Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cricket & the Bible ~ Understanding ~ Part 2

Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it. Proverbs 16:22

We're in the 28th chapter of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith, and the question we want to considerer is: What activates the transition between reading or hearing the gospel and actually becoming a person of faith?

What does that have to do with cricket? Cricket has rules that are so difficult for us to understand that we simply don't enjoy the game. For most Americans, the rules and even the actual playing of the game--where the same player may be at bat for hours and the game may go on for days--leave our emotions cold. But that isn't the way cricket fans see the game. As one lifelong cricket fan said, "Cricket is a contemplative game which has inspired poetry, art, and music." That was an eye-opening statement for LaGard, who realized that there must be more to the game than simply understanding the rules. Surely there is something about the spirit of the game that is very special. 

The word that strikes a cord between Christianity and cricket is contemplative. In fact, LaGard says that this may be the key to the mysterious process of transforming someone who has biblical knowledge into a person with genuine, enthusiastic faith! In other words, we don't want to simply know about God technically, we want to know God personally. LaGard says: "There is so much more to appreciate about our faith, so much more to feel and to be! What is it that instills the passion? What is it about Christian faith that becomes obsessive? What is it that would cause a person to live for its teaching and die for its truths?" Can you believe that it's the working of the Holy Spirit?
No, the Holy Spirit isn't a magic wand to be waved, so that we suddenly burst into a fiery faith. Nor does the Holy Spirit overwhelm us and turn us into miracle workers. And being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn't help us find an open parking space or "hit for six" in a game of cricket! So what does the Holy Spirit do to make God come alive in our hearts? LaGard explains: "He awakens us! He stirs us! He enlightens us! If faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, it is the Holy Spirit who makes sure we actually hear the truths that transform." 

But reading or hearing the Word of God is only the first step in our learning process. It's the Holy Spirit's role to say: "Wake up and catch what God is saying to you through His Word!" He awakens us and stirs us to seek God with intensity. And because knowledge alone isn't enough, the Holy Spirit enlightens us like a good teacher. As a law professor, LaGard says he aspired to be the good teacher that Jesus spoke of when He said, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." And that is exactly what the Holy Spirit does.

Most of us have re-read a familiar scripture which we've studied many times before, but this particular time a new understanding was gained--a light was switched on in our mind. Could it be that the Holy Spirit actively reached out to make sure we got the intended message--perhaps for a particular need? The Holy Spirit could well have blessed us with enlightened eyes. Not a new revelation, but an understanding of "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of openness to receive and understand God's revelation for our own individual lives. 

This kind of enlightenment makes God real to us; His love is no longer an abstract concept, but gives us motivation to serve others, to sacrifice for others, and to live a morally pure life, just as Christ did. When we're enlightened through the Word, our passion is kindled and transforms us. And at this point, having God in our lives begins to make a difference.                 
Being enlightened means that we no longer just follow the rules as in a cricket match. Our victory is not simply in a game, but is victory over sin, over insurmountable circumstance, even over death! But our most important victory is over disbelief. When we ask God to help our unbelief, God transforms us from spectators into participants. How it happens exactly remains a mystery. But for people watching our lives, let us hope that the Holy Spirit can use our transformed lives as a means of illuminating them as well.  
This lesson will not only give you something to think about for the moment, but will remind us all that contemplating spiritual truths is the most important thing we can do to make the world a better place for ourselves and others.



Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cricket & the Bible ~ Understanding

Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it. Proverbs 16:22

In my Bible blog yesterday, I talked about hope as a necessary element in living a faithful life. And clearly, the way to keep our hope alive is by having the Holy Spirit living within us. In Chapter 28 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables  by F. LaGard Smith, the point is made that understanding is the key to our enlightenment through the Holy Spirit.

This parable is taken from the popular game of cricket, which is played, watched and loved by most of the British people. In fact, the game of cricket gets much more attention from the British people on Sunday than does any worship service, in spite of the fact that its rules of engagement are obscure to most Americans. The obsessive fever of the Brits for cricket comes closest to our obsession for baseball, but at least we understand the rules of baseball and know why we're excited. The fact that we don't understand the rules of cricket is probably the biggest reason we don't enjoy watching it. And through this analogy, we can see that when we don't understand the Bible, we find it impossible to know God.  

