Tuesday, January 23, 2018

THREE PRAYERS

Three prayers I pray with absolute confidence that God will hear and answer:

1. Lord, so work in my heart that I earnestly desire to know you better and to love you more. When my affection for you grows cool, grant me sincere repentance, and stir my heart again to flame. Help me to find in you - and in you alone - solace for all my hurts, abiding peace in place of my fears, and full satisfaction for my deepest longings.

2. If I am to know you better (and love you more!), I must spend time in Scripture, for that is where you reveal yourself to your people. Sometimes, though, my appetite is weak. Lord, create in me a hunger for your Word, and draw me daily to feed upon it. When I am busy with the demands of this day, bring what I have read in your Word to mind; help me to meditate on it, so that am nourished and refreshed by it all day long.

3. Keep me mindful of my complete dependence upon you, so that I come continually to you in prayer. Help me to remember that my Lord Jesus and your Holy Spirit intercede on my behalf, so that I never come to you alone, but always in mighty company. Let me never for one moment think that you hear and answer my prayers because of any faithfulness on my part, but only because of the unwavering faithfulness of my Savior, your Son, in whom I can pray with full assurance of your favor and with great boldness and confidence and with full expectation of being heard and answered.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

IS THERE ANYTHING BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE?

"Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior." - John Newton
* * *
We were talking at my house recently about sin, particularly, about ways Christians try to overcome certain sins that all-too-easily take us captive. I have witnessed believers addressing sin with what look to me like purely secular tactics:

"Idle hands (or minds) are the devil's workshop" - or - "Idle hands are the devil's playthings," we have been told. So, the cure for sin is to stay very busy, busy doing something else besides that pet sin, anything else, so long as it occupies our thoughts and our energy and our time and keeps us too busy to notice temptation.

And we create safeguards to protect us in case we accidentally find ourselves with five free minutes when we might be inclined to think about or engage in our pet sin. We put a fence around our pet sin, then a concrete wall around that, then perhaps a row of concertina wire, then...ummm...how about a moat? (Since I am prone to want to eat an entire chocolate cake at one sitting, I will not eat cake of any kind. And just to be safe, I will cut out all other desserts, too. As a matter of fact, I will completely eliminate sugar from my diet. There, that should do the trick!)

And then, just to be extra safe, we recruit an accountability partner - someone to check our email or internet browser, someone to record the number when we step on the scale each week, someone who promises to drop everything and rush over at a moment's notice when I text the code word that tells her my clueless next-door neighbor just dropped of a decadent three-layer chocolate cake at my house, and my self-control is about to go out the window!

I am all for being wise and careful and having accountability. Don't get me wrong. Those are good things, and they can be helpful to us in our fight against sin. But the above strategies for overcoming sin, while perhaps helpful to some degree, all center on the sin. They are about...
  • Don't do [particular sin].
  • Or, do this other thing, so that you don't do [particular sin].
  • Or, recruit Fred to check and see if you are doing [particular sin].
  • Or, call Sally if you think you are about to do [particular sin].
These tools, in and of themselves, do nothing to address the issue of the heart. They only address our behavior. And yet, it is from the heart that our sin springs. If we don't address the heart, then, no matter how many safeguards we employ, sin is an ever-present threat, still consuming our thoughts, emotions, and energy.


Is there not some way to take the focus off the sin and to recenter the heart on something entirely different instead? Practically, instead of thinking "Don't eat the whole chocolate cake" - or - "Eat some hummus instead of a whole chocolate cake" (Yeah, right!) -  is it possible for me to be so completely enraptured with something else, something so good and lovely and virtuous that, by comparison, the thought of eating an entire chocolate cake sounds about as appetizing as eating a platter of mud pies? Is it possible for me to become so delighted with this other thing that chocolate cake doesn't even enter my mind?

Is there anything in the world that good, that big, that wonderful? So beautiful that it fills my vision and becomes the focus of my desires? So altogether lovely that, with my eyes fixed firmly on that one thing, I no longer find any attraction for the cheap, bawdy trifles that would otherwise entice me?

YES! I believe there is something that big - a someone, THE Someone, God himself!

