 14th child), the Taj Mahal (which means “Crown of the Palace”) took 20,000 artisans twenty-two years to complete and was made of white marble  inlaid with precious and semi precious stones.  Because the Taj Mahal is Muslim artistry,

the exterior walls include some calligraphy from the Qur’an, carefully written with perspective so that you can read the letters at the top almost as easily as those right in front of you. The Taj Mahal is also a sacred site, so everyone is required to cover their feet (or go barefoot, but the hot pavement would burn your feet pretty badly, I’d think). Thankfully, the Taj staff provide shoe coverings as part of the admission price. My mom adored all things adventurous, especially if they involved travel. In fact, she was such a free spirit that she imagined being the daughter of gypsy parents dropped off on her parents’ doorsteps. Given how much she looked like her six siblings, I never took her tale seriously, but I definitely absorbed her curiosity about the world. Mom graduated to heaven before Bucket Lists became a thing, but had there been Bucket Lists while she was still alive, visiting the Taj Mahal would have been at the top of hers, because she always wanted to see it (although she never did).I can remember as a little girl being enthralled with her stories about a love so strong that the emperor would build a palace just to commemorate his queen…a “teardrop on the cheek of time” (as romantically described by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore back when my mother was young).  Therefore, it was with an awe inspired since childhood and a touch of my mother’s spirit within that I visited this wonder of the ancient world with Alan and our Gate 1 Discovery Tour Group a few weeks ago! Although I thought I knew a lot about the Taj Mahal before we visited, I learned a lot more and discovered that real life experiences are never quite what you imagine they’re going to be! For one thing, the Taj Mahal isn’t “just” the gorgeous onion-domed building you see in books and movies.               It is part of a 42-acre complex which includes a working mosque,                                                                a guest house,                                                      gates and watch towers,                                                   and extensive gardens.     I also learned a few things about India, which is so different from the West!     For one thing, if you go to India, prepare for extremely hot, muggy weather.  I think it was 100°F (±) with about 95% humidity that day (and I’m not kidding or exaggerating), and I was lightheaded despite drinking water constantly.  There are 7-8 million tourists who visit the Taj Mahal every year, so it’s crowded, and there are lines. (That shouldn’t be surprising, especially in a country with 1.3 billion people…but it also adds to the heat.)                                Everybody was trying to keep in the shade,  and many people were sweating through their clothing. (One of Alan’s docs warned us: “I know I’m from India and should love all things Indian, but India is too hot!”) Oh, yes!!However, the most lasting impression from my visit is that life is even more magnificent experienced than explained, which makes me all the more excited to experience heaven, which God has promised to all those who love Him.As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him
(1 Corinthians 2:9).

(I bought photos 1,3,11-13 from the photographer who was taking pictures for us. Photo 5 is a public domain photo from Wikipedia, because we were not allowed to take pictures inside the mausoleum. I took the rest a few weeks ago in India.)

 

