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Surprising Lessons from the Mighty Bay Leaf

Bay LeavesI tried a new recipe today. I made my very own red beans and rice from scratch. Well, according to the recipe, they were Jessica’s Red Beans and Rice, but I made a few adjustments—such as leaving the jalapenos out and cutting the amount of red pepper flakes in half. Trust me, there was plenty of heat without that extra bit!

As I was nearing the end of the cooking time, I saw the bay leaf sitting on top and pulled it out to discard just as the recipe told me to do. I looked at it for moment and couldn’t help but wonder if adding one little leaf to a recipe for such a short time could really make a difference. I asked my Facebook friends.

Wow! I had no idea people felt so strongly about the bay leaf! My friends quickly spoke up in its defense. I promised never to question its power again.

Along with his defense of it, my brother made a helpful suggestion, though. He told me to boil a bay leaf in water then smell it and taste it, so I’d know just what flavor I was adding to my recipes. I tried it! I think I understand now why I’m not a big fan of Italian food—that’s the taste I don’t care for. But I can see it adding something worthwhile to beef stew.

My friends were absolutely right! The bay leaf is a powerful addition—even after you pull it out and throw it away. And my brother’s suggestion will help me to use this power with wise discrimination. I may get a handle on this cooking thing yet.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I feel like that little bay leaf. I wonder if my presence is really making any difference in this great, big world chock full of amazing people. Would anybody notice if I disappeared? Would the aroma of my life linger? Does it make a difference now?

The answers to those questions, though, if I’m trusting God, I don’t need to know. God has already told me everything I need to know about the significance of my life. I know God loves me. I know He created me with purpose—whether I recognize it or not. I know He placed me here—right here, right now, intentionally, knowing exactly what He was adding to this world and the impact my life would make.

Lavender PansyHe did the same for you! Knowing what we know, we can trust that since God chose to add our lives to this world’s mix that He did so with purpose. (Kind of like I can now add bay leaves with purpose—or choose to leave them out. Regarding bay leaves, I know what I’m doing now. God has always known what He’s doing regarding each of us!)

There’s one more factor to consider, though. The bay leaf won’t release its flavor alone. It needs the heat from the water or soup or sauce or stew. Likewise, we can’t be the people God planned for us to be without Jesus. His sacrifice, the one we especially consider today, provides redemption from sin and makes it possible for us to live for Him. When we choose to accept Him as our Lord, to gratefully accept His sacrifice on our behalf, He begins to transform us into the people He always planned for us to be. Best of all, He invites us to get to know Him right now, to grow closer to Him every day—probably the greatest purpose and privilege we can enjoy. As we live in submission to Him, what our lives add to this world turns out to be just what the recipe needs.

Jesus, thank You again for all You have done and are doing for us. We don’t deserve any of it, but You gave Your life—and now You offer Your life that we can seek You and find You and get to know You better each day. You have blessed us greatly! We thank You. We adore You. We’re Yours, Lord. Amen.

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Loving Just Because

The Four LovesI started reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis this week. I’m still working through the introductory material, but I’ve already gained so much insight into this word, Love. Today’s revelation was so powerful, I’d like to share it, and some of the practical applications that came to my mind as I read, with you.

In the pages I read today, Lewis was discussing what he considers to be the lowest form of love, pleasure. He identified two kinds: Need-Pleasures and Pleasures of Appreciation. We only experience the first kind of pleasure when a need is being met. For example, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy drinking water, but if I’m really, really thirsty, finally being able to drink water will be a pleasurable experience because it meets a need. On the other hand, if I’m walking on the beach with my bare toes in the sand and a cool breeze with a slight smell of salt comes up to touch my face and play with my hair, I will enjoy that, not because I need it but because I appreciate the gift, the existence of the breeze. I like carrots if I’m hungry. I like chocolate because it tastes good. I like air-conditioning in the summer because it keeps me cool. Once the need is met, however, I don’t like it so much. Wildflowers, I like all the time. Just because they exist. They don’t meet a life-need, but they make the world a prettier place.