Sadly, I have seen that even within the church, we act as if we believe the "solution" to the problem of sin is a method, a list, a plan...instead of a Person. And we mete out to our brothers and sisters our "method" instead of the person of Jesus. Oh, sure, we'll get around to God and Jesus and all that spiritual stuff eventually. Of course we will - it's what we do. But first, we need to address the undesirable behavior. The behavior is the real problem, right? (What, not the heart from which the behavior flows?!)

To the extent that we believe the behavior is the problem, to that extent we have forgotten our true condition. To the extent that we think we can fix the problem of sin with a method or a plan, to that extent we underestimate how desperately we need a Savior. And to the extent that we think modifying behavior is the solution, to that extent we have forgotten the Gospel.

God, when I am struggling with sin, show me Jesus, in all his ravishing beauty. Grant me true repentance for loving anything more than my Savior, who loves me - a faithless child - with unwavering faithfulness. Oh, what compares to Christ and his steadfast love?! Nothing!

God, when I see my sister or brother struggling with sin, please, help me to show them Jesus.
* * *
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis

"It grieves me to say this, but the primary reason people are in bondage to sin is because people are bored with God. One of Satan's most effective tactics is to convince us that God is a drag." - Sam Storms

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A NEW COOK IN THE KITCHEN!

Snowed in? Bake something delicious!
I tried a new bread recipe today from Shauna Niequist's book,
"Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table." YUM.

The youngest is taking over menu planning and grocery shopping at our house. Yes, I am excited! After 30+ years of planning and preparing meals, I feel burned out, used up, stuck in a rut...same old meals, over and over and over. There's nothing wrong with trusty favorites - chicken pie, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, beans and greens, venison stew, etc. - but a young cook makes mealtime so interesting. A new cook doesn't have a repertoire of tried-&-true recipes: because every recipe is new, any recipe that sounds or looks interesting is worth a go.

Have I mentioned yet...I AM SO EXCITED!!!

So, Helen spent the morning looking up recipes and making a list of ingredients. She came up with a fantastic strategy for planning evening meals for each week: one night, soup and bread; one night, a pasta dish; one night, meat and three; one night, veggie main dish; one night, salad or whole-food bowl; etc. (I love that she developed a framework for meal-planning. Cool idea.)

Because Helen is a full-time student who is also holding down a part-time job and because I am responsible for upkeep of the house and am going back to work, we plan to split cooking duty. On Helen's long days, Mom cooks. On her light days, she cooks. Saturdays and Sundays, we cook together. Pretty sweet deal, huh?

On the menu for the week ahead (provided we can get out of the house and down the snowy highway to the grocery store), Helen has some familiar foods, plus these new recipes:

White Bean Parmesan Spinach Soup
Maple-&-balsamic vinegar-glazed pork chops, plus sides
Black bean and sweet potato tacos (Yum!)
Chicken Florentine w/ white wine cream sauce, served with pasta

Have I mentioned...I AM SO EXCITED!!!

Looks like dinnertime is about to get a lot more exciting at the Kendall house. 😋

Monday, January 15, 2018

RUNZAS FOR LUNCH

My friend Katherine has informed, challenged, and encouraged my faith as much as anyone living today. And it is Katherine who introduced me to runzas. A runza is basically a German pocket sandwich - a yeast bun filled with a mixture of meat, cabbage, and onion. They are delicious hot out of the oven or as leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.

To make runzas, start with a good basic yeast bread recipe. (A bread recipe calling for about 5-6 cups of flour makes enough dough for the filling below.) Mix and knead your dough; set aside to rise. While the dough rises, prepare your filling.

For today's runzas, I browned a pound of ground beef and half-a-pound of sausage together, along with two small diced onions. (Sausage is my own personal twist - I am the granddaughter of a hog farmer, and I love sausage!) I drained the meat, then added about 5 cups of shredded cabbage, and cooked and stirred until the cabbage was just wilted.

I punched down my dough and divided it into 16 blobs. To make each runza, I rolled a blob of dough into a circle...
...spooned about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of meat & cabbage filling onto the circle...
...and then folded the dough over and crimped the edges together with a fork.
I placed the runzas on a lightly-greased baking sheet...
...and baked them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until nicely browned.
At my house, we like to eat runzas with lots of mustard.

Katherine taught me that there is something very good about spending time with friends in the kitchen, hands together in dough. (I have never met anyone who owns more rolling pins...plenty for anyone who wants to join in the baking!) Food and faith go together so very well.

