Sometimes people pick a word for the year, as I have done in the past. I do not know that I have a word for 2022, but this morning I got the feeling that “water” was going to be a key theme for me for 2022. I do not know what that means. I think is began without me noticing it on New Year’s Day when my wife Diane did the “Polar Plunge” in the ocean at Myrtle Beach. This morning I was looking over one of the written sermons on my blog that many people are accessing this week because of the Lectionary preaching schedule. This week’s Scripture is John 2 where Jesus’ performs His first recorded miracle which was turning water into wine at a wedding. A little later I was looking for a book and noticed the 2021 West Virginia United Methodist Church conference journal from summer conference and saw the title “Building Bridges” with the drawing of a bridge over a stream.
As I saw the bridge over the water, I thought of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou” when the character goes in the water and comes out baptized saying “Come on in boys, the water is fine”. When I got to this point in the post I wanted to shelve today’s post and save it for the Sunday morning sermon because there is so much I want to say and I like to keep these posts short. But I feel like I am supposed to post this because this is going to mean something to someone who will read it. I am still leaning toward using this as a springboard to my sermon on Sunday. We will see. Wherever the Spirit leads. And sometimes the Spirit leads us not over a bridge, but right into the water.
If you’re going to see a beautiful sunrise at the beach you gotta have some clouds. Clouds we have this morning at the beach. What is less certain is whether it is going to be a beautiful sunrise. You just never know. Sometimes there are so many clouds that it blocks the sun. Other times the sun lights up the plentiful clouds in cotton candy colors. This morning I await the results.
Most of life seems like we are always waiting for something. We wait for appointments ands then we wait for the test results. All of us are waiting for Covid to subside. We are always waiting. And most of our waiting is waiting in uncertainty.
When I begin to write this morning I thought I was going to and with the idea that waiting implies that the present is not worth celebrating. I thought I was going to end with “waiting robs us of today.” But along the way, as I waited for the thoughts to come to finish this post, the thought came into my mind that some of us are currently are waiting for Spring. And I remembered that Spring is one of those things that we wait for with certainty, as in we know exactly when it is going to be. We even know how it will be. There will be some warm days and some cold days. There will be some rain and some snow. That is Spring in West Virginia.
I can now report to you that it was a pretty average sunrise. I didn’t get the colors I hoped for even though the sun did break through the clouds. I can also report to you but there is another certainty. The Bible says that God, who began a good work in you, would see it through to completion. It also says that all things work for good for you who will trust God, even as you wait… often with uncertainty about most things. We can be certain that He is always doing something.
This morning as I sit at the beach I noticed a couple broken chairs that were sitting next to the trash. I took a picture of them thinking that would be something to blog about. When I uploaded the picture, I saw recent pictures I’d used in my blog posts. I realized that most of my blog posts have been about my failures. I made cheesecake that didn’t turn out right, I lost the church coffee maker basket that you put the grounds in, I forgot to put the liner in the crockpot for the meatballs, I made an ugly cake for the mission… You get the picture.
Yet in nearly every situation, God did some thing that said failure was not final. My messed up cheesecake became delicious cheesecake balls. Once sliced, the cake at the mission presented beautifully on the plate. While I never found the coffee basket, the Lord did provide another one that very day.
While the devil draws my attention to the broken down chairs, the Lord reminds me that no failure is final. When the devil wants me to focus on the negative, the Lord provides miles and miles of sand, surf, and sea oats… or some other light in my life. This New Year’s Day the broken chairs, the fog that hides the beautiful sunrise this morning, and the dreadful year that has just passed cannot steal my thankfulness for what God does with broken things… and the hope I have as a child of God. and rather than show you a picture of broken down chairs next to a trashcan, I’ve included a picture of yesterday‘s sunrise.
My wife Diane is a sprinkle-loving master decorator when it comes to cakes, cookies, and cupcakes. The other day she was very busy and I told her I would cover the desserts for our night of serving at the mission. I had some thin frozen cakes that needed used, so I got them out and iced them. I am obviously not a sprinkle-loving master decorator. But a funny thing happened when we cut the cake and served it. It turned out beautiful. The people being served had no clue how ugly the cake was before we cut it. They only saw the end result.
I took pictures knowing the Lord would give me a word about it. It occurred to me that the messy and unattractive cake is a parable for our lives. All we can see are the rough edges, broken corner pieces, and crumbs in the icing. It is hard for us to imagine how it is going to turn out in the end – once the master does His thing. I believe that is why He tells us over and over not to worry. As bad as it looks right now, we must remember He is not finished. When He is, I know what Isaiah says He will do:
To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
For 33 years of our marriage Diane’s mom always made the rolls for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Diane’s mom is in her late 80’s so last year, to lighten her load, someone brought store bought rolls for Christmas. They were fine, but this year I tried a few recipes for a good roll. Diane found a recipe from the “Pioneer Woman” and that was the winner that I made and took them to Thanksgiving. They were apparently OK since everyone agreed we would bring them for Christmas. There will be 15 for Christmas so we need more than one batch of rolls. I made them yesterday and the first batch (34 rolls) was perfect. The second batch did not seem right. They were not right. Diane said the 34 would be enough, but I know people like their bread and like to take some home. I decided to make another batch this morning. They take about 4 hours, so they are rising right now. When I made them this morning I realized what I had done wrong in the second batch yesterday, which I made overlapping the first. I forgot the yeast in the second batch!
