In the Beginning, God.

Our family enjoys homemade foods and prepares them as much as possible. We like growing our own organic vegetables and fruits, picking wild berries, and preserving canned and frozen foods for later use. We feel blessed to have our own little garden paradise. A while back, I became interested in making homemade apple cider. We started out by purchasing a small tabletop fruit press. It worked well, but was good for just making small amounts at a time. It became obvious that we needed a bigger press to handle the amount of cider we wanted to process. Fortunately, my husband is somewhat of a “jack of all trades.” He often jokingly adds “and master of none,” but that’s what a man of humility says. Anyway, plans were found online to build a larger fruit press and the wood, tools, and metal parts were purchased. After a lot of hard work and time on Scott’s part, we ended up with a masterpiece! The result was a beautiful homemade fruit press which we now use in the fall to prepare fresh apple cider!

In the biblical account of creation, the Garden of Eden is first mentioned in Genesis 2:8. In the verses prior, we read of the creation of the heavens and earth, light, plants, animals and man. God Himself planted a garden paradise; it was perfect, unlike the lovely, but imperfect garden growing in our yard. In His garden, God caused to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).

God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). It was there in the Garden of Eden where God created woman out of one of the ribs of Adam. Sadly, in this beautiful garden which God marvelously created, man (and woman) failed. Creation became marred by sin. Through the freewill given to man by God, the choice to sin was made. With that choice came consequences – consequences which would forever affect all of mankind.

HOPE NUGGET: 
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…..For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ [Romans 5: 12, 17].

To Christian Supporters of Tax-Payer Funded Abortions and Abortion Rights…

Every single one of the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates supports the current policy of abortion on demand. Additionally, each of those ten also believes that all tax-paying Americans should fully fund abortions in the U.S. and around the world. One would think that taxpayers, including liberals, conservatives, non-religious, (and especially Christ-followers) would join together in opposing such propositions. Instead, when conservative Christians state our opposition to this type of use of (what I actually believe to be misuse of) tax dollars, we are accused (even by liberal-leaning Christians) of being one-issue voters who are “cherry-pickers” when it comes to being pro-life. We are accused of loving the death penalty, endless wars, putting kids in cages, etc. HUH?????

I won’t take the bait when it comes to equating abortion with immigrant children being detained at the border. Do I though think that the border situation is worthy of discussion? Yes, of course. Do I know that current border practices have occurred under and been accepted by both liberal and conservative administrations? Yes. Even if we agree that changes should be made at the border to improve conditions for the children and adults entering there, and even if we don’t agree on the death penalty or war or government-funded contraception or minimum wage, or other social issues, does that mean that we cannot agree that hard-earned tax dollars should not be used to fund abortions in America and around the world? 

Lila Rose, founder and President of Live Action

When pro-lifers assert that abortion is the killing of innocent human life and that the government should have laws against it and that the practice of abortion should not be funded by tax dollars, questions like these are fired back at us: “Have you adopted any children? If you’re really pro-life, shouldn’t you support all proposed government programs which pay for every need of the children of single mothers? Why is it that you only care about babies before birth, but not after they’re born? Why are you in favor of enforcing U.S. immigration and border laws?

In spite of all of the pro-choice arguments I’ve heard, my personal experience and ministry involvement over the years have shown me that conservative Christians have, more often than not, been the most generous and most consistent pro-life individuals of any. They donate their time and resources to support local food banks, youth shelters, juvenile detention centers, prisoners, families of prisoners, pregnancy support centers, children’s hospitals, needy families, and a host of other local needs in the community. Not only do they care for the needs of women and children and families locally, but they do so throughout the state, across the country, and abroad. The argument that pro-lifers stop caring for children after they’re born is complete and utter nonsense and a lie which can be easily debunked. I have been witness to the exact opposite on more occasions than I can remember.

The pro-choice movement, on the contrary, devalues life and dehumanizes the individual, thereby making it very dangerous. It is not a movement rooted in the best interests of women, and certainly not of children. When pro-choice activists oppose laws which require a pregnant woman to have the option of viewing a sonogram before her abortion or when they’ve opposed having adoption resources available at abortion clinics, it is obvious that the pro-choice movement is wicked.  It is a movement of death. It is impossible for Christians to consistently follow Christian teachings while supporting abortion rights. To claim to do so is making a very serious moral and scriptural error.

Live Action is a pro-life advocacy movement whose mission is to end abortion by leading the culture to embrace the rights and dignity of every person. Recently, Live Action produced an extremely informative and interesting video series in which Pro-Life Replies are given to Pro-Choice Arguments. Please watch this very worthwhile series….

Live Action video series: Pro-Life replies given to Pro-Choice arguments

HOPE NUGGET: Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself [Isaiah 44:24].

