Archive for the ‘Obedience’ Category

Barking enraged shepherd dog outdoors

Our outdoor dog raised quite a ruckus at about two o’clock this morning. Clearly, someone (or something), was in the yard because she was loudly sounding her full-out intruder alert; ready to attack. As three of us hurried outside to confront this unseen foe, I couldn’t help but think how foolish a person would have to be to jump a fence and prowl around a yard that housed a German Shepherd –and yes, there are guard dog signs up to warn any would-be intruders.

Oddly, our girl kept running in and out of the pool yard in full-attack mode, but she didn’t tear into anyone. Clearly she wasn’t after a coon or a possum because she has a distinctly different bark for those. Her bark is also different when alerting us to people on the road just outside our property. No, this was different —more vicious— but it didn’t seem that anyone was in the yard after all.

At first I was puzzled. Then I saw it, MOVEMENT! And to be honest, I chuckled. Had our dog been as tall as me, she might have figured out what the movement was; but she is only half my height, so the top of the (above ground) pool is way above her head. From the porch she could see the pool float moving about in the current, but she could only see the pillow portion, and that on the dark side of the pool.

Normally we don’t leave floats or toys in the pool so the sight, more specifically the movement, would certainly have been alarming for our ever-vigilant watch dog. Had I taken the float out, as per our custom, I might have spared our household, and probably three others, from being disturbed in the middle of the night, but I’ll just chalk it off as a lesson learned and hope the neighbors didn’t mind the urgent barking too much —better safe than sorry, after all.

After loving on our girl for awhile, I patted her on the head and told her what a good job she was doing then came inside to wind down before going back to bed. As I sat in my chair, this scripture came to mind:

Abstain from all appearance of evil. I Thessalonians 5:22

Our dog doesn’t really avoid every appearance of “evil,” She attacks it head-on. To her way of thinking, any creature, two-legged or four, that enters her yard, is an enemy to be slain.

If only God’s children would have kept that attitude in regards to compromise, I thought, this country might still be a Christian nation. But sadly, we have let too many evils creep in —into our churches, our society, our culture—because we didn’t recognize those evils for what they truly were. We also made too many compromises with many of the more subtle evils in our attempt to reach the unchurched with the Gospel. Sure, we meant well, but rather than succeeding in pulling people up, we slowly, but surely, allowed our own standards of holiness to be lowered, both in our churches and in our nation.

I have, over the course of time, asked several pastors the following question: Does the end (higher church attendance) ever justify the means (seeker-friendly gimmicks) if the means violates God’s instruction? I have seldom heard a pastor answer no. “Yes,” they say. “So long as we are getting people into the church, God will understand.” I DISAGREE! Why? Our god told us to abstain from the very appearance of evil. He tells us from cover-to-cover in our Bibles that we are absolutely forbidden from mixing the holy with the profane. If our church services look more like worldly concerts or pep rallies, we must ask ourselves if we are being obedient to God’s word. There are other examples I could use as well, but you get the point.

Where do we draw the line? You may ask. Well, if we don’t know the answer to that question, perhaps it is time for us to pray until we do. Meanwhile, it would be in our best interest to be on full-out intruder alert when it comes to even the appearance of evil. True, we may sometimes bark at something that isn’t truly a danger, but again, it is better to be safe than sorry. If we, God’s people, don’t stand up for what is right, who will? Friends, when it comes to sin and evil, let us learn a lesson from our canine protectors and attack them head-on!

As I always say, the people who care the most are they who care enough to speak the truth; in love, of course.

pencil lady

⇒Disclaimer: My apologies for the following advertisement, if applicable. I would like this site to be an advertisement-free site, but I have to pay a fee for this. I plan to do so in future, but for now, please know that I have nothing to do with advertisements &/or advertisement selection.

