Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Unexpectedly Grateful Heart - part 14/The Pretend Birthday

My friend (who shall remain nameless to protect her innocence) posted on Facebook today that she is pretending today is her birthday. "What fun!" I thought. I actually considered pretending it's my birthday, too. That would give me an excuse to break out the gluten-free Gigi's cupcakes wasting away in my barn freezer. I have another freezer closer to my house, but decided, in the interest of my waistline, that I should keep those confectionary delights as far away as possible. 

Ahh, buttercream icing with sugar pearls, so very lovely.  But we digress. 

I've pondered the whole concept of a pretend birthday, and I think it might actually be a good idea.  In fact, it's a kind of Thanksgiving idea. When we celebrate someone else's birthday, we are celebrating the life that day represents. When someone helps me celebrate my birthday, we are, in a way, celebrating my life. Bear with me here. If I decide to designate today as an additional birthday celebration day, I can spend an extra day to celebrate my life. The good, bad, ugly, and beautiful things in my life have all been used to mold me into the woman I have become. I could be better than I am, and I should be better than I am, but thank God, I am certainly better than I used to be. 

Today, I'm spending the rest of this day celebrating my Birth Day and all the more than 20,000 days that have followed. I'm giving thanks for making it through. I've lived a LOT of days, not all of them pleasant. It seems, though, that all of them were necessary to make me into the almost grown-up Leanna that I have become, so I'm also giving thanks for every one of those days, good and bad alike. 

I'm also thankful for my friend who started the pretend birthday business today! Happy Pretend Birthday, my fun loving friend! 

Why don't you join us today in celebrating the life you have been given and the way it has been used to make you more like you were meant to be? 

Happy Pretend Birthday to one and all!

A Demon Comes to Church part 8

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. (Luke 4:35 NASB)

Without doing him any harm. Isn't that an interesting phrase? The word here is not suggesting that the demon had never done the man any harm. It is saying he did no more harm. You might expect an angry, spiteful demon to create some serious havoc as a parting shot, but, at least this time, he did not. Surely it was the presence of Jesus that constrained him and limited the destruction.  

The man was able to begin his newfound faith without interference from the evil one.  What a blessing!  

Today, pray that we and our children would engage in relationship with Christ without further interference from the evil one.  Pray, too, that Christ would both limit and prevent further destruction in the lives of our loved ones so that they can be free to enter into relationship with Our Lord. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Demon in the Church - Part seven

And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. (Luke 4:35b NASB)

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:11 NASB)

When Jesus rebuked the demon and commanded him to leave the man, the demon had an unusual response.  He did leave, as commanded, but on the way out, he "threw him down" in the midst of the people. The image here is of a cranky, angry child throwing down a broken toy in frustration or, perhaps, of someone discarding rubbish of no value. 

Once Jesus intervened in the man's life, he was no good to the demon, for there was no place for the demon to reside. Not only was there no place for the demon, but there was no power for the demon. The man had no value if he could no longer be controlled, so he was discarded as worthless. In casting out the demon, Jesus removed his place and power, but in granting mercy and grace to the man, the position of tormenter and tempter was also removed. An opportune time might, and surely would, come again, but for the present, the position of tormenter was eliminated. No place, no power, no position. The only concern the demon had for the man was what evil could be done to and with him. When that opportunity was gone, so was his value, and he was tossed aside as quickly as used tissue. 

Contrast the demon's care of the man to that of The Good Shepherd. He sees the little lambs, too small and weak to keep up with the larger sheep, and is filled with compassion. He gathers them in his arms and snuggles them "in his bosom" and close to his heart. Perhaps He leans His head in to that soft lamb's fur and breathes in the scent of little baby lamb. Ahhh. How precious those lambs are to the Shepherd. They are the joy of the present and the hope of the future. 

Two very different scenarios and two different choices are available to us. Pawn of demons or the joy of Jesus. We WILL have relationship, with the world or with Jesus. Which one will it be?

Keep the image of those baby lambs nestled next to the Shepherd's heart as you pray today. Pray that you would snuggle in the loving arms of Jesus and allow Him to comfort you in your pain, heal your wounds, strengthen you for any task. Pray, too, that our loved ones would grow so tired of their struggle that they would long for, and welcome, the loving, healing embrace of the Good Shepherd. Close to His heart. Ahh. What a sweet place to be!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The unexpectedly grateful heart part 13

Remember the meeting I mentioned in my blog yesterday? It was tonight and all meetings should be this wonderful. Miss Jan made the tea (I do not like making sweet iced tea unless it is lemon mint tea) and brought the makings for s'mores. I had chili and chips and fixin's. Of course I worried it wouldn't be enough, and that maybe we needed more courses. How silly. Black bean chili and s'mores! What else could you possible need? Salad and soup courses would've been ridiculous. 

