Friday, March 29, 2013

Mark 12 & Owner or Tenant

When we moved onto our farm almost 4 years ago, we were asked by the previous owner if we would consider keeping the tenant who occupied the apartment above our garage when we took over the farm. Not wanting to jump into anything too abruptly, we prayerfully considered the request. And as follow up, I made arrangements to meet with this woman and discern how the Lord would lead our conversation. It was our intent to seek God on this matter and hear what He had to say and whether is was His desire for her to stay or go.

Upon meeting with this tenant, she was very nice to point out the number of projects she had helped with in improving the farm; the rooms she painted, the animal areas she had fenced, and many other countless projects the current owner and she used throughout the farm. But, when we finally sat down to have a cup of iced tea together, the Lord opened my eyes, rather my ears, to the way she was talking about the farm. In our conversation I realized this tenant did not see herself as just a person who was renting the land and using it for the benefit of the owner AND herself. No, she spoke in a manner that revealed she felt ownership in all she had done on the farm which therefore earned her the right to say what would be done with the farm in the future. In her mind, if she was to stay on as a tenant, she had projects and plans that needed to be implemented as the days, months, and years progressed.

This past week as I read through Mark 12 and the parable of the wicked vinedressers, I had a flashback to my conversation with this former tenant of our farm. The story Jesus told of these tenants really hit home with me about how too we who are caretakers of all which God has given us, tend to look at those gifts, talents, jobs, land, homes, etc. and think we can plan and scheme as to how to use them to our benefit and in ways we see most fit for their expansion. As the new owner of our farm, the last thing my husband and I were willing to relinquish after putting a very large amount of our savings down was the planning out of future dreams on our farm and allotted uses of its resources. As the new owners we knew that our vision would be different for our farm than that the previous owners and tenants – they were our dream, inspired by God, and they were built on a foundation of hard work and diligent savings which we were willing to risk for the materialization of that dream.

But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.” Mark 12:7-8

We must realize when we look at all those things which the Lord has intrusted to us as the tenants of His “vineyard”, the price He payed in laying its foundation. This being Easter week, we are reminded of the terrible price Jesus paid on the cross, the foundation for the salvation of mankind and the ability for all who trust in the name of Jesus and believe on Him in faith to enter into the most wonderful eternity which God has prepared for those who love Him. Trying to tell God how His vineyard should look from our earthly perspective, what heaven should include and reserve for us as we toil away each and every day for His glory, how the parameters for our entrance into eternity should be set, or why we think the things happening in our lives should be changed to better fit the resources we have been given, is not living in the manner of a tenant, but rather a wicked vinedresser. These people in the parable disregarded the owner who had paid the price for the land and also who had the right to do what he desired there, including asking of His tenants what was due back to Him in rent.

As you may have guessed, we did not take in the tenant who had requested to stay with us when we purchased our farm. She had some very choice words for me when I finally came back to her and asked that she consider what God for her outside our farm. I also told her that I was praying for the ease of her transition. Unfortunately, the choice and very ungodly words she used in response to our decision all the more confirmed to us what the Lord had already shown me was in her heart. 

With today being the day we remember the cross and the price Jesus paid upon it for our sin and separation from Him, remember who the vineyard owner is and how the ability to live within the grounds our Lord has paid the price for, does not grant ownership to the land. Live for Him each day, give back to Him what He asks, use the resources He has given you for His is the least you and I can do to payback Jesus for all He has done for us.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sweet and Sour Fried Tofu

The other night I was looking for a recipe that was a bit out of the ordinary and at the same time my eyes hit a container of tofu and coconut oil, which got me thinking about how I could cook the two together.  What I came up with was tofu fried in coconut oil in a sweet and sour sauce.

First, I drained the extra-firm tofu and then patted it dry with a paper towel.  Next, I cut the chunk into cubes and then tossed them in 2 Tablespoons of non-GMO cornstarch, 2 teaspoons of onion powder, and 1/2 teaspoon Real Salt.  At the same time I turned on my wok and heated a couple of cups of coconut oil over medium high heat.

Into the oil went half of the batch of tofu, I turned it over then it got brown and then transferred the cubes to a warm tray in the oven while I fried up the rest of the batch.

