Life and Choices

This morning, I was reading The Maxwell Daily Reader–I read this book almost every day for a quick leadership lesson–and the lesson for today was about life and choices.

Maxwell started the lesson with this statement:

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”

And then he asked a few questions, but two of the questions stood out to me the most: “What will you do with today?”  and “Who will you become?”

These questions made my mind reel, and I ended up asking myself a few other questions.

“What will I read today? Where will I go? Who will I spend time with? How will I spend the precious hours of today?”

Earlier this morning, I was up before the sun. I walked outside to our little balcony to look at the clouds and watch the sun rise. I reflected on this new morning and the fact that God didn’t give us one long continuous day from the beginning of time. When He made the heavens and the earth and stars, and made day and night, He decided to put twenty-four hours in each day.  No more, no less. Most days, I wish I had a few more hours. But God thought twenty-four was just enough. God gives us a new day, a fresh day, every twenty-four hours.

Let’s look at what Lamentations tells us.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

His love never ceases. His mercies never end. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.  These verses make my heart sing and rejoice and so very grateful.  And they also cause me to want to answer the questions above in a way that honors Him.

I pray that my choices today, the way I spend this day will honor Him above all else.  I pray that I live this day and every day to love Jesus and love others with my whole heart and in doing so, will become who God has called me to be.  Jesus, thank you for this glorious new day  and for your mercies that never end.

Compassion and Crowds

Crowds are hard for me.  I don’t like crowds.  They overwhelm me.  Completely overwhelm me.  When I walk into a crowded room my  initial response is to find the door and go and hide in the bathroom.

I thought I was just insecure, but then I took a few personality/strengths/themes tests and realized I am just not wired to like crowds. I prefer dinner with a few good friends rather than big parties with lots of people.  I was relieved to understand that I was actually an introvert and that was how God made me.

But, still there are crowds in life. How do I respond when I see crowds of people? How did Jesus respond to crowds?

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus responded to crowds with compassion.  This is a repeated theme throughout the gospels.  He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead.  He met the needs of the people in the crowds.   And He did it all with compassion.

I am always convicted when I read verses about compassion.  I don’t think I am naturally very compassionate. But thank God for His grace which changes us and makes us more like Jesus. Here in Manila we are faced with crowds everyday. In the malls and on the streets and everywhere we go, there are so many people. Jesus help me to respond with compassion, not indifference or a callous heart. And remind me to pray earnestly as Jesus told His disciples, “to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

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Image source

Summer Breezes and Sunny Days

It’s summertime here in Nashville.  Makes me think of the lyrics of the old Seals and Crofts song “Summer Breeze.”

“Summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”

I don’t know about jasmine in my mind, but I do love summer breezes. This song brings up lots of great summer memories for me;  long, carefree days at the beach, eating watermelons right from the watermelon patch, riding bikes until dark in the neighborhood with friends, enjoying long days when the boys were young without the constraints of a school schedule, traveling to visit friends and family, summer afternoon thunder storms, drinking iced tea and sitting on the front porch.  The list could go on and on.  It’s so much fun to remember and makes me so very grateful for God’s goodness in our lives.

And it begs the question, what memories will I make this summer?  Will I just busily go through my to do list each day with all my projects for the house, and ministry and our travel schedule, or will I take the time to make sweet memories with family and friends in the midst of our busyness? Great memories are made on vacations and trips and planned events, but some of our best memories happen on the most ordinary of days at home or in the  park or on the porch or by the grill.  May we recognize these moments for the gifts that they are and remember and cherish them.

I need to go get the porch ready and make the iced tea and call my friends. What about you? Praying you have a breezy summer filled with sweet days and a grateful heart as you make memories with those you love.

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Image from Ashley Phipp’s lovely website, Simply Designing

Friends and Family

It’s baby time around here.  Grandbaby number two will be here sooner than expected.  His birthday has been moved up to July 23 and we are all excited to meet him.  We had a shower for his mother last Tuesday evening.  It was a lovely summery affair.  We found the cutest invitations with a whale so that became our theme.  Pretty shades of blues to welcome our newest member of the family and shower his parents with clothes and blankets and gifts galore.

Our friends were so generous and kind and we all enjoyed being together for an unrushed evening of celebration for this precious gift from God. Thanks to my co-hosts Sandy Houston and Moriah Murrell.  I love doing parties with you both.  And thanks to all graced us with your presence.  Most of all thanks to God, the Giver of life, for His goodness in our lives.  We are so very grateful.

Two Favorite Yeast Recipes

I wrote about yeast and leaven a few days ago.  Here are two of my favorite recipes using yeast.  They take a little while, but are so worth it if you don’t kill the yeast in the process.  Beware not to make your liquid too hot, or not hot enough.  And make sure your yeast is fresh.  If it is old, the dough won’t rise. I once made the pizza recipe below for guests and the dough didn’t rise so the crust was a bit flat and didn’t taste so good. Our guests were good sports, but I was annoyed.