We sat around that magnificent fire circle  that Bill the Magnificent is making down by the lake and listened to the crackle of the fire. It was the perfect fire, big enough to keep us warm, not so big that it was uncomfortable. I'm not sure how he did this, but Bill had the fire perfectly timed to die down just enough at s'more time so that it was easy to heat the marshmallows until they were just melting, then briefly flame them and smack them onto the graham cracker and chocolate.  That is the perfect dessert (especially since I found some gluten free graham crackers) 

What was so great about this meeting was not the food or the fire. It was the friends (old and new) assembled there. We chatted together, laughed, sang, listened to the guitar players, prayed for each other and our families, sang some more.  It was so relaxed and fun that I hated to see it end. 

Maggie the Wonder Dog joined in, of course. She moved from lap to lap. I was super surprised at how she visited with everyone, loved on everyone, expected everyone to love her. To Maggie, every person sitting around the fire ring tonight was family, and that's how she treated them. No one excluded. Everyone loved. What a wonderful way to treat people!  She may be "just a dog" but her kindness this evening exceeded that of many people I know. I'd like to be more like her. 

Tonight, I'm thankful for Bill the Magnificent, the new fire circle, bonfires, campfire songs, old friends, new friends, the Spirit that unites us, and, of course, Maggie the Wonder Dog. 

Lamb chop recipe

For those who have asked, here's the recipe for my lamb chops:

1 ten-pack of lamb chops (the small ones from Sam's)
Olive oil
Herbs: rosemary, parsley, maybe a little cumin
salt and pepper 

Mix a few teaspoons of oil with minced garlic. Brush the chops with olive oil/garlic mixture, then sprinkle herbs atop and salt and pepper to taste. I like to do all the chops at once and let them marinate in the refrigerator (covered). 

Brush the skillet with the olive oil and garlic mixture and preheat to a medium high temperature (7/10 on my stove) Put the chops in the hot skillet and cook them for 4 minutes and 3 minutes on the other. All done and medium rare. 

Serve with horseradish sauce (prepared horseradish, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and tarragon. 

Yum yum!

PS I learned to do this at work. My boss taught me. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Demon Comes to Church - part six

The demon possessed man was shouting in the synagogue and Jesus had heard enough. He did not offer sympathy to the distressed man, nor warmer clothes, nor a hot meal. The man's greatest need at that moment was to be rid of the demon. He needed a Savior, and no doubt about it, but this man could not serve both God and the demon. One of them would have to go, and you can be certain that Jesus was not the one backing down.  Jesus spoke directly to the demon. "Be quiet and get out!" He commanded. 

We do not know how long this man had been possessed by the demon, how it came about, nor whether he wanted to be free. What we do know is that it was only in the presence of Jesus that he found freedom. 

Jesus came to set the captives free, and those who are possessed or oppressed by the devil are certainly in great need of that freedom. It is not only the demon-possessed, however, who are captives needing to be set free. The truth is that we all have been in bondage, to some degree, because of our propensity to sin. Freedom and relationship with Christ is only possible when we do as Jesus did. "Be quiet and get out!" to those things that occupy the position Christ should have. We cannot serve both Jesus and the sin to which we cling.  

It is a hard task to stop doing, thinking, saying something that does not please Jesus, but, just as in the Capernaum synagogue, He stands ready to help. Take a few minutes today to allow Christ to examine your heart and reveal to you the major deterrent to your relationship with Him. Once identified, speak the words Jesus spoke, "Get out!", and allow the sweet Spirit of God to fill the void left behind. 

Pray today that our loved ones would be so tired of their sin and lostness that they would be willing to embrace change. Pray, too, that they would be drawn to the presence of Christ and allow Him to set them free. 

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "be quiet and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, without doing any harm. (Luke 4:35 NASB)

The unexpectedly Grateful Heart part 12

The forecast was for temperatures in the 20's last night and someone at the office asked if I liked cold weather. "Well, what I really like is seasons," I said. I love the snow in winter, the flowers in spring, the sun and gardens in summer, the crunch of falling leaves and the cooler temperatures of fall. Tonight is the first fire (in my fireplace) of the season, and I'm celebrating cooler weather! Listening to the crackle of the fire, watching the dance of the flames, and enjoying the aroma of burning oak is a fine way to spend an evening.