Lewis goes on to compare this to love. If we love people only because we need them, the love is temporary. It’s real, but not really. It’s not unconditional or forever or true. If we love just because, however, the love is lasting and sincere. Of course, only God can truly love in this way. He has absolutely no need for us, and yet He loves us more than anyone else ever will.

Loving Just BecauseIn a perfect world, that would be our primary reason for loving Him back. A primary reason among countless others: He created us. He redeemed us. He is preparing a home for us in Heaven with Him for eternity. He is with us. He will never leave us. He provides and protects. He is everything; He is love.

But the truth is, we need Him. Every heartbeat, every breath comes because He allows it. We are absolutely dependent on the God Who loves us perfectly. We truly are clay in His hands. That makes me very thankful that He loves me; I can’t imagine what life would be like if He did not.

Two practical applications came from this train of thought:

1. In order to move from a need-love relationship with God to a pleasure of appreciation relationship, we need to spend time praising Him every single day. Yes, it’s important to thank Him for all His gifts, for all He does for us. We must continue to do that, but we also must worship Him sincerely for Who He Is. We need to get to know Him, discovering every aspect of His character we can. We need to grow in our appreciation of His very existence every day.

2. We need to examine our relationships with the people in our lives. If any are based solely on need, these are unhealthy (except in the case of babies, who are born completely dependent and must learn how to love). Genuine love is unconditional. It loves just because the other one exists (which means, perhaps, that one comes closest to being able to love in this way when one becomes a parent). I think this is why Jesus told us to serve one another in love and to reach out with hospitality to people who can’t pay us back. It’s in service, in showing and giving love, that we learn to appreciate just because.

Along these lines, if anyone loves us just for what we can provide, we need to be aware that once the need is gone, the love will probably go, too. (It may even go sooner. Just as addicts come to resent the drugs they depend on, people often come to resent people they depend on.) This doesn’t mean we stop loving, but we hold the relationship loosely, refuse to let people idolize us, point them to the One they truly must depend on, and ask God to help us love wisely and well.

We can’t control how others love. It hurts to be loved only because someone wants something from us. It hurts to be rejected when we no longer have anything to offer that someone wants.

Thankfully, there will always be One Who loves us just because He does. He loves us perfectly. Our value rests in His opinion alone. And if we learn to love like He does, He’ll lead us to others who love well and whom we can also love.

Father, please teach us to love as You love because You do. Amen.

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Book Review: “Gospel Formed”

Gospel Formed“The power that raised Jesus from the dead is also for everyday life.” In his book, Gospel Formed, J.A. Medders helps readers understand this truth and apply it to life. The book contains 27 short meditations full of Bible verses to consider, simple teachings to grasp, and a quirky bit of humor to entertain while clarifying the point. (Evidently, I am a member in good standing of Medders’s diet soda denomination. You’ll have to read the book to learn why.)

The book is divided into five sections that progressively take the reader deeper into the gospel-formed Christian life, from the starting block to worship, identity, community, and mission. The section on community was my personal favorite. Under the title of each section’s introduction page, Medders has placed two simple definitions of the term he’ll be exploring within. These were useful points of reference to return to as I encountered these terms in each chapter; they kept my thoughts on track.

I especially recommend this book to growing Christians, those who’ve experienced the thrill of salvation and are ready learn how to serve their great King. Medders helps readers discover the life part of the Christian life. I enjoyed reading his book and am passing it on to someone else whom I know will enjoy it, too. I thank Kregel Publications for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Appreciating the Master

Parachute PrayerThe next time you see a work of art—a painting, a sculpture, or some such masterpiece—pause to consider the work the artist put into it. Each brushstroke, each cut into stone, each smooth curve—the artist puts serious thought into every detail of a creation. (“Just as a writer deliberates over every word,” she realized as she rewrote that last sentence four times.)

When I pause to reflect on the artist at work, my thoughts naturally turn to my Creator and His work and all we take for granted. He plans. He designs. He configures. He molds. Sunsets. Flowers. Creatures that fly and crawl and run and climb. People—every one as unique as the legendary snowflake.

