Which Is It?

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Have you ever noticed how ambivalent we can be even if we are passionate and have strong opinions or beliefs about so many things? There seems to be an inner restlessness within us that has been growing in recent months and years. Maybe it’s because we thought we had life figured out on some level and were moving along a path we felt pretty certain about and then discovered life was far more unpredictable than we expected it to be.

We knew people who lost a job or had an unexpected diagnosis. We knew there were wars and famines in various places around the world as well as all manner of natural disasters that tore lives, homes, and the earth apart with a destructive force that could not be tamed. We knew there had been economic upheavals and catastrophes in the world in the past and heard grandparents or great grandparents talk about such times. Mentally we knew any of these were possible, but we largely went about our routines feeling safe and staying busy.

We said we liked to get away from our crazy schedules and all the demands on our time and then if we did, we filled it up with the noise of the computers, smartphones, and other devices we brought along with us. Sounds upside down, doesn’t it?

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Is it possible we were so busy doing “our” thing that we didn’t stop long enough to see where we are in the story of our lives or recognize it is connected to an even larger story? Perhaps all this time while we were busy doing the next thing and filling up our calendars we forgot to pause and consider more than next month’s calendar.

We had the locked down malaise of the pandemic, but how did we use those days, weeks, and months alone? Often the hours were spent in anxiety and fear as the news kept us living with continuous uncertainty and our usual support systems weren’t available.

“An inner restlessness grows within us when we refuse to get alone and examine our own hearts, including our motives.”

Chuck Swindoll

Swindoll’s words get at the challenge we don’t talk about out loud. There is something about being alone and examining our hearts that can terrify us and perhaps that is why solitary confinement in a prison setting is so difficult.

“We can change. People say we can’t, but we do when the stakes or the pain is high enough. And when we do, life can change. It offers more of itself when we agree to give up our busyness.”

Anne Lamott

One value of giving up busyness and getting alone to examine our hearts is the discovery of where we are in the larger story and what is influencing us moment by moment and especially what is influencing our spiritual lives. Are we living based on truth or has the world crept in when we weren’t paying attention? Have we forgotten that the Bible has told us time and again that life on the earth would become more and more like we see it now?

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Storm clouds are getting darker on the horizon, but if we focus on them without the truth of where this story is taking us, we can get lost and lose hope instead of anticipating what we have been told.

“As our lives begin to pick up debris that accompanies a lot of activities and involvements, we can train ourselves to go right on, to stay active, to be busy in the Lord’s work. Unless we discipline ourselves to pull back, to get alone for the hard work of self-examination in times of solitude, serenity will remain only a distant dream. How busy we can become…and, as a result, how empty! We mouth words, but they mean nothing. We find ourselves trafficking in unlived truths. We fake spirituality.”

Chuck Swindoll

Yes, there have been difficult times before, but if we are awake difficulties of all kinds are coming faster and lasting longer than at any time in history. When the disciples of Christ were walking with Him, we saw that over and over again He called them aside to rest and take in the truth and hope of what God could give. I think He would have us not forget to take such time now in ways that we may not have done when we were isolated during the height of the pandemic when it first began. If we would do that, I think we would find an oasis amid the restlessness that would restore our soul.

It’s time to be sober-minded while overflowing with hope and grounded in assurance Christ wants to give us if we will only pull aside and listen.

“How easy to fall prey to meaningless talk, cliche’ ridden responses, and mindless activities! It was never meant to be that way, but, more often than not, that’s the way it is. To break the habit solitude is required. The hard work of self-examination on a recurring basis is absolutely essential.”

Chuck Swindoll

It’s time to be awake, aware, and alert. This is not the time for ambivalence. Solitude can push back the lies the enemy of our souls would have us believe and help strike a dagger into the devices he uses too effectively to create fear. You see the signs of the times and so does the enemy. He’s desperate, but if we are in Christ we need not be.

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The Last Bookshop in London

When Grace boarded the train for London from Drayton with her childhood friend, Viv, her heart was weighed down with the ache of loss. When her mother died that had been hard enough, but nothing prepared her for the discovery that the home she and her mother were living in belonged to her uncle. But he had announced that fact and his decision to move into the house with his wife and their five children and told Grace there was no room for her there. She and her mother had weathered the loss of her father whom Grace had lost before she was old enough to know him and now, she had nothing.