It is amazing what 4 1/2 teaspoons of yeast will do to 9 cups of flour. The rolls still baked without the yeast, but they were no good. If those had been my trial batch I would have thought it was a bad recipe, but I knew better. As I thought about that this morning, I thought about how most people across the country are waking up this Christmas morning and will do what they always do: gathering with family, opening gifts, and eating til overstuffed. I understand some people live under bridges and some are at work in the ICU right now, but most of America is “celebrating Christmas” as Americans do. I also know that many people are celebrating a secular holiday called Christmas, which has nothing to do with Christ. It looks the same, but something is definitely different. It is as if the yeast is missing. I feel sorry for them. And it is not because my life and their lives are any easier or harder that the other’s. It is that I have this hope in my soul, a “yeast” if you will, that comes from the knowledge that the God of Creation entered the world He created to save the people He created – and He saved me. It is amazing the things that truth will get you through. It truly is a Merry Christmas when you have Christ.
Here’s the recipe:
4 cups whole milk
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
9 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages (2 1/4 teaspoons each) active dry yeast
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
Melted butter, for the pans (I spread soft margarine in the cups)
To make the dough: Combine the milk and canola oil in a large pot. Stir in the sugar. Scald the milk by heating it almost to a boil. Turn off the heat and let cool until warm.
Add 8 cups of the flour and the yeast to the milk mixture and stir until combined (it will be super sticky!). Cover the pot with a lid or dishtowel and let the dough sit until risen, an hour or so.
Sprinkle in the remaining 1 cup flour and the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir gently to combine; it takes a while to get it stirred together.
To make the rolls: Drizzle a small amount of butter into 36 muffins cups (3 standard muffin pans). Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll into neat balls. Place 3 balls in each muffin cup.
Set the pans in a draft-free, slightly warm place; cover with a lightweight dish towel and allow the rolls to rise until light and puffy, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.
Yesterday Diane took Mr. Kitty for his vet check up. Mr. Kitty has been out of the house about three times in the last two years that we’ve had him. He is very content in the house and never makes any attempt to go out the door. To say that going to the vet was traumatic for him would be an understatement.
It began innocently enough for him when I set the carrier down in front of him. He thought nothing of it since it has been so long since he’d seen it. I took a picture of the carrier and the cat just before the chaos. Once we tried to help him into the carrier it all broke loose. Of course he went in it, and of course he went to the vet, but he was not a happy cat. However, all was forgiven by evening. The hard part was that he was unaware of the necessity of the event.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination for me to put myself in Mr. Kitty‘s place and to put God in my place in this story. Much like I knew Mr. Kitty‘s appointment was coming, all the while he had no clue, I know that God knows what is coming for you and me. God knows everything. He knows what has been, He knows what is, and He knows what is to be.
I wish Mr. Kitty had just trusted us. Again, it is so easy to substitute the characters.
I recently got an email from a company that helps non-profits get discounted software. The email said if users want Microsoft “pay once, use forever” software that it must be requested by December 29. Microsoft has been moving away from the buy it and have it forever model that we have been accustomed to for so long. They are moving toward subscription based software requiring users to pay monthly or yearly fees. I am sure they will spin it in a way that makes it sound like they are doing it to benefit us, but we know that is not their motive. They know they can make more money “renting” us Microsoft Office than selling it to us.
I love the way the email stated the software we have known for 30 years as “pay once use forever”. One thing that comes to mind is that Diane and I each have an unused ticket for Walt Disney World that we purchased in the mid 1980’s. We purchased a three day pass and only used two of them. At the time they sold the tickets as good forever. Somewhere along the way they began to add expiration dates to tickets. They will still honor our tickets that cost us 20 some dollars per day, albeit with some stipulations. They can only be used at one park and have to be used by the same people who bought them, meaning we could not give them to our kids to use as they were not born yet! We were kids then.
The ultimate idea of “pay once, use forever” was conceived when God sent Jesus to die on the cross for humanity. It is hard to believe that His death on the cross 2,000 years ago not only offered forgiveness to the people who lived then, but continues to offer forgiveness to everyone who lives today. It was an offer that has been valid for 2,000 years… A guarantee that whoever calls upon the name of Jesus will be saved. We sometimes act as if there is no expiration date, but we know that there is. However, once the offer for one’s life has been redeemed, there truly is no expiration date. The end of this life ushers Believers into eternity.
Microsoft will probably still be trying to bill your credit card 😉
One of my Mason County friends Vicky Nazarewycz sent me a message yesterday morning that her husband Lew was going to use one of my blogs for their devotion at the food pantry in Mason. I thanked her for letting me know and wished her and Lew a Merry Christmas. I started to write more to her in a text, but thought I would write it here instead.