Buy small amounts of yeast at a time so you always have a fresh batch on hand.  When you mix your yeast with your warm water, if it doesn’t bubble and look “active”  then that is a good sign you should throw it out and get new yeast.  Trust me on this.  My most recent bad yeast was last Christmas.  I asked all the kids what was one recipe they really wanted me to cook for Christmas dinner.  Jonathan chose One Hour Rolls.  I was so excited to make them since it had been a long time since we last had them.  The yeast didn’t bubble in the water so well, or maybe I killed the yeast with water that was too hot-I can’t remember now,  but I was busy with so many things and plowed  ahead with the recipe anyway.  They barely rose at all and did not taste good.   Must try again soon.

This first recipe comes from The Mississippi Cookbook which was a wedding gift and I still have it-yellowed, stained, cover torn off- but I still use it.  Mississippians are wonderful cooks and they grow the best gardens in the summer time.

One Hour Rolls

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening
1 package dry  yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup buttermilk

Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in shortening until fine.   Dissolve yeast in warm water; let it sit for about 5 minutes.   Add to the buttermilk and mix well.  Stir yeast mixture into dry ingredients.  Turn out dough on a floured board, and knead until smooth and blistered.  Roll 1/4 inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter.  Spread with melted butter and fold double.  Place on ungreased  baking sheet and let rise one hour.  Bake in 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.  Yields 2 dozen rolls.

Note:  We didn’t have buttermilk in Manila way back when, so you can make a substitute by adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to 1 cup of whole milk.  Stir it and let it sit for a few minutes.

The following recipe was given to me by a missionary friend in Manila when the boys were little.  At that time, we didn’t have very good pizza in Manila so this recipe became a favorite and I made it very often for many years.  It is still my very favorite pizza crust.

Pizza Crust

2 packages dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups flour plus more for your kneading board

Dissolve yeast in water and add sugar.  Combine oil, salt and flour in a large bowl.  Add yeast mixture and stir hard to combine all ingredients. Knead until smooth and satiny on a floured board.  Place in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk-about one hour.  Punch dough down and knead again lightly.  Divide into two pieces, roll out dough and fit into two 14 inch pizza pans.

Top with your favorite pizza sauce, cheese and toppings.

Notes:  If you are making the dough in advance, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate after the first kneading.  When ready to use, roll out on a lightly floured board.  Pizza screens make for a much better crust as the holes in the screen make the crust brown more evenly.

Happy Cooking and I hope your yeast rises!

Yeast in the measuring cup
Yeast in the measuring cup. This is what your yeast should look like when mixed with the warm water and sugar. All nice and bubbly.

 

Dough is ready to rise
The dough is mixed and kneaded and ready to rise for an hour in a warm place.

 

The yeast worked!
The yeast worked! The dough has doubled in size. Ready now to roll out the pizza.

 

Ready to bake!
Pizza is ready to be baked.

 

It's done!
Pizza is ready. Dinner is served.

On baking and transformation

Have you ever tried to make yeast breads?  I grew up making quick breads like biscuits or muffins.  We threw a little baking powder in with the other ingredients  and they rose and baked up so well. Perfect  every time.

Then when the boys were little, I decided to venture out, so I bought a book about yeast breads and decided to try.  The trick when working with yeast is that it takes time.  You mix the dough, you knead it, you let it rise.  Then you often need to let it rise a second time.  This takes time and patience and the right environment in the room.  Sometimes my dough rose and sometimes it didn’t. But we read in Matthew 13 about leaven or yeast that always works.

He told them another parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” – Matthew 13:33

Whether we see it or not, the kingdom of heaven is advancing and growing here in the earth as the hearts and lives of people -you and I- are being transformed day by day. But the transformation process is often painful and slow and tedious and requires much patience.  It is so easy to become frustrated with ourselves and others when we don’t see the outworking of the inner process that is taking place. We think, “I should know better,” or “I should do better,” or “I should not get offended,” or “They should know better, do better and be nicer.”

But little by little and day after day, as we are faithful to listen and hear and apply God’s word to our life, it is like leaven that is growing in our lives, transforming us, changing us and making us more like Jesus.

Jesus, help us to be patient with ourselves and others in this ongoing transformation process in our lives and thank you for your mercy and grace that is new every morning.

Seeds and Weeds

This morning I read The Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13.  Jesus uses this parable to explain more about the kingdom of heaven.  He uses the example of a man sowing good seed in his field, but while he was sleeping, the enemy came and sowed weeds.  So when the plants came up, the weeds appeared also.

This made me think about my flower pots again. Every year, I battle with weeds. I didn’t plant them, but still, they are there, and I have to deal with them, or they will take over the beautiful blooms that I planted.

This led me once again to my heart. Perhaps I can’t keep my flower pots from weeds but I can keep my heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” I must prepare the soil of my heart and plant good seed.  And then I must protect my heart and the seed that I have carefully planted there  to prevent the enemy from sowing weeds.

I don’t like pulling up weeds, whether they’re in my pots or in my heart. It’s tiresome and time consuming.  I would rather just have a really good harvest of peace and joy and love and patience and kindness and gentleness.