So you may well ask the question: What would it take to know God? And you may feel that understanding the rules of engagement with God are as muddied in your mind as the rules for cricket.  It isn't hard to see that many people find it difficult to appreciate the worship of a God they've never seen; a God who can create a universe, but who later takes human form and is killed on a rude cross by the very creatures He's created. Like cricket, the rules of engagement involving propitiation, reconciliation, and salvation may sound like a foreign language to the uninitiated. And so do all those scriptures telling us that to live we have to die, that to receive we must give, that to love God we may have to "hate" our own families! Nonsensical verbiage or profound truths? The game of cricket could NOT be this difficult to understand! 
Of course, reading the Bible--which is considered the Christian's rule book--is very helpful in gaining understanding about God. But in spite of this view of the Bible, please remember that it is much more than a rule book! LaGard says: "Far surpassing any such comparison, the Bible is meant to reveal to us nothing less than the wonder of God and the mystery of faith!" And the apostle Paul says in Romans: "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." That sounds simple enough until we hear Paul say that "the mystery of godliness is great!" In other words, two people can read the same Bible--one turns to God in faith and the other turns away in doubt and skepticism. We have to figure out the answer to this question: What activates the transition between reading or hearing the gospel and actually becoming a person of faith? 

The important point of the parable will be explained in tomorrow's post. For now, contemplate the questions proposed here to see where your own understanding lies. 
Have a great weekend!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

White Bread for One...or More ~

It's white bread for one unless I have company, of course. I'm saying it's for one because I make this recipe into 4 small loaves of bread. I haven't made bread in a while, but after buying some whole wheat bread made by the bakery in Albertson's, I realized that I'm just wanting some homemade bread to eat--the ultimate comfort food. I'm sure I've given this recipe to you before because it's my favorite white bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. The picture on the left is the bread I made today right out of the oven. For supper, I had a bowl of homemade vegetable soup and the bread. Below is the dough rising in the bowl.

I was talking on the phone when I decided to make some bread today, and I thought it wouldn't be possible because I saw that I was out of milk. But determined to find a way, I began looking through my cookbook. And that's when I saw that the recipe called for water, not milk, but with a half cup of powdered milk if you wanted to add it--and I did. That was new for me, as well as using bread flour rather than all-purpose flour. I've used bread flour in some other bread recipes, but not this one. I enjoy doing something different so I can anticipate the result coming out of the oven. And this is no different...I expect it to work out, but baking can take on a life of its own and turn into a fiasco. But not usually!

The soup was made yesterday when I realized I had vegetables from Los Poblanos Organic Farm that were going to ruin if I didn't use them. I first sauteed two big white onions and garlic in olive oil, added lots of carrots, chicken broth, canned diced tomatoes, kale, cabbage, and a can of white beans. I prefer the white kidney beans because their taste and texture is cleaner and not so pasty, but most of them have additives that I don't want to eat, so I didn't find any to use this time. And I've learned from trying the olive oil on orange slices that Colavita extra virgin olive oil has a very "soft" taste and not that heavy green taste that so many of the extra virgin olive oils have. I use a cheaper olive oil to cook with, but to add to my soup after it's in the bowl and for sprinkling on fresh orange slices, I'll be buying the Colavita. I love soup and I love bread, so I really enjoyed my supper tonight.
For dessert there were cooked apples left from yesterday when I saw a bag of yellow and red apples Lisa had given me on Sunday. Again, it was a matter of cooking them or losing them. They are very good with a little cinnamon mixed in. I don't have a picture of them though. I took many of my bread, so that's what's on here! This bread seemed somewhat soft and not as tasty as I remembered, but it may be because I've been eating whole wheat bread. I talked to Kelly today, and she said that adding powdered milk can make the dough softer. So that's the answer to my riddle. 
I'm contemplating a mini Zojrushi bread machine, which makes a half loaf of bread. Paula, her husband, Jim, and their sons, Jon & Phillip, gave me money for Christmas and birthday. So I've about decided that I would love to have this bread machine to make tasty bread all the time. All thoughts on the subject will be appreciated. I've read endless reviews which assure me that I'll love it! 

