How Tomato Soup and Psalm 23 Fill out the Menu at Our House Daily

When we sit down for a bowl of our favorite tomato soup we know we are in for a moment of pleasure. We never tire of tomato soup at our house.

Kathleen’s friend, Betty Johnston, from Tennessee gave her the original recipe more than 20 years ago.

We’ve gone back to this soup on occasion through the years but recently, along with a suitable side dish, it fills out the need almost daily for one of three healthful meals.

This morning it was time to make a fresh two-or-three-day supply, and I was pressed into service as a greenhorn chef. All my family and friends know that cooking has never been my thing.

I was not totally new to the procedure, however, because for some time I have chopped up the cabbage out of consideration for Kathleen’s right shoulder. Replacement surgery a few years ago helped her greatly, but she has to be careful.

This morning’s activity was nevertheless a huge step forward for me. It was my first time to make the soup from start to finish. That is, to wash, chop, assemble, cook and store.

Kathleen supervised every step closely and here is the sequence I followed:

1. Get out the big pot that holds several quarts of liquid.

2. Lay out on the counter the chopping board, then the freshly washed cabbage, several stalks of celery and three or four onions. Also have at hand two cans of Aylmers tomatoes (labeled no salt, and prepared with Italian spices). And don’t forget the hot sauce to add the zing

3. With Kay looking on I chopped the cabbage until the results nearly filled the cooking pot. I then chopped and added the celery and tear-jerking onions.

4. After adding several cups of water I carried the pot to the stove and cooked the vegetables until the cabbage was limp. Then I added the two cans of tomatoes and several squirts of the hot sauce and mixed it all well and let it cook.

5. The final step was to let the mixture cool and then puree the results about half a quart at a time in the blender, pouring the results into containers to store in the refrigerator.

Here’s how this delicious soup fits into our daily menu: After a nutritious smoothie for breakfast and a noon meal of meat, vegetables, salad, and dessert, for our evening repast this soup comes into play. We usually add a protein, like a cheese sandwich or poached egg.

In troubled times such as ours you may ask who should care about matters so mundane as recipes and food cooking procedures? Especially about so modest a dish as tomato soup.

My mind turns toward the end of the 23rd Psalm where  the author addresses this line to the Divine Shepherd: “You prepare a table before me …”  even when my life may be in danger.

Every repast reminds us that this Shepherd God we serve is all-provident and deserves our heart’s gratitude even for a humble dish of tomato soup.

 

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Photo credit: Erik Forsberg (via flickr.com)

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Re-Post: Keeping Daily Prayers Alive and Fresh

Prayer is a discipline that enriches our awareness of the Living God and his care for us. Prayer is therefore bedrock for living adequately as believers.

Through the years I have kept distraction at bay, and centered my prayer using the five classic elements of prayer as follows.

1. ADORATION. The Virgin Mary began, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46, 47). That’s adoration. Taking our lead from the Psalmist we may say, “O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty,” and then let the reality sink in (Psalm 104:1).

Words of adoration, when thoughtfully offered to God, take us into the inner sanctuary of worship. This exercise can concentrate the mind and bring under control our scattered thoughts. The Book of Psalms gives many examples: (Psalm 108:5; 104:33; 145:1; 138:1,2; 111:1; 104:1; 103;1; Psalm 66:1,2).

2. CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers that John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age, he gave this helpful pattern: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (____), forgive me all my sins (_____). Wesley left the blanks so that anyone using this prayer could personalize it. However we fill in the blanks, confession must be a part of every honest prayer.

3. PETITION. To petition means to implore or to beseech. Often our prayers of confession lead naturally to petitions for mercy, grace, forgiveness, or strength to obey. Petitions may also have to do with our infirmities, follies, or sins. Or they may arise out of daily needs, however large or small.

Keeping current in this way makes for soul health. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.”

4. INTERCESSION. This means praying for others — family, friends, associates, neighbors, distant ministries, civic leaders. The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. Its effects are often imperceptible but in God’s time come home to us as real.

Intercession saves our prayers from becoming merely “want” lists. It stretches our horizons. James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”

5.THANKSGIVING. This aligns with adoration as follows: In adoration, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving we praise him for all his benefits. It is good to let our spirits soar in daily thanksgiving.