Her mother’s best friend, Mrs. Weatherford, had offered her a room in her home in London at no cost for a few months until she found employment right after her mother’s death, but Grace had turned her down. When her uncle’s announcement and decision left her homeless, she knew this was the only option open to her. After all, she and Viv had dreamed of moving to London and all the excitement they hoped to find from earliest childhood so maybe this would finally be their chance, and Viv was sure of it when she insisted on joining Grace in the move.

But this was 1939 and when they arrived at the train station near Mrs. Weatherford’s home, they found a very different London than they had imagined. The city was preparing for the possibility of war. Sandbags and signs advertised all manner of things they would need if Germany managed to defeat France. Grace felt a twinge of uncertainty as they lugged their suitcases down the street to what would be their new home, but Viv was buoyant as ever and sure they would find great jobs at some of the best department stores London had to offer.

But life doesn’t always turn out the way you hope.

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin will pull you into the story of Grace, Viv, Mrs. Weatherford, and others whose names you will discover along the way. Viv will get her dream job at Harrods in London because of writing her own letter of recommendation, but when Grace refuses to allow Viv to write one for her she is left with few options. Mrs. Weatherford suggests she go to the Primrose Hill Books as she is aware the owner, Mr. Evans, wants to offer her a position in his shop. Grace has never been much of a reader and feels unsure of whether she can do what Mr. Evans might ask when she enters the small shop. What she doesn’t expect is an older man who gruffly tells her that he doesn’t need her help despite a shop dusty and in disarray.

Mrs. Weatherford is quite confident that Mr. Evans does want to hire her for six months and goes off to meet with him. It is just one glimpse into the character and heart of this woman, her mother’s best friend.

Sure enough Grace returns to the bookshop to find a grumpy Mr. Evans telling her she can be on trial for six months and then he will write her a letter of recommendation to move on to something else. With that unwelcome beginning, Grace begins to determine how to manage working for a man who tells her nothing about what he wants or needs to be done and clearly does not seem happy to have her in his employ.

As this WW II historical novel unfolds, the relationships will be tested and deepened as war inches closer, and bombs begin falling all around them on the streets of London. This fascinating story will take you from Grace and Viv’s arrival on the streets of London in 1939 through the end of the war in 1945. As each person’s story unfolds, you will see how they become a community of support to one another through loss, rationing, bombing and more. You will also discover what gives them courage to keep on hoping and a glimpse of what can give us hope as well.

“Books are what have brought us together. A love of stories within, the adventures they take us on, their glorious distraction in a time of strife. And a reminder that we will always have hope.”

Madeline Martin

Spring Cleaning

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As temperatures have finally started to feel like spring versus late winter covers are being pulled off deck furniture and lawn cleanup is happening in our neighborhood. And this season reminds me of what was a tradition in my home growing up – spring cleaning. I confess that I continued that tradition for a long time and our two children could attest to that.

I rarely hear this tradition spoken of these days and yet it seemed to have merit when I was learning to do it. No matter how tidy and fastidious we may be, none of us do some of the cleaning that needs to be done on a weekly basis of our usual cleaning. Few of us are adding washing off woodwork these days and that would be only one item on a list my mother did and taught me.

Perhaps that has changed because our HVAC systems result in less dirt and dust accumulating in our home or we would like to believe that is the case, but an accidental brush of a curtain, drape, or blind points to the evidence that is not the case. My mother’s list (and much of mine) up through the early 1980’s included washing walls, using something called wallpaper cleaner, washing woodwork and curtains, cleaning out every closet and cupboard thoroughly, and cleaning the oven and range because who knew about self-cleaning ovens back then! It also meant waxing hardwood floors after a thorough cleaning, and all this took weeks of time and left my mother and me tired but satisfied as the house smelled like spring and everything was spotless.

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When our children were very young and I wasn’t working outside the home, I followed in my mother’s footsteps with spring cleaning (fall sometimes, too). Then when I started teaching and our children were old enough to be helping, I developed a plan that in early June when school was finished I would “hire” them to help do spring cleaning with me so we could do all those fun things like going to the pool that they wanted to do. I made up a list of what needed to be done and what each job would pay, and they could choose from the list. I got help and they got spending money since neither were starting part-time jobs then. That likely sounds harsh to many of you, but the result was that both of our children entered adulthood with skill sets to be able to do almost any cleaning job needed to maintain a home and their spouses appreciated every one of those things as well.

One of the things this annual project always revealed to me was that places in my home were dirtier than I realized AND that decluttering always happened as I finally took time to get rid of things I should have discarded much sooner.

But is there something about our internal lives and heart we can learn from this task as well?

