ARE YOU WILLING TO BE A PICKLE FOR OUR LORD?

I have been learning about canning, most of which has been done since I retired from my law practice.  It has been great fun to prepare food, process it and then enjoy it later on down the road.  I don’t have shelves and shelves of “canned food” but I am enjoying getting into the swing of home preserving food by canning.

However, I really had no idea how much work and thought went into the preparation and preservation of food, and my poor husband had no idea how many times I would hand him a spoonful of something and ask for a taste test!

I have been doing jams, apple butter, relishes, etc., but I ventured into something new last week, I prepared pickles.  I read up on several recipes that sounded good and selected “Pickled Yellow Squash” and “Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles”.  Both recipes had rave reviews and they were not the ordinary cuke dill pickles that neither of us favored.

When we tasted the finished product, I was glad that I decided to make them.

Pickles
The summer squash was sliced in the round while the zucchini was sliced in ribbons, to lay flat on sandwiches.

I found it interesting that both of the squashes were of mild flavor on their own but then, after being subjected to vinegar, spices and sugar, their taste exploded.  However, they were not ready to be preserved at that point – we had to subject them to heat, both by boiling them in the vinegar solution and then by placing them in hot jars and putting the sealed jars in a water bath canner for the specified processing time.

What began as soft-flavored veggies that would spoil within days turned into pickles that were both tangy and sweet and which offered a great-tasting condiment that would last for a year (unless eaten first, of course!).   While we don’t personally care for dill/sour pickles, even those are the result of the mild-flavored cucumber going through the pickling process, with the resulting explosion of flavor and crunch!

As Christians, we will have times of testing, times when we may feel that we are in the crucible with a boiling tempest swirling around us, and sometimes it even involves people or circumstances that produce a pungent odor to our senses.  We should not be surprised when these difficulties or challenges come.

Testing and trials are guaranteed if we are children of God.  In the Old Testament, we know that God used such trial to humble His people and to test them.  See, for example, Deuteronomy 8:12 where we read:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble youtesting you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

 In Luke 8:13 we find Jesus’ parable of the soils and He describes the seed that falls on the rocky soil as follows:

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

Then we find this incredible, counter-cultural, admonition in the Book of James:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness

James 1:2-3

The Christian life is not one of ease and one that is free of hardship or persecution.  Rather, we are to meet difficulties with joy because we know that the process we are experiencing is working toward our transformation into having the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,

2 Corinthians 2:14-15

So, be a pickle for our Lord.  Expect the pickling process to be difficult, to be hot, to be smelly and sometimes downright unpleasant, but know also that you are being transformed into a fragrant aroma for our Lord, and your preservation will continue throughout this life and into all eternity. 

Father, thank You for your Word and for the promise that You are with us during testing and trials, during difficulties and persecution, and that nothing will be done that is outside Your control, and further that nothing will operate in any way other than for our good through Your providence and Your will.

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel

The advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” originated in part from the “Great ‘O’ Antiphons,” part of the medieval Roman Catholic Advent liturgy. On each day of the week leading up to Christmas, one responsive verse would be chanted, each including a different Old Testament name for the coming Messiah.

The text for this 8th century hymn comes from a 7 verse poem. It was used in a call and response fashion during the vespers, or evening, service. In fact, the original text created the reverse acrostic “ero cras,” which means “I shall be with you tomorrow,” and is particularly appropriate for the advent season.  

nativity-from-the-alamo-in-san-antonio
Nativity depiction from a San Antonio mission

In the 13th century a metrical version of five of the verses appeared on the musical scene.  That version was translated into English in 1851 by J. M. Neale. Although many hymnals do not include all the 5 verses translated by Neale, each verse is an acknowledgement of Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies.  Each of the five verses expounds upon one of the names for the Messiah:

  • “Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23) means “God with us”
  • “Adonai” (Exodus 19:16) is a name for God, the giver of the law
  • “Branch of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1) refers to Jesus’ lineage
  • “Daystar” or “Oriens” (Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79) is the morning star
  • “Key of David” (Isaiah 22:22) again refers to Jesus’ lineage

(This listing compiled by Greg Scheer, 1994)

We sing this hymn recognizing that the Kingdom of God has already come in Christ Jesus but it is not yet here in its completion.   Christ’s first coming gives us a reason to rejoice again and again. Yet the minor tone of this carol reflects our realization that all is not well with the world. So along with our rejoicing, we plead using the words of this hymn that Christ would come again to perfectly fulfill the promise that all darkness will be turned to light.

The tune for this hymn is Veni Immanuel, originally music for a Requiem Mass in a 15th century French Franciscan Processional.  The chant tune was adapted to the poem by Englishman Thomas Helmore (1811-1890) and was published in Part II of his The Hymnal Noted (1854). 

Here is the text of this beloved Christmas hymn. As with all carols that have been sung through the centuries, there are variations in the content of the verses.  So, if the following stanzas do not include one that you are familiar with, forgive me; I believe that the majority of the verses in use today are reflected in this listing.

Please feel free to read this as you listen to an instrumental version by The Piano Guys on their album A Family Christmas.

1 O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

2 O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

3 O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. Refrain

4 O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death’s abode. Refrain

5 O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. Refrain

As we read these words and think about their meaning through the centuries of Christianity, we come to a new realization of the power of our Lord and His Word.  We in this world mourn as many Christians are in physical danger and exile in today’s world.  But even if we are not in physical exile, we experience the separation from society that comes when we follow the commands of our Lord which run counter to the culture around us.  In short, we are different or as Peter puts it:

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: [KJV]

1 Peter 1:9.  The English Standard Version translates “a peculiar people” as “a people for His own possession”.  In short, although we reside in our various countries on earth, believers in Jesus Christ are citizens of another kingdom in which Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Each of the verses of this beautiful carol ask that the Lord would guide us so we could live in His kingdom that was ushered into this world by the birth of the Babe in the Manger. 

