Rise Up, My Love (297): Is “Maranatha” The Cry of Your Heart?

Song of Solomon 8:14 “Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.” The last request of our beloved is that he may hear our voice. What is our heart cry back to him? Hurry back! Maranatha! Oh Lord, may you come today! Fly to me with the speed with which one might flee from his enemies.

This verse is the poignant closing to Solomon’s song. Interestingly, once the introduction to the book was given, the book both begins and ends with expressions of the bride’s desire for intimacy with her husband. After all the experiences of first love, their marriage, and now mature love, her greatest desire in life is simply to be with him. Not surprisingly, we find this same urgent desire expressed at the end of Revelation: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come… Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:17,20).

Oh, isn’t this what we’re longing for…to see his blessed face? To behold him in his beauty and dwell with him forever? If you’ve experienced the joy of marriage, stop a moment and remember the longing with which you anticipated that event! Together always. It was going to be too good to be true! I remember discussing length of engagement with my mother and saying, “It’s like asking, ‘So when do you want to inherit a million dollars?’ As soon as possible, of course!” (My husband was working as a mechanic his father’s garage at the time, so I was not referring to money!)  When will he come? As I’m writing, the clouds in the eastern sky are just beginning to pink up, and our little lake is awash in mottled pinks and blues…very like Aurora’s wedding dress in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. When I walked my husband out to the car and waved goodbye to him just a half hour ago, the stars were still like bright, shiny diamonds on a black velvet dress.  How suddenly and gloriously day broke this crisp fall morning! (Well, today is only the end of July, but it was late October when I wrote this years ago.) The trees are beginning to emerge from the darkness, and they’re crowned with shaggy heads of crimson and gold. A touch of frost is on the grass, and wisps of mist hover here and there across the lake on thin, translucent wings. Yesterday a long, southbound train of ducks pulled in to rest here at “Shadow Lake Station,” but they’re gone now, and all is still save one pair of great blue herons who summer here every year. I just watched them circle and fly away. I don’t know when they’ll leave for their winter home…or maybe that’s what I just witnessed. How true it is that autumn flies on colored wings! Dear Lord, when will we fly away?

When you hear the expression, “Maranatha!” it usually means, “Come, Lord!” I think the words to this Vineyard song written by Brenton Brown and Glenn Robertson expresses it so well:

“All Who Are Thirsty”

“All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Just come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As the deep cries out to deep, we sing…

“Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come
Come, Lord Jesus come.”

You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Lox and Bagels!

Probably most of you have enjoyed bagels with cream cheese, but are you a fan of lox and bagels? (“Lox” is derived from the Yiddish word for salmon and refers to a fillet of brined salmon, usually thin-sliced.) Lox and bagels were served by delicatessens in New York City as a Sunday morning treat as far back as the 1950’s, although it’s only been since about the 90’s that I remember learning about “lox.” The traditional formula was to serve them with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and sometimes capers. However, in the past 25 years, I’ve learned to love lox in concert with all types of breakfast treats…although atop a savory bagel is still a great favorite. And bagels? Well, I don’t remember them from childhood, although they’ve probably been around for ages. One of my first experiences of falling in love with bagels was at Schmagels Bagels in St. Augustine, Florida,  where they feature 13 varieties of New York-style bagels (all home made in St. Augustine—of course!) and eleven types of home-concocted cream cheese spreads. One of my favorite breakfasts of lox and bagels was served at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island with a dill cream cheese, giant capers, and a mango smoothie. However, I recently served lox and bagels for a Sunday  treat at home, and Alan (who is pretty discriminating) gave his stamp of approval, so I’ll pass along my recipe in the hopes you’ll like it too.

Lox and Bagels à la Avocado
(serves 2)

1. Split two “everything” bagels in half and toast them in the toaster. (An “everything” bagel has poppy and sesame seeds, onions, and probably some other things on top, but use your favorite savory bagel.)

2. Butter the bagel lightly, and then add smear on as much cream cheese as you like.

3. Add lox (You can add some thin-sliced smoked salmon instead if you can’t find “lox;” they are similar but not identical. Lox are soaked in a salty/sweet brine and come from the rich, belly portion of a salmon, but I think any thin-sliced salmon is very good.)