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When it comes to our thoughts, the age-old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” is certainly spot-on. As any gardener knows, however, the opposite is true of composting. It never ceases to amaze me how piles of organic waste, such as kitchen scraps or fallen leaves, can in due time, transform into the kind of rich, fertile fertilizer that causes plants to thrive.

My husband and I have a portable composter¹ that we move about our vegetable garden ever so often. Then, using a pitchfork, we redeposit the material, upside-down, to expedite the composting process. Since there is no bottom on the unit, some of the rich, organic material stays behind. Thus, we effortlessly condition different areas of soil while we wait for our veggie “food” to cook in the composter. This process is very simple, yet effective.

There are additional benefits to composting this way as well. Several weeks ago, we noticed that five new cucmber plants had begun to grow where the composter had last been. Since all of our produce scraps go into the composter, there were  some discarded seeds mixed into the pile. Apparently, the conditions were just right for some of those seeds to germinate. And I must admit, we were quite thankful for this little surprise, given that we were at the point in the season where the other plants had stopped producing; and we hadn’t gotten around to any later plantings to extend the harvest.

Admiring the healthy, vibrant young plants, I couldn’t help but think of the biblical parable of the sower, from the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. In a nutshell, the parable tells of a man who sowed seeds, some of which fell among thorns and stones and the like. These seeds did not grow to fruition. The seeds that fell upon good soil, however, did. Jesus explained to his disciples that the seed represented the Gospel; and the thorns, stones and fertile ground all represented the hearts of men. Some would receive the Gospel and grow in faith, others would not.

Today, as I watered those growing zucchini plants, another Scripture passage came to mind. The Apostle Paul was admonishing certain members of the church to continue in unity  in Christ, rather than aligning themselves with any particular leader. He likens his ministry, and that of Apollos, to jointly sowing and watering the seeds of the Gospel. “What, after all, is Apollos?” he asks, “And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (I Co 3:5-7 NIV).

May this passage serve to remind us that all of the Gospel seeds we plant are in God’s hands. He is the master gardener! It is He that makes things grows.

Dear reader, perhaps you have sown seeds that have never come to fruition, so far as you know. Don’t lose hope, even though it may seem your precious kingdom seeds were somehow destroyed, as in the parable of the sower. You just never know where a seed may grow!

Above all, never pre-judge anyone. Sadly, there are certain people groups that have, for one reason or other, been deemed a complete waste when it comes to sowing Gospel seeds –those who passionately adhere to another, ungodly religion, for example. Friends, I trust you have never bought into that lie. Human nature easily assumes that any seeds of truth offered to the proverbial “unreachable” would be hotly discarded. But that judgment is not ours to make. We sow, we water; but it is God that makes things grow!

He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. (Psalms 113:7-8a).

¹ Simple, portable composter:  Cut the bottom off of a trash can, then drill holes in all sides.  To keep birds and small animals out, top the can with either a lid made of cage wire, or the original can lid with larger holes drilled into it.?????????? This allows moisture  into the can and expedites the composting process.  For best result, make two or more composters so that you can compost in stages.

⇒Disclaimer: My apologies for the following advertisement, if applicable. I would like this site to be an advertisement-free site, but I have to pay a fee for this. I plan to do so in future, but for now, please know that I have nothing to do with advertisements &/or advertisement selection.

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What in the world is “bug dope,” I asked my husband. He laughed aloud at my Midwestern ignorance of the far north. Apparently, bug dope is a real product, though most of you probably know it by its proper description – insect repellent. Bug dope seems a rather odd expression to me. Where I’m from, dope is a bad thing, and you certainly don’t blatantly ask others to pass it to you in public. But there we were, on the shores of Lake Huron, watching an awesome Fourth-of-July fireworks display, and bug dope was the preferred defense against the blanket of tank-sized mosquitoes that were as thick as the smoke trailing in the air.