For the sauce, I mixed the following ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup SUCANAT
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice (OR mix of 1/4 cup each of orange juice and lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato sauce/paste
  • 2 Tablespoons Braggs Amino Acids
  • 2 Tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch

Then, when the tofu was done cooking, I transferred the coconut oil out of the wok and dumped the sweet and sour sauce ingredients in.  Heating and stirring over medium heat the sauce thickens in a matter of minutes and is ready to serve over your tofu, rice and veggies.

Sour Dough Biscuit Recipe

If you are looking for a new recipe to use that sourdough starter with you have in your refrigerator, than this is a recipe you have to try.

Here are the ingredients you will need to make this wonderful buttery biscuits:

  • 6 Tablespoons cold butter
  • 2 1/2 cups + 1/3 cup whole wheat flour (freshly ground if possible)
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a small bowl mix the sourdough starter with the 1/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water.  Let sit in a cool place, covered lightly with a towel, for a few hours.

When ready to continue the recipe, break up the butter in a mixer...

...and then add in 2 1/2 cups flour until the butter and the flour are fully incorporated.  Next, mix in the milk and the sourdough mixture you started above.  

Let this mixture sit for 6 hours, lightly covered with a towel.

Right before you are ready to make the biscuits, sprinkle the salt, baking powder, and baking soda on the dough...

...and then fold the dough over 12 times making layers of the dough and the baking powder/soda/salt in between the dough.

Roll out on a sheet of parchment and cut into 12 pieces.  Then let the dough rest while heating the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cook in the oven for about 8 minutes (or until slightly browned).  These biscuits are wonderful with dinner and as you can see by the picture above they also taste very similar to scones and taste really good with some homemade cream cheese and jam.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cruising on the Norwegian Sun

Our family in front of Middleham Falls in Dominica
Many of you have asked that I post about our trip - some just out of curiosity of what a cruise vacation is like and others just for the informative nature of all that traveling to different parts of the world affords you.  I am hoping that this post will be a mix that will satisfy both types of readers.

First of all, I must let you know that this is not the first cruise our family has gone on, but it was the first time we booked a cruise on the Norwegian line.  Our very first cruise was on the Disney Magic for just a 3 day short cruise to Disney's private island and back - it was a trip which was combined with a stay in Disney world and my husband's parents were the ones to arrange everything as the vacation was for my husband's siblings and their families in celebration of his parent's 50th wedding anniversary.  It was another 10+ years before we booked our next cruise, and this time we booked a 7 day cruise out of Fort Lauderdale to the western Caribbean/South America on the Holland line.  And, four years after that cruise we took a cruise out of New Orleans to the Western Caribbean on the Royal Caribbean line.  Each trip has been so different and each cruise line has its "likes" and "dislikes" from our family's perspective.  We have found that for us, sailing on the newest ships with all of the different special features, like rock climbing walls, characters, ice skating rinks, and water slides, are fun for a short while but they really do not make a cruise.  Rather, we have found it is the staff of the ship and the ports that the ship visits which make or break a cruise vacation for us.

In looking for another cruise line to try this time around, we found the itinerary of the Norwegian Sun for the 10 day Eastern Caribbean to not only satisfy our desire to visit some places we had never been before (St Thomas - here we had been, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Martin) but also the reviews the crew of this particular ship had been given made us think we had found the makings of a memorable vacation.  The other surprising detail on this particular ship was that they had rooms which could accommodate 5
people, standard rooms that is not suites.  (Below are pictures)

You can't see them, but there is another vanity and a rather large closet to the left (we actually unpacked 8 suitcases when moving into this room, two which where oversized, and everything fit!)
Before when we have traveled on cruise ships we have always had to book two rooms and pay the adult rate for our two boys, but with this room set-up we only had to pay two adult rates and three reduced children rates.  The only thing that concerned us about booking such a room is that no where on the Internet could we find a picture of what one of these rooms looked like, but we trusted that sleeping all in one room for 10 days would be fine and booked an interior room (something we have never done before either, always opting for a window or balcony) and started planning our trip.

