Saturday, February 15, 2014

Battle of the Grapes (Luke 5:37)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (Luke 5:37 NASB)

A vineyard just before harvest is a beautiful place. The aroma is sweet and rich, the colors varied and bright. On the surface, it seems peaceful and idyllic, but there is a battle for the grapes that requires a closer look.  Botrytis cinerea is a fungus that specifically attacks grapes and causes botrytis bunch rot. As you can surmise from the name, the fungus causes the bunches of grapes to rot, making them a total loss. This particular fungus is almost always on the fruit while on the vine, but it cannot infect the fruit unless the fruit is damaged in some way. A myriad of factors, from insects to a worker bumping the fruit, can cause a small wound. That is all the opportunity the fungus needs to accomplish its mission. It enters the grape, infects the grape, infects the grape, and destroys the grape. Once infected, that grape is a total loss. Once that first grape is infected, the entire bunch will soon become a total loss, as well. 

That sounds familiar, doesn't it?  1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (NASB) The enemy of our soul is just as tenacious as the Botrytis fungus. He, too, hangs about looking for the slightest opportunity to invade, and he is intent on destruction. If he cannot steal the eternal life of the one he attacks, he will steal the joy, hope, and effectiveness of witness. Any destruction will do. 

It is impossible to go through life without an injury of some sort. Our loved ones may have experienced the pain of rejection or betrayal by someone close to them, angry and hurtful words from a loved one, or the damage that can come from their own foolish choices. Regardless of the hurt, it can be used by the enemy of our soul as an opportunity to attack and, if possible, steal their faith from them. There is nothing the enemy can do, however, that our Lord cannot heal. 

Pray today that the damage of the evil one in the lives of our loved ones will be limited and that they will eagerly submit to the loving, healing ministrations of the Great Physician. Pray that healing will come and joy, hope, and faith will be restored. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Love Story by Janet Letson Ausburn


I remember one lonely night, standing on my balcony - gazing at the stars. I was in my mid-20's, thinking that life was passing me by - wondering if it was truly possible to die from loneliness. With tears streaming down my face, I looked up at the night sky and asked the LORD, "Father, will I EVER find anyone that loves ME?" And at that moment, as if in a fairy tale, a huge falling star streaked across the blackness. I tried to hold onto that promise with both hands as a decade passed by and all circumstances seemed stacked against me. Then, on January 1, 2009, after I'd given up - a week to the day after I'd given up and said, "LORD, if you want me to be single forever, YOU are the love of my life" - Tommy walked into my life; and that sweet promise was fulfilled. And on Valentine's day, six weeks later, this scared-to-death 38-year-old held out her hand to be held by a boyfriend for the first time in her life. This morning, as that love still lays sleeping, I read again in God's Word about a promise of love to come and the years waiting in between and the ones who held on to that promise. From the first promise of a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15 to the glorious announcement to the lowly shepherds on the Bethlehem hillside that a Savior, Christ the LORD, had been born that day in the city of David (Luke 2:10-11), how many hundred's - even thousands- of years had passed? And still, they held on. Zacharias blessed the LORD God of Israel, "for He hath visited and redeemed His people" - "to perform the mercy PROMISED to our fathers, and to remember His Holy covenant". Covenant is such a beautiful word. Just saying it out loud gives strength to my faith that God will do what He says He will do. So, I will wait - just like Simeon who "waited for the consolation of Israel" and recognized Jesus for Who He was when he saw the 8-day-old baby being brought into the Temple. Because, just as He promised to come the 1st time - He promised to come the 2nd! He promised, "In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I WILL COME AGAIN, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2-3). Oh what a glorious Promise! Whether my eyes close in death or I meet Him in the air, I will see Him - in all of His beauty - in all of His holiness - in all of His royalty - IN ALL OF HIS LOVE! "For now, we see through a glass, darkly; but THEN face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known" (1 Cor. 13:12). Oh, Jesus, You were and are the best of all loves! Thank You for loving us and showing us what love TRULY is. "Greater love hath no man than this - that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Absence of Oxygen (Luke 5:37)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (Luke 5:37 NASB)

There's no telling how many times a day I think about oxygen. As a wound doctor, I work every day to get enough oxygen-carrying blood to the affected area to help the wound heal. Oxygen is critical for wound healing. In fact, oxygen is critical for life. Without it, we humans will die. 

Oxygen is not, however, critical for wine making. It turns out that the yeast converts the sugars in the grapes to alcohol and carbon dioxide in the absence of oxygen. (You may remember that wine yeast works at the bottom of the vat, where there is no oxygen.). This particular chemical reaction can not be carried out in the presence of oxygen! How wild is that?  The one thing we would expect to be absolutely essential (oxygen) is not essential at all when making wine. 

