Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)
It has been my experience in forty years of preaching and teaching in one capacity or the other, that no one quotes, "Judge not that you be not judged," who is not participating in something they know is wrong.
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)
One of the benefits of becoming a birdwatcher is learning their songs. It’s been a few years now, and every year I learn another call or sometimes unlearn one I thought I knew. For the longest time I thought I was hearing a cardinal, when it was really a wren, but now I know them instantly.
I also know now that the same bird produces more than one call. A cardinal will peep, one high light note at a time, or he will purty, purty, purty, or what, what, what, what, or even cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer. It all depends upon whether he is courting a female, defending his territory from other males, warning other birds of interlopers, or just contentedly enjoying his meal. But whichever call he uses, now I know it.
Some bird songs are deceptive. A mourning dove sounds like some kind of soft-spoken owl. A blue jay’s whistle might sound a bit like a cuckoo to someone who is used to listening to cuckoo clocks. And did you know that the movies often use a hawk’s call when an eagle is pictured because it sounds much more regal for our national bird than the squawk an eagle usually produces? And so you have to be educated to these sounds to know them, to distinguish one from the other.
The same is true of the Bible. The things I see people falling for astonish me. How could they possibly believe such craziness? How? Because they have never educated themselves in the scriptures. If you know the general teaching of the Bible, the general layout of the plot (yes, there is one), more than that, if you know the God and the Christ presented in those Scriptures, you won’t fall for the false teachings out there. You may not know exactly what is wrong, but your mind will instantly say, “Wait a minute. Something doesn’t sound right.”
You can only do that by paying attention to everything Jesus says, not just the parts you like. Too many of us don’t want a Savior who demands that we follow him only, that we give up ourselves, our likes and dislikes, our loyalties and loves, and who makes statements like, “Sin no more,” and “You are of your father the devil.” We want the loving Jesus who forgives sins and holds the little children in his lap. To truly accept Jesus is to accept all of his words and ways, not just the parts we prefer. “The sheep follow the shepherd,” Jesus says, “because they know his voice” John 10:3. Even the stern, disciplinary voice.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We must learn all of his words in order to truly know him and not be deceived. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen, John 10:8. I’m afraid too many of us would listen, and become lost sheep in the process.
Do you know his voice? If you don’t know the whole of Jesus and God’s word, you don’t. If I can learn a couple dozen bird calls in such a short amount of time, surely you can learn the call of a Savior who wants you to know him in even less.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32
Although some might find it difficult to understand because of the past few decades, our country used to be fast friends with France. After all, they were our allies during the American Revolution. In 1885, they gave us a special gift, and on June 17 of that year, over 200,000 Americans lined the shore to welcome that gift, the Statue of Liberty, to her new home.
She consisted of 350 pieces transported in 214 crates. When reassembled, she stood 151 feet tall. Designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, her copper sheets were sculpted by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. The pedestal on which she stands was built with funds from benefits, charity auctions, and private donations. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge declared her a national monument, one that still represents freedom, not only to newly arriving immigrants, but to those of us who have lived here our entire lives.
Americans cherish their freedom, although we sometimes take it for granted. We seem to think we are the only ones so blessed. Yet Christians have always had more freedom than anyone in the world. Christ has set us free from sin and the power of death. Too many times we take that freedom for granted as well. We are too busy making excuses for our failures to appreciate the power he has placed in us to control ourselves and overcome.
But then, that is a freedom we have too, isn't it? The freedom to choose not to take advantage of his help and his promises. How many of us look at the choices set before us and stubbornly make the wrong ones? God tells us how dangerous the world is. He warns against deception and trickery. He tells us our salvation is our own responsibility so be careful who you follow. Yet even when we look at the choices side by side, we seem so drawn to the wrong ones. They are immediate. They are tangible. They are pleasant. The idea of something far superior in the future seems to be pie in the sky. “A bird in the hand…” the old saying goes, and we fall for it nearly every time.
It would be so much easier if God made the choice for us, but where is the glory in a creature who cannot choose?
