Living Seasonally

The crisp crunch of leaves in the early rays of dawn, the rise of a brown trout as it’s dorsal fin crests the water, the infectious laughter of children as they careen down the sledding hill and the explosion of flavor from a cherry tomato popped into the mouth while tending the Summer garden.

Seasons come and go, and return once again in the dance of life.  “For everything there is a season…” as King Solomon once said.

While in the big picture, seasons of life refers to being a child, raising children and finally meeting ones Maker; I would like to speak about living seasonally within the context of a rotation of life throughout a year.  I share this with you as a concept of the good life, not as a template for you to necessarily follow – rather as a principle for you to interpret in the context of your own life.

My rotation starts on April 1st, April Fools Day, as I stand in a near-freezing WNY stream trying to trick a trout or two.  The afternoon is then given over to starting seeds for the coming year’s vegetable garden.  This inauguration of Spring begins the season of Fishing/Gardening, which will then dominate my “leisure time” throughout the coming months until October rolls around.

As September draws to a close, the season of Harvesting/Hunting begins.  The garden is preserved through freezing, dehydrating and root cellaring.  My beard begins to grow from a goatee to a full beard fit for bowhunting.  My leisure time is consumed by walking through the woods and climbing trees.  As the temperature drops below freezing, we slaughter and butcher a steer, a hog and whatever deer I was able to harvest.  By Christmas, our 3 deep freezers, pantry and root cellar is full to bursting (we raise about 30% of our fruits/vegetables and butcher about 90% of our own meat).  There is a wonderful sense of contentment that comes from having plenty from the works of our own hands…and a sense of the sacred act of eating and sharing a meal with friends.

As Winter locks us in, my heated woodshop becomes my place of creativity and respite.  Planes get sharpened, shavings are made and furniture is the by-product.  This past year, cutting boards, tea shelf, a canoe and a cherry homework table were on the list.  As the snow piles up outside, I listen to jazz, drink coffee and pile up sawdust.  Nothing is wasted: off-cuts become kindling for the wood fire, plane shavings become tinder for same and sawdust gets layered with kitchen scraps in 5-gallon buckets in the corner of the shop for next year’s garden.

Each year I cut a better dovetail, grow a better garden and walk more silently through the woods.  The balance of the familiar and constant change, of inside and out of doors, of growing and harvesting and of constant purpose for my “leisure time” brings joy, balance, health and a sense of constant discovery.

Is it easier to live life vicariously?  Where money is the only thing you make, spend and save?  Where your free time is consumed on a couch with a bag of chips?

NO!

Each day would be easier, but life itself would be far more difficult.  The meaninglessness of being bored while being constantly entertained is a much more trying life to live.  The tug of a trout, the thrill of the hunt, the taste of truly fresh food and daily using furniture I have made myself is a far more fulfilling life!Salmon_edit

Freedom vs. Equality

The worst arguments are when both people are right.

As a pastor, I see these kinds of arguments all the time in marriage counseling, board meetings and conflict resolution.  Should we save money or trust in God’s provision?  Should we focus on evangelism or discipleship?  Should we be generous to those in need or should we “teach the man to fish”?  Should we help our kids out or should we let them learn their lesson?

It’s these types of arguments that seem to have no solution because both sides are convinced of their being right and won’t give an inch.  This is the type of argument that we see over and over again in our politics as well.  Two of the values that Americans value highly are freedom and equality; and yet, if you think about them you know that they are inherently opposites.  These two characteristics are oppositional in nature: Should we force desegregation on our country’s neighborhoods or should we allow people the freedom to choose where they want to live?  Should we utilize affirmative action type of legislation into our society or should we be a meritocracy?

It is so easy to castigate the Republicans for being against equality or to condemn the Democrats for being against freedom.  We wonder, as a nation, why we are so divided.  Here is the reason: we are too busy blaming the other side for being against freedom or equality instead of valuing the opposition’s view as being valid also.