I don't know about you, but I have a (generally unstated) list of things that are "essential" for my worship, my spiritual growth, for experiencing God. All are good things and some truly are essential. Oddly enough, however, my list of essentials are not essential for everyone. Some people experience God in a totally different way and need a totally different method of presentation. 

The good news is that we serve a God who is personal and knows us intimately. In fact, Psalm 139 says that He knit us together in our mother's womb, He knows everything about us, and His love is inescapable. He knit me; He knit you. He knit our loved ones together. He knows what they need to bring them to repentance.  It may not be what we expect or what we would need, but He can custom-tailor His prevenient grace just for them. 

Fear not. What you think is essential for transformation may not be what is needed. Today, pray that God will surround our loved ones with the essential, whatever is needed, to bring them to Jesus. Pray, too, that the essential work will not stop until all the work is done. 

Part 12: Yeast- Least in the Kingdom (Luke 5:37)

And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. (Luke 5:37 KJV)

Grapes are just grapes until they come into close contact with yeast. With just the right conditions, grapes can be transformed and preserved because of the interaction with a single-celled organism that is usually only 3-4 microns in diameter! For those who don't like metric, that 4 microns equals 0.00015748 inches. That's mighty small!

The super-tiny yeast can make a super-large effect that has an amazing result. Being LARGE is not necessary. In fact, Scripture tells us God is fond of using "the least". Bethlehem was the least town in Judah, yet it was the birthplace of our Savior. The least part of Peter's shadow healed the sick. The apostle Paul described himself as "the least of the apostles", yet he carried the gospel literally throughout his world. Jesus, when He allowed the children to come to Him, said, "...he that is least among you all, the same shall be great." (Luke 9:48 KJV)

It's true. The least likely instruments are often the most powerful and effective in the hands of the Master. The simplest, most humble person, in the hands of Christ, can be used to change the world. God takes delight in the unlikely - people like you and me.  

Do you feel tiny and insignificant? Good! God can use you mightily! Does it seem that you have nothing to use in the Kingdom? If God can take a single-called organism and transform a vat of grapes into vintage wine that will have a richer flavor as the years go by, He can use you to make a difference in your world! 

Today, pray that God will use us, as the least likely, to make a great difference in the world. Pray, too, that He will bring truth to our loved ones in the least likely of ways and using the least likely of messengers. Pray that unexpected truth will yield that much-anticipated redemption for which we yearn. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blending Laughter

The box of chicken breasts from Omaha Steaks came with directions right on the box. "Blend with laughter," it said. Somehow, I had overlooked this when I put the box in the freezer. When I pulled them out today, I saw it and laughed out loud. My first thought was how funny it would be to order laughter from Penzey's. (My online spice source). 

A little later, I stopped by the post office to mail a package. Well, I had what I was going to mail. I just needed the package part. I was equipped with strapping tape, so the task of putting a small item in the smallest priority box should not have been a problem. I went to the desk with my box-to-be and started to fold it into shape. For some reason that is not yet clear to me, when I connected the left side of the box, the right side came loose. When I stopped to connect the right side, the left came loose. I was so surprised! It was like the box was alive and hopping loose from every direction. The postman was also very surprised, so he tried to help. Together was no better than by myself. The box found more ways to flip apart than either of us could contain. All that flipping somehow flipped my giggle box, too. I started laughing, and pretty soon I was laughing so hard I could hardly breathe. Before I knew it, I was laughing so hard I was crying. The really good news is that the postman was laughing almost as hard as I was. Neither of us could talk because we were laughing so hard. All the time we were laughing, that crazy box was flipping and coming disconnected. It was awful. Finaliy, the postman got the box perfectly assembled. All I needed to do was put my item in the box and seal it. Unbelievably, when I put my item in the box, it popped apart again, even though he was holding it! That triggered more laughter and by this point I was doing a pretty good hyena imitation. (Truthfully, even as I type this, I am laughing like crazy). We had to do the whole box assembly thing again. 

At long last, the item was in the box and the postman was holding the box carefully together. All that was needed was to pull the protective paper off the glue strip and seal it up. Of course, I slipped my fingernail under the edge of that paper and it shredded like I was making slaw! I'm not going to belabor it any more, but it was a Keystone Kops operation to get it strapped down, complete with more uncontrollable laughter.  I desperately tried to regain my composure and some semblance of my dignity (After all, I am an elected official in this town!) but without success. I was still laughing when I drove out of the parking lot. It was the most fun I've ever had at the post office!

When I returned home, I saw the Blend with laughter" box again, and thought, "That's exactly what I did. I blended my day with laughter!" 