The idea that God did not give us a choice, that He makes the choice of who will be saved from the moment of their birth is, of course, a fairly common theological doctrine. Yet it limits God in ability and creativity. It makes Him a respecter of persons. It makes Him unsympathetic and unapproachable, a tyrant who makes decisions seemingly at random, playing with the eternal souls of people as if they were plastic action figures. That is not the God of the Bible. There are too many heart-rending pleas for us to return. There are too many passages giving options to people in all sorts of situations, including whether or not they will serve Him for that to be true.
He gave me a choice; he gave you a choice. Make the right one.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed, Deut 30:19.
On the date above, the Associated Press ran a story about "half-naked natators" on the municipal beaches of New York City who were being fined ($1.00) for showing up topless. "The city fathers insist on complete bathing suits—tops and trunks, or one-piece suits combining both."
Yes, we are talking about men here. Before then, public morals insisted that men not go shirtless. "Are you kidding?" some of you are probably thinking, but, as a preacher friend likes to say, "Here's the deal." Just because society's sense of modesty has changed does not mean God's has. We point to articles like this and use them to justify some of the most immodest clothing ever worn in any society through the ages. And why? Because we do not want to be different, that's why. Folks, being different is what being a Christian is all about. It is all over the pages of the New Testament. If you can't stand to be pointed at and derided because you refuse to act like the rest of the world, then you are not up to the task of being a Christian.
Granted, some of us have been raised to see certain things as "normal." Do you realize how many things a missionary has to "unteach" in a pagan society where they are accepted as "normal?" We are just acting like pagans when we allow our society to define our morality. It is high time we re-examined our behavior, and in this morning's post, our clothing.
Do you realize that European women (I read in a newspaper article) view American women as "dressed like prostitutes?" I wish I still had that article so you would know I am not making this up. What we like to call "immodesty" is probably better defined as lasciviousness—that which arouses lust. Here is where fathers fail to teach and mothers fail to accept their views. Men know exactly what other men are thinking—especially men who are not even trying to be godly. And what do men like to look at?
Cleavage, short shorts, any kind of swimsuit (or anything that shows an entire length of leg or even just most of one), spaghetti straps, work-out clothes, tight jeans and skirts, strapless and backless clothes, bare midriffs (and a belly chain is a special turn-on), and any item that blatantly draws attention to certain parts of the body. Yes, immodesty is often a heart issue. A woman who dresses with "the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Pet 3:4) will seldom dress immodestly. However, immodesty can also be a matter of ignorance. Just as those pagans who thought polygamy was "normal" needed to be shown otherwise, some women think certain types of dress are normal because that is what everyone else wears. Sometimes practicality simply demands some sort of list!
That list above can be found in any article or book on the subject, even ones not written by Christians. Ungodly people know what is and is not immodest. For some reason, the list doesn't change no matter what the date of copyright. In fact, it is the same list I saw as a teenager, oh, so many, many years ago. So what was that about "things have changed?" What incites lust does not change.
"So what can I wear?" you ask pitifully. A lot. I haven't had a bit of trouble finding things to wear. Neither has my daughter-in-law or my seven nieces. There are even companies that make "modest swimwear." Enough Christians of one stripe or another have asked for it and it is now available, if you will bother to look it up. I did not have such a luxury and I truly looked weird in my swimming get-up, which was made up of various items of regular, modest clothing that covered me from neck to knee and was not transparent, even when it got wet.
Another problem: parents, please think about the extracurricular activities you involve your children in, both boys and girls, and the kind of clothing that activity usually demands. Why would you allow your child to come to love, and even build his or her identity in something that sooner or later you will have to forbid? Could you be any crueler? I have reached the point that, though I enjoy gymnastics, I will no longer watch it now that half of every young female gymnast's behind is on display. I probably should have turned it off sooner.
Every year that passes I see us accepting things that we should not, things we should avoid and teach our children to avoid, not excuse as "normal because everyone does it." I remember conversations with my mother about that very thing. "What everyone does is probably the best reason for you not to do it," she said, and she was absolutely right.
Go look in your closets, sisters. Look in your daughter's closet. She will not understand when you suddenly forbid her to wear some things. You will never be able to make her understand, probably, until she marries, and even then some women refuse to get it. Why, their good man could not possibly have a problem with these things. Yes, he can, and you are making it harder on him when you won't accept the facts of biology.