What I began to write was that sometimes I am overwhelmed with the thought that one day I will spend eternity with Vicky and Lew and others like them who have meant so much to Diane and me. One of the more difficult things about being a clergy couple is moving and being unable to maintain relationships with so many people you love. There are people still living and people who have already moved on to be with Jesus. We have people in the area we raised our kids in Tyler County, people in Mason County where we served the Mason UMC for six years, and one day will miss people from Mineral County when our time here is through and, Lord willing, we are living in Myrtle Beach.
Then, one day, we will all gather together in heaven in the presence of Jesus, because of Jesus where will be no more tears and no more pain. The older I get, the more I long for that day.
“When our flesh and our bone are no longer between… Where we are right now and where we’re meant to be.”
I was asked to put on meatballs Tuesday morning for a funeral dinner. I put the meatballs and marinara in a crock pot and turned it on. It was then that I remembered my blog post from Sunday, which I also mentioned in the sermon Sunday. I spoke of the ease of cleanup when a crock pot liner is used. Meatballs are one of the dishes that make for a difficult clean up. Here it was two days later, two days after I vowed a life change by using crock pot liners (OK, a little melodramatic) and what did I do? I put on meatballs without a liner. On the one hand, I was not surprised I did it once again. On the other hand I was disappointed with myself that I had done it yet again. What would I do now? One option was to get another crock pot ready with a liner, transfer the meatballs, and clean out the first one. The second option was to just forget it and deal with the difficulty at clean up time. I switched out the meatballs to a lined crock pot and the initial one cleaned up easy enough.
It is so disappointing when we keep doing the same wrong things over and over. Sometimes we do so on purpose and other times, as in the case of the liner, unintentionally. In this case, I was able to easily undo and able to correct my mistake. Usually in life it is much more difficult. And in dealing with God, undoing our own mistakes… our own sin… well, it is quite impossible. But God…
In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, AW Tozer refers to our sin overwhelming us like the enormity of a mountain. Yet Tozer says that even a mountain has limits. It is a measurable height and weighs a certain weight. As big as a mountain is, it is not limitless. God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness IS limitless. Romans 5:20 says, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more.” Even if we see our sin as big as a mountain, we can take comfort in knowing that God can and will overcome our sin if we will turn to Him. He will forgive Tozer concludes with this: We who feel ourselves alienated from the fellowship of God can now raise our discouraged heads and look up… and be welcome. As we approach the Garden, our home before the fall, the flaming sword is withdrawn. The keepers of the tree of life stand aside when they see a child of grace approaching.
We order food from the food bank for our food pantry. It is high risk high reward endeavor, and with risk sometimes comes failure. I understand when I order it that sometimes I get a deal and sometimes I get a dud. The reason is that I am never quite certain what I am getting. There are no pictures and sometimes the description is deceiving. For example, this month I ordered 210 pound of Italian Sausage. We picked it up Wednesday. This morning I took some of the Italian Sausage out of the freezer to see exactly what I was dealing with. We have a food distribution next Friday. When I ordered it I thought I was getting Italian Sausages like those pictured. It turns out it is ground up, like you would use for sausage gravy. I thought that would still be OK. However, this morning I did some further investigating. It turns out the box is labeled, “Italian Sausage Style Seitan” I did not know what that meant, so I looked it up. Do you know what it means? It means it is NOT Italian sausage. It is made of wheat and it is a vegan imitation sausage. It is not what was advertised. So I have 210 pound of fake meat. Now, one or two of you might be thinking “jackpot”, but can assure you that the people who come to the food pantry would not be thrilled with the prospect of vegan sausage. Not to mention if anyone had to eat gluten-free and we ended up giving them gluten fake sausage without their knowledge. If you know a vegan, send them our way.
Now before anyone thinks it is a waste of food pantry money to order this way, I must tell you that it was less than $40 for the fake sausage, 19 cents a pound. We did not lose a bundle. And it is rare that we get anything that I think is a complete waste of money. We more than make up for it with all the great deals we get. I have a whole bunch of ground beef coming next month at 19 cents a pound… Lord, in Your mercy, please make sure it is real ground beef!
What is the Bible lesson here? Uncertainty? Stewardship? What comes to my mind is the word counterfeit, as in the sausage is counterfeit. I remember some notes from my Bible from a sermon I heard once about the devil counterfeiting God’s truths. I also remember hearing about people who are experts in detecting counterfeit money. They become experts by studying real money. Then it is easy for them to spot the counterfeit. We live in a world where the devil has duped people into accepting counterfeits of God’s gifts. It is happening everywhere. Marriage is God’s gift. The devil has a counterfeit. Salvation is God’s gift. The devil has a counterfeit. The devil even has counterfeit gods! How do we overcome the counterfeits? We study the real. We study the truth of God’s Word. We quit calling things that are obviously not of God, things of God. We quit affirming and blessing the devil’s counterfeits.