Bug dope isn’t the only oddity of the north, though. For instance, Midwesterners don’t wear shoes with good “gription” or wear a chuke (touke) when it’s cold outside. Truthfully, I was rather entertained for the first few years of my marriage, learning the peculiar idioms and pronunciations of my “Yooper” husband. He probably felt the same. After all, I had picked up several backwoods phrases along the way, so he had to learn such colorful words as doo-jigger and thingamabob.

Many were the times when my beloved and I were essentially saying the same thing, but I didn’t realize it because of our different vernaculars. He, noting my frustration at not being able to clearly express myself, often reminded me, “It’s just semantics!” He was really big on semantics!

From the beginning, we’ve pretty much shared one brain between the two of us, but it has been a very long time since we’ve had any miscommunications due to language traits. That’s the beautiful thing about intimacy; you really get to know each other –your idiosyncrasies, your thought processes –everything.

And that, dear reader, brings me to our beloved family in Christ. There may be many denominations, but we are all one body: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:5). That being the case, we should all be pretty much sharing the same brain, or in other words, we should be like-minded; relating to each other at an intimate enough level as to really understand each other.

During the past few weeks, I’ve read several online threads in which believers were arguing over a certain doctrinal issue –and when I say arguing, I mean just that. This should not be so! …there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (1 Corinthians 12:25).

Firstly, healthy discussions and debates can be very enlightening, useful even; but arguing is very counter-productive and not at all indicative of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Secondly –and this is the part I find amusing –most of the folks on those threads were essentially saying the same thing; they were just saying it in different ways! But they, in their zeal to prove their own stance to be the correct one, couldn’t see that they were merely locked in a battle of semantics. Had they taken the time to really listen to each other, with loving hearts rather than defensive minds, they would have found that they were basically on the same page. Bug dope vs. insect repellent. Semantics!

My dear brethren, I am in no way suggesting that we succumb to compromise within the church. Nor am I suggesting that all religions, nor all denominations for that matter, are all one body. All roads do not “lead to Heaven!”

I do, however, advocate that we take the time to really listen to each other; knowing full well that we all start our journey of faith from different places. Thus, there may be some ‘language barriers’ to overcome in relating to each other. There may be some strange idiosyncrasies and oddities to overlook, but love and intimacy overcomes all obstacles.

In closing, may I remind us all, myself included, of Jesus’ answer as to which biblical commandment is the greatest:

Thou shalt 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 22:37-40

“Loving relationships, though necessary for life, health, and growth, are among the most complicated skills. Before we can be successful at achieving relationships, it is necessary that we broaden our understanding of how they work, what they mean and how what we do and believe can enhance or destroy them. We can accomplish this only if we are willing to put in the energy and take the time to study failed relationships as well as examine successful ones. Loving relationships cannot be taken lightly. Unless we are looking for pain, they must not be forever approached in a trial and error fashion. Too many of us have experienced the cost of these lackadaisical approaches in terms of tears, confusion and guilt.”

–Leo Buscaglia, Loving Each Other

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The trip to the grocery store was a very brief one. Having just spent the last week sick in bed, I was feeling stir-crazy and decided that getting some fresh air would be beneficial. It didn’t take long to regret the decision, however; as walking the aisles for only a few moments drained me. I quickly made my exit with a small bag in each hand, head hung low.

I was immediately greeted by a very cold, but refreshing gust of wind, and the very warm smile of my sweet husband. As he often does, my beloved called home to see if I needed him to pick anything up on his way home from work. He could have gone straight home after hearing of my whereabouts, but he came instead to help me, knowing that I was still a bit weak. What a perfect example of how someone can say “I love you” without speaking a word.

The shopping was finished, so I thankfully embraced him and headed home. Just seeing my husband’s face brought me comfort and warmed my heart so that the cold was barely noticeable after. I thought to myself, it is as though I had just seen the face of angel.