We all have a responsibility to the people around us. If we cause lust, we are "causing our brother to stumble (SIN)," and yes, it is too, our problem, not just his, because God will hold us accountable.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves… (1Pet 3:3-5)
"Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." It has changed now and again from that day over two centuries ago, but the American flag still means to us what it did then—a symbol of a new nation, no longer a colony belonging to a mad king.
The thirteen red and white stripes represent the original thirteen colonies. The fifty stars represent the fifty states in the union. Even the colors are symbolic. Red symbolizes hardiness and valor. White symbolizes purity and innocence. Blue symbolizes vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
The symbolism of flags and banners is nearly as old as man himself. In Num 2:2 we see that every tribe of Israel had a banner, a flag, which flew over their encampment. Like the American flag, the images on the flags were symbolic. Unfortunately we do not have a Biblical record of those symbols. The best we can do are various rabbinic lists, and some of them do make sense. The image on Judah’s banner, for instance, was supposedly a lion, taken from Jacob’s description of Judah in Gen 49:9 as a “lion’s whelp.” Benjamin’s flag pictured a wolf, we are told, based on his description as a “scavenging wolf” in 49:27. The odd thing to me is that some of these symbols are anything but complimentary. Dan’s symbol, for example, is a snake: Dan shall be a serpent in the way, An adder in the path, That bites the horse's heels, So that his rider falls backward. 49:17.
And so I found myself wondering what if God ordered a flag act, requiring us to fly a banner outside every meetinghouse? What would be on them? What would represent our “tribe” of God’s people?
I wonder if we could somehow depict the city of Gibeah (Judg 19) on every flag outside an unwelcoming group of brethren, people who ignored the ones who weren’t dressed well or who showed up in leather and covered in tattoos? Maybe we could put a whitewashed sepulcher on the flags of those who sit in the pews on Sunday but live like the Devil the rest of the week. Perhaps phylacteries would be the picture on the flag of those congregations who could quote verse after verse, but who never served their neighbors or each other. Maybe we could put a big puff adder on the flag of those who were “conceited and puffed up” with “an unhealthy craving for controversy,” 1 Tim 6:4. And don’t forget one with a rendition of Judas kissing Jesus for those congregations who betray God by ignoring His authority in all they do.
It would certainly be handy wouldn’t it, far better than those “directories.” Then we could look for flags showing foot washing—truly a church of servants. We could look for flags depicting an open Bible for those known for their love of the Truth and spreading it. We could even look for embroidered hearts denoting love and sincerity.
I am sure you are sitting there right now trying to decide what should be on your congregation’s flag. Here is something even more important for you to consider for the rest of the day: what would God put on your own personal flag, the one flying right outside your home?
You have given a banner to them that fear you, That it may be displayed because of the truth. Psalms 60:4.
Today's post is by guest writer Lucas Ward.
When he was first preaching to Cornelius, Peter made an interesting description of Jesus. Acts 10:38 "Jesus of Nazereth . . . who went about doing good." There are many other ways I would think of to describe Jesus to someone before I thought of that one. Son of God. Man of Sorrows. King. Loving Savior. Yet, Peter's description is perfectly correct. When you think of His life, Jesus went about doing good. So, if I am a disciple of Christ -- and disciple means a trained one or one who has been taught to do what his master did -- then my life should be defined by going about doing good too, right? So, the first question should be exactly how did Jesus do good?
He had compassion on the unfortunate.
Matt. 14:14 "And he came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick." Of course Jesus worked miracles to confirm that His message was from God. He was establishing Himself as the Messiah. But if displays of power were the only end to His miracles, He could have done anything. He chose to heal, because He had compassion. People needed help and He had the ability to help, and so He did.
He also showed compassion when He fed the hungry. Mark 8:2-3 "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them are come from far." This is the time He fed the five thousand and again, a chief motivation to use this sign was His compassion for those unable to help themselves.
Finally, He comforted the bereaved. Luke 7:12-15 "Now when he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, there was carried out one that was dead, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came nigh and touched the bier: and the bearers stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother." This lady was already a widow and now her only child had died. Beyond the grief normal to any mother, she now was without any means of support. She was grieving both her son and her own imminent destitution. Jesus had compassion on her.
Another way Jesus went about doing good is that He taught the good news.