And for anyone tempted to make this white bread, here's the recipe. And you can always go on the King Arthur Flour website. They have SO many good recipes for bakers.

Walter Sand's
Basic White Bread

2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 tablespoon or packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup dry milk (optional)
2 tablespoons butter, softened, or vegetable oil (or a combination)
6 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon salt (or less if desired)

Making the dough: Pour the warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add and let dissolve the sugar or honey and yeast. When the yeast is bubbling, add the dry milk, softened butter, 5 1/2 cups of flour and the salt. (If you add the salt before adding flour, you'll kill the yeast.) With a large spoon, stir this mixture until it begins to hold together. Pour the remaing 1/2 cup of flour on the surface you intend to use for kneading.

Kneading: Turn the dough out onto the floured board and knead until it begins to feel as if it belongs together, about 3 or 4 minutes, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking to the board or you. Let it rest while you clean and grease your bowl. Continue kneading the relaxed dough until it feels smooth and springy, another 3 or 4 minutes.

Rising: Form the dough into a nice ball, place it in the greased bowl, turning it so the top is lightly greased also. Cover it and put it where it will be warm and cozy (no drafts). Let this rise until it has doubled (when you can poke your finger in it and the dough doesn't spring back at you).

Shaping: Punch or knock the dough down, turn it out onto your floured board and knead out any stray bubbles. Cut it in half, form 2 loaves and place them in two lightly greased bread pans. (I cut my dough into 4 pieces and form loaves, putting 2 side by side in each pan. See pictures.)

Baking: With either of the following options, the longer baking time produces a crustier bread with a slightly drier interior.
  • Full Rise: Let the loaves rise until they are doubles (about an hour). About 15 minutes before you want to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the loaves in the preheated oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes. This method makes the lightest loaves.
  • Partial Rise: Let the loaves rise for only 30 to 40 minutes. Place them in a cold oven, set the temperature to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes and lower it to 350 degrees F for a further 20 to 25 minutes.
This second method takes a little less time from beginning to end and avoids the possibility of the bread dough rising too far and then collapsing. The bread itself won't be quite as light but it will still be very good.

Fresh homemade bread is well worth the effort if you have the time. Once you learn the basics of breadmaking, you can throw it together and let it rise without your attention. Your family will thank you for this lovely heartfelt contribution to their meals. Have a wonderful Friday!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lighten Up ~

Impress upon yourself this eternal truth: Most things don't amount to a hill of beans.

Even though I'm working through some situations personally, I wanted to post something on here that might give you inspiration for your own life. I've given you some material from Victoria Moran before, and this essay is "Lighten Up" from her book Fit from Within. You might guess that it's a book about attitudes which serve you well when you want to lose weight or stay skinny. This probably appeals to me because I need to lighten up for sure, but it could be that some of you also yearn for a way to lift your spirits and see the world from a lighter perspective. So here is her essay.

Lighten Up

Lighten up is a lovely metaphor: when you can do it with your attitude, your body is apt to follow. Of course some things are serious. That doesn't mean we have to take everything seriously, especially not ourselves. If someone cuts in front of you in line, you are not obligated to make a moral issue out of it. If there is toilet paper stuck to your shoe, you don't have to be mortified. Try amused instead. If you have a different opinion from someone else, it is probably not imperative that this person understand your point of view, and explaining it for the fifteeneth time will not clarify your position any better than the first fourteen explanations did.

Impress upon yourself this eternal truth: Most things don't amount to a hill of beans. In the majority of endeavors, winning is overated, and in most human interactions one-upping is far less pleasant than two conversing. The arguments, jealousies, and misunderstandings that can make life so unpleasant--and send many an overeater to the nearest microwave--are, for the most part, insignificant. Let them go or "let go and let God."

You don't have to appear brilliant, sophisticated, and on top of things every minute of your life. It's okay to hear the name of a writer or politician or composer and say, "Who's that?" Sincerity is far more appealing than pretense. "I don't know" is a legitimate answer to a host of questions, and "I'm not going to worry about this now" is a legitimate response to a host of troubles. Refusing to fret over what you can do nothing about is closely related to refusing to eat over what you can do nothing about. Do your best to be less distraught when things don't work out the way you'd hoped they would. More often than not, this means that life has something better in store for you anyhow. 