In the busyness of our lives have we missed things that need cleaning within us? We have added more and more devices and appliances meant to simplify our lives that can take more time to keep working as they should so that we might wonder how much time we have saved. For many of us, the hard work of housekeeping or farming meant a leisurely swing on a front porch at the end of the day as we listened to birdsong and watched the setting sun. Those simple pleasures at the end of a hard day of work of any kind are not so common now.

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In our desire to come up with time-saving ways of doing things, have we made life more complicated? If so (and I think this could be true), has this also made our internal world noisier and more cluttered? Do we need to discipline ourselves to a life of more simplicity internally as well as in our daily schedules? What makes it so hard to do even if we decided to attempt it?

“Everything around us works against reordering and simplifying our lives. Everything! Ours is a cluttered, complicated world. God did not create it that way. Depraved, restless humanity made it that way!

Chuck Swindoll

Our culture holds success as a major value (no matter what field or endeavor) and that means lots of time and effort to acquire that goal. It costs us not only time but also energy, resources, and sometimes our good health to chase after that ideal every advertiser and entity encourages. No, not everyone buys into that because the requirements to get there cost some more than they want to do. These folks hope for all those goals and yet cannot or will not do what is needed to achieve them.

“To reorder one’s own world, the need to simplify is imperative. Otherwise, we will be unable to be at rest within, unable to enter the deep, silent recesses of our hearts, where God’s best messages are communicated. And if we live very long in that condition, our hearts grow cold toward Christ, and we become objects of seduction in a wayward world. What perils await us in that condition!”

Chuck Swindoll

Maybe when we are getting ready to power wash the patio or deck, weed the beds to plant flowers, and start all those other spring projects, we need to put our internal lives in better order so that we can hear those “best messages” and reflect Him in an ever-darkening world.

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What Kind of Salt Are You?

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When I was growing up on a farm in Ohio, I only knew about three kinds of salt: table salt, pickling salt, and road salt. Table salt was and is the most common type of salt that comes from salt deposits underground. Once mined it is highly refined and ground with all the impurities and trace minerals removed in the process. Then it gets treated with an anti-caking agent to keep it from clumping and many times iodine is added to the salt to prevent iodine deficiency.

Late summer when the pickles had been picked, my mother would go through the process of brining the pickles in large crocks that sat in our basement. Pickling salt doesn’t contain any added anti-caking agents, nor many trace minerals.

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During the snowy winters common for us, large “salt trucks” would add road salt to the roadways to help the snow melt. This salt reduced the slippery conditions so the cars could travel more easily. This type of salt is often called “rock salt” because its grains are much coarser than table salt. (We had a salt mine not many miles from where I grew up. You know its name: Morton.)

Beyond these three types of salt there is Kosher salt, sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Celtic Sea salt, Fleur De Sel (“flower of salt”), Kala Namak (“black salt”), flake salt, black Hawaiian salt, red Hawaiian salt, and smoked salt. Each type of salt has properties that attract various uses in different regions of the world.

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In recent years the Himalayan pink salt has grown in popularity. (I use this often now.) Its appeal stems from being the purest form of salt in the world. It’s harvested by hand from the Khewra Salt Mine in the Himalayan Mountains of Pakistan. This salt is rich in minerals and contains 84 natural minerals and elements found in the human body. Due to its mineral content, it can have a bolder flavor than many other salts.

Beyond all that salt is spoken of often through the Old and New Testament of the Bible. It had multiple uses. It was used to season food, mixed with the fodder for cattle, used to season offerings offered to the Lord, and newborn children were rubbed with salt as a disinfectant in Ezekiel 16:4. In Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5 the Bible speaks of a “covenant of salt” and signified a covenant of perpetual obligation.

In Matthew 5 in the message known as the “Sermon on the Mount” in verse 13 Jesus uses the word salt in a powerful metaphor as He speaks to His disciples and followers:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Matthew 5:13 (ESV)
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In the tangible world, sodium chloride (salt) is very stable, but it is readily water-soluble. If it is exposed to condensation or rainwater the sodium chloride could be dissolved and removed and the salt could lose its saltiness.

But I don’t think this is what Jesus is referring to. Salt is not only a seasoning that enhances flavors. As a seasoning it balances sweetness and can help suppress other flavors such as bitterness. Salt also is used as a preservative to prevent spoilage.

As believers to be called “salt” speaks to one of our responsibilities and calling. We are to represent Him and be a seasoning in the place He has called us to be. In other words, we are to bring something to the environment…the flavor of Christ. We also represent Him and preserve His Word and move on His commission to us as his modern-day disciples even now.