Our country believes that “all men are created equal”, and yet we are the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Here is the biggest crux: should a parent be allowed to improve their child’s life?  I know that the answer seems obvious at first blush – but with the obvious answer of “yes”, we have created an inequality.  The next generation will have unequal opportunities based upon their parents’ accomplishments; and after 200 years of this – the gap will be quite wide.

Everyone knows that if you give the exact same scenarios to two different individuals, that their exercise of their own free will (among a whole host of other variables) will create different outcomes…which will then be inherited by their children.

I would love to see a dialogue begin in our country in a wholistic way that asks this question: “Where are the appropriate boundaries for freedom and equality?”  Ultimately, righteousness should be our highest goal.  As Teddy Roosevelt stated in response to those who didn’t want to get involved in World War I in order to have peace:

“The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”

“if given the choice between Righteousness and Peace, I choose Righteousness.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Children should learn from their mistakes…and their parents should help them through them.  We should store up our provisions as the ant does and put our confidence in God’s provision as sufficient.  We should be generous to those in need and teach him to improve his situation.  Both/and, not either/or.

Our Great, High Priest

When I was a little boy, the one thing I wanted most in the world was to be a big, strong man.  While there are many reasons one has for such a desire, the premiere one was that I could then do what I wanted to do.

The thing I hated most about school was the constant reminder that I was not a man.  Nothing did this more poignantly than the need to request permission to go to the bathroom.  Oh, the granduer of just being able to rise from one’s seat and go relieve himself without first abasing himself before an adult in two significant ways: 1.  I have to pee.  My body requires of me this obedience, and should I not respond correctly, I will eventually be covered in my own waste.  2.  You can tell me “no”.

Are you serious?!

Weakness is the antithesis of greatness.  There are no grand statues of our leaders throughout history holding themselves while dancing due to their need to pee.  It, in fact, seems disrespectful to even mention it.  Greatness is strength.  Greatness is not asking permission.  Greatness is doing, not submitting.

…and yet, Jesus is our Great, High Priest precisely because of his choosing our weaknesses, limitations and position.  In fact, he didn’t just choose to be a human but to serve to the ultimate extent of the expression of our limitations – he died…naked…in front of everyone…until his own weakness meant he couldn’t breathe anymore, and so he strangled to death due to his own body’s frailty.  Remember the pleading of Jesus for a drink?  Remember those in power telling him “no” in so many ways?  No, you aren’t worthy of the title Son of Man.  No, you are not our long-awaited Messiah.  No, you aren’t in control, and we’ll prove it by killing you after torturing and humiliating you.

And this is what makes Him great.  No, I am not lessening his perpetual divinity, nor his miraculous healing of others, nor any of the other “great” things he said/did.

What makes Him great is that Jesus understands our pain, our suffering, our weakness, our temptations.  He gets it.

He also defeated them.  Not in physical prowess, but in spiritual submission to the Father.  Nothing could make Him deny the Father’s will for His life, nothing!  The Apostle Paul knew this same truth when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

We often pray for God to make our lives easier.  Oh, that the Church would begin again to pray “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”, and in this, show Christ’s victory to the world.  The indomitable will of the submitted servant.  “You can kill me, but you can’t make me deny my LORD!!!!”  May my brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Asia and Africa be strong in the midst of their weakness, and may we be inspired by their example of following Jesus.

That’ll Preach! The three components of a good sermon

ImageWe’ve all been there.  Trying to listen, wanting to learn, yearning for inspiration…but mind-numbingly bored as the preacher drones on.  We try to “screw our courage to the sticking place” and press on.  We pray for God to reveal to us what He wants us to hear despite the messenger.  We remind ourselves that God uses the “foolishness of preaching” to transform lives; but oh, to be somewhere else…anywhere else.

Sometimes we are the ones preaching these sermons.

A mentor/friend of mine once gave me the two best pieces of advice I ever received on the art of preaching.  Mike Hilson said, “You have to tell them what they need to know, and what they need to do about it.”  He also said to quit making up your own outlines, that God’s outlines in the text will always be better.  I concur.  I would also add one extra little piece: bridging Information and Application must be the Illustration.