Top with:
1 slice avocado
1 thin ring of onion
1 teaspoon capers

Obviously, as mentioned earlier, you can also serve it with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, or anything else for that matter! I used fresh cherries, but there are no end of delicious combinations. I do think the capers and onions add critical taste points, though, or the dish may seem too bland. THEREFORE, if you serve it for Sunday breakfast before church (as I did), be sure you all brush your teeth and use breathe mints or chewing gum before trying to engage your church friends, or they may wonder why you have such bad breath!  🙂  It did occur to me that I should have thought through when to serve it. Jewish people attend synagogue on Saturday, so on Sunday they aren’t engaging all their dear friends in conversations. In like spirit, maybe Gentiles should make this as a Saturday treat instead of a Sunday treat!

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

(Photo Credits: I didn’t actually have any photos of the traditional way of serving bagels, so I looked online. Most of the photos are mine, but #3. is from Bottega Louie’s in L.A. #5 is a photo of Schmagel’s Bagel Shop in St. Augustine, and #6 is a photo from Schmagel’s. The rest are mine.)

 

Rise Up, My Love (296): Do You Feel Like God Doesn’t Speak to You?

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Cause me to hear it.” Speak to me! Sing to me! Let me hear your voice. Tell me what’s on your mind and in your heart. Tell me about your fears and worries. How can I help you if I don’t know what’s troubling you? Tell me about your joys and triumphs. Let me rejoice with you. Tell me about your loves and hatreds. I want to understand you. I want you to understand yourself. I want you to understand me. Speak to me. I want to know that you hunger and thirst for me. I am the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. If you open your mouth wide, I will fill it. Cause me to hear your voice!

Are there times in your life when you feel that God isn’t listening to you? If so, examine yourself and ask God to reveal any sin that might be separating you. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). If you feel that you cannot hear the Lord’s voice speaking to you, and that your voice is falling on deaf ears, then lift up your voice and “cause me to hear it!” “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).  Sometimes it’s possible to feel distant even if we’re not knowingly rebelling against God’s clear guidance from scripture or his Spirit’s still small voice in our hearts. That has happened to me. Sometimes things are going so smoothly that I just start to wander off a bit on my own, not paying attention because the way looks clear. When I realize I’m feeling empty and distant, I now understand that I’ve been drifting, and I cry out to God, “Help! I want to be close to you!” As the psalmist wrote: “Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it!” (Psalm 69:18).

The Lord is so good! “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry” (Psalm 34:15). A note of comfort: All believers are “righteous” by definition because we are justified by Christ. His righteousness has been imputed to us (see Romans 4:11). “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me” (Proverbs 8:17). “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). God wants to hear our voice calling out to him.  This is his last request to us…the last thing he has asked us to do on this earth before he returns to carry us off as his eternal bride! Like the fiancé who is gone and loves to hear his beloved’s voice on the phone…our Lord longs to hear our voice! Have you ever wanted to know what God’s will is for you? Look at I Thessalonians 5:16-18. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Let him hear your voice. Cause him to hear it!

Swiss Steak with Mushroom Gravy

Some foods are definitely “comfort food,” and Swiss steak with gravy is one such perennial favorite. In fact, whenever I know my fifth son is coming home for a visit, I start watching for a good sale on swissed steaks, because I know he’ll be hoping I make some for him. “Swiss steak” isn’t really from Switzerland. In England and the Deep South it’s sometimes called “smothered steak.” The term refers to the the way it’s tenderized by pounding and piercing, which is known as “swissing.” I suppose you could take any cut of beef steak and “swiss” it, but I always buy it pre-swissed at the grocery store. Once your meat is swissed, it’s simple to turn into a savory dish that’s sure to please rain or shine, although I think it’s at its finest on a cool evening accompanied with some traditional sides, such as mashed potatoes, peas, and tossed salad (±bread). I probably serve it 5-10 times a year, and it’s always welcome at our table. So, if you’ve not discovered this easy meal, here’s how:

Savory Swiss Steak with Mushroom Gravy
(serves 4-6±)

1. In a large frying pan, add:
2 tablespoons butter
1 finely chopped onion
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Montreal Steak seasoning (or your favorite)

Heat until the butter is melted, then fry until all the veggies are starting to brown and become tender.

