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.

THE TEAR

The tear – it can be shed because we are sorrowful, in pain, frightened, or angry. Or, it can be shed because we are joyful, relieved, empathizing, or celebrating. (I will always cry when the Bridal March begins, whether or not the bride has even begun walking the aisle!) Crying is therapeutic – it gets pent up emotions out and relieves tension. You could say that tears are suitable for a host of purposes!

used A Tear
A child’s tear lingers on his cheek, even as a smile crosses his face!  For his grandmother, the tear tugs at her heart.  For him, the tear will be gone soon, but the grandmother’s heart will take a bit more time to heal!

 

What tugs at my heartstrings the most, though, is a tear from my grandchildren. Now, I know that children shed tears in the process of growing up, it just happens.   I also know tears can be shed when children encounter something that is unfamiliar to them even if there is no discomfort or danger. I know that tears come as a result of, often very well-needed, discipline. And, I know that children are not above shedding some tears in an effort to get what they want, even if it is abject posturing to get something from their Grandparents!

 

Crying
Sometimes the adult, believing she is giving the child an exciting day, results in frightening the young child so much that tears flow. The adult may explain that there is no danger, but still the tears flow.

 

As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy. Who has not looked at their sick child and at least thought, if not said aloud, “I wish it was me instead of my baby!” Sometimes we simply cannot kiss it and make it better, and our tears will flow out of frustration, concern, helplessness ‐‐ love.

 

Jesus knew our feelings because He experienced them. He wept when his close friend Lazarus died.  [John 11:35] He wept when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem [Luke 19:41 ] knowing that, because they had rejected him, tribulation would come and the city would be devastated. Our Savior experienced physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain, during his time here with His creation.

 

And, deep down inside, I believe that His heart hurts when He hears our cry and sees our tears. However, unlike us, He was not “helpless” in the face of sorrow or disappointment. He was, at all time, the God‐man – fully God and fully man. Through His act of obedience to the Father’s plan, He went to the cross so that we would have an escape from the pain inflicted upon us by sin.

 

Further, because of His triumph over sin and death, He knows that our troubles will last only for a short while, that there is a lesson we need to learn from the events that sparked the tears, and that He is with us through the dark times. We simply need to trust Him and hold His Hand as He sees our path while we cannot.

 

I have not been immune from those dark times. I have experienced nights on end with tears as my only companion. I worked to keep the family on an even keel when its support suddenly disintegrated before my eyes. There were times that the tears flowed so hard that I could not breathe, and I relied on the Holy Spirit to pray for that which was best because I could not.

 

I also know that no one can take your tears away; no one stands in your shoes; no one understands the disappointment you have encountered; and no one has endured the dark night that you are in or that you have experienced. It is yours and yours alone. David was well acquainted with the loneliness and pain that difficulties, fearful events, strife, and sin can create.   He refers to it as the “valley of the shadow of death.”

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4-6.

 

But notice the rest of this sentence, even though he was in the valley, he was not bound by fear. David knew that the Lord was with him and was providing comfort to him, even in the darkness of that valley.

 

I certainly am not David, but I can affirm that I have experienced release from the tears and dark times through the grace of God, the love of His Son Jesus, the solace of the Comforter, and the soothing hands of His Church.   Beloved, rest assured that you are not alone as you go through your difficult times.

Picture hanging in our office
Picture depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding His lamb in His nail-pierced hand.

The Good Shepherd has given His life for you and He will guard and protect you as His own. [John 10:11]

 

Lift up your eyes and look for Jesus and He will give you strength. As incongruous as it sounds, while you are crying tears of grief, sorrow, fear or pain, you can experience peace and even joy because He has you in His arms and there really is nothing to fear.   Martin Luther says it well in the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

 

 

One day you will be able to look in the rear view mirror of your life and see the valley that you climbed out of, and you will be able to praise His Name as you thank Him for His kindness and grace, even in those dark times.

 

Joy is possible even as tears linger on your cheek!

 

Father, I thank You for being with me through your Son, my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit, my Comforter. Thank You for the truth that You are sovereign and that nothing will frustrate your plans for me or for your church. Thank You for bringing me through the valley and for holding me even when my tears flowed. Thank You for your love.

 

 

 

THE BOBCAT AND THE TULIPS

Have you ever felt like something picked you up and plunked you down somewhere else, much like tornado does when it swirls through a town?  Have you ever just been lost and not sure where you are or how you got there?  (As noted in a prior post entitled “The Elongated Trip”, my being somewhat lost is not unusual, at least in terms of directions and routes.  But that’s not really what I am thinking about today.)