I'm weathered in here in Northwest Tennessee today. There's no telling where in the world Katherine is today. But Helen requested runzas for lunch, and when we eat runzas, it feels like Katherine is right here with us.

Friday, January 12, 2018

ABOUT WORDS

Things I have learned about words over the past year:

It is hard work to listen, really listen, to what another person is saying. It takes focus, effort, patience, and tremendous discipline to listen to understand or to learn, instead of listening to reply, explain, or defend. (I am not very good at this, but I am trying to get better.)

When someone has an erroneous preconception about about me - the words inside that person's mind that codify his or her understanding about what I think or believe, why I do what I do, etc. - that preconception can be much stronger and have more influence than anything I say or do to try to communicate the truth to that person. People want to believe what they want to believe, regardless of evidence to the contrary. The words we think - whether they have any basis in truth or not - can become so deeply entrenched that they skew our perception of reality.

In a difficult or emotionally tense conversation, what someone else says to me or about me often says more about the person speaking than it does about me personally. Words reveal more about the heart of the person speaking than they do about the person to whom their words are directed or about whom they speak. (Learning this one concept has completely transformed the way I listen...most of the time.)

Things I already knew about words, but that I have been recently reminded of anew:

Words have tremendous power for good or evil. Words can be used as instruments of healing or as weapons of war, and there is a place and a time for each. Conscious of this truth, I need to think before I speak/write, and I need to choose my words carefully.

The more I talk, the more apt I am sin. "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise" (Proverbs 10:19). Sometimes, I must speak; but sometimes, I need to be silent. Likewise, sometimes I need to listen to what another has to say (really listen), and sometimes I need to walk away.

Words are intoxicating, and words, like alcohol, produce happy drunks, mean drunks, sad drunks, drunks who do crazy or wicked things they would never do sober. When a person talks, and then talks more and more and more, throwing down words like champagne at a New Year's Eve party, that person may exhibit a personality completely different from the one he or she exhibits when "sober."

Words are addictive. Like alcohol, words create a heady buzz that some cannot resist - they cannot stop once they've started. They cannot resist making just one more comment, adding one more verbal flourish or jab, saying one last word (and then another, and another).
* * *

Words are one of the things that set us humans apart from the animals. They are a gift from our Creator. It is through words that we are able to know God. And it should be through our words that we reflect His truth and beauty most clearly.

"But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Jesus, speaking in Matthew 12:36).

Does this verse give you pause? Does it sober you? It sure does me.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

THANKFUL FOR THE TEARS



Granddaddy banged on the door early Friday afternoon. He'd found a dead cow and an orphaned newborn calf in the field by the pond. He needed Ben and Helen to help get the calf up to the barn.

We weren't sure how long the little fellow had been out in the cold and damp without food or care. A day? Two days? Last week was so bitterly cold. When one is very new to the world, every hour is the difference between life and death.

To me, the calf was an answer to prayer. My youngest has had a difficult couple of months. Too much hurt, too much sadness, too many tears. I was thankful for the tiny calf - something to captivate my daughter's heart, something to draw her thoughts from her own grief to the needs of another frail creature. You can see from the picture that although Friday began with a gray countenance, it ended with a smile.

Orphan calves often do not survive. Helen did not want to name the calf. "If he makes it past a couple of weeks, then I'll name him," she said. Granddaddy was not so reluctant. He named the calf Sam. (The name Sam Kendall is a bit of a joke inside the family, and it always makes us smile.)

So, Friday and Saturday and Sunday and Monday, Helen was often at the barn. Sometimes, she headed over toting a giant bottle of milk/calf formula. Sometimes, she headed over empty-handed, just to check on her charge and spend time with him.

Monday evening, my daughter and I walked to the barn together for Sam's 5:00 feeding. He had been lively and eager to see his adopted mama earlier in the day. Monday evening, he was dead.

And so Helen and I sat in the barn and cried.

"I am so sorry, Helen," I said through tears.

"It's okay," Helen sniffed.

"No, it's not," I replied. Death is never okay. Death screams at us that all is not as it should be, that something is badly wrong with the world. Death is a dark shadow that testifies to sin and its consequences. It reminds us how desperately all of creation needs a Savior.