I'd been enjoying the fire for a bit, making a to-do list for an upcoming meeting, when I thought about my Coleman lantern. I shuffled through the leaves, crunching as many as possible for maximum crackle, to my shed to get the lantern. You never know when you might need it, of course, but I have a meeting scheduled for my house tomorrow night, and I announced last month that it would be a bonfire meeting. (I know you are secretly wishing you could have such a meeting). Since I don't have electric lights down by the bonfire spot, I need some illumination for the chili table. (Another good idea for a meeting, huh?) Of course, the wick bag (what is that thing called) is missing, and I can't get anything to come out of the propane tank  so maybe it's time for flashlights after all. 

I quickly abandoned the lantern project and was pondering the whole bonfire idea when I remembered that Bill the Magnificent was going to work on making a fire pit.  I grabbed a flashlight and headed down by the lake to see what he'd gotten done. I could not believe my eyes!! Bill the Magnificent is making a magnificent fire ring/pit!! You may not have problems with this but I can envision the most marvelous project, only to have it fail because I can't communicate it effectively to the builder. It is in the early stages, but every indication is that Bill the Magnificent gets it, and I am incredibly grateful. It's amazing how much different the work becomes when the vision is shared, isn't it?

Thinking about vision reminds me of what Proverbs 29:18 says. "Where there is no vision, the people perish."  The Hebrew word for vision here is chazown and literally means a vision or divine communication. Wow. Shared dreams and plans are really nice, but they are not the the stuff of life. It's the divine communication that is so life-giving that we perish without it. That's a sobering thought, isn't it? How often do you get still enough to actually receive a divine communication? How likely are you to obey a divine communication no matter what it says? 

Tonight, I'm grateful for the seasons, the crunch of fallen leaves, the sensory delight of a blazing bonfire, and that Still Small Voice, so often barely perceptible, that is both life giving and life sustaining. I'm overwhelmed with awe and delight, as well as gratitude, that the Divine One would share a vision, and communication, with me. 

And you? What will you do when the Still Small Voice whispers in your heart?  It's life giving. Don't miss it

A Demon Comes to Church - part 5

"Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God!" (Luke 4:34 NASB)

(This should be our last day on this verse)

The choice of the word for knowing is interesting and worth understanding. The Greek word here is oida and it is used 335 times in the New Testament. It is used to mean understanding, perceiving, cherish, and appreciate. It is the word used in the phrases "God knows our needs" and "Jesus knew their thoughts". (1). This statement by the demon-possessed man was one of knowing with certainty. No doubt. The question for the demon-possessed man was not whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. The question was whether or not he would submit to Christ's authority and whether or not He would allow Jesus to set him free and change His life forever. 

It is a question we all must answer. What will we do about Jesus? The answer has eternal consequences, so searching and questioning are not bad things, but ultimately searching must end. Questioning must cease. A decision must be made. Bonhoeffer once said, "One ... Must give Him everything or nothing."  He was right. 

Today, pray that questioning and seeking about the truth of who Jesus is would come to an end (for us and our loved ones) and that, at the decision point, we would stake our eternity on Christ alone. 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Unexpectedly Grateful Heart - Part 11

Usually when I find a surprise in my refrigerator, it's in the form of sour milk, moldy cheese, or limp romaine. Tonight, however, I found a good surprise. In all the excitement about the new ebook's grand entrance into the Kindle store, and my very quick shopping trip with my sister, I had forgotten about my purchases at Sam's. I hate to tell this for fear there will be a run on my favorite food, leaving none for me. I'm going to take the risk, however, and say that I bought a pack of lamb chops on Saturday, stuck them in the refrigerator, and promptly forgot them. 

I know that I said on Saturday that Thai is my favorite food, but that was because I forgot about lamb chops. Lamb chops are really my favorite food. Two little lamb chops will cook to perfection in seven minutes, are exactly enough meat, and super delicious. 

While driving home tonight, I realized I had left the lunch leftovers (that were supposed to be my supper) at work. I was looking forward to yumminess. Needless to say, I was disappointed and wondering if a protein bar might hit the spot, when I looked in the fridge. Not only did I have lamb chops, I also had baby Bella mushrooms! Double Yum!
In under ten minutes I had prepared my very favorite dinner. (If you want my recipe, leave me a request in the comments.) 