How do we keep the enemy from sowing weeds in our hearts?I believe the primary way we keep our hearts is to spend time every day reading and meditating on Scripture and taking time to pray and ask Jesus to help us apply the scriptures to our lives.

We can’t afford to sleep in the spiritual sense. We must be alert and spiritually strong at all times and in all seasons.  Time spent reading and meditating on Scripture and in prayer will help us keep the weeds from our hearts.  The choices that we make in life will also protect our hearts from weeds.  Choices about what we watch, or what we listen to or what we think about.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

This verse convicts me every single time I read it.  Imagine what our lives would look like if these are the things we think about.

Jesus, I pray that you will help us all to stay awake and alert spiritually, and be careful to keep our hearts with all vigilance.  Help us to be faithful to read and meditate on Your Word every day, and think about that which pleases You. And may the good seed we plant in our hearts grow and bloom into much beauty in our lives.

On loving what you do & things that matter most of all

nothing_left_unsaidWe flew home from Manila to Nashville a few days ago.  On the long flight from Tokyo to Atlanta, I was browsing through the movies trying to decide which one to watch and stumbled across “Nothing Left Unsaid.”

In this movie, Anderson Cooper interviews his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt,  about her life and accomplishments.  The movie was filled with old photos and stories of her childhood and the custody battle when she was a child,  and then her very colorful and accomplished life though the years.  Though she has accomplished much in her life,  and was born into a life of great wealth and privilege, she has experienced so much sadness and loss too.  Yet in spite of all the sorrow in her life, she continues to go into her art studio every day and do what she loves to do.   And she is 91.

I hope at 91, I am still getting up every day and doing what I am called to do.

The movie inspired me. But it also made me so very sad as it made no mention of her spiritual life.  I wonder if anyone has ever shared with her the good news of the gospel.  I wonder if she is familiar with John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  I wonder if she has any idea how much God loves her and that Jesus came to earth and died and rose again so that she could know Him and be forgiven for her sins.  Her accomplishments here on earth will not matter in eternity.  All that will matter in eternity is if she put her faith in Jesus and what He did for her on the cross.  And that is all that matters for any of us.  Regardless of wealth or status or nationality, Jesus died for all. And we must acknowledge our sin and our need for a Savior and put our faith in Christ. May we all live for Him and for His glory and tell everyone the glorious good news of the gospel.

And I pray for Ms. Vanderbilt and Mr. Cooper, that they will come to know and understand the greatest love of all and put their faith in Christ.

What are you planting?

If you have read the last few blogs, I have written about preparing the soil of our hearts for good seed to grow. Last week, I wrote about keeping our hearts so that the enemy can’t sneak in and plant weeds that we will have to pull up later. This week, I am reading and thinking about the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven  is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven.  But I will apply this principle to our hearts. When a farmer goes to the trouble to prepare his fields for planting, he doesn’t just go through and throw out random seeds to see which ones will grow. He plants what he desires to harvest. Not just tomatoes, but those big, red juicy delicious ones we have in South Georgia in the middle of summer.  I love Tennessee, but the tomatoes don’t compare to the ones I grew up with in Georgia.  And then there are the peas, so many varieties, and butter beans and squash and okra and cucumbers and corn and watermelons.  I digress–I think I may need a vegetable garden instead of just flower pots–but back to the point.

We must be intentional about what we plant in the soil that we carefully tend in our hearts.  What do we want to reap in our lives?  More faith instead of fear and worry?  More joy?  More peace?  Then we must carefully plant seeds that will cause these trees to grow in our lives.  Don’t be random in your time that you study scripture.  Prayerfully figure out what needs to grow in your life in this season and study the scriptures, memorize those scriptures and pray those verses.  And watch as trees begin to grow in your life of faith and hope and joy and peace and blessing that will astound you.  The intentional seeds that you plant in your heart will bear fruit in you life for years to come and change you in ways that you can’t imagine.  What are you planting?

Dull Hearts

Have you ever had a conversation with someone, and felt like they weren’t really listening, couldn’t see what you were saying, and, most of all, didn’t seem to care?

We all have.

Hopefully, we will give the person the benefit of the doubt and try again, but if this trend continues, it will kill or certainly minimize this relationship for us.  None of us like to be in relationships like this.  Neither does Jesus.

In Matthew 13 after he had spoken to the crowd about the parable of the sower, his disciples asked him why he spoke in parables.  In verses 13 to 16, we find the answer:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

What a terrible dilemma.  I actually looked up “dull.”  It means lacking interest or excitement or brightness. So the question is this: how do we approach Jesus as we come to him each day to read our Bibles and pray? Do we have dull hearts weighted down with the busyness and many distractions of this life, and ears that don’t really hear because we are not really listening, or do we come in awe and wonder and a sense of the great privilege it is to know Him and to be known by Him and to be able to hear from Him?

Jesus I pray that we would come  to you each day with hearts that are tender and excited and wholly yours and ears and eyes that are open to hear and see what you will say to us.