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His words in Matthew 5:13 make clear we could lose our savor or saltiness. When He describes what happens if we lose it, it is not a pretty or positive picture.

What might cause us to lose our savor or saltiness?

That can be a question to ponder.

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I think we can lose it when our life in Him is not spiritually renewed and continually refreshed. It can also happen when we drift away from remembering that we are His representatives wherever we go, whatever we do. We should look like Him, sound like Him. Our attitudes and character should be like His.

I wonder if we also lose our savor when we look more like the world around us, when we are no longer a seasoning and no longer preserving what He left to our charge.

As the world around us decays on many levels, I wonder if too many of us have lost our savor, our saltiness. We can point at so many people and things as the problem, but have we forgotten who we are to be and our responsibility?

What kind of salt are we?

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The Best Things

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As I write this, I am sipping on one of my favorite teas beside a lavender scented candle. In the overall scheme of things, I might not consider them to be the most important things in my life, but they give me pleasure and I don’t rush my consumption of them. Some of the things we most enjoy are ones we take time to savor and sip rather than gulp down.

I take time to allow the very best chocolate to melt more slowly in my mouth to savor every second of its deliciousness. I may like chocolates I grab at the grocery store or gas station (Yes, I am a chocolate lover.) and yet these are not the same as the taste of a luscious Swiss or Belgian chocolate truffle I bite into more slowly and allow to melt gradually.

I may go through a drive through window for a cup of coffee or coffee beverage to keep me alert as I am driving or while working at my desk, but the coffee I enjoy the most is a fresh brewed cup I can sip and notice all the flavors that I discover. Those are the kinds of coffee we tend to take pleasure in when we meet a friend for a leisurely visit.

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From the time we are born we use the sense of taste to not only fulfill our basic needs of hunger but also to provide pleasure and allow us to discover a great many things in our world. (Most of you recall how much a baby puts in his or her mouth as discovering the world outside of mommy begins.) God has given us between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds on the back and front of our tongues. They help us distinguish between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory. Little wonder the things we find most delicious we try to make last if we can and why we avoid things that don’t appeal to us. Any of us who lose that sense of taste due to illness or something else are aware of how special the gift of taste is and all it allows us to experience.

It recalls what the Psalmist reminds us of about God:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good;

    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

When I read those words and take time to reflect on them it seems obvious that He invites us to savor all He has to show us of Him. Our time in discovering and tasting Him should not be like chowing down a fast-food burger and fries but more like the way we savor every nuance of fine chocolate, coffee, or tea on our tongue and lips. Only then will we come to know his goodness.

Our days can start off with a bang and distractions from the moment we open our eyes. Such days we might grab food on the run or eat it standing up as we make our lunch for the day. Our time with God might be a quick Bible verse that shows up on our phone or as the theme of our devotional book and our prayer might be short requests of what we need to get through the next ten minutes or next ten hours. That isn’t a bad thing and I suspect God is not surprised that happens to most of us. Many of us cannot get up an hour earlier to spend leisure time with Him every day but to grow in intimacy with Him and truly taste Him we will need time to savor Him, reflect on what we taste, and digest it slowly.

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We likely intend to take more time to become intimate with Christ. We know what it feels like when we do manage it versus those other days. We even know that when we discipline the time for savoring Him that somehow, we still accomplish everything on our “to do” list, maybe even more. (Have you ever noticed how surprising that can be?) In the complexities of our lives and tangled days in the environment of chaos and darkness spreading over the world, I doubt we will fare very well if we do not take time to taste Christ more fully and gain the nourishment we need to cope with whatever a day throws at us. It’s what makes the difference in whether we can stand on the foundation we gain from such times.

Our culture in every area pushes us to do more, be more, achieve higher levels of excellence and it can start to nudge us toward a performance mentality that even creeps into our spiritual lives. We might measure what we see as growth by how much we serve in our faith communities, how many Bible chapters we consume daily, or whether we have read the best and latest theological works and yet find ourselves feeling empty at the end of it all even though these are good things.

Why? Perhaps it is because these do not move us into the depths of relationship with Christ.

“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

Richard Foster

Notice how often the Bible uses food as a metaphor to teach us something about God and what our hunger stems from beyond our physical appetite.

“We hunger to know and be known. We hunger for others to accept, understand, and adore us. We hunger for someone to love and cherish with our affection.”

Margaret Feinberg

In our complicated schedules and timetables, we make time for what seems to be the most important things. Each day we are invited to taste and see, to savor the best things and it is this investment that will allow us to see God’s goodness.

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