During this part of our prayer, it is good to remember the smallest mercies alongside the great and grand ones.  And when we pray we give thanks above all else for the gift of redemption through Jesus Christ, the greatest blessing of all!  He is our salvation and we walk with him as Lord!

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How Aging Takes You By Surprise

I was a college pastor, 37 years old, when a student from the campus across the street came for an appointment. She talked out her problem and we had prayer.

As she got up to leave, she said with a warm smile, “Thanks very much for seeing me; I thought it would be good for me to talk to someone middle-aged.”

Me? Middle-aged? It was a brand new and entirely unexpected thought. I pondered it for some time after she left.

I’m not middle-aged, I thought. I am young. Not that much different from the hundreds of students I preach to every Sunday.

But the truth slowly sank in and from that time to the present, people here and there have managed to keep me conscious that the aging process is real.

For example, I was holding a church conference in Western Canada when I was in my early 60s.  Crossing the conference grounds from the lodge to the meeting place, singing to myself, I saw Maurice coming toward me.

He stopped, put his hand on my forearm, and in a most solicitous voice said something like, “At your age, you shouldn’t be walking and singing at the same time.”

On another occasion some time later my wife, Kathleen, and I were driving across Michigan on I-94. It was late afternoon and time to quit for the day, so I pulled into a motel and went inside.

I asked the usual questions: Do you have a nonsmoking room for two — preferably on the main floor? The desk clerk studied his charts and then, smiling as if he had found the right match said, “I can give you a handicapped room. Fully equipped.”

It was another jarring moment. I wondered, Do I look that infirmed?

But the coup de grace came later that summer, from the boss of a roofing crew replacing the shingles on the house next door. I asked him to look at the roof of my house and give me his opinion.

We walked together to my driveway and he stood for a few moments looking up. Then, he said pleasantly, “You won’t be around to replace those shingles.”

Many observant seniors are aware of the subtle social changes that begin to manifest themselves as age creeps on: Sales clerks seem to show diminished interest in giving service; con artists treat the aged as easy prey for their schemes; people in a group may ignore the comments of the elderly.

Growing old is not for the humorless. I’ve been collecting funny stories about aging and loss of memory for some time now. This is not politically incorrect because my stories are about me and my own age group.

One story my wife and I both enjoy is about the elderly couple driving out to meet friends for a social evening. She says to him, “Honey, you try to remember where we’re going and I’ll try to remember who we are.”

Admittedly, there is a less pleasant side to growing old. Strength begins to wane, degenerative diseases show up, creaks and aches become regular companions.

Perhaps worst of all is the subtle anxiety, always just under the surface, about what the future will hold in this high speed new world.

The Psalmist’s prayer takes on new meaning for us: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Ps. 71:9).

In my experience, that sort of response is the right one. We can allow faith to take us by one arm and hope by the other as we walk, perhaps a little less briskly than before, down this pilgrim path.

Faith says in one ear, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11).

That verse doesn’t need to apply only to our future resurrection. It can also mean that even the closing years of this life can be infused with special energy from God’s Spirit.

And hope says in the other ear, “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory” (Rom. 5:2, NLT).

In the meantime, the people of God — the church — can do a wonderful thing for those in their midst who are of advanced years. It can counter today’s tendency to diminish and devalue the aged.

I think of this when I read one of my at-present favorite chapters in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19. It sets forth a summary of how God’s chosen people were to live out His holiness in community.

One verse says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32).

(A version of this piece was first published in Christianity Today)

 

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Boys Must Become Good Men

Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, has been in the news for several weeks. It appears that he used his powerful position in the entertainment industry to abuse in unspeakable ways women striving to rise to stardom.

Close associates of Weinstein claim complete ignorance of his offenses, but a large number of women believe his abuse was widely known by them but was protected, not rebuked.

Similar scandals have erupted at Amazon, Fidelity, and NBC News, but we don’t have final information on any of these.

As the stories unfold, however, we are likely to hear counselors explain rightly that the evil conduct of these men is driven not by sexual desire but by an excessive need to dominate women in cruel and humiliating ways.

If charged, these men are likely to experience long days, even months, in court leading in some cases to jail time or other punishments.