He didn’t look the way one expects an angel to look, though. Having come from work, my hard-working man had mud smeared all over his coveralls. His winter beard was shaggy on his neck to protect him from the cold, and his stocking cap was pulled low, nearly to his eyes, concealing what skin the beard didn’t. Nevertheless, despite his unkempt wintry appearance, my aged knight, in not-so-shiny armor, stood there as handsome and angelic as ever, at least to me.

Dear reader, when is the last time you encountered an angel? Not the winged, celestial kind; although they do sometimes come to help us whether we realize it or not. (Hebrews 13:2). I’m speaking of those ordinary human beings that willfully choose to be a help and a blessing to others. For example, a few weeks ago, a complete stranger loaded a very heavy bag of dog food into the back of my vehicle for me when he saw that I was struggling with it. That may not seem like much, but it was definitely an answer to prayer.

Perhaps you are thinking that attributing the term angel to one’s own loving spouse, or a stranger in a parking lot, is a bit far-fetched. However, the biblical use of the term angel does not always refer to a heavenly spirit being. Sometimes, the word is used to refer to an earthly messenger or ambassador.

Consider Psalm 103, for instance. Here, the psalmist exhorts angels — those who obey His commandments and minister to others—to bless the LORD.

Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.

Obviously, the psalmist also recognizes that ‘angels’ are often mere human beings who simply reflect the light and love of God; obedient servants, through whom His love and compassion are extended. And these, he notes, are pleasing to God.

I’m certain that we are all very thankful for every angel that God sends to help us in our time of need, whether human or celestial. Yet I earnestly pray  that amongst all of these blessings, we are never neglectful  to be a blessing — an angel, an ambassador of heaven, to the multitudes.

We cannot all be missionaries to third-world countries, we cannot all fund major evangelical works, but every  person, no matter their personal circumstance, can choose to bless others anywhere, any time. Who knows, perhaps this week we might all have the opportunity to be an angel in a parking lot.

** If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Knights in Daze

The angel photo above was taken from TomStuart.org  To read his article about entertaining angels unaware, click this link: Entertaining Angels Without Knowing It

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The weather is not scorching at present, but this is a repost from a few years ago; so just think cold instead. I truly felt like someone really needed to hear this one today, so here you go! God bless!

“Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” Well here in this little corner of the Midwest we have to, as far as the terrain is concerned anyway; It’s the closest thing to elevation that we have. Well almost…

My husband and I feel confident that we are living in the place which God has chosen for us, and are fairly settled. But if we had our druthers, we would be living on some mountain ridge. Or at the very least, on a small country farm somewhere in God’s country. By the way, if you don’t know what druthers are, you need to get out of the city for awhile and experience a little country life.

I often awake from pleasant dreams in which my family and I are living in such a place. Then the reality hits me; Nope, we’re still here in these allergy-inducing, scorched flatlands. Most of the time we are content enough to live here. Still, there have been several times throughout the years that we have all but begged God to let us relocate to an area more suited to our nature-loving genes and our manure-wading boots. And every single time, God said No.

Last night I couldn’t help but think about all the incredible things that God is doing in our lives right now -here in this place. I couldn’t even begin to list them all. Then it dawned on me, how many of these blessings would we have missed out on if we had gotten our way and moved? We may have thought at times that we would find more happiness elsewhere, but fortunately for us, God knows what we need and where He needs us, even more than we do and He always makes provision for that.

This realization led me to ponder some of the other times when God answered our prayers for other things with the same unyielding, “No.” I might not always have liked the answer, nor understood it, but I am now fully persuaded that His answers were always in our best interest whether we realized it or not.

Then, God clearly spoke to my heart. He said, “If you think I told you No a lot, you should see how many times I told the devil No. There were so many times he tried to trick you and deceive you, but I said NO! He tried to bring certain sicknesses and diseases upon you but I said NO! He even tried to take your lives but I said NO!”