Matt. 4:17 "From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The book of Matthew is mostly a collection of His sermons. John, a treatise on His miracles, is still mostly comprised of sermons and personal discourses to His apostles. During the time of His earthly ministry Jesus never stopped proclaiming the good news. He proclaimed that the kingdom was coming. He told parable after parable describing the kingdom. He taught against the formulaic ritualism of the Pharisees and taught the disciples about being servants. He never quit sharing God's good news.
Finally, Jesus sacrificed for others. Rom. 5:8 "But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." He gave up His own so that others might have what they needed.
As His disciples, we can and should be doing these things ourselves.
We can have compassion on those less fortunate.
While we cannot miraculously heal the sick, we can tend to them. One of the qualifications of a "widow indeed" in 1 Tim. 5:10 is that she "relieve the afflicted." And, of course, all Christian can pray. James 5:14-15 "Is any among you sick? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him." While this mentions the elders specifically, we know from a few verses later that the prayers of the righteous all work to good.
We can also work to relieve the unfortunate and feed the hungry.
Gal 2:9-10 "and when they perceived the grace that was given unto me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision; only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do." What did Peter et al urge Paul to do? What did Paul say he was already zealous to do? Help the poor. Act 11:28-30 "And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius. And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul." These disciples heard of a need and immediately determined to help. Seems like that was a major focus of first century Christianity. Can we do that today? Yes, I know, "If any will not work, neither let him eat.' 2 Thess. 3:10, but not all who are having trouble are unwilling to work, and could it possibly be that we are just looking for excuses not to help? Many just need a hand and, while we can't miraculously feed 5,000 at once, we can help. Remember, the first person raised from the dead in the book of Acts wasn't the Apostle James or the great speaker Stephen, but Dorcas who spent her life taking care of the unfortunate (Acts 9:38-41).
Finally, we can comfort the bereaved.
Rom. 12:15 "Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep." James 1:27 "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." We can't raise anyone from the dead, but we can be with them, weep with them, sit with them. We can see to their needs as they go through their grieving process and beyond if the death has left them without support. We can't work miracles, but in every way that Jesus showed compassion, we can too.
And we can all teach the Gospel. Not all are gifted with the abilities to be teachers, whether in a public way or in one-on-one settings. Nor should all try (James 3:1). But every Christian can live his/her life in such a way that his light shines for all the world to see (Matt. 5:14-16). We can all be ready to explain the reason for the hope we in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15). This doesn't need to be erudite exposition, just a simple reason why we have hope. If a Christian who doesn't teach then interests his friend or neighbor he can call on one of the teachers to help follow up. But all can proclaim the Gospel in our lives.
We can also sacrifice for others. 1 Cor. 8:13 "Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble." The eating of meat isn't a problem in modern churches, but anything I'm doing that could harm a brother -- even if I have a right to do it -- should be sacrificed for our love for each other. 1 Cor. 6:7 "Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you, that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded?" It is better to accept wrong than cause trouble in the church. We can, and should, sacrifice our desires for our brethren.
Our Lord went about doing good. Can we do any less?
Keith had major surgery a couple of springs ago and because of his profound deafness I was with him in the hospital as caregiver 24/7. We don’t do real sign language, but it is easier for me to communicate with him after 45 years of gradually adapting to his increasing disability. People who are not used to it simply do not know how, and reading lips is not the easy fix to the problem that most think.
Unfortunately, this hospital stay coincided with the garden harvest. The beans, squash, and cucumbers had already begun coming in. While we were away that week, those vegetables continued to grow. When we got home, the beans were a lost cause--thick, tough, stringy and totally inedible. The squash looked like a brass band had marched through, discarding their bright yellow tubas beneath the large green leaves, and the cucumbers as if a blimp had flown over in labor and dropped a litter. If we expected the plants to continue to produce, I had to pull those huge gourds. That first morning home I picked and dumped 8 buckets full.
Gardens are taskmasters. They don’t stop when it doesn’t suit your schedule. They don’t wait till you have a free moment. You must reap the harvest when it is ready or you lose it. Every morning in late May and early June I go out to see what the day holds for me. Will I be putting up beans or corn or tomatoes? Will we have okra for supper or do I need to pickle it? Are the jalapenos ready for this year’s salsa? Are the bell peppers big enough to stuff or do I need to chop some for the freezer? Do I need to make pesto before the basil completely seeds out?