Getting ready to dive
I have to say that planning for a cruise is just about as much fun as going on it.  Not only is it important to make sure that you pack the right things, but also that you research the islands you will visit on your trip and plan out how you can get the most of the 8 to 9 hours you have while there.  As I stated above, we had 5 island stops on this trip and with my husband and oldest son now completely certified scuba divers, the trip excursions were planned a bit around the islands they wanted to dive around.  They ended up picking St. Thomas, Barbados, and St. Lucia for their three sites to do 2-tank dives at, and then we planned more family type excursions on Dominica and St. Martin. (Since I didn't dive, I am not going to be writing about that part of our trip, but the reports that came back from the guys was that the diving at all the sites was wonderful - they dove through wrecks and saw lots of great  sea life too.)

Hair braiding in St. Thomas
Keeping safety in mind with my husband and oldest son away diving those three days, I opted to arrange the bit more costly excursions through the ship those days to ensure we got back to the ship on time and were able to see the part of those islands we didn't want to miss.  But, having visited St. Thomas before, and having a sister who used to live on the island we just made that day a shopping day and a day to get Maggie's hair braided by one of the locals at the docks. (It was an easy way to keep the bangs she has been growing out, out of her face for the remainder of the trip.)  On Barbados we went on a 4x4 excursion that took us through
In the nature preserve with the green monkey in the background
sugar cane fields and then into a nature preserve/animal sanctuary where we were able to interact with green monkeys.  And then on St. Lucia we took a bus trip to the end of the island, seeing sites along the way, and ended our land trip at a drive in volcano where there were mud baths we were able to get into and rub on our skin to absorb all the wonderful minerals that were in the mud.  Our trip then took us onto a catamaran where we were able to tour the entire the length of the island again, but this time at sea and we also had the opportunity to swim off the boat onto a beach to enjoy the beautiful waters before returning to the ship.

At the base of Middleham Falls
Now, if you think that the above excursions were a bit out there for you, then the family days we planned may put you over the top.  On Dominica, I found a recommendation on tripadvisor for a guide name Levi who runs a tour group called Bumpiing Tours.  After looking at all of the tours his company offers and reading all of the great reviews people had given him, we decided to book our whole family on the tour he calls Middleham Falls & Titou Gorge.  The day excursion got us off the boat bright and early with a quick van ride up a very windy road.  After entering the botanical gardens at the top of that road, we had a very strenuous 1.5 mile hike (mostly up and down on a narrow path) to Middleham Falls where we were able to climb the rocks down to the base of the waterfall and take a dip in the very cold but refreshing water.  Our tour then took us back the same 1.5 mile path to our van for a quick bite to eat and drink and then we were off to Titou Gorge.  Now, if you have ever seen the movie Pirates of the Caribbean II, the movie was filmed on Dominica and Titou Gorge is the
In the Titou Gorge
location for one of the very funny, but yet exciting chase scenes.  Thankfully our trip was just fun and a bit exciting with no chasing, but than again swimming up stream in a cliff lined gorge with water over 10 feet deep below you and about 65 degrees is exciting enough for me.  My husband and oldest son also took up the challenge to jump off the small water fall into the gorge, but I swam back with the younger two who were rather cold and needed some warming up - actually I did too as my muscles seized up after a while.  The last stop for the day was at the hot springs at the base of Trafalgar Falls.  It was a nice way to warm us all up after our cold dip and a relaxing way to end our very exciting day on Dominica.

The birthday boy lounging at Loterie Farm
The second excursion we planned on our own was in St. Martin, and with it being our middle son's birthday we allowed this adventure seeking teen to plan our day.  After giving him a variety of options as to what he could pick to do on the island, he chose to have us all go zip lining at a place called Loterie Farm on the French side of the island (St. Martin is half French and half Dutch).  And, I guess with all of the exciting diving my husband had done, I was elected to join the boys on the advance zip line
and ropes course while Doug stayed with Maggie on a course that was closer to the ground.    So, despite the costly cab ride to the farm and even more costly price we paid for the 1 hour of zip lining we were afforded, it was a thrill that was worth the money as we flew between the tree top canvas of some of the last remaining natural forest on the island of St. Martin.  To finish off the day, we returned to the ship for a short lunch and then took a short walk to the beach where Doug swam with the kids and I did a little bit of duty free shopping.  All in all it was a really nice way to spend our last island day before starting the journey home.