My mind began to whir with memories of the car accidents we were in and the ones we narrowly escaped. I thought about several other times when I, personally, should have died but walked away unscathed. God has kept us safe through all of this and so much more. He healed us from that which the doctors couldn’t. And when we teetered on the brink of financial ruin, He miraculously provided. I cannot begin to imagine how many times God protected us and provided for us when we didn’t even know the need existed.

The devil has tried endlessly to bring harm to my family and I, but God repeatedly said NO! I don’t know about you, but right about now I feel like shouting for joy. Go ahead, ask me if I ever tire of talking about God and His amazing love. I will most emphatically tell you NO!

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This morning, while sorting ¹Mount Rushmore (that’s my not-so fond nickname for the laundry pile), it dawned on me that I’m a little weird. Actually, I came to that realization several decades ago. Today’s revelation had more to do with my preference for the dirty household tasks over the clean ones.

For instance, I would much rather wash dishes or fill the dishwasher than put away a load of clean ones. And I would rather sort, wash and hang Mount Rushmore than I would fold it all. I even prefer crawling around in the dirt, tending to my garden, than watering it or putting away all the tools.

That’s pretty much flip-opposite of most folks, who would rather deal with the clean stuff than the dirty. I tried to figure out why I’m wired backwards, to no avail. I’m not sure, but it might be that I simply find the dirty stuff to be more pressing. After all, leaving the dishwasher full of clean dishes is really no big deal, but it stinks to have a kitchen full of dirty dishes –pun intended. Thus, I tend to spring into action more quickly when it comes to the dirty stuff. That still doesn’t explain why I dislike some of those other tasks so much, but until I figure it out, the kids can keep doing them. (This might take a long time, wink).

Then it occurred to me, I’m not wired backward after all; at least not when it comes to the really important stuff –like reaching out to people. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fellow Christians, and I would do anything I could to help them, but they have already been washed clean (of their sins) by accepting the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:9-14) and they are in really good hands -His. I love spending time with them, but being there to help folks who do not know Jesus as their LORD and Savior is often more pressing. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”(Matthew 9:12).

He modeled this for us when He walked upon earth. Yes, Jesus spent plenty of time with righteous individuals, but it was when He saw the needy and the unclean, that He rolled up His sleeves and went to work. And He bids us to do the same. Consider the words of Jesus to an expert in the law (²Torah):

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10: 30-37

The expert in the law was a Jewish man and, by implication, the man traveling to Jericho was also. To the Jew, a Samaritan was vile and repulsive. Therefore, the traveler’s act of mercy and compassion was all the more praiseworthy. Not only did he tend to the injured man, he also paid for his continued care.

“Go and do Likewise,” Jesus said. Meaning, we should always go above and beyond in mercy and compassion toward others; especially those in need. Dear reader, the world is full of people who would rather deal with the “clean stuff” than the dirty. And by dirty, I mean someone whose life others deem vile and repulsive, or insignificant at the very least. Will you be the one to do as Jesus did, as the Jericho traveler did, and be moved with deep, heartfelt compassion? I truly pray that you are –that we all are.

¹I call my laundry pile Mount Rushmore because, with a large family, the pile is always roughly the size of a mountain. And I always have to rush to finish the task or else a second mountain appears before I even finish the first.
²The Torah is the Hebrew name for the first five books of the Bible as a composite work. It is called Pentateuch in the Greek.

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A week or so before my wedding, my mother called to tell me she was planning on missing the big event because she and her husband wanted to watch a local mud truck pull. Granted, my mother has never been a typical loving parent, but a mud truck pull –seriously?

Still, I wasn’t really all that upset. I had grown quite accustomed to her disregard for my life –which was always her choice not mine. My youngest sister, on the other hand, was upset. She had always longed to see our family become “normal” even though we all knew deep down that would never happen. Somehow, she convinced my mother that weddings trumped mud pulls; and missing my wedding might be something she would eventually regret.