And then you look for other problems. Has blight struck the tomatoes? Do the vining plants have a fungus? Have the monarch butterflies laid their progeny on the parsley plants? Have the cutworms attacked the peppers? Has the ground developed a bacteria that is killing off half the garden almost overnight? Do things just need watering?
Childrearing can be the same way. Children don’t stop growing until it suits your schedule. They don’t wait till you have a free moment. You must reap the harvest when it is ready or you lose it.
God expects you to carefully watch those small plants. He expects you to check for problems before they kill the plants, and nip them in the bud. It is perfectly normal for a toddler to be self-centered, but somewhere along the way you must teach him consideration for others. Are you watching for ways to overcome his innate selfishness and teach him to share? Do you have a plan to teach him generosity? It won’t happen by itself--you have to do it.
Are you examining your children every day for those little diseases—stubbornness, a hot temper, whining, disrespect, or the other side of the “leaf”—inordinate shyness, self-deprecation, pessimism. God expects you to look for problems from the beginning and try to fix them so your child will grow into a happy, well-adjusted adult, able to serve Him without the baggage of character flaws that should have been caught when he was very small. Parents who ignore these things, thinking they will somehow go away when he grows up, are failing in their duties as gardeners of God’s young souls. Those things will not disappear on their own any more than nematodes and mole crickets will.
He also expects you to make clear-eyed judgments. He may be your precious little cutie-pie, but you need to take off your tinted glasses and take a good look at him. If you ignore his problems because you are too smitten to see them, you do not love your child as much as you claim. Whoever spares the rod, hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him, Prov 13:24. When I ignore the blight in my garden, it’s because saving the garden isn’t important to me.
Have you and your spouse ever just sat and watched your children play? Have you ever given any thought at all to the things you might need to correct in them? If your schedule is too busy for that, then you are too busy. Period. Your children will keep right on growing, and without your attentive care they may rot on the vine.
You are a steward of God’s garden. The most important thing you can do today is take care of it.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table… Psalms 128:3.
My herb garden looks the best it has in years. The perennials—tarragon, Italian oregano, parsley, and chives—have come up beautifully and were already well beyond the new plants I put in—the Greek oregano, sage, creeping thyme, lemon thyme, and a couple of new rosemary plants to replace my old one that looks like a gnarled old man. I had a host of shades of green, and a variety of leaf styles in the rich, black loam Keith had created for me, not to mention a heady aroma when a breeze passed through. But I had one empty spot.
I already had two Genovese basils in separate pots because they catch disease and fungus easily from other plants. I had my spearmint plant in its own pot as well, because it will simply take over if you don't keep it corralled. I seldom use any other herbs than those I already have, so I decided to plant some lavender. Maybe I could make some sachets, I thought, thinking ahead to gift-giving time. So I bought one and planted it.
Two weeks later I came outside to a wilted lavender plant. Everything else looked fine, putting on new thick growth and even threatening to bloom. Keith kept the bed well-watered and fertilized, but neither overwatered nor over-fertilized. What was the problem? We did some research and found out. Lavender does not like to be watered and fertilized and it despises rich soil. It does best when it is left alone in poor dirt. Imagine that! We removed it from the herb bed and put it in a pot of dry dirt from the field, but it was too late. It died within the week. And that's when I thought of these verses:
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (Acts 4:1-4)
When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it…Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband…And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, (Acts 5:5, 10, 14)
It seems like the early church was a lot like English lavender. Under the worst conditions of persecution and poverty, and after a strong discipline from God, they flourished. A lot of people have expressed their ideas about why this happened, but it seems simple to me. Who would join a group they knew could get them beaten, imprisoned, or even killed, and would certainly cause them suffering of some kind in this world except those who were truly converted and devoted to the cause? Those are the ones who stick and who spread the Word.
I have heard it said by some that should we once again be persecuted as our ancient brethren were, that the rolls of the church would not decrease at all—we would simply know who really was a Christian and who was a hypocrite. When the things we complain about have more to do with personal comfort, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether we are English lavender Christians or the other type, the fragile, high maintenance plants who need careful tending in order to bear the Lord anything remotely useful at all.