Information:

The first rule of preaching is to preach no heresy!  No matter how well your sermon is crafted, or how artfully it is delivered; if it is heresy – you fail!  The content must be understood within its context (both textual and historical), and its content must  be the very words of God.

Application:

Information without application is mere vanity.  We have far too many informed spectators and too few obedient disciples.  Without application, sermons are nothing other than truth innocculations.  The people hear the truth, do nothing with it, and have built up their immunity to that truth.  They are worse for having heard.  Never leave them without some direction in which to walk with Jesus.

Illustration:

We preachers often preach on the parables of Jesus without realizing that we should be preaching like Jesus preached (not just what he preached).  His parables on agriculture, master/servant relationships and Samaritans were powerful because they resonated with the innate cultural understanding of his hearers…they connected.  This is the purpose and the power of the illustration.  Less than 1% of the American population are now farmers, slavery is not only abolished but abhorred and the term “samaritan” brings its corollary of good deeds to mind (not to mention hospitals and charitable organizations), not a hated ethnicity that we would rather cross the street to avoid than walk near.

St. Augustine said it well when he said to “Make the truth plain, pleasing and moving”.

Put as much effort into finding the illustration that fits the message as you spend understanding the content and deriving action steps.  The message will come alive – and so will your hearers!  After all, the goal is not only accuracy but also efficacy.  Build a powerful bridge between the Information and the Application and the result will be the inspiration of the body of Christ and the world through them.

Getting a YouTube Education

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

No, I am not promoting YouTube as an accredited degree program rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of cute, kitten videos.

I am saying that YouTube has become one of my go-to resources for learning how to do just about anything.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a video has got to be worth 10,000.  I have learned how to clean out an EGR system on a 1996 Toyota Camry, butcher and debone a deer carcass, solve software glitches and replace the belt on my Maytag dryer (and many more random and useful things), all from watching it done on YouTube.

There are other online sources for similar resources (ehow.com, dailymotion.com, vimeo.com, etc.), but YouTube is the one I go to first (there’s a YouTube app on my phone after all).

Here’s what I like best about this type of learning:

1. It’s free (that is after you have paid for your internet and computer or phone and data package).

2. It’s fast – you don’t have to read through a manual.

3. It’s convenient – learn how to properly hill poatoes in your garden…while in your garden!

4. It’s private – no one else has to know that you didn’t know 🙂

5. It’s global – learning from other cultures has never been easier.

What have you learned to do by YouTubing it?

Reflections on a Summer Rain

SUMMER RAIN ON A RED ROSE [Explore]

SUMMER RAIN ON A RED ROSE [Explore] (Photo credit: PATARIKA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Summer Sleeping”

 

Air lifting,

Birds singing.

Soil smell,

Moisture clinging.

 

All is green,

All is growing.

Drum of rain,

Gentle roaring.

 

New found streams in roads are running,

Ancient peace in soul is pooling.

 

Earthworms sprinting,

Robins gorging,

Day is ending,

I am breathing.

 

Coolness comes,

Rain receding.

Darkness dawning,

I am sleeping.

My Gluten free belgian waffle recipe

1 cup tapioca flour
1 cup white rice flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix dry ingredients with a wire whisk in a large bowl leaving a slight well in the center.

4 Tablespoons melted butter
2 cups whole milk
4 eggs separated

Beat egg whites in a medium bowl with an electric hand mixer on high until stiff peaks form.

Mix egg yolks in a small bowl with wire whisk, then continue mixing as you pour the milk into the egg yolk bowl. Once egg yolks and milk are thoroughly mixed, pour in melted butter while mixing.

Combine liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients by pouring into the well of dry ingredients. Mix with whisk.

Combine egg whites with batter by sliding them whole into the batter with a spatula as an aid. Use spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the batter until homogeneous.   Do not mix or beat, simply fold them in.

Plug electric belgian waffle maker in, and melt 4 more Tablespoons of butter while you are waiting for the griddle to heat up.

Use a basting brush to coat the griddle (both sides) with the melted butter then pour 1 cup of batter into the center of the griddle, and close the griddle. Once cooked, remove and brush with butter and load with real maple syrup.

Enjoy!