At the last minute, my mother made the decision to pop into the church just long enough to view the ceremony and swap a few hellos. She did leave as quickly as possible to pick-up her husband and head to the mud, but I’m glad she came anyway. There is just something special about having your mother at your wedding, even if you aren’t close.

Now, after twenty-plus years, I still feel occasional bouts of sadness at never having experienced a real relationship with my mother. I had wanted that all my life. And though she would disagree, I tried over and over to draw her heart to mine. It just never happened.

This makes me think of the parable in the 22nd chapter of Matthew:

Jesus answered and spoke again in parables to them, saying, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “Behold, I have made ready my dinner. My oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!”‘ But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise [another to his mud pull]…..

The king’s Son is an obvious reference to our Lord Jesus Christ. He longs to have relationship with all of humanity and draw their hearts to His, as His bride, but so many people disregard the invitation because they are more interested in doing their own thing. Others think that just popping into church once in a while will suffice, even though they are not really in relationship with the LORD. However, making an appearance in the natural, is not enough! Salvation is an issue of the heart. The parable explains that those who rejected the invitation to the *marriage feast  will be utterly rejected themselves. However, it further elaborates that those who wish to attend must be wearing a proper wedding garment.

And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (vss. 11-15).

What is the wedding garment? The garment is the salvation found in Jesus Christ by acceptance of His atoning death on the cross for your sin, and subsequent obedience to His Word. Only the true bride of Christ wears this garment. They alone will be able to attend the marriage supper.

I’m not trying to sling any mud here, but there are lots of folks out there who will never attend the marriage supper because they are more interested in pursuing their own pleasures and activities. I truly hope, dear reader, you are not among them. Time is short, but it’s not too late. Why risk a last-minute decision? If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your LORD and Savior, there will never be a better time to do so than now. And there is no greater source of joy than knowing with certainty that you will be ready for that glorious day when we will be united with our bridegroom, Jesus.

*Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God….” Worship God! (Revelation 19:7-10)

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Okay I admit it; a few days ago, I almost mixed dried mustard into my pumpkin pie filling instead of ginger.  It’s a good thing I keep a pair of reading glasses in the kitchen and have the good sense to use them.  Otherwise, our dessert would have tasted awful.  At least I can blame my aging eyes for this near-blunder. 

Speaking of nasty-tasting desserts, I will also confess to you that I still hold first place in the “worst cake ever made” category for novice bakers.  Granted, I was quite young when I made that horrible thing, but that error was one of ignorance rather than limited vision. Allow me to explain:

Because this was the first cake I had ever baked from scratch, I was careful to follow the recipe to the letter.   From its beautiful, golden-brown appearance, the cake looked perfect when it came out of the oven. It tasted awful, though.  Words cannot adequately describe how nasty this cake tasted, or how confused I was by the outcome.  What had I done wrong?

Determined that I would not accept such a failure, I decided to toss the cake and start over.  Again, I assembled all the ingredients and followed the recipe meticulously. The flour was carefully sifted, the butter properly softened, the vanilla carefully measured and every ingredient added in order.  Surely, I reasoned, this cake would be better.

Definitely not!

The second cake was every bit as disgusting as the first; I was practically in tears.  With great disappointment, I informed my parents that we were not having cake that night because I was the worst baker on the planet and both cakes were in the trash, where they belonged.

“What did you put in the batter?” they asked.

I explained that I had followed the cookbook recipe and used only the ingredients listed.  I wasn’t sure why my parents started laughing, but they led me into the kitchen and, pulling a bottle from the cabinet, asked if that was the vanilla I used.

“Yes,” I answered, somewhat confused.

More laughs.  “That’s not vanilla,” they explained. “You used liquid smoke in the cake.”  (Unbeknownst to me, we had run out of vanilla.)

To be fair, the label had come off the bottle some time before.  But even if it hadn’t, I didn’t have a clue what liquid smoke was. Apparently, it’s a dark, liquid seasoning that is used to add a smoky flavor to foods. Trust me; you do not want to eat cake which tastes like it just came out of the smokehouse!