On the beach in St. Martin
So, now back to the ship.  There are so many highlights it is hard to even know where to start.  First of all, I have to tell you that on our drive down to Miami (yes we drove from Minnesota) I was reading the message boards on Cruise Critic and found that a few of the other passengers who were joining us on our cruise (that is what the roll call lists are on Cruise Critic - you can meet up with people taking your same trip and get acquainted ahead of time) that Norwegian was offering upgrades for some of their cabins.  So, I called Norwegian and asked if an upgrade from our inside room was possible, and after a few minutes of waiting our family was transferred free of charge to a window room.  The room layout for an inside family cabin that sleeps 5 is very similar to the layout for the window family cabin that sleeps 5 (the reason we know is because our room keys when we got onto the ship were programmed for the inside cabin while all of our
In the observation lounge
luggage had been transferred to our newly acquired outside window cabin).  The space was tight and the nice bed was relinquished by my husband and me so that our teen boys did not have to share beds, but the couch with the added foam mattress (which we requested per a recommendation on Cruise Critic) was suitable for sleeping the two of us and the pullman was occupied by our daughter Maggie.  And, for the first 7 nights of our cruise, we did rather well with all of in one room - that is until we had a bit of a water issue.  Our last island day, the day we had been on St. Martin, the boys had showered and headed up to the teen area on the ship while Doug and Maggie transitioned from the beach up to the kids swimming and hot tub area.  With the time I had alone, I thought about going up to the spa to shower and then sit in the steam room and sauna as I had most days of the trip, but considering we would be headed out that evening for a nice dinner I opted to stay in our room and take a quick shower before Maggie and Doug returned.  

In front of the door where the water flooded out
Here is where the water issue I spoke about above came into play.  I quick set the water in the shower, flushed the toilet and then jumped into the shower, making sure to not take too long so that if Maggie needed to use the restroom I would not be occupying it for too long.  That being said, it was a good thing I did take a short shower that evening because with the shower running I was unable to hear the clean water in the toilet still running - running out onto the bathroom floor and even over the drain that is by the door to prevent the shower from flooding over into the room.  When all was said and done, me done with my shower and the toilet flow reset, half the carpet in our room was soaked.  I quickly called the front desk and they were very quick to send up a technician who started looking into the issue with the toilet, but at the same time our room steward was quick to tell me that there was going to be no possible way for our family to sleep in that room because they needed to get the carpet cleaned and then dried with some powerful blowers so that a mold problem didn't develop.  In the end the staff could not put us into any 5 person room because there were none left - the room we had previously booked had been taken up by one of the parties which had boarded just that day in St. Martin because they
The Carnival ship limping out of the St Martin port
had been on the Carnival ship which had been stranded in St. Martin for the past 3 days and they were the last few who had been medically unable to fly off the island.  So, in the end the only way to get us all beds was to upgrade us again - we ended up with two rooms for the reminder of our trip, an inside cabin which we gave to the boys and a balcony which Doug and I stayed in with Maggie. The staff on the Norwegian Sun was also very good to compensate us for having to move all of our luggage that night to our new rooms and quick make up some beds for the kids sleeping on the couches, and so they left us a bottle of wine in each room with plates of chocolate covered strawberries.  A nice gesture from the staff in showing they really wanted to make our trip the best possible even amidst the topsy-turvey situation we had to go through on the evening of our son Timothy's 14th birthday.

Pool deck with view of upper sun deck
Each of us have our favorite places on the ship when we cruise and I thought I would highlight them here.  If you would like to see a video that our kids made giving a tour of the ship, you can check out their video on YouTube - this is a rather fun activity we have the kids do at the end of our stay anywhere we go because they get to share their trip highlights and see our vacation stay from their point of view.  For my husband, his favorite place is on the upper sun deck where he can rest and read in the warm sun, yet away from the party pool crowd that is usually a deck or two lower and more towards the middle of the ship.  For me, I love to visit the gym each day and then spend some time in the spa resting in the steam room and sauna.  For those of you who like this option, on the older ships these amenities are usually open to the general public, but on the newer ships they are making it
Work out room with cardio and weight machines plus free weights
a pay option or something only those who have spa suites can access, just something to consider if you want to cruise and pamper yourself a bit too.  Additional to the sauna and steam room, I also treated myself to at hot stone massage since I was also celebrating my birthday while we were away - what a relief to my aching muscles that had developed while we were driving for three days on our way to Miami!  As you can guess, the favorite place of our boys on the ship was the restaurants, but each had their favorite venue.  Our oldest, Thomas, said the best meal he had was the lunch he and I had together at the sushi bar the last afternoon of the cruise - it was an additional cost for this eating venue, but to feed my sushi loving child it was much cheaper than any restaurant I have taken him to otherwise.  Then for our middle child, Timothy, he loved all the burgers, bacon, and pizza he could get his hands on - the child gained 7 pounds while we were away and that was not in fat, he definitely grew in our 2 1/2 weeks away as well as put on some muscle from working out in the gym with me many of the days on the ship.  For our daughter Maggie though, the highlight of the ship was the kids program and I will take the next paragraph to got into more detail regarding children's programs on cruise ships and why the Norwegian line was a real hit this time around.