While Christmas Day is past, our God is the same today as He was two days ago and even as He was before the creation of the world.  He does not change and He will be with us today and through the end of time, and even past that into eternity because He is omnipresent, omniscient, the Almighty God.  Time has no hold on Him and His names that applied in the millenia before the coming of the Babe in the manger still apply in the millenia since that Christmas blessing.  

Take take time to praise Him as you contemplate these names of God and the incredible Gift that He has given to us both in the Babe at the manger as well as in the salvation that comes through that Babe’s atoning sacrifice on the cross thirty-three years later. 

Father, I thank You that Emmanuel did come to this earth as a human Babe. I further thank You that He lived a perfect life that I cannot live, and that He took my sin upon Himself and died an atoning death on the cross of Calvary.  Finally, I thank You that He conquered death and is currently alive in heaven, interceding on my behalf before Your throne.  Thank You for salvation that was the very reason that He came at Christmas.  Thank You that in the manger, we see the shadow of the cross, all for the saving grace extended to Your children through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

UNRUFFLED AND SIDELINED … A LESSON WHILE HEALING

Bellingrath Gardens long bridge and swan (C)
Long bridge with beautiful swan at Belingrath Gardens, Alabama.

 

There are times that nature moves quickly and with an intensity that man can only watch and admire. But, nature can also move slowly and with a deliberation that allows us peace and unruffled living. The swans at Bellingrath Gardens, in Alabama, provide a peaceful scene in which quiet contemplation is possible.

The swan must exert herself under the water so that she can majestically glide over the water, but she is able to do it with truly “unruffled” feathers.

Swan
The majestic swan — unruffled even while working!

How do we respond to things that upset our schedule or which create a problem for us to overcome? Do we have peace? Are we unruffled? While we might have to work at the response to the situation, do we worry and fret all the while?  What about while we are at work or have family troubles, do we stress and complain or do we have peace, even in chaotic circumstances? What about healing? Do we squirm because we are not as physically able as we want to be? Are we willing to submit to His loving care and see what He has for us, even if that includes physical pain?

The past two years have been an exercise in waiting for me.  I retired so that we could have time to do things like travel and visit family around the country.  Nine months later, I had a left ankle break that required surgery and over 9 weeks of non-weight bearing; then there were months of physical therapy as I healed from that event. I then had meniscus repair surgery to my left knee with resulting physical therapy, and I am just now beginning therapy after having surgery for a total right knee replacement. Each of these medical situations has found me, at times, accepting and, at other times, frustrated.

My schedule was stopped cold. Now all I had to do was to heal.  Wait, and yield to the caregiving provided to me … frustration and humiliation at not being able care for myself, even in fundamental ways, had to be let go so that I could appreciate the effort and care being rendered on my behalf.

As an example, I came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day and the next day my daughter Liz and my daughter-in-law Mandi prepared an incredible Thanksgiving Day meal for 12 people, served in our dining room, and all I had to do was to get up the steps and walk to the table. This was the first time that I had relinquished the holiday meal to others.  I praise these two wonderful women for their efforts which were absolutely successful, and I am thankful for the great celebration we had together. (The day of our Thanksgiving Day meal was our wedding anniversary, so it really was a celebration!)

Then too there is the wait for the doctors to practice their skill with still more waiting for the healing to come. Multiple doctor office visits and many more physical therapy sessions, with even more to be scheduled and endured. Wait, be calm and do the therapy so that healing will be complete.

There have been times when I wanted to scream “Doesn’t God know that we had plans?  Doesn’t God know that this is messing with what I thought He wanted me to do?  Doesn’t God care …?”

Of course, the answer is that “Yes, God does know. In fact, He knows everything!” That is the very definition of omniscience! What I need to know is that He is sovereign and He is in control of everything. That is the definition of omnipotence!  And, God does care — the cross is our confirmation of His love, mercy and grace for us.

                 What I need to remember is that I am not God.

This time of testing has a purpose, unknown to me, but important to God. Perhaps He has something that I am to learn about Him, about my life in Christ, about myself and the best way for me to do that is to experience this diversion that I would not have selected on my own.

In Mark 4:39 Jesus was with His disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm arose. His disciples were terrified and they woke him pleading that He help. Scripture says:

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

This became a teaching moment for the disciples! It should also be such for us, for me.

The Almighty God who spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1) and His Son, Jesus Christ, who could stop the storm instantly by commanding “Peace,” has promised to provide peace to us in our time of need through the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 26:3 instructs:

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

Jesus promised that we would have divine help through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 14:25-26.

We are not guaranteed a life of ease as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, but we are guaranteed eternal life with Him and His presence through the Holy Spirit in the here and now. Such peace will transcend the frenetic pace of the world and calm our hearts if we read His Word and listen to the Holy Spirit’s instruction. If we turn our eyes upon Jesus, He will help us to learn the lessons that He has ordained, and He will encourage and support us even as we go through the difficulties attendant with those lessons.

Blessings to you. May you find Peace through your relationship with the King of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord and may His Spirit reside within you to comfort and strengthen during difficult times, even physical therapy!

Father, thank you for loving me so much that you are working in my life to transform me into the image of Jesus. Forgive me when I rebel and don’t want to go down the road you have ordained. Help me to remember that I am yours and that you are sovereign and in control of all things. Thank you Heavenly Father for your Son, my Savior and Lord, and thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to instruct, guide and comfort as we go along our way, even if it is to physical therapy.