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

Part 11: Bubbles of Hope (Luke 5:37,38)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. (Luke 5:37, 38 NASB)

Reproduction is the first major task of the yeast. The second major work (the one we generally consider yeast work) is turning the sugar in the grapes into alcohol, which preserves the juice. Once the alcohol is produced, the juice of those grapes can not only be preserved, but, stored correctly, will only improve with age. 

As the yeast breaks done the sugars, the byproduct carbon dioxide is produced. This breakdown is an opportunity to see chemistry at work! The carbon dioxide is a gas. The yeast is working at the bottom of the vat. The carbon dioxide gas is, of course, lighter than either the liquid juice or the solid pulp/seeds/skin, so it does exactly what gases do. It rises. The very exciting part of the carbon dioxide is that it breaks the surface in the form of tiny gas bubbles! If you watch the surface of the wine, you can see the little bubbles,  and they provide assurance that fermentation is underway. The bubbles tell you that the yeast is doing it's job. 

In much the same way, the action of the Holy Spirit on the heart of an individual is not visible to the naked eye. As the work progresses, however, you may begin to see some "byproduct bubbles", such as a change in friends, different vocabulary or activities, more time spent at home. Of course, in the lives of our loved ones, the "bubbles of change" will vary, but one thing is sure. They show us that God is at work and provide encouragement as we wait to see what God will do in those we love. 

As you pray for our loved ones today, look for those "bubbles of change" that show us God is on the move, and be encouraged by them. Pray today that the work of the Holy Spirit will continue until all the work is done. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dirty Snow

Much to my surprise, the snow had fallen and it was really deep.   Maybe not ten inches, as predicted, but it was still pretty, and deeper than I’d seen in years.  Sam Wiley, our neighbor, had come to check on us and stoke the fire.  
As he walked up the sidewalk, obscured now by snow, his boots left a few spots of red mud behind.  The yard was blanketed with snowy white, but the tiny mud spots stood out in stark contrast.  It marred the beauty somehow, and, as I made my way out the front, I wondered if that’s what sin looks like to Jesus.  His blood washes us white as snow, but we mar it with the dirt of sin.  Even a little bit spoils the purity, makes it less than it was.  Little bits like “just a little” unkind thought, “just a little” disobedience, “just a little” compromise. “Just a little” still looks bad on the blanket of white.  
Take a few minutes today to look at your heart.  How white does it look to Jesus?  His blood was shed so it could be (and stay) white as snow.

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness... Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin... wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  
Psalm 51:1,2,7

Part 10: The Reproduction (Luke 5:37)

Part 10:  the reproduction
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (Luke 5:37 NASB)

When yeast is introduced into the must, it goes right to work. There is not a moment's delay. It does NOT, however, go right to work converting sugar to alcohol. That will ultimately be the job of the yeast, but the FIRST job of the yeast is to reproduce. An army of yeast cells will be required to turn a vat of grape must (juice+seeds+pulp+skin) into wine. The cells will begin to reproduce as quickly as possible and continue steadily until sufficient numbers are available to do the work that must be done. This is not work that will be done on top of the must where you might get a glimpse of the cells dividing. The yeast head to the bottom of the vat and begin to divide. The casual observer can not see a bit of action at all. In fact, you might think nothing is happening, but you would be wrong. In the place where no one can see, one of the first, and critical steps in transformation is occurring. Without it, no wine can be produced. 

In that same way, the transformation of one trapped in  the grip of sin does not happen overnight, and the beginning of transformation may be completely invisible to the naked eye. It takes considerable room in a life for the Holy Spirit to do the work of transformation, so making room is one of the first jobs. Perhaps attitudes need to change, or a new willingness toward God needs to develop. It may be that nothing you can see looks at all like freedom, or even like the potential for freedom. At the deepest spot of hurt and pain, however, healing may have already begun. 

You know the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover".  In the same way, neither the vat of wine nor the life of a wayward loved one can be judged by what you see. The start of something amazing could be happening at the deepest point where no one can see. 

We are a people of faith who walk by that faith, and not by sight. Nowhere is that more important than in the transformation of grapes to wine and sin-bound souls to freedom in Christ. Take heart. None of your prayers have been ignored. There are answers to your prayers. You just may not see them yet. 

Continue to pray that the work of redemption and transformation will continue until all the work is done

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cleaning the stalls

Bill the Magnificent is out of town, and I have the farm to myself. That means I have all the feeding and cleaning to myself. In case you don't know about farms, it also means I have to clean all the horse stalls myself. The good news is that scooping horse pooh is wonderful exercise and burns lots of calories. The bad news is that Bill the Magnificent is further behind with scooping than I realized. 

I did quite a bit of scooping yesterday. Even though it was Sunday, I had to scoop because, really, I didn't have a choice. This afternoon after work, I got another good bit of scooping done. In fact, I can probably afford to have dessert and not worry about calories!  How great is that?