I was thinking about this recently after I listened to a young pastor present some rather “contemporary” suggestions for bringing the unsaved into his church. For the most part, his ideas were pretty good. And if the preacher’s vision to reach the lost had been more firmly grounded in Scripture, the outcome would have been very sweet and desirable.   However (without elaborating on the details), I noted that a few of his suggested “ingredients” for successful evangelism were, in reality, a violation of God’s Word. His vision was admirable, but he simply did not have proper understanding in regards to the propriety of his ideas.

We must remember, when putting together any kind of church outreach, that the proper “ingredients” are absolutely vital!

Although our hearts may be sincere and our motives pure, we must always be careful not to unintentionally substitute the sweet “vanilla” of God’s instruction for the (liquid) “smoke” of “cultural relevance.”  True, our well-meaning efforts might produce something that looks really good, but if we have made substitutions in God’s “recipe” for Christian conduct, (even unknowingly), the results will most likely be distasteful to the Lord.

Of course, we do need to earnestly minister to the unsaved, but it is only the LORD who can effectively bring them into the fold.  He Himself said: No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him (John 6:44).   Programs are nice, and preaching is important, but our primary focus should be to fulfill our divine calling to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that  [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light (I Peter 2:9).

Dear reader, let us   firmly resolve to once again raise the church to the standards of holiness she once walked in, that God may be pleased to dwell in His sanctuary as He did in days of old.  Upon doing so, we will most assuredly have the right ingredients to properly minister to those whom the LORD will send.

And that, my friend, is sweet and desirable to the LORD!

 “Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes.”                   ~George Soros

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photo credit: alatoni.com

Black olives may not please everyone’s palate, but my family –half of us, anyway– devour them like candy. In fact, whenever we have a build your own pizza night, my daughter’s pizza is usually black when she pops it in the oven due to serious olive overload. I can’t say I blame her; I’m one of the other olive lovers.

You can only imagine how elated I was the first time I realized my relatives, who lived in Phoenix, had several black olive trees growing in their back yard. “Go ahead, eat as many as you want,” my cousin told me.

Anxiously, I bit into the first one with great expectation. But I spit it out with disgust. Unbeknownst to me, those pleasant-looking fruit are bitter enough to turn your teeth inside out –until they are cured in lye, that is. Yes, I said lye.

Do you have any idea how hazardous lye can be? It can cause chemical burns, scarring, blindness, or respiratory failure; and probably even death under certain circumstances. Yep, that sounds like the kind of substance we need to treat our food with (Uh- NOT). I was stunned further to learn that manufacturers use lye to treat several other foods as well. But let’s talk about olives for a moment.

Did you know that olives are really good for our bodies? Not only do they contain a fair amount of iron, vitamin E, copper (an essential mineral) and fiber, they also have phytonutrients,  the organic components of plants which promote human health. Olives are said to:

 Contain antioxidants to fight disease.
 Have anti-inflammatory properties.
 Help decrease high blood pressure.
 Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
 Lower bad cholesterol.
 and more

It really boggles my mind that something as caustic as lye can take the bitterness right out of the olive fruit. What astounds me even more is that the caustic attacks of other people can take the bitterness right out of us.

How? First we must understand that “The building of character is the most important business of life. It matters little what works a man may leave in the world; his real success is measured by what he has wrought along the years in his own being…. True character must be built after divine patterns…” J.R. Miller, 1894

Jesus Christ is our divine pattern. What did he teach?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which spitefully use you (Luke 6:28).

More profound still,  while Jesus Christ, who was falsely accused, was being led to Mount Calvary to face an unjust crucifixion, he demonstrated for us the most noble of character:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

Why would the Son of God allow Himself to be beaten, spat upon, and ultimately murdered, without speaking one word in His own defense? It is because our Heavenly Father had a plan. Jesus Christ, our LORD and Savior, was absolutely perfect as both man and God. But with His every word and action, Jesus gave us a pattern of how to live so that we might be perfected into His own image.