For the offended, it will take years to achieve justice and some measure of healing. The expertise not only of lawyers, but also psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation centers, therapy groups, ministers, priests, and rabbis will be called upon. Such wounds go deep.

It seems to me that parallel to all this two questions deserve the attention of large numbers of citizens: First, when do grown men take their first steps towards character-grounded respect for womanhood? Second, What are the resources Judeo-Christian understanding provides?

First, the training for respectful conduct toward women begins unconsciously with what boys learn in early childhood — particularly what they learn from how their dad treats their mother.

But the boys’ learning is cumulative over time from a great variety of sources such as: the strength of family cohesion, what goes on at the playground; the influence of a kindergarten teacher; what their friends laugh at; what they learn in Sunday School; the friendships they develop: print media; endless television; and pornography. The influences are numerous.

Second, the primary Christian resource is the Bible and the primary classroom is the home. Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything that exists.

It is God’s world, and he is everywhere present and all-knowing. Little boys can grasp early that he sees our every thought and action. Thus, conscience is reinforced and respect for others engendered.

The recent news has been dark, and impresses upon us that we have an oncoming generation of little boys to train to show respect across gender lines.

The oft-repeated saying, Boys will be boys usually used to excuse some mischief — needs to be changed to Boys will be men — fine men — because that’s where we should be leading them.

 

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Learning to Fire the Bright Spots

When I was just out of seminary and beginning to lead my first church as a full-time pastor, a retired minister, the Rev. C. P. Stewart, told me a story I have carried with me throughout my life. Here it is:

Back in the days when steam-driven locomotives pulled 100-car freight trains across this continent, a westward bound train was laboring up a pass in the Rocky Mountains.

Its pace gradually slowed until finally it came to a standstill. The fireman in the engine cab was young and found himself defeated and helpless.

Riding the caboose at the end of the train was a retired fireman. He walked the length of the long string of boxcars, climbed into the locomotive’s cab, and offered his help.

The young fireman was glad to let him take over.

The retired fireman started methodically shoveling coal into the firebox. The steam gauge began to rise and when it registered that pressure was adequate he signaled the engineer to open the throttle.

After a couple of sharp tugs the train began to move again and this time made it up the grade of the mountain pass.

Amazed, the young fireman asked his senior what he had done differently, noting that he himself had been shoveling just as hard.

As the train moved forward, gradually gaining speed, the older man opened the door of the firebox. First he pointed out a couple of clinkers — residue of burned coal — lying dead in the ashes, then pointed to places in the bed where the fire was burning brightly.

Pointing out this contrast with his long poker, he said, “If you want the train to move you have to fire the bright spots.”

Rev. Stewart was giving a young pastor a tip on how to go about leading a congregation without becoming a casualty of stalled initiatives.

Local churches are complex and lots of activities are going on at the same time – children’s programs, choir practices, committee meetings, some of which can at times be stalled by a variety of conflicting opinions.

While helping a church grow, gaining momentum and depth in ministry, Rev. Stewart intimated, one must take courage from the programs that are thriving, reporting this good news to the congregation whenever possible.

But the story fits many situations: the highly energized family, the public school classroom, the student striving to work her way through college, to name a few.

Things in life go better when one learns to fire the bright spots.

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Consider Jesus at Twelve

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple by WIlliam Holman Hunt, 1860. Public Domain.

In our culture we don’t make much of the age twelve.

Sixteen is important because at that age a person becomes eligible to learn and be licensed to drive a car.

In Canada and the United States eighteen brings the right to vote. And twenty-one has long been considered the age of maturity.

Each is an important year, but not twelve. However, it was different in Jesus’ Jewish culture.

St. Luke tells us in detail about the birth of Jesus including the wonders that attended it. Then he skips to age 30, when Jesus’ public ministry began.

The years between Jesus’ infancy and the beginning of his ministry are sometimes called the silent years.

St. Luke breaks into that silence to report one important event in Jesus’ life when he was only twelve.

For background, Jesus’ earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, were serious practitioners of the faith of Israel. For example, they brought the baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life, as prescribed by Jewish law.

As well, they were apparently competent and committed parents since Luke tells us in passing that Jesus was obedient not only to his Heavenly Father but also to his earthly parents.

Also, during Jesus’ times a Jewish boy became known as a “son of the commandment” at the age of twelve. That is, a boy’s primary accountability was now to God through obedience to the Torah.