Today’s Parachute Prayer is to let the works of art you see draw you from appreciation of the piece to thoughts about its creator to worship of Your Creator, the greatest artist of all.

Father, Your works are wonderful. We know that full well.* Thank You for giving us all things to enjoy* and for using this enjoyment to draw us closer to You. We love You, Lord! Amen.

*Psalm 139:14, 1 Timothy 6:17

 

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Psalm 86:11-12 on My Mind

NewOMMThis week, I’m trying to memorize Psalm 86:11-12. Won’t you join me? Or leave a comment to let me know what you’re memorizing. (I may want to memorize that next!)

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”Psalm 86:11-12NRSV

Notice that the Psalmist makes two requests, yet longs to do four things. He asks God to:

  • teach him His way and
  • give him an undivided heart.

He wants to:

  • walk in God’s Truth,
  • revere God’s name,
  • give thanks to God, and
  • glorify His name forever.

Lord, the Psalmist longed to live fully for you. Please give us everything we need to do so, too. You are worthy, Lord, of all we have to give—our undivided and grateful hearts most of all. Thank You for teaching and providing, so we may walk with, revere, give thanks to, and glorify You alone, forever and ever! Amen.

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Book Review: “The Butterfly and the Violin”

The Butterfly and the ViolinThe Butterfly and the Violin is two stories in one, a contemporary story and an historical one, both centered around the same piece of art. The main characters in the contemporary story are seeking the picture. The historical story tells how the picture came to exist. Back and forth clues from both times help readers unravel the mystery and gain understanding into the author’s message.

When I first learned of this book, I wanted to read it, but held back for a while because of its Holocaust setting, Auschwitz-Birkenau in particular. But then I came across several reviews that told how much the readers had enjoyed the book. I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. Though the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau are there, Kristy Cambron, the author, doesn’t dwell on them too much—she gives just enough detail to make her point, to lead the readers’ thoughts where she wants them to go. Enough reality, but not too much—she trusts her readers to get the idea.

The Butterfly and the ViolinAnd, if the reader doesn’t quite get it, Cambron spells it out in her author’s note that follows the story itself. This was a sweet, concluding touch to an especially meaningful story. I am glad I overcame my hesitation and chose to read this book. I’m looking forward to the next in this Hidden Masterpiece series.

I received a complimentary eCopy of The Butterfly and the Violin from the BookLook Blogger program in exchange for this honest review.

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Giving God Time to Heal Our Wounds

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.'”Luke 10:41-42, NIV

“Be still, and know that I am God.”Psalm 46:10, NIV

A few weeks ago, God pointed out an unhealed wound that should have been taken care of long ago. He let me know He’s ready to heal it; I’ve been trying to ignore it, you see.

California PoppyThe problem, though, with ignoring an emotional wound is that you still feel the pain. Figuratively, you slap a bandage on it, so you won’t see it. Then you cover that bandage with a cast to protect it. You lock yourself in a room, so to speak, so no outside force can cause more pain; then you surround that room with an impenetrable wall. Finally, you dig a tunnel under the whole thing, creating a bomb-shelter-type panic room that totally isolates you from anyone or anything who can cause you more pain. But none of it helps because the pain is inside you–and the wound is festering.

As God revealed the problem, I prayed, “Lord, I agree. I’m broken. Please fix me.” He kept sending gentle reminders. I kept praying the same prayer, expecting God to act. Until Monday morning in the middle of my quiet time, when God responded by pressing this thought into my head: “I’m trying to help you, Janet! But you won’t sit still!”

I almost laughed out loud as I realized the absolute truth of that statement. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a good Martha scolding. But God showed me I needed it this time. Even my quiet time with God has developed an agenda, a to-do list for the time. Some days God calls me to look at something a little more closely, and I’ll pray, “Sorry, Lord, I’d love to talk with You more about that point, but time’s up. We must move on for now.” I’m pretty sure that makes God sigh.

How did I slip so subtly into that?! No wonder that wound hasn’t healed.