We all know the truth of this essay, but it helps sometimes to refresh our mind and memory about some easy and thoughtful things to raise our attitudes to a higher level. I hope you enjoyed it. 


Friday, April 1, 2011

You and Them ~ Your Social Intelligence

TGIF! It's been a really tough week for me, so I haven't been writing. But this list of ways to improve on your Social Intelligence are appealing ideas from Tony Buzan's HEAD FIRST: 10 Ways to Tap Into Your Natural Genius. I'm only going to give you a small part of his chapter on Social Intelligence. I hope you enjoy contemplating its value to improve your life.

Buzan begins with a definition: "Social Intelligence refers to your ability to use all your other intelligences to relate in a positive way to those most complex of all creatures--other human beings! Social intelligence applies to your one-on-one meetings, to small and large group meetings, and to your ability (in this modern age), to deal sucessfully with the media, if and when you need to."

I'm skipping over to the Brain Workout--Developing Your Social Intelligence. Buzan says: "Your Social Intelligence is one of your most flexible intelligences, and is one of the most rewarding, easy and enjoyable to develop. This Brain Workout is divided into strategies designed to help you improve your social intelligence when meeting people for the first time, for relating to those you know, and finally for ending relationships." Today I'm simply giving you things to do when meeting people for the first time.  

Beginning Relationships

1. Remain Constantly Aware of What a Miracle You and Others Are
This will automatically open up your interest in others and thereby your senses. Others, sensing your appreciation of and interest in them, will automatically become more open to and interested in you, and so the positive loops of your relationships with others will grow.

2. Attend Shows and Plays
Theater provides you with a stage on which multiple interpersonal relationships are acted out and often commented upon. The theater is therefore a wonderful training ground for you to expand your appreciation of the multiplicity of human relationships, and to incorporate that understanding into your own life. Another good idea is to watch videos/films of the best classic masterpieces.

3. Play Around with Questions 
The Zen question, "Who learns more in a conversation between a wise man and a fool?," is a very useful one to think about!

4. Learn From the Greats
Make a list of the Top Social Communicators of the last century, and more importantly, note down next to each name key words or phrases that support your nomination. Who and Why? What are the skills and characteristics that your Top Communicators share? List them. Now take this list of people and make a Mind Map of their common skills. Decide to develop these skills, one at a time, for yourself.

5. Expand Your Social Horizons
Set yourself the goal of experiencing a wide variety of different social occasions, including festivals, mega-concerts, dances and celebrations of all sorts. Visit other cultures and explore other religions, always taking the role of the "Eager Student," asking to be shown and instructed what to do and how to behave most appropriately on those different occasions. People love to show and share their special knowledge with others, and, as they do so, you will both learn and rapidly develop your Social Intelligence. 

6. Collect People's Stories
From the youngest to the oldest, everyone has a "favorite story"--the tale of unusual, extraordinary, terrifying or magnificient things that uniquely happened to them. Ask them for that story, or stories. What is the most amazing thing they have ever done? What was the funniest thing that they ever experienced? Had they at some time nearly died? Have they ever fought in a war? What was the most ridiculous/stupid thing they ever did? Ask them to tell their tale. Then you tell them yours!

7. Take a Presentation Skills Course
Such a course will encourage you to be your magnificent self, and will give you the opportunity to use many of your other intelligences, especially your Verbal, Sensory, Spatial and Creative Intelligences.

8. Dress to Impress
Make sure that your presentation of yourself in general appeals to the senses and intelligences of others. Your clothes are of particular importance in this context--just think of your reaction to people based on the cleanliness, colors, textures, "tailoredness" and suitability of their clothes. Many studies have been done on "Power Dressing," and they all confirm that in one important way, "Clothes maketh the man...." For the next few days, study the effect that other people's dress has on you, and also the effect it seems to have on the wearers themselves. You will come up with some remarkable findings!

Thinking about your life can certainly change it, so I hope these ideas for doing that will give you a start on making your life a bit better. 

Have a good Friday! I'll be going to Lisa's for pizza and a movie.