I am thinking about how events, people, trials and blessings all worked together to put me where I am even though there were upheavals in every sense of the word during the process.  I guess the question becomes “What am I to do after an upheaval has created chaos and made a mess of my plans for my life?”

Front yard in desperate need of landscaping
Front yard in desperate need of landscaping

Our house has never been the garden spot in the neighborhood.  If we ever had the “best garden” award in the front yard, it would be because someone swiped it from the deserving house and got tired of carrying it, so he plopped it down at our house to get rid of the load.  We did have some tulips in the dirt below the picture window and a few of them would pop up in the spring, but it hardly deserved the title of landscaping.   Along the street, the yard was barren due to the surplus of leaves that pile up in the fall, killing the grass beneath.

Front yard before landscaping
Front yard before landscaping

We finally decided that we would do something about it.  A bobcat was brought in and we dug up and hauled off the old dirt, rocks, dried up bushes, etc.

The bobcat removing all the dirt and debris in the
The bobcat removing all the dirt and debris in the “flower bed”.

New soil and new bushes and shrubs were brought in for a coordinated landscaping effort.  A new sidewalk was installed.  No rock was unturned and no plant remained.  In a matter of weeks, we had a landscaped yard!

Fence line after landscaping
Fence line after landscaping
After landscaping
After landscaping
Front yard along street after landscaping
Front yard along street after landscaping

Next spring, we looked out the window to see the new plants with their spring foliage, and there they were! Tulips ‐‐ a “leftover” from the plantings that had languished in the dirt for decades below the front window. These delightful red tulips were in full bloom with the new shrubs as their backdrop.  They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be there … they just did their thing – they bloomed where they had been planted.

Tulips that survived the bobcat
Tulips that survived the bobcat

How could they possibly still be there?   The bobcat did all in its power to scoop out every bit of the dead dirt and roots of shrubs and flowers.  It hauled off multiple scoops of debris from that, loosely described, “flower bed.”  But somehow, the scoop missed the tulip bulbs.

Somehow the bobcat’s tines missed the flowers’ roots and they held tight, embedded so they could bloom in the spring.  Somehow the new shrubbery did not overwhelm the simple tulips that had survived the onslaught of redesign.

Out of place?  Perhaps.  They are the only “flowers” not attached to a shrub, but I am not moving them!  Does God care that the tulips were attacked by a mechanical bobcat and did God put His hand on the little bulbs for protection so they would bloom again?  I guess theologians and academics could debate that question.

Scripture teaches, and I personally believe, that

  • God knows the hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30 ),
  • He remembers the sparrows (Luke 12:6) and
  • He called the plants good (Genesis 1:11-12).

Given these absolutes, I believe that He protected the tulips for His purposes.  Perhaps they were saved from destruction so that He could remind me that I, too, need to bloom where I find myself — even if it is the result of what I perceive to be an upheaval and is a long way from where I started and from what I thought I would be doing.

Upheaval in our lives can come in many different forms ‐‐ a loved one’s death, divorce, cancer, loss of employment, disappointment, forces of nature, declining health due to aging, downturn in finances ‐‐ but no matter what the occurrence or how long it persists, the end result is that we are in a different situation or surrounding.

Scripture says that God is sovereign and all-powerful – He knows us and what will happen during each of our days, even before we were born! (Psalm 139:16)  (I love Psalm 139!)

So, while the result of upheaval in my life may make me feel uncomfortable because, as a result I am in an unfamiliar situation, it cannot be something of which God is unaware.  Our circumstance does not take Him by surprise, nor does it present a problem or situation which He cannot handle. Think about the “upheaval” that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced in the fiery furnace.  God not only protected them, He walked in the furnace with them. Daniel 3:25.

No matter where we find ourselves when the dust of upheaval finally settles, you will find that God is still in control and that He was in the situation with you even when you could not see Him.  If you find upheaval distressing you, remember the steadfast tulips; they are beautiful in front of the shrubbery backdrop that God provided for them.

Survival tulip with shrub backdrop
Survival tulip with shrub backdrop

By God’s grace, you too will beautify your new circumstance with His love shining out to those around you!  Praise the Lord and bloom where you are planted … even if you are the only one, you will still be a witness to God’s love, providence, grace and sovereignty!

Father, forgive me when I rebelled and struggled against Your bobcat as You were rearranging my life for Your purposes.  Forgive me when I was unable to comprehend any good coming from the pain of the situation.  Forgive me when I griped at the circumstance and refused to look to You for wisdom.  Thank you for Your grace, patience and unrelenting love.  Thank you for being present with me in the upheaval even though I did not recognize it, and thank You for changing my world, and me, even if it took a spiritual bobcat to accomplish the task.