Counselor Jellyfish and Maggie at the end of the pajama party
Just to start off this discussion I must state that cruise kids programs can be a bit difficult to review, as we learned especially on this cruise.  When on the Disney cruise years ago, Thomas our oldest was only 18 months and so we could not even use the kids program aboard (they usually need to be potty trained to be checked in), and so the Holland ship was the first time we had any experience we had with a cruise line kids program and for that trip our children were quite satisfied to stay and play with us most of the time, thus the activities offered for the kids on the ship were a bonus.  Now fast forward to our trip last year on Royal Caribbean and the kids programs for both school aged and teens that delighted all of our kids as well as our exchange student.  As we learned on this cruise though, the kids in the program have just as much to do with the success of the kid's activities as the coordinators and activities themselves.  Unfortunately the other teens on this trip were not very delightful and our kids had a tough time being around their very inappropriate behaviors, thus leaving them most of the time to hang out in the teen area when no one else was there for free time, or else looking for other things to
Finale of the circus
do on the ship with us or on their own.  The grade school kids program was a much better experience than the teen program was for our boys.  It a delight that our daughter Maggie loved the counselors so much and the programs they offered each evening - we had the toughest time getting her checked out at night, she wanted to stay until the final minutes so she would not miss a thing.  The best part of the program, and unique to the Norwegian cruise line, is the staff person on board who trains the kids to perform circus tricks.   The kids got to try out a lot of different things, learn some new skills, and then on one of the last days at sea they put on a performance for anyone on the ship who wanted to attend - it was really fun to watch and you could tell the kids loved it as much as the audience.  The one thing we as parents greatly appreciated too about the Norwegian line kids program was that the kid itinerary for the entire cruise was given to us the day we left - that made it much easier to plan around and to get in all the things the kids wanted to do as well as the adults.

For the rest of the highlights, where do I start.  We had our family portraits taken and I also set up a session to have my photo taken for future publications (yes we got all the rights to our pictures and that is why I can put them on this post), we had lots of great tasting and finely presented food (three course dinners, late night and early morning buffets, poolside barbeques, and even some multiple course breakfasts), we shared great adventures (as you read above), we took in stride the ups and the downs, and amidst the smiling friendly crew of the Norwegian Sun we did it all on the beautiful calm waters of the Eastern Caribbean.  It was truly a trip that we will remember and talk about for years to come.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Traveling While Keeping a Healthy Gut

These past two weeks our family has been on vacation, away from home and also away from all of our normal whole foods. For a long time we did not even venture to take a vacation like this because we needed to stick to a strict diet to heal our gut issues. Instead, when we looked at vacation options we opted to rent homes or travel in our camper so we had our own kitchen facilities where we could store our own food and cook it. But, now that we no longer deal with leaky gut or unbalanced gut flora issues, the ability to take a trip where we can just eat as we go has become an option for us.

In preparation for our trip I was asked by quite a few people how our digestive systems would handle over 2 weeks of processed foods. Well, it was a bit of an experiment on my part on how we could comfortably do it since in the past we have done this for just over a week and it was really difficult on our systems. Going from having a gut that is used to all the healthy enzymes and probotics which can be gotten from eating the way we do on a daily basis to being exposed to toxins in our water and food with no form of natural means to combat them adds a lot of immediate stress which can be rather unpleasant. So, now that we are home and just starting to return to our normal eating schedule, I can say definitively that my experiment in how to travel eating processed foods was a success.