If our car has a problem, we don’t expect the mechanic to come to us, strap himself onto the bottom of the car, and do his job underneath while we drive the car down the road. If our appendix bursts, we won’t expect the surgeon to operate while we type at our computer or wash dishes at the sink.

No. That would just be absurd–and seriously painful.

Just the same, when we suffer an emotional wound, we must make time to sit in God’s presence to let Him deal with it.

That same Monday when I felt like God was scolding me, I read a chapter in Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Each chapter explains a different kind of prayer. That day I read about the prayer of rest. Such perfect timing! This prayer involves sitting quietly in God’s presence, listening for His voice. As we do so, outside stresses will come to mind, things that normally demand our attention, claiming urgency. And as each one arises, we choose to let it go, giving God all rights to our time. It’s only when we’ve let all other claims to our attention go, that we’ll discover genuine rest in God’s presence. That’s when healing can begin.

And the process will go much more quickly and involve less pain if we’ll simply take our wounds to Jesus while they’re still fresh or merely bandaged instead of waiting for Him to coax us out of underground panic rooms. Thankfully, He hates to see His children hurt. He seeks us out with gentle reminders of the work we must let Him do.

Lord, thank You for calling us to be still, to know that You are God, and to let You do Your healing work in our lives. You are our Lord, exalted above all things! You are also our loving, heavenly Father Who cares. Whenever we hurt, please call us to come to You first. When we’re broken, You long to fix us. Yet You will wait until we are still. Thank You, Lord, for Your patient, yet persistent work. We love You so! Amen.

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Psalm 18:32 on My Mind

NewOMM“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.”Psalm 18:32

I’m going to do something a little bit different with On My Mind Mondays over the next few weeks. I came across a passage in my quiet time this morning that I would like to memorize. Five verses–five weeks. Could I memorize it faster? Probably. But this passage touched my heart. I want to spend some time with it.

This week I’ll be focusing on Psalm 18:32, above. If you’d like to look ahead at the whole passage, click here to visit BibleGateway.com where you can see all five verses right now.

What is it that I love about this passage? Throughout its words, David gives God credit for everything! God makes him able. God gives him strength. God prepares his path. God trains him for all he must face. God protects and sustains him. God stoops down to make him great!

And God does all of this for each of us, too! Meditating on these verses is like wrapping oneself up in a warm, comforting, and secure blanket entirely of God!

Interesting. That reminds me of St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer, the title of which comes from Ephesians 6:14, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” Yet, the essence of the prayer can be seen in Psalm 18 as well. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here are the words to St. Patrick’s prayer:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ on the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Do you feel it?! A warm, comforting, and secure blanket of God. He arms us with strength and keeps our way secure. He is with us always. He is everything!

Father, we thank You for being everything we need, for surrounding us with Your love, for providing necessary strength and security. As we meditate on David’s words and consider St. Patrick’s prayer, please help us to savor Your presence with us always. We love and need You, Lord! Amen.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! No pinching today–instead show grace and God’s love in honor of Jesus’ name. I think St. Patrick would have liked that better! Me, too.

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When You Struggle to Find the Right Words

I don’t know how it is for you, but of all the elements of prayer, I struggle most with worship and praise. It’s not that I don’t feel worship and praise or believe that God deserves all worship and praise. All glory and honor and praise are His! I just sometimes struggle to find the words.

DSC01019eThat seems like kind of a strange comment for a writer to make.

Yet our almighty, all-knowing, ever-present God Who created the whole universe, Who exists in a realm we can only imagine for now, seems so far beyond any words I might be able to arrange as a loving offering to Him.

Thankfully, He doesn’t expect me to live up to my personal perception of what such an awesome God should expect. He gracefully accepts whatever I have to offer when I choose to offer Him my best.

Yet sometimes I still feel stumped. Prayer requests—I’ve got those. Confession—God’s Spirit lets me know what we need to discuss. Intercession—I’m aware of the needs of my friends and family, world, church, and community. Thanksgiving—This one is often mistaken for praise because it’s just so easy to slide from telling God how amazing He is into thanking Him for all He’s done. Thanksgiving is simply counting blessings and giving God due credit for each.