Helen has grieved the deaths of other orphan calves before this week. She knew from the get-go that Sam might not make it, probably wouldn't make it...but still, she hoped. And I hoped with her, hoped this bright spot in the midst of a gray season would last. But it didn't.

There is something therapeutic about tears...something healing about embracing sorrow and crying freely, away from the callous comments of those who would press our hearts in its tenderest places. No need to explain, or justify, or give an answer.

Before we left the barn yesterday evening, Helen took off her coat and spread it over the little calf. She knew her warmth could not revive him. She covered him as a loving Amen.

I need to walk back over to the barn today to retrieve the coat. Granddaddy will dispose of the body.

I am thankful Helen had Sam for a short time. I am sorry that he did not live.

I am thankful for the privilege of tears shared in a dim, dusty barn.

I am thankful for a God who is sovereign over every detail of life and death - mine, Helen's and Sam's. I am thankful for a God who sees our tears and counts them as precious.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

ENDURANCE

ENDURANCE
- originally published 1-16-2012

The adult Sunday school class at Grace is winding up a study based on J.I. Packer's book "Rediscovering Holiness." I don't think I can recommend this book highly enough to my fellow Christians. Yesterday, we worked through the first half of the last chapter, which deals with endurance. The entire book is excellent, but this last chapter is my favorite yet.

After stressing the truth that Christian endurance is lived out by fixing our eyes on Jesus, Packer writes, "The most vital truth for the life of holy endurance is not, however, that Jesus is our standard, momentous as that truth is. The most vital truth is, rather, that Jesus is our sustainer, our source of strength to action, our sovereign grace giver (see Hebrews 2:18, 4:16), "the author and perfecter of our faith" (v. 2)."

Packer continues a bit later, "It is precisely the glorified Lord Jesus, who by His Word and Spirit brought our faith into being and keeps it in being...who now helps us to stand steady as we gaze on Him and cling to Him by means of our focused, intentional, heartfelt prayer. It is often said that 'Help!' is the best prayer anyone ever makes. When directed to the Lord Jesus, it is certainly the most effective."

Pain in this life is a certainty. We are assured in Scripture that we will encounter various trials, sometimes very difficult trials that threaten to overwhelm us and crush our faith, and Scripture does not lie. Our suffering is useful for our growth in holiness - sometimes exposing sin and leading us to repentance, sometimes causing us to lean harder on Christ, sometimes "building muscle" for a future battle or gifting us with the ability to encourage our brothers and sisters in their struggles. Oddly, through our struggles, we discover new encouragement: We are amazed to find God's Spirit doing in us what we could never do ourselves. We discover new strength and deeper faith. We yearn more fervently for Christ and for Glory.

And when we wipe out in this great race of faith and find ourselves face down, bruised and sore, it is then that we feel most powerfully the tender ministrations of our Redeemer. He cleans our wounds, applies His healing balm, binds us up, and lifts us back into the race. Like Paul, we discover anew that at our point of greatest weakness, God's grace and strength are put on glorious display...and we are amazed. Packer writes, "He (God) reveals the glorious riches of His resources in Christ by keeping us going, so that overwhelming pressures do not overwhelm us, even when they look like doing so....one way God glorifies Himself in His saints is by keeping them going when anyone else would have had to stop."

I think sometimes we under-rate the significance of this work of God, His simply sustaining us, His working to keep us "keeping on." We think the victorious Christian life must be something like sunshine and daisies (an idea totally contrary to Scripture), when actually it looks more like this - It is the broken-hearted mother who prays again today, for the millionth time and against all visible reason for hope, for her rebellious and wayward son. It is the lonely wife who again today prays that God will empower her to love and be faithful to her emotionally distant husband. It is the college student sitting through another lecture that denies God, who confesses in his heart and conversation again today that God is sovereign over all His creation. It is the terminally ill patient who prays again today, "Lord, help me to live the days left to me to Your glory, and then help me to die well."

Jesus is my sustainer. I will finish this race - will stand one day in Glory, holy and righteous, rejoicing in the presence of God. I will. And if today I find that I lack the endurance to press on, I have this great confidence - Jesus is not lacking in endurance. He has an abundance of strength and encouragement, enough to pour over even me, and He will sustain me.