Here is the protocol I used for our trip using theraputic strength digestive enzymes, probiotics, and additional fiber sources to keep our systems functioning properly. (I must note here again as I stated above, no one in our family suffers from any food intolerances nor do any of us have any leaky gut issues or imbalanced gut flora. The use of the enzymes and probiotics were therefore not for theraputic healing on our trip, but instead were used for maintenance of the healthy gut functionality we are all used to while at home when we are not eating highly processed foods nor are subject to large amounts of treated water or toxin filled personal care products.)

First, I purchased two types of probiotics from Houston Enzymes as well as a full spectrum enzyme for the adults/teens in our family and I purchased one type of chewable probiotics and one type of chewable enzyme for the younger child in our family.

Full Spectrum Enzyme

Higher Dose Probiotic

Children's Chewable Probiotic

Lower Dose Probiotic

Childen's Chewable Full Spectrum Enzyme

Here is the table of how we transitioned into, took the supplements while we were away, and then transitioned out of them as we moved back onto our whole foods diet.

Before Leaving on Vacation
Transition Days
(First 2 days)
Middle Days
Transition Days
(Back Home)
1 low dose probiotic and 1 enzyme per day for about a week before we left
1 low dose probiotic and 1 enzyme per meal. I also added in kefir smoothies and kumbucha I brought from home.
1 high dose probiotic once a day and 2 enzymes per meal
PLUS one fruit high in fiber (prunes for example) OR a prune supplement.
1 low dose probiotic and 1 enzyme per meal plus whole foods diet. Continue for a few days. Also starting up taking kumbucha in small doses for additional detoxing.
1 probiotic and 1 enzyme per day for about a week before we left
1 probiotic and 1 enzyme per meal.
1 probiotic and 2 enzymes per meal PLUS one serving of fruit high in fiber.
1 probiotic and 1 enzyme per meal plus whole foods diet. Continue for a few days. Starting up small doses of kumbucha for detox.

Of course I must add that staying active is also an important part of keeping your digestive system functioning properly, which is not always within the regimen which everyone considers their ideal “vacation”, but not moving your body around a lot is not very good in keeping your internal organs moving and working at their optimum levels. So, for our family we made sure there was plenty of time to go to the gym, do lots of activities outside, and walk around as much as we could.

Now, if you have the ability to control your diet on vacation, like we have in the past when we have rented a house or traveled with a camper, and thus had a kitchen to cook from, that is ideal in sticking to the foods your family is most used to eating and which will help keep everyone in your family healthy and their gut flora on track. But, our vacation on a cruise ship did not give us the ability to pick our food sources - plus the food options on this sort of vacation are really part of the experience. So, looking into enzymes and probiotics was a necessity as we traveled from one island to the next in pursuit of our next adventure over a 10 day period (and no we did not travel on Carnival but we did pick up some of the passengers from the Carnival boat that was stuck in St. Martin while we were docked there for the day).

My hope and prayer is that this little experiment of ours gives you some encouragement for future traveling. My husband remarked half way through our trip that he didn't get that mental fuzzy feeling that he usually gets when traveling and eating processed foods. Also, our son Timothy is looking forward to going to camp this summer and taking these supplements so that he does not have to endure his 2nd day stomach cramps he always gets as his body adjusts to the intake of the processed foods they serve there.

Yes, we may desire to live in a world filled with whole foods with large amounts of probiotic and enzymatic activity, but the reality of life is that most people do not eat the way we do nor do the places that life sometimes takes us give us access to the foods we are used to. I am thankful that God gave our family the opportunity to try this little experiment so that we could encourage more of you out there that there is hope to living beyond the confines of the kitchen for a while.

So here's to blessings on your future travel and dreams of where life may take you next.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mark 11 & Bearing Fruit

In reading through Mark 11, I was struck as I always am in this chapter by the story of the fig tree, a story I have found so completely confusing thus not one I have really prayed about or dwelt upon in my past. But, last week as I read through this chapter each day, I was forced to take this story into greater consideration which in the end made my push in wading through the gospels this year all the more rewarding. By the end of the week, I came to a meaningful realization of what Jesus was really doing as He looked for fruit on this tree during its non-bearing season and that is what I felt led to write about for my reflection on Mark 11.