The God of the Broken-Hearted

Have you ever had the experience of being close to someone whose heart has been broken? It can be an extremely helpless feeling. No matter what words you prepare and rehearse, you know that there’s nothing you can do to take away the pain. It’s a difficult place to be for the one who is on the outside looking in. It feels as though your heart is breaking too, breaking for the one who is suffering through a tragedy or loss or painful trial. It’s not always possible to be physically present with the one who is hurting. Sometimes distance stands in the way of giving a hug or putting your arm around a shoulder or crying together.

God, what should I do? What can I say? How can I be supportive? How can I help to ease the pain? I talk to God a lot, pretty much throughout the entire day. When I ask a question, I try to listen for the answer and I believe that He’s given me answers many times. Those answers haven’t always come in ways that are expected. Sometimes the answer comes in that still small voice. Sometimes, it’s through a scripture passage. Sometimes it’s through another person. Yesterday it was through music. It came when flipping through YouTube videos on my iPad while cleaning up after dinner.

“Say something that says something …. sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.” The answer came in the form of a duet by Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake. Song lyrics can be interpreted in whatever way the listener chooses. I knew what those lyrics meant for me at that moment. They meant that the greatest way to help ease the pain in this situation was to say nothing at all. They meant that “He [God] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). They meant that my role was to love by simply sharing scripture passages. They meant that what was needed for the brokenhearted was not to hear from me, but from God. But God. The God of the Broken-Hearted. 

HOPE NUGGETS:

*The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

*Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

The Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Its taste is described as a cross between a banana and a mango. Even though the pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to the United States and can be found growing in the wild in 26 states, not many people have heard of or tasted a pawpaw. Last weekend at Lake Snowden in Albany Ohio, I attended the 21st Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival with my husband and son. After several years of talking about making the 3 1/2-hour drive west, we finally coordinated our schedules and made plans to attend the first of the three-day event.

The festival far surpassed our expectations. Chris Chmiel, founder of Integration Acres, gave an informative pawpaw presentation and led a walkabout in which he helped us to identify pawpaw trees in the wild. We learned the proper way of opening and eating the creamy custard-like sweet fruit. We learned that pawpaws are very nutritious and high in Vitamin C. Did you know that George Washington’s favorite dessert was chilled pawpaw?

Many activities and booths were available at the festival where there was something for everyone. There was the Pawpaw Cook-off, the Pawpaw Eating Contest, sustainable living workshops, music, booths of all sorts – food, crafts, art, history, education, lots of activities for the kids and even a talk about Bigfoot sightings! In addition to fresh pawpaw fruit, we enjoyed eating pawpaw ice cream, pawpaw bread and pawpaw chicken adobo. With so many food booth choices, we didn’t get the chance to try pawpaw cotton candy, pawpaw cookies, pawpaw funnel cake, pawpaw burritos or pawpaw waffle-on-a-stick! Maybe next year!   https://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/index.html

If you would like to learn more about pawpaws, the book “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit” by Andrew Moore is highly recommended by my husband. A portion of the book’s description reads: “As much as Pawpaw is a compendium of pawpaw knowledge, it also plumbs deeper questions about American foodways―how economic, biologic, and cultural forces combine, leading us to eat what we eat, and sometimes to ignore the incredible, delicious food growing all around us. If you haven’t yet eaten a pawpaw, this book won’t let you rest until you do.”

Until last weekend’s festival, I had no idea that I was missing out on a delicious and healthy fruit! Because of that trip, we now have 2 pawpaw trees planted and growing in our back yard. We’re looking forward to the day when they bear fruit. My introduction to pawpaws reminded me of a time, decades ago, when I was introduced to Christ and made the decision to follow Him and to walk in His ways. If I wouldn’t have been willing to “taste and see” by putting my hope and trust in Him, I would have never fully realized His goodness. How about you? Are you willing to taste and see that He is good?

HOPE NUGGET: Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! [Psalm 34:8]

Camouflaged (2)

Camouflage is an adaptation that is used as a survival technique in the animal kingdom. It is a way for animals and even for humans to blend in with their environment. When my husband served in the Army during Desert Shield / Desert Storm, he was provided with desert camouflage uniforms known as the Six-Color Desert Pattern or sometimes referred to as Chocolate Chip Camouflage. The purpose of wearing the pattern of light tan, pale green and two-tone brown with black and white spots was to blend in with the desert sands of Saudi Arabia. The black and white spots were designed to mimic the appearance of pebbles and their shadows. Wearing a uniform of those desert colors was a way of being undetected by the enemy which helped to provide safety for the service members.

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (June 1991)

Through some research, I found that animal camouflage is also referred to as cryptic coloration. Small animals such as lizards, snakes, insects and frogs blend in with their environment by using this unique adaptation to avoid becoming prey. These animals are often the same color as the leaves or twigs around them and some of the insects are even able to look like the twigs or leaves. They use camouflage to mask their location, identity and movement. One of the most beautiful and interesting animals to use camouflage is the Eastern Screech Owl. This little owl has the ability to hide in plain sight in tree holes with its feathers camouflaged to match tree bark. The camouflage is used as a means to protect its home and to capture unsuspecting prey which venture close.