You may be thinking, "Why is she blogging about lamb chops?"  Finding lamb chops in the refrigerator is such a simple thing, but it's the kind of sweetness we often overlook. I'm grateful for the lamb chop kind of surprises life often brings me, something good when I expected something bad. Something soft and easy when I expected something hard. I'm grateful tonight for lamb chops and lamb chop moments. You probably have these lamb chop moments, too, when something nice but not at all big happens, and it turns out to be exactly what you wanted but didn't expect.   Don't forget to savor them and to give thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Demon Comes to Church, part 4

"Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God!" (Luke 4:34 NASB)

The man possessed by a demon showed an amazing understanding of Jesus's power. "Have you come to destroy us?" He cried out. The Greek word here is apollymi, which does mean destroy, as it is translated here, but also can mean "to put out of the way entirely, render useless, metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell" (1) The demon here (speaking through the man) acknowledges the power Jesus has over him. It appears the demon sees three possibilities that include being cast out from the man, rendered powerless to torment further, or to be sent to hell for eternity. None of those seem desirable, so the demon, probably unintentionally, is asking for mercy. "Leave us alone," he said. What he is saying is, "Don't give me what I deserve. Just let me go." Only God can sort out how much of that plea for divine mercy came from the demon and how much came from the man, but the use of "apollymi" causes me to think that at least some of what was said was initiated by the demon. 

That's a little shocking, isn't it?  Of course the demons know Who Jesus is and His attributes. They know He exists. They are demons because they refused to submit to Divine authority and were thrown out of Heaven. What is truly surprising is that, in the presence of the Messiah, the first one we see who begs for mercy (at least a kind of mercy) is a demon-possessed man. 

Here is what is so odd to me. Why weren't the people in the synagogue saying, "Don't give me what I deserve!" too? By this time, Jesus was already known as a miracle-working preacher. There was already talk that He was the Messiah. Perhaps it was because we prefer Grace over Mercy. Grace gives what we don't deserve. Mercy doesn't give us what we do deserve. It's generally easier to see yourself as a sinner than not, but who wants to admit the penalty for those sins? Requesting Mercy requires that we recognize our need for it.  No one wants to put unforgiveness, bitterness, lust, gossip, prejudice in the same category as murder, burglary, or adultery, but what matters is how God sees them. All sin, great or small, carries a deadly penalty. Confessing our own behavior as sin requires us to see our need for both forgiveness and mercy. 

It's a different matter entirely to accept the Grace, forgiveness, peace, and joy that we clearly do not deserve. What is even harder is allowing that Grace to transform us. My tendency is to think of it as "Grace and Mercy" but that's backwards, isn't it? Mercy has to come before Grace. Forgiveness before restoration. Cleansing before joy and peace. 

As we pray for restoration for our loved ones, we often focus on the end point of a transformed life. What we often fail to see is that critical step of brokenness that comes first. Pray today that we and our loved ones will see ourselves as God sees us, that we will recognize our sinful state and our need for forgiveness, and will cry out to God for Mercy. Mercy before Grace. When Mercy comes, Grace is sure to follow. 


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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Unexpectedly Grateful Heart - part 10

When Ryan was little, he wanted a farm room. I painted a huge mural on one wall, complete with a gigantic tree, barn, pond, and animals in a pasture. Of course the ceiling needed a little spiffing up, so I bought several packages of stick-on glow-in-the-dark star dots. I pulled out my trusty sky map, dialed in the summer southern sky, and used the map to arrange the starry dots. When I was finished, Ryan had the summer Southern sky reproduced on his ceiling. It was awesome, even if I do say so myself. (Frankly, I have longed to have a sky map on my own ceiling, but it doesn't seem very grown-up.) At bedtime, we would snuggle on his bed and look at the night sky. You could clearly identify constellations and it was super cool.

He has a college-boy room now, and the starry ceiling is long gone, but I still miss those sweet days. This morning, I headed to the barn at 5:05 am as usual.  As I walked back to the house after feeding, I paused to look up and was simply astounded. The sky was perfectly clear and I had a perfect view of the summer southern sky, every constellation perfectly visible. It was breathtaking! 

I was instantly transported to the days of little-boyhood and the starry ceiling. What sweet memories it invoked! Just for a moment, I could almost feel those sweet boy hugs and kisses and hear the "I love you Mommy"'s all over again. Aren't memories a precious gift?

Tonight, I'm grateful I took the time to arrange the stars, for the hours we spent looking at them, the love in the farm room, and the blessing of sweet memories that allow us to experience the good days all over again. I'm grateful I've been Ryan's mom for 21 years and so grateful for such a funny, sweet son. 

For what sweet memories are you grateful tonight? Don't forget to say thank you to the One who gave you those memories!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Unexpectedly Grateful Heart, part 9

Thai is my new favorite food, and the new Thai restaurant in Tupelo is awesome! Their presentation is lovely and the spices are perfectly balanced. Texture is just right. I'm very particular about presentation, spices, and texture. The icing on the cake is that they know about being gluten-free so they are very helpful with menu choices.