And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:40-42)
Garden time always brings the best eating of the year: fresh green beans, corn on the cob (roasted in the oven, never boiled!), eggplant Parmagiana, squash casserole, fried okra, a big platter of sliced tomatoes, pesto, stuffed bell peppers, chiles rellenos with home-grown poblanos, and on and on and on. Our first spring garden meal this year came in April. Maybe it was the change from heavier winter meals like chili and stews that made it so good, or maybe it was just good fresh vegetables. Whatever it was, that panzanella really hit the spot. And I made a salad into a whole meal with a couple cans of white albacore tuna.
In the bottom of a big bowl, pour in a couple tablespoons each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add a small handful of chopped fresh basil and parsley, 1 tsp of salt and a half teaspoon of black pepper. Whisk it all together. Now add about half a red onion sliced thinly and stir till the onion is coated. While you finish the rest of the chopping, the onion will mellow out a bit in the acid.
This next part can be changed up according to what you have available. French bread is good. Focaccia is good, and I usually have some leftover somewhere because it is so easy to make. Cube 4 cups of some sort of hearty bread and put it into a 300 degree oven for at least ten minutes. (If you want to be a little extravagant, drizzle it with olive oil and toss it with your hands before putting it in the oven.) It does not need to brown, just dry out a little, and then it needs to cool while you do the rest of the chopping.
Now peel, halve lengthwise, seed, and slice enough cucumbers to make about 4 cups. Throw that on top of the onion-dressing mixture, but don't mix it up yet. Dice a large red pepper and throw that in. Chop 3 or 4 tomatoes and add them. Now drain the tuna and add it in chunks to the bowl, along with a two or three ounces of cubed feta cheese and a quarter cup of chopped Kalamata olives. Toss the whole thing and let it sit a few minutes. Between the tomatoes and the cucumbers, it should begin to exude a lot more liquid than you first put in there. (Note: the tuna is not an ordinary part of panzanella and you can leave it out if you wish. I added it to make it more of a complete meal.)
Finally, add the cooled bread cubes and toss. Yes, it will look like it's mostly bread, but it really isn't. Once that bread starts to soak up the juices it will begin to shrink a bit. Sit down and eat immediately. The bread will be half soaked and half crunchy, which is perfect. The more you eat, the more you will want to eat. That first meal of this year's bounty was the best thing I had eaten in months. Especially those bread cubes.
And now you are waiting for the spiritual lesson I somehow manage to find in the most mundane things, right? Usually I can come up with something in a day or two, if not right away. Well, I have been looking for it for over a month now and it still hasn't come to me. I have made lessons out of everything from chicken and dumplings to cherry pies, from shedding dogs to dead possums, but for some reason this panzanella has evaded me. But today I suddenly thought—maybe that's the lesson!
I am big on finding a purpose in your life that will help promote God's plan to save man. If you have studied my Born of a Woman class book you know that. My purpose in God's plan may be as simple as the Samaritan woman's, who ran and told her neighbors, Come see a man who told me all the things I ever did. Can this be the Christ? (John 4:29). Or it may be as complex as Joseph's, who over 20 years' time and the freewill actions of a couple dozen different people managed to be in a position to save God's chosen nation, and more specifically, the line of the Messiah. …For God sent me before you to preserve life (Gen 45:5). God does intervene in our lives through the freewill actions of others and in His great power and wisdom makes things happen according to His will.
Some of our purposes are fixed by the choices we make. When I marry, I have the obligation to be a helper to my husband, helping him get to Heaven being the most important. When I choose to have children, I have placed upon myself the divine purpose of raising those children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
But sometimes things just happen. Sometimes it may even be a result of someone else's poor decision. Like the man who decides he is not too drunk to drive and crashes into a minivan filled with a family of five, or runs down an innocent pedestrian. My part in God's plan has suddenly changed if I survive that. Now I have the opportunity to show His grace by the way I handle this adversity, by the way I refuse to give in to despondency, by the way I forgive, and a host of other things.
And this may be the hardest thing to accept: sometimes there is absolutely no rhyme nor reason for any of it. I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. (Eccl 9:11).