Eastern Screech Owl

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the command of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to Christians to let their lights shine before the world. I wrote about the green bean patch in our garden and about how the green beans were so well hidden in the bushes. I wrote about how sin causes us to blend in with the world rather than standing out and being separate as representatives of Christ. Since that last blog post, I returned to our garden to gather more beans from our little patch. This time while picking, a few beans fell from the plants to the ground below, becoming lost beneath the thick bushes. It made me think of the dangers of blending in, of having the idea that no harm will come by having partnership with the world. It’s a frightening thought…lostness. Yet, by looking at the lifestyles of many who proclaim Christ, it appears that the possibility of lostness does not occur to some. It seems that they believe they can look and act just like the world without detrimental consequences. It is really a very dangerous place to be. Christians are certainly in the world, but by no means are meant to be of the world. Instead of adding more and more layers of camouflage, why not be obedient to God and clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ? It is in Him where safety is found.

HOPE NUGGETS:

*I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness [Isaiah 61:10a]

*Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  [1 John 2:15-17]

Camouflaged

Gardening season in southwestern Pennsylvania has reached harvest time. The row of green bean plants in our garden has grown very big and bushy. Gathering beans from those plants is a challenge. It requires squatting or being down on knees, trying to separate and lift the tangled bushes and stems from each other enough to spot the elusive green beans underneath. It’s not as easy as one might think! I don’t know if the picture below gives a good perspective, but the beans are hidden very well amidst those bushy plants. One would never know that quarts of green beans were hanging in there if just walking by that row of green plants without intentionally looking or investigating more closely.

As I picked those beans a few evenings ago, I wondered if that’s what the church looks like to the world. Are we camouflaged so well that we blend in with the world? Are we hidden so well that others need to go to a lot of effort to find us? Or, do we stand out to others, letting our lights shine before them that they see our good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven? [Matthew 5: 16]  If our lights aren’t shining…why not? Perhaps it’s that ugly three-letter word: Sin. Maybe we blend in so well because we look just like everyone else. Maybe it’s because we act like those who aren’t followers of Christ. Our actions cause us to be indistinguishable from the rest of the world. We are lustful, gluttonous and greedy. We are lazy, envious and prideful. 

We neglect to attend or serve in the church, but in its place are sure to find time for pleasure and recreation. Are Sundays set aside to gather with the church to worship God or are Christians instead involved with other seemingly more important activities on that day? Does the way we go about life look like it does for everyone else? Are Christians avoiding sin and offering ourselves as living sacrifices to the Savior of our souls? Are our lights shining brightly enough that we can be easily seen by those who are in need of salvation? Do our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family have the impression that God is the priority of our lives? Do they see by our words and actions that we live to please Him?

Maybe if those green beans were neon or yellow or any other color besides green, they would be much easier to locate. Maybe they would then be easier to identify as the bean and not mistaken for the stem or leaf of the plant. Maybe if Christians would walk and talk more like Jesus, they would be more easily identified by others as belonging to the kingdom of God. Maybe then they would be making a greater impact on this world rather than spending so much time wringing their hands over the direction that the world is going. Just maybe.

HOPE NUGGET:  Spoken by Jesus:   I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  [John 17: 14-16]

A Song of Thanks

Do you ever wake up singing in the morning? One day last week, I did. It wasn’t something that happened consciously, so I can’t take credit for it. It wasn’t even a day that I was especially excited about or necessarily looking forward to. That particular day meant that summer break for me had officially ended. The realization had come that we would not be together again as a family with our kids and granddaughters until Christmas break. It meant that once again I’d need to set my alarm clock and head back to my job with an inservice meeting in the morning. It was a bummer. All of it. “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul….” I wasn’t singing when I lay down in bed the night before. Instead, I had been feeling sad because the summer months had passed by so quickly and I was anxious about the start of another school year.

God has a way of changing our outlook. He has a way of turning our sadness and our anxieties into joy. Sometimes He does so in unexpected and surprising ways, even when we’ve set our minds to looking at our situations negatively. Sometimes He needs to remind us of where our focus should be. Sometimes He uses a song to do that. “Thank you Lord for saving my soul. Thank you Lord for making me whole. Thank you Lord for giving to me, Thy great salvation so rich and free.”

It’s an older chorus which we used to sing years ago, a song which I usually don’t sing and which never even really comes to mind. But on that day last week, it came out of nowhere. It came as a reminder that I should be dwelling on all of the reasons to be thankful, especially of being thankful for God’s great salvation. When you wake up singing a song with that kind of meaning, your perspective changes. It just has to. And it changes the entire course of your day. And of the days that follow… Thank you, Lord.

HOPE NUGGET: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. [1 Peter 1: 3-4a]