The only really odd thing about their menu is that the spring rolls have vermicelli listed as an ingredient. I couldn't imagine why anyone would put spaghetti in a spring roll, so I asked. "No," they assured me. "We don't have vermicelli in spring rolls.  We have shredded cabbage."  I guess it was some kind of very strange typo that they decided not to correct. 

Spring rolls are one of my new favorites, so I had springs rolls for lunch on Thursday and again for dinner on Friday. Actually, I had spring rolls for supper Saturday.  Sorta. I had bought some spring roll wrappers months ago at the Asian market in Atlanta and carried a recipe around for weeks. Saturday afternoon was the big day. I assembled my supplies according to the listed ingredients. I didn't have garlic so I substituted garlic powder. A chopped yellow onion substituted for julienned green onions.  Portobello mushrooms substituted for shiitake mushrooms. Shrimp substituted for tofu (who wants tofu anyway. Gross!) When I realized I didn't have bean sprouts either, I nearly despaired, but saved the day with chopped celery. It wasn't the same at all. I added some julienned carrots trying to help with the texture. This might not have been going in a good direction. There was no fish sauce in the cabinet so I used anchovy paste. It turned out that about the only ingredient I actually had was cabbage.  I had sugar too, but by that time I was so confused with all the substitutions, I accidentally forgot it. 
Once I had the ingredients all together, I read the next part of the recipe and realized I was supposed to stir fry it all separately. Well, I didn't. It was like a short cut, which, by the way, never works out too well for me. 

I had made such a mess of the ingredients that I moved on to wrapping them up. I'm not sure how you are supposed to wrap something as brittle as glass and as crunchy as a potato chip, so I soaked it in water. That makes it very sticky and I don't recommend it. At last, I had all the ingredients wrapped in one (and sometime two) wrappers. I'm not sure who thought up this food preparation technique, but I wonder if they were on drugs. This was insane. 

Once all this sticky wrapping was done, I had to fry them. Since I only learned how to fry food last week, that was also an adventure. I managed it, and only burned one side of one just a little. You couldn't see it at all if I kept the burned side down. 

Finally it was time to eat. I was sure I had plum sauce for dipping but, alas, it was actually this curry sauce. Totally not the same at all. You will not be surprised that I substituted apricot orange marmalade for that. 

Dinner time finally arrived and I could sample my hard work. They were actually pretty good. Ugly but tasty. What they were not was spring rolls. They were more like fried salad sticks dipped in marmalade. 

I sent Ryan the Wonder Son a picture of my spring rolls. 

"Mom, those don't really look like spring rolls", he text'd. As I look at them now, I am horrified. They look awful. That's because they are not really spring rolls. Just kidding!  They are really fried salad sticks! I have a great recipe for them. Let me know if you want a copy. 

Tonight, I am grateful for all the ingredients in my cabinets, adaptability, instant communication, and the ability to turn failed spring rolls into fried salad sticks in an instant. Tada! Yummy supper after all. 

What I hope for you is that you will look at the failures in your life and think about how those failures can be repurposed in such a way that you find good even in what looked hopeless. That's why I  didn't throw the failed spring rolls away. I could see something good on the other side. I hope you can too. 

A Demon Comes to Church, part 3

And he cried out with a loud voice, "Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God!" (Luke 4:33, 34 NASB)

There are many things I would expect a demon-possessed man to shout, but this is a little surprising. When the man shouted, "Let us alone!" he was probably not speaking of the crowd in the synagogue. "Us" implies the man and his demon. He recognized himself as separate yet intertwined with the demon, but he is not asking to be freed. He is asking to stay in bondage. There are those who would say that "the devil made him do it," and there may be truth in that. Regardless, however this demonic force first entered his life, he was not seeking release. 

That's not an uncommon reaction when the subject of life-altering change is broached. People with addictions frequently say, "I can't" when asked about giving up their addiction. Life without whatever it is on which they depend, whether a physical addiction or a spiritual oppression or possession, seems impossible to achieve, much less to maintain. 

People who live their lives separate from Christ cannot begin to imagine the life Christ would bring. They are often comfortable in their routines and have succeeded in the world's eyes to a degree that makes change seem both unnecessary and unwanted. Children who renounce their faith for one reason or another often do not see a need to return. 

Even without seeing a need for change, without wanting change, this man had a divine appointment for which he was in attendance. His life was about to change in a remarkable way. Imagine that! He was not seeking Jesus but Jesus was seeking him. 

I like the idea of an appointment with God, and I have a standing appointment with Him every day. It's life-changing. Perhaps a divine appointment is what our loved ones need. Pray today that our Seeking and Saving Lord will arrange a "divine appointment" and draw our loved ones to a life-changing encounter with Him.