Add 1-2 pounds swiss-style steak (how much ever you want, I would say about 6 oz per person± depending on your appetites). To prepare the steak, coat it with flour on both sides. (If you place 1/2 or 1 cup of flour on a dinner plate, that will be more than enough, unless you really have a lot of steak. Just lay the steak on the floury plate and rub in the flour, then turn it over and rub flour on the other side. If you want, you can add the rest of the flour to the frying pan at that time or later, depending on how thick you like your gravy. If you add it, be sure to whisk it so there aren’t any lumps.) Salt and pepper both sides, then place it in the bottom of your frying pan under the veggies. Fry at a medium-high heat until it starts to brown, and then flip it over (making sure most of the veggies end up back up on top) and fry it until the other side is browned. At that point, add two cups of water. I turn the heat entirely off for about 2 minutes just to loosen anything that’s sticking to the bottom of the pan. Using a metal spatula, carefully scrape all the flour or other food that’s sticking to the bottom of the pan free, and gently stir everything until you’re satisfied that nothing will burn. Cover the pan and simmer everything for a half an hour or until completely tender. During that process, I check about every five minutes to flip the meat over and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. If the gravy seems to get too thick, add another 1-2 cups of water a little at a time as needed. Before you serve it, taste it, as you might want to add more salt and pepper. If it seems flat, you can also add 1 teaspoon of Lawry’s Seasoning salt (or your favorite). Obviously, the more steak, the more seasoning you’ll need, so you may not need to add anything, but it’s always worth checking!

And he went, and fetched, and brought them to his mother: and his mother made savory meat, such as his father loved” (Genesis 27:14). In Genesis 27, Rebekah used her culinary skills to trick her husband, which was a very bad idea! Not only did she end up having to part with her favorite son, Jacob (who left home to escape the wrath of his older brother), Rebekah never had the joy of seeing her son again on this earth, and she missed the blessing of watching her grandchildren growing up. Sad thoughts! Hopefully, we’ll use our cooking abilities to bless and nourish those we love!

 

 

I Have Sixteen Going on Seventeen…It’s Time to Think Babies!

If you love The Sound of Music as much as I do, then there are probably times when some of the musical’s lyrics pop into your head, and that’s what’s been playing in my brain for the past nine months, ever since my daughter-in-law Grace told me that she was pregnant. “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is the song, but with slightly altered lyrics, because Alan and I have sixteen beautiful grandchildren and are now looking forward to a seventeenth very soon! Mike and Grace are expecting their fifth baby at the end of July. Grace’s mom graduated to glory when Grace was a young teenager, so I’ve had the special privilege of being first on call when they have a new baby. This means I will have been to Philadelphia, Germany, Hawaii, South Korea, and now Italy in the last 11 years! I am overjoyed, but as you might guess, this also means I won’t have time to write much for awhile. If I don’t post, or if I just post a photo and a few lines, know that I’m in my glory enjoying some of life’s best moments and may not have much to say until after Labor Day. I mean, not only Grace’s day of labor, but America’s Labor Day, which is September 3. Meanwhile, God bless you! May you continue with joy on your pilgrimage through this world. I will be trying to follow Jesus. I hope that is your aspiration as well!

But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;  To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them”(Psalm 103:17-18).

(P.S.—My son, “Major Michael Armstrong” is not the one with bells ringing over his head. This photo was taken by the wife of the guy with the smooch! My son is really the man on the extreme right side of the photo, and it was taken at a recent graduation from yet another training program which will qualify him for possible promotion.)

Have You Considered the Relationship Between Israel, the Church, and the Middle East?

Published just in time to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, Darrel L. Bock and Mitch Glaser have collaborated as editors on a book explaining the current conflict in the Middle East from a biblical viewpoint. Written by theologians on both sides of the Atlantic in meticulously researched articles, the book walks us through the conflict step by step, explaining not only the historical background but the present situation and future prophetic promises concerning the role of Israel in the world: “God always intended to use the Jewish people as his bridge of redemption to a sinful and broken world” (Dr. Darrell Bock, 262).

As an evangelical Christian, I have always believed the Old Testament teaching that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance. What I didn’t realize is that I am part of the 82% of white evangelicals who hold this position, but according to a Pew Research Center poll, less than half that many Jewish or Catholic Americans agree (187). I was a little amazed, but then it occurred to me that if you don’t believe the Bible, then of course you wouldn’t have any particular basis for believing the Jewish people have any right to an independent nation of their own. However, as recently as 2017, the FBI reported that Jewish people are subjected to more hate crimes than any other religious group in America, and the statistics aren’t much different in Europe (197). Even for those who don’t believe the Jewish people have a “right” to the land,  doesn’t it seem good that every group of moral, law-abiding people deserves to have a haven of refuge where they can “secure domestic tranquility,” just as we have in America?

I loved this quote from an AIPAC document, pointing out the shared values between America and Israel: “Both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom. Both were forced to fight for independence against foreign powers. Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being. And, both have evolved into democracies that respect the rule of law, the will of voters and the rights of minorities.” Perhaps these common values are shared by many nations around the world, but I deeply appreciate being able to live in a land that enjoys democratic rule “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and I am thankful for other countries that provide similar freedoms. As far as I know, Israel is probably the truest democracy in the Middle East. Would you agree?