At that ceremony the lad would begin his speech saying, “Today I am a man.” — old enough to take part in religious services, to form binding contracts, and to testify before religious courts.

In Jesus’ times, a twelve-year-old could also attend his first Passover in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph took pains to make this happen, and Luke reports the event.

When Jesus’ first Passover was over and his parents had begun the long trek north to Nazareth he lingered behind, in Jerusalem, talking to the teachers in the temple.

His distressed parents had to turn from their journey and go back to search for him. When they found him in the temple and expressed their distress he responded, “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”

Was this Jesus’ first awareness of his purpose on earth? His surprising response makes it seem so — “my Father’s business.”

The consciousness of his divine assignment must have grown for in the later full stride of his ministry he was accepting of titles such as Savior, Redeemer, Master, Lord, and the very God incarnate — “he who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Think of it: all this was possible at twelve years of age — a rich knowledge of God’s law and an awakening awareness of God as his Father in a unique way!

It makes one think more seriously of the capacity a twelve-year-old can have for religious knowledge, spiritual understanding, and the experience of the living God!

And, as well, like Mary and Joseph, think of the accountability of today’s parents to the demanding spiritual task of laying a Christian foundation for their children’s lives.

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Let’s Give Thanks for Life’s Imperishables

On Monday of this week, October 9, Canadians will slow their pace to count their blessings and offer thanks. Whether or not you reside in Canada, please join in!

In Canadian gatherings, words of thanksgiving will flow — for food in abundance, family, safety, health, the beauty of nature, and many other things. The list must be long for we are greatly blessed.

But, these are the perishables of life. In recent weeks, shocking devastation by hurricanes, terror attacks, and a profoundly evil massacre have snatched life’s most precious relationships and possessions away from great numbers of people in the United States and Canada.

While we pray for the thousands directly impacted and in deep grief, and for others recovering from grievous injury, I suggest especially for the rest of us this Thanksgiving that we remember in particular three blessings that are imperishable.

First, the Bible.

Twenty eight hundred years ago, before our Bible existed as we have it today, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). This was a prophecy spoken in antiquity, fulfilled in history, and true to this day.

The Bible is not merely a great book; it is a unique book, a book that has remained strong and communicative against all critics. It has been a bestseller from the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century to the present.

It is really a library of Spirit-inspired truth — estimated to be the work of 40 authors written across a span of 1500 years. Yet its many voices and varied styles are bound together by a central theme – God’s redemption of his fallen world. We give thanks.

Second, the Cross.

The cross of Christ too is one of history’s imperishables.

Whether it is symbolized on top of the golden dome of historic St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, or displayed in rustic fashion on the face of the pulpit of a wayside church in rural Manitoba, the symbol of the cross appears wherever Christ is proclaimed.

All this is no accident. As the late John R. W. Stott wrote, “Jesus’ death was central to his mission,” and that substitutionary death on a cruel Roman cross provides the way for us to be saved from death and punishment. All four gospels lead through the cross to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection and in turn to the assurance that believers will live eternally too.

Stott also wrote: “The cross sets forth three truths: first our sins must be extremely horrible; second, God’s grace must be wonderful beyond comprehension; third, salvation must be a free gift.” For the cross we give thanks.

Third, our hope.

When we talk about the Christian hope we mean more than our exclamation that “we hope” it won’t rain tomorrow. The Christian’s hope is called the anchor of the soul to keep us steady even in stormy times (Hebrews 6:19).

It was this hope that kept the Apostle Paul confident and joyful when he wrote to the church in Philippi, even though his letter came to them from a jail in Rome.

If he were allowed to live after his trial, he wrote, that would open to him further ministry; if he should be executed, and his earthly life taken from him, he would depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:21-26). Either possibility was ground for rejoicing.

Life as we live it in this world cannot be lived to the fullest until we have the assurance that there is life beyond the grave and for Christians it is life with Christ. We give thanks for this Christian hope.

The Holy Scriptures; the Sacred Cross; the anchor of a Hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). What a trio of imperishable gifts! Let us not neglect to give hearty thanks this week for perishable blessings but even more for the imperishable ones!

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Photo credit: Faith Goble (via flickr.com)