First of all I have to ask you, have you ever found yourself in a season that you would consider “non-bearing”? Personally, I have had many instances in my past that I could classify as times when good fruit from my life had no chance for growth. To the farmer, those times are the cold seasons or the dry seasons – the times when the local plants do not have the nourishment or proper conditions to produce and yield. Yet, as Christians, we must look at these external conditions from a completely different perspective.

The Source of life, the source of nourishment for a Christian, is not from the conditions that surround oneself, but rather the Source from which one pulls – that is God. From Him all Christians have the ability to pull into themselves the resources needed when the conditions on the outside are considered good for the fruit of the Spirit to flourish AND when they are not. Our Source of nourishment is deeper and stronger than that which depletes us and ravishes us from that which our outer circumstances prove we must endure, and therefore if we choose to drink deeper and strive on that nourishment to not only produce fruit with ease during the “good” conditions, we also have the ability to produce fruit in the “bad” times when more resources are needed to fight the additional external conditions we may encounter.

Last week while our family was away on vacation, just like each week our family is at home, we had external conditions press upon each of us. Most of these conditions were very pleasant, being on vacation those conditions are usually much easier to come upon than when in the thick of things at home, but some circumstances we each encountered were very difficult. Thus, even on vacation, our family was confronted with the choice of digging deep to bear fruit or just drawing from the meager resources we were surrounded with to try and bear fruit on our own. In retrospect I saw many ways our family was able to produce fruit while the conditions were not ideal. Our teens had some very trying circumstances they were forced into in which they needed to endure and stand strong in their convictions, and it was wonderful to see them do so in opposition to the kids they had interactions with. On anther occasion, our entire family had the opportunity to bear fruit. Not many were watching us that evening, but to me the fruit bore that night was a delight to take in when some very ugly and rotten fruit could have been the product bore from the conditions we had to endure. In the end, there were a few who had been watching from the outside and we were rewarded for our endurance and willingness to bear the test the Lord gave us the ability to strive through and shine His light within.

The fig tree does not seem to make sense in this chapter until you realize how important the source is to the tree, and therefore how important the Source is to the Christian. In verses 23 and 24 of this chapter, Jesus says this:

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea.' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will come to pass, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

In asking God for what we need to bear fruit out of season, we should go forward into ALL seasons and conditions with the expectation that the fruit we have asked for will be produced according to our need to do so and thus be the witness we know our Lord and Savior wants us to be, in season and most importantly out of season.

All this talk of fruit has me yearning all the more to get gardening and continue doing whatever the Lord sets in front of me – even though we came home to piles of snow in our yard that are pushing 10 feet! Producing fruit in the growing seasons and out, drawing from the Source who alone is all that is needed to allow His people to produce and grow for His kingdom and His glory, especially when those around know the season was not right to bear fruit but our lives produced anyways – to Him be the glory alone!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mark 10 & Questions for Jesus

While reading through Mark 10 this past week, I was struck by the number of people in this chapter who, while heading in one direction, stopped to question Jesus. Were their actions ones He would approve? And, what advice did He have to offer to their situation?

Isn't that what being a disciple of Christ is really about? Coming to Jesus, when we are headed in the direction we think is best, and seeing what He thinks about where we are headed? For those then who are determined to live by what Jesus teaches them in their life and who are willing to change course when He reveals something new or even contradictory to what is currently happening in ones life, the walk of discipleship continues down the path the Lord sets each step of the way. But to those who find His teachings too hard, must then chose to walk away from Him and from being one of His own.

I thought I would walk through, step by step the four scenarios in Mark 10. Each of these stories offer differing perspectives on how people chose or don't chose to follow Jesus – from each of these lessons there is something to learn and something to consider in our own lives. So, let's begin:

Part 1: Mark10:1–16 The Pharisees Question the Law

In this first part of Mark 10, the Pharisees ask Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce. Jesus quickly answers their question by revealing an interestingly pointed answer, showing them the hardness of their hearts. He contradicts their strict law and points instead to a child, one they should seek to be more like in their faith if they desire it to be true while at the same time realize it is the hardness of their hearts that makes them legalistic in their religion.