I hear people giving comfort I am not sure they should give. "God has a plan," we tell our distraught friends. Yes, He does, but do not be so arrogant as to presume that you know exactly what it is or that this tragedy is even part of it. As much as I believe that God will use what I do to further His plan, I would never decide for Him what that use should be. I would never assume that my feeble mind can even begin to comprehend His glorious thoughts. And I would never, ever tell someone who has experienced a calamity that this is God's Eternal Purpose at work. The only thing I could ever be sure of is that this is my chance to comfort a soul, and I would do that the best I could.
It may be admirable to constantly try to find the spiritual benefit in every little thing that comes along. In fact, I hope it is. It is certainly better than thinking evil, or even idle thoughts all the time. But sometimes panzanella is just panzanella. Nothing more and nothing less. Just a tasty salad that reminded me to thank God, not only for his great and marvelous plan to save us, but for the simple things that make this sin-cursed world a little easier to bear, too.
Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Prov 16:3-5)
I went out to water my flowers early one morning, grabbed up the two gallon watering can and headed for the spigot. The temperature had already risen to the upper 70s, and the humidity had beaten that number by at least twenty. It dripped off the live oaks, bonking on the metal carport roof as loud as pebbles would have, but I knew that soon the plants would fold their leaves against the heat in a bid to keep as much moisture in them as possible. A morning drink was a necessity for them to survive the coming afternoon.
I picked up the filled can and began the long trudge to the flower bed. What was that? Water was running down the leg that bumped the can as I walked, so I lifted the can and examined it. A steady stream of water poured out a tiny hole not quite halfway up its side.
After a moment’s thought, I picked up the pace and made it to the bed in time to pour most of the water on the flowers. Ordinarily after watering, I keep a full can next to the bed to fill the small bird bath next to it as needed, but that can would no longer hold even half its normal capacity. So after the watering, I returned to the well tank and filled it only halfway and sat it by the bath. I would have to fill it twice as often now, but at least I could get a most of a gallon out of it. Better than nothing.
We are a lot like that watering can. We should be filled to the capacity that God intended, but too often we don’t hold even half of it. Paul tells us we each receive a different gift according to the grace of God, Rom 12:6; Peter tells us to use that gift as a good steward of God’s grace, 1 Pet 4:10. Holes in the can mean we are not using those gifts as God designed, squandering His grace in the process.
Sometimes we deny the grace. “I can’t do that,” we say, when God has clearly put an opportunity in front of us. Have you ever given someone a gift and had them tell you that you didn’t? Of course not. Everyone knows that the giver knows what he gave, yet here we are being so ridiculous as to tell God He most certainly did not give us any gifts. God does not put opportunities in front of us that He has not given us the ability to handle. More than anyone else—even more that we ourselves—He knows what we can and cannot do. Denying the His grace is simply disobedience.
Sometimes we cheat the grace. “I’m too busy,” we tell people when something comes up. Never mind that the opportunity is squarely within my wheelhouse—if I don’t want to do it, being busy is the excuse of the day. In fact, sometimes we make ourselves busy with things we prefer in order to avoid more difficult spiritual obligations. It’s easier to work late one night than go visit a weak brother. It’s more fun to work out with a peer (“keeping my temple healthy”) than learn how to study with an older Christian who wants to share his hard-earned knowledge. Shopping must be done, but it is certainly less trouble—and a lot quicker--to go shopping alone than to take an older person who is no longer able to get out on her own. And thus our busy-ness has kept us from filling ourselves to capacity.
Sometimes we do our best to spoil the grace by poking the hole in ourselves. God has a purpose for each one of us. I can sabotage those plans by my own selfish choices in life. Worldliness and materialism can diminish my capacity for the spiritual. Bad habits can ruin a reputation and make me less effective. Bad decisions can make me unfit for God’s original plan for me. Even if I turn myself around and repent, I may never again have the same impact I would have if I had made better choices earlier in life. I may very well have drilled a hole in the can so that it will only hold half or less what God intended it to hold.
Take a good look at your watering can this morning. God knows better than you how much it can hold. Don’t deny the grace; don’t squander the opportunities. Don’t drill a hole where one doesn’t belong. Capacity is His business, not yours, and what He wants is an overflowing can.
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work, 2 Timothy 2:20-21.
Dene Ward has taught the Bible for more than forty years, spoken at women’s retreats and lectureships, and has written both devotional books and class materials. She lives in Lake Butler, Florida, with her husband Keith.