Finally, the book is written from the perspective of God’s love for all, and I’d like to end with Mark Bailey’s conclusion: “If one is not careful, one will look through the colored lens of politics and end up despising either the Arabs or the Jews, or both. A proper gaze through a biblical lens will engender a genuine love for Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis, and Jews alike as people created in the image of God, the object of his love, and all viable candidates to receive the love of Christ through our proclamation of the Gospel message” (201).

By the way, if you’ve never read the Bible, and wonder why anybody thinks Israel “deserves” their own state, here are a few passages about God’s giving the land of Canaan (present day Israel) to Abraham (the “Father” of modern Jewish people).

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Genesis 13:14-17).

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

Of course, Muslims and Jews both descended from Abraham, and this is part of the problem. I’m not sure if the Koran has anything to say about which land belongs to whom, but in the Bible, a distinction is made between Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael (via Hagar, progenitor of the Muslims) and Isaac (via Abraham’s wife, Sarah, progenitor of the Jews):

 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Genesis 17:15-21).

 

 

Rise Up, My Love (295): Learning to Speak Up!

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.” “Cause me to hear it.” Does that phrase catch your attention? Our Lord is asking us to make something happen. I thought he heard every word we whispered in our beds at night. How is it that he is asking us to make him hear us? If he’d said, “Speak to me!” I’d know what he meant. Did you ever have a child who became staunchly silent, wrinkled up his nose, and pursed his lips with a big “No!” written all over his little face, but you had no idea why he didn’t want to do the simple thing you’d asked him to do…usually for his own good?  Why the resistance? Refusal seemed simply and totally unfathomable. “Speak to me!” I’d say. “Tell me what you’re thinking! Why are you saying, “No!” to a perfectly reasonable request?” I had one toddler who refused to participate in the simple developmental task tests that young children are sometimes asked to complete as part of their pediatric exams. All of my first five children had been very eager achievers and would happily build towers out of blocks or whatever “game” the nurse asked them to play.

However, number six would have nothing to do with such a scheme. When the nurse asked him to build a tower, he didn’t even respond. I knew he was a bright child who could easily accomplish the task, and I knew he wasn’t deaf, so I said, “Would you please build a tower out of blocks for the lady?” and demonstrated again just in case there was some misunderstanding. He ignored me too! I was mortified. He was a very loving, obedient child, and I was shocked that he was refusing to do such a simple thing. However, I swallowed my pride, mystified but unwilling to humiliate him publicly. I told the nurse he could build a tower out of three or more blocks (the parameters set for normal ability at his age), but that for whatever reason, he was unwilling to build one that day, and I didn’t want to push him.  After we left, I asked him what was wrong, but he was too little to know. It took me about two more years to understand the dynamics. This tiny chap was a tremendous perfectionist who was insecure about performance. He was unwilling to do anything that might draw attention to himself. When he learned to talk, I would hear him practicing words in a whisper before he would say them aloud: “orange…orange.” When he was only four, he taught himself to read out of the Bible—before I had any idea that he was learning to read—simply from being read to!  This past Sunday morning (written over a decade ago, although this past Sunday this same son was serving as the accompanist at his church) he was up with a group of young people leading the worship music at our chapel, and I marveled at how far the Lord has brought him in sixteen years: from obstructed by fear, to singing for his Creator!  Are you petrified by fear when it comes to speaking out for your Savior? Pray for grace, and the let him hear your voice!

Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak
(Frances R. Havergal, 1872)

  1. Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
    In living echoes of Thy tone;
    As Thou has sought, so let me seek
    Thine erring children lost and lone.
  2. Oh, lead me, Lord, that I may lead
    The wand’ring and the wav’ring feet;
    Oh, feed me, Lord, that I may feed
    Thy hung’ring ones with manna sweet.
  3. Oh, strengthen me, that while I stand
    Firm on the rock, and strong in Thee,
    I may stretch out a loving hand
    To wrestlers with the troubled sea.
  4. Oh, teach me, Lord, that I may teach
    The precious things Thou dost impart;
    And wing my words, that they may reach
    The hidden depths of many a heart.
  5. Oh, give Thine own sweet rest to me,
    That I may speak with soothing pow’r
    A word in season, as from Thee,
    To weary ones in needful hour.
  6. Oh, fill me with Thy fullness, Lord,
    Until my very heart o’erflow
    In kindling thought and glowing word,
    Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.
  7. Oh, use me, Lord, use even me,
    Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
    Until Thy blessed face I see,
    Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.