Part 2: Mark 10:17–31 The Rich Young Ruler

Then Jesus is questioned by the rich young ruler about how he can achieve eternal life. Again, Jesus does not tell this young man what he can do more of to earn his place in heaven, but rather what less he can live without. Here is this young man who has everything money can buy to help him achieve status, ease, and simplicity in his life, and yet there is no room for trusting God when each care in life can be met through financial means. Jesus again, like in His answer to the Pharisees, does not ask this man to do more, but to give away this safety net and live by just trusting in God.

Part 3: Mark 10:32–45 The Price of Discipleship and the Unknown Reward

Then we come to James and John, who make a bold request of the Lord that they some day sit as His right and left side in the kingdom of God. Jesus realizes these men love Him very much, and that in the future they will suffer for His namesake, each to the point of death, but He is quick to point out to them they are barking up the wrong tree. It is not the prize at the end they should be seeking, but rather the daily walk that will step by step get them to eternal glory.

Part 4: Mark 10:46–52 A Request for Mercy

Finally there is the story of blind Bartimaeus, who yelled out to Jesus by the side of the road for the Lord to have mercy on Him. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, not even knowing if Jesus will respond to his request but calls out anyway in the hope he will be heard. Bartimaeus has no law by which his faith is formed, no money in which to trust in, no hope of glory in the future. No, Bartimaeus only wants Jesus to show some kind of mercy towards him. To his request, Jesus calls Bartimaeus to come. And come he does, even forsaking the cloak he had on him so that he could come even quicker. Bartimaeus does not look back, nor does he hold anything more dear than Jesus who stands in front of him. To his immediate response, Jesus tells Bartimaeus his faith has not only brought mercy upon him from God but has also healed him.

In reading through all of these stories, I was stuck that each person/group of people came to Jesus with a need. Yet, not all were willing to accept the answer Jesus gave to them in truth. How often I seek Jesus to answer my questions, but at the same time come to Him with a heart that may be willing to hear the answer, but at the same time unwilling to enact the truth contained within that answer. How hard my heart can be at times when the truth hits me in the face and I want to say with the Pharisees, “But the law HERE says...”

Other times, my greed and need to stay in control of my life often pull me in the direction of not following through with getting rid of things in my life that I know are dragging me further away from my Lord instead of into a closer relationship with Him. So, just like the young ruler, I at times turn away from what Jesus is asking me to give up because I find security in these earthly things, I know that I can shelter my peace through means I can control, and I know that I can distance myself from heartache and pain if I set my own path instead of following His. But then again, my heart cannot bear the distance too long and I always come running back asking for His forgiveness and mercy.

And also, I know my pride likes to say, “I am tough enough to handle all that you send my way Jesus because I want eternal rewards and I want it all in the kingdom that is yet to come”, but then in the midst of those difficult times and trying times the Lord sends me into, I often falter and prove to be less of a shinning example of my Lord and Savior to the watching world. Living out a life that takes up a cross and follows Jesus is hard, and the Lord has shown me through many tough times just how weak I really am. Only clinging to Him can I make it through those circumstances and yet in doing so I realize that it is not the eternal rewards my heart really desires, but it is an unbreakable bond with Jesus I want more and more as I grow closer in my relationship to Him.

Finally, I know that I am blemished and imperfect – definitely in need of lots of healing. I see the truth of how I can be like all of the above people who questioned Jesus with unwillingness or impure intentions. I cry out to the Lord to have mercy on me. But am I always willing to run to Him when He calls and throw aside all that may hinder my run towards Him? No, I have to admit I am not always that willing. But, as I grow closer to the Lord and through each situation He leads me through I peel away the layers of rules I live by, the luxuries I use to guard myself, and the pride that creeps in and wants to bring glory to itself instead of the Lord. In turn I find that I can act more like Bartimaeus and less like the rest of those who questioned Jesus in Mark 10.

May what I have had to say stir some questions inside of you as to what you are asking of Jesus and how you are responding to what He is calling you to do. I will be taking a break from my computer for a couple of weeks to spend some much needed time with my family. Blessings to you all who are consistent in checking in on my blog. I look forward to coming back on-line refreshed and ready for all the Lord has in store for me and for this journey we are sharing together to bring Him glory with everything we are called to do in our lives.