These elements of prayer (requests, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving) are essentially a matter of presenting the facts of each to God, anticipating His response when we have asked for one. Praise and worship, however, requires contemplation, creativity, even a touch of poetry. Praise and worship is a gift! God deserves to hear us express our deep love.

I wonder if David or Solomon or Asaph or any of the other psalmists ever struggled with this. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read some of their first psalm attempts? I wonder if they tried and tossed out some lines from first drafts, playing with the words until they sounded just right. I suspect they probably did!

We may not be able to read those first drafts, but God has given us a collection of their completed projects in the book of Psalms. When we struggle for words of our own, we can read these, pray along with them, and let them prompt words from us. Here’s an example, using the first four verses of Psalm 8 (The words in brackets are mine.):

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
[People all over the world can see your glory, Lord, just by looking up into the sky!]

Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
[Your name alone is so powerful that even the most vulnerable find strength and courage when they praise You.]

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
[I can’t even begin to imagine how big You are, Lord! You’ve held planets in Your hands.]

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”
[And yet You do care! You see each person You’ve created. You even know us intimately.]

DSC01029eWhen we pray this way, we’re agreeing with the psalmist’s words about God, offering extra praises as we think of them. We clarify the psalmist’s thoughts with our own words, cementing the understanding of our amazing God in our minds.

Since psalms are actually hymns or songs, we can also turn to the words in our hymnals for praise and worship words to agree with and expound upon, using the same technique:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.” 
Blessed Assurance
[Jesus, Your Presence in my life gives me a taste of Heaven. I’m looking forward to living there with You someday!]

If you don’t own a hymnal of your own, you can Google the words to your favorite hymns and pray from your computer. Better yet, ask your pastor if there happen to be any retired hymnals hanging around in forgotten places at your church. As a pastor’s wife I know first-hand that most churches have some hiding somewhere where they aren’t doing anybody any good. Now that many churches have switched from traditional hymnals to overhead projectors there are even more! Your pastor may let you borrow one or have one to keep. (If your pastor lets you keep it, put a little extra in Sunday’s offering plate.)

[Dear churches that have no-longer-in-use hymnals lying around collecting dust in storage closets, please consider clearing out the clutter by giving them away to members of your congregation for personal worship and praise.]

I have one last praise and worship idea to share with you. This also comes from the Psalms. David wrote many of his psalms while sitting outside watching sheep. We may not have any sheep to watch, but perhaps we have children or pets we take outside from time to time. Or maybe we just like walking or running or sitting in the park and watching or flower hunting. If so, noticing the created world around us will fill our minds with words of worship and praise. If bowing your head and closing your eyes leaves you sitting in the dark with nothing to say, open your eyes and make note of all the wondrous sights around you that reveal the greatness of our amazing God.

Next thing you know, you’ll be writing psalms of your own. And God will be delighted to receive your worship and praise.

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What We Can Control

Ice“I [Jesus] tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” –John 21:18

Sometimes life takes us where we don’t want to go. We don’t always have the choices we would like. Sometimes we just have to muck our way through the mud or creep along the cliffs.

When this happens, though, we do get to choose how we will react. No one can take that option away from us. Circumstances may be beyond our control, but our responses to them never are.

This reminds me of Paul and Silas. In Acts 16:16-34, they were wrongfully beaten and imprisoned. They had no say in what happened to them, but they did get to choose their reaction. Were they bitter and angry, loudly declaring, “This is not fair!”? No. Wounded and chained, they chose to sing and pray. And when a miraculous earthquake set them free, they chose to stay. As a result, the jailer and his family (and probably some of their fellow prisoners) were saved.

Lord, when life takes us where we don’t want to go, help us to respond in a way that honors You. Please use the circumstances of our lives to bring glory to Your name, to draw more of Your children home to You. For this we thank You, Lord! Amen.

This post is linked to Essential Fridays, Faith Filled Friday and Spiritual Sundays.