Starting at the Top: Flight-seeing Mt. Everest

                                                Do you have a Bucket List?  Seeing Mt. Everest was at the top of mine until a couple of weeks ago, when I was able to cross it off! However, the mountain you can see in the background of this photo is not of Mt. Everest. I assumed we could drive to the base of Mt. Everest the way you can drive to a good viewing spot for Denali, which at 20,310 feet is the highest mountain on the North American continent. Did you know there are well over 100 mountains in Nepal, China, Pakistan, and India that are higher than Denali or any of the highest mountains in North America? They make our beloved Rocky Mountains look like child’s play!There is no resort community where you can gaze at Mt. Everest’s grandeur out your snug hotel room’s picture window such as you can for Denali or Mt. Rainier!  (Can you see the mountain in the clouds? This is Himalchuli Mountain in the Annapurna Range of Nepal…which is only 25,896 feet high!) Although Mt. Everest is a whopping 29,029 feet tall, it’s buried behind so many huge mountains in the heart of such a remote part of the Himalaya Mountain Range that the only way you can really see it is either by mountain climbing or by taking an early morning flight-seeing tour on a small aircraft.  We opted for a flight-seeing tour with Buddha Air. We had an amazing adventure, but I will say this advertisement is deceptive. I imagined crashing on the mountain due to unpredictable wind currents and had heard rumors that Nepal has the world’s most dangerous airport.  The rumors may be true, but the pilots aren’t crazy, so they really don’t get you any closer than ten miles from Mt. Everest. Still, on a clear day, you can get some breath-taking views from 10,000 aloft! In order to catch an early morning flight, we had to get up at 4:45 am and head out to the airport.  One of the striking things to Alan and me was that the flight was listed as simply “Mountain.” Cities were named, but everybody knew: There’s just one Mountain! They charged us an arm and a leg for our tickets, but at least every passenger had a window seat, and they let each of us go up to take photos from the cockpit when we were at ideal viewing range.  The flight lasted just an hour, but I took over a hundred photos and felt totally mesmerized by the mountains’ majesty!  The Himalayas are beyond anything I’ve ever seen before, and I had absolutely no appreciation for how vast and wonderful they are!  Eventually, the clouds started to rise higher in the warm sunshine and obscured some of the mountains. Still, I will never forget the beauty of that morning!Do you know what Mt. Everest is made from? It’s not volcanic rock! The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone! Can you believe it? When the flood covered the earth, it even reached to the top of the highest mountains, just as the scriptures teach us: The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits” (Genesis 7:18-20, NIV). Now, the Bible also teaches that the ” springs of the great deep” were broken up, and that there was tremendous upheaval, so perhaps this accounts for the shifting tectonic plates. I’m no geologist, but to me, learning that the world’s highest mountain is topped with marine limestone is one more exciting evidence of the validity of the Bible. And, if you’re willing to believe the Bible is right about the flood, will you also believe that the Bible is right about who created the mountains? “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2). God created the mountains, God created us, and God loves us. Can you believe that?Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.
Isaiah 2:3

(I took all the photos on our recent trip, although the second photo is of a poster that was on our bus, and the photo of the model of the Himalayan Mountains was taken at the International Mountain Museum in Nepal.)

 

Sage Words that Still Ring True

We’re back from three weeks in India and Nepal, and I’ve been feverishly and happily processing about 10,000 new photos which I hope to begin sharing with you soon. Meanwhile, I recently finished Timothy Campbell’s book, Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree, and it’s so full of pithy sayings that I wanted to pass some along:

“I have one blind eye and one deaf ear, and they are the best ear and eye that I have.” C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students

“The anvil breaks a host of hammers by quietly bearing their blows.” Charles Spurgeon

“Never question in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” Reinnie Barth

“Loose lips sink ships.” World War II adage

“The most important thing to me is how I walk with God, whether I please Him or not. My family is second and my job third. I try to keep things in perspective.” Ernie Harwell, Detroit Free Press, April 14, 1991.

“No physician ever weighed out medicine to his patients with half so much care and exactness as God weighs out to us every trial. Not one grain too much does He ever permit to be put on the scale.” Henry Ward Beecher

“If I did not see that the Lord kept watch over the ship, I should long since have abandoned the helm. But I see Him through the storm, strengthening the tackling, handling the yards, spreading the sails. Let Him govern, let Him carry us forward, let Him hasten the day or delay, we will fear nothing.” Martin Luther

“A little faith will bring your soul to heaven; great faith will bring heaven to your soul.” Charles Spurgeon

The following quotations are all gleaned from Timothy Campbell’s father, Roger Campbell, from this same book:

“The Lord didn’t come to rub it in; He came to rub it out.”

“In every problem faith sees an  opportunity, and in every opportunity doubt sees a problem.”

“Paying too much attention to negatives can cause one to become an expert at faultfinding. And if you build your life on faults, expect earthquakes.”

“A watching world is far more likely to remember your lapse than your light.”

“Sympathy sees and says, ‘I’m sorry.’  Compassion sees and says, ‘I’ll help.'”

“Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.”

“Fear robs us of the adventure of living, even when the fears are imaginary.”

“Lord, I’m impossible; make me possible.”…”Your dream of personal freedom is achievable.”

“What can you do to lessen your loneliness? Try reaching out to other lonely people.”

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).