However, we are mere mortal men and we fail. Sometimes we allow the unjust actions of others to cause bitterness deep within our hearts. It is in times like these, I believe, that God allows caustic men and women to “crucify” us so that we may be “cured” and our fruit (the fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23) may be sweet.  And more importantly, so that this sweetened fruit may then be used as a catalyst to help heal the spiritual diseases of others.

Dear reader, the next time you or I encounter a caustic, abrasive person, let us remember the words of our precious LORD and pray for him (or her). And in so doing, may he or she see the character of God through us.

In closing, I offer this final thought; relationship battles can often be won through peace– I wouldn’t lie.

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My nephew, who recently joined the Marine Corp, is now sporting a tattoo which covers his entire right side. It reads: Semper Fidelis. While I am certainly not a fan of tattoos, I was curious to know what those words really mean. I’ve heard the abbreviated term Semper Fi a few times, but honestly, I couldn’t imagine why a simple military motto would be so important that anyone would want to cover one-quarter of their torso with it. Turns out, it isn’t just a simple motto.

Semper Fidelis is the Latin term Always Faithful. Although this popular motto has been commonly used by various peoples and entities since at least the 1500’s, it was adopted by the Marine Corp in 1883 as an absolute way of life. To the Marine, Semper Fidelis is a lifetime commitment to always remain faithful to their mission, to each other, to the Corps and to our country, no matter what. “It is not negotiable. It is not relative, but absolute.”

However, I believe the motto is rooted farther in antiquity than the sixteenth century. I can easily imagine a young (Latin speaking), first-century lover pledging himself to be Semper Fidelis to his darling. The Roman scholars would have been Semper Fidelis to their studies, and the truly devout, Semper Fidelis to their God (or gods).

In fact, few people were as Semper Fidelis to his God than the Apostle Paul. We know that Paul spoke Hebrew, Greek and probably Aramaic, but being born a Roman citizen almost guarantees that he spoke Latin fluently as well. Therefore, he most likely rallied some of his fellow (Roman) believers to obey the call of Semper Fidelis in regards to the tireless work of spreading the Gospel. Whether he used the actual phrase Semper Fidelis or not is inconsequential. What matters is that he avidly taught the principle. For instance, he instructed the Corinthian church to be firm in purpose, resolute in faith, and industrious in service, through the following charge:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord (I Corinthians 15:58).

In other words, he instructed them to be a Semper Fidelis Servus (servus meaning servant or slave), working tirelessly for their master, Jesus Christ. In fact, this call to diligent, faithful servanthood is so important that it is taught throughout the pages of Scripture. Similar to the Marine’s creed of faithfulness, the Christian makes a commitment to be always faithful to their mission- to those who don’t know Jesus as Lord- as well as to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the Kingdom of God. Like Semper Fidelis, “It is not negotiable. It is not relative, but absolute.”

The difference is that our commitment to be unconditionally faithful is not borne out of military conditioning (though we are soldiers in God’s army). Our desire to be a Semper Fidelis Servus is the direct result of our great love for our Heavenly Father and for our fellow man. And the good news is (for me anyway), that we don’t need to tattoo our flesh in order to proclaim our faithfulness to God because that is something others can see quite clearly.

May I remind you, dear reader, you may be the only Bible that some folks ever read. Are you giving them a clear “picture” of God’s love, mercy and compassion through your faithfulness? If so, may you one day be blessed to hear your precious Heavenly Father say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).

Postscript: my desire today is to share with you my thoughts on Semper Fidelis, not tattoos. I don’t personally care for them (actually, I hate them), but I am in no way attempting to impose my beliefs on you. Seeing my nephew’s tattoo about faithfulness simply reminded me that God has written His law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and our faithful obedience to Him speaks much louder than words, or pictures.

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