When I am doing all the horse care myself, I prefer to scoop the pooh every day. I like to start each day with a clean stall. Apparently, not everyone feels the same. Regardless, this job must be done and I'm just the woman to tackle it. I am, however, hoping for a snow day tomorrow. I'm definitely going to need a few extra hours!

Thinking about scooping and cleaning stalls always reminds me of a talk I gave some years ago. The topic was "How to Deal with a Broken Heart" and I was so busy scooping that I feared I would never get my talk ready. One day, as I was scooping and praying, I asked The Lord how He thought I was going to get my talk done and figure out how to deal with a broken heart if my horses didn't quit filling up their stalls so quick. I instantly heard that Still Small Voice in my heart ask how I dealt with a stall full of pooh. Finally, I recognized the correct answer. "One scoop at a time!"  Just as soon as I said that, I realized that's how you deal with a broken heart, too. One scoop at a time. 

Most heartaches require time to heal. They also require slow but steady effort at processing the hurt, letting go of anger and bitterness, and moving toward forgiveness. None of thst happens instantly. Instead, it's a "one scoop at a time" job. Perhaps you have heart wounds that need to be healed but seem insurmountable. I know that feeling! Speaking from experience, those hurts, even the ones that cut to your very core, can be healed. Like my stalls, cleaning out hurts is accomplished one bit at a time. Letting go of each layer of hurt opens up the possibility of another layer. Before you know it (even if it takes longer than you wish) all the layers are healed and the hurt is done. 

That's how my stalls will be. I'm going to scoop away and, before long, all the work will be done. I'm going to keep at it. I hope you will, too!

Part 9: The Seething (Luke 5:37)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (Luke 5:37 NASB)

France, known for its wine production, had a problem. The French winemakers had spoilage of their wine, but didn't know why. In the mid-1800's, the idea of fermentation was not yet understood. What they knew was that, after the crushing, the must would "boil", "seethe", or be "troubled".  They knew the process of troubling the wine was essential, but didn't know what made "good" troubling that led to quality wine production and what made "bad" troubling that led to spoilage. They government hired Louis Pasteur to investigate, and he eventually discovered the process of fermentation. 

The seething or troubling of the wine due to the action of the yeast is good because it is a necessary step in fermentation and a critical part of changing crushed grapes into wine. It doesn't look good, though. It looks as if the grapes are going to be a hopeless loss. Winemaking is not for the faint of heart. It is the perseverance of the winemaker that allows the seething to continue until the yeast have done their work.  

You may be familiar with this process in your loved ones (and likely in yourself as well).  As you watch your loved one experience the crushing, soon followed by seething/boiling/troubling, you may want to give up hope that maturity can ever come out of the mess your eyes can see. Fear not, dear ones. That seething often means that important work is occurring beneath the surface. The winemaker knows that the seething indicates yeast at work, converting sugar into alcohol, and that time is required for completion. Regardless of our fear, time is required for completion of the process of maturity in those we love. 

Pray today that, regardless of appearances, the "seething" will continue until the work of transformation in our loved ones (and in ourselves) is complete. Pray that they will emerge fully matured and free of all sediment in their lives. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Part 8: the Yeast Workplace (Luke 5:37)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (Luke 5:37 NASB)

You may not have thought about it yet, but yeast is a living, reproducing microorganism. As such, each type of yeast has it's own genus/species classification with its own specific characteristics. That's important to understand because the yeast we commonly think about is bread yeast, but wine yeast is a completely different organism. 

Bread yeast leaves a specific flavor in the dough, works in the top portion of the dough, and is easily killed by the byproducts of its work (the alcohol that is the byproduct of the action of the yeast on the sugar in the dough).  Wine yeast, on the other hand, is a hardier organism. Wine yeast does not work only on the top of the juice. The yeast begins its work at the very bottom of the container. Remember that sediment in the must (the skin and pulp)? It settles to the bottom because of its weight. That's exactly where the yeast begins to work, at the deepest point in the vat. 

For Christians, the process of transformation can best be accomplished when attention is given early on to all the "root issues" in our lives. Those things that we have hidden away where no one can see but which fuel our responses and actions must be dealt with for us to be free of the past and ready to be transformed. Is there anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, secret sin, or a hurt caused by someone else that has been allowed to fester?  It must be addressed.  

That's where the yeast work begins. At the bottom of it all. It's the only way for the juice to become wine, and the only way for us to become the transformed and mature person Christ intends. 

Pray today that we, and our loved ones for whom we pray, would allow the work of the Holy Spirit to begin at the deepest part of our hearts where our "root issues" are concealed, and that the work would continue until all is healed.