Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Cup of Blessing

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. Psalm 16:5

The best and sweetest of men married me. John delights my heart and invests in my love. He found a new tea shop and presented me with a beautiful box of delicious tea we shared last evening. My cup had painted sunflowers and it warmed my palms as the fragrance of spices and berries filled the room.

My bridegroom of almost a generation loves me like Christ loves me. He would just as freely and easily give his life for me as give me tea. A plain and absolute fact. A cup of blessing.

When I consider the cup Jesus drained for love of me, for you, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. We have often given Him so little obvious cause to love us. That mattered not to the tender, generous, loyal, Son of God. He looked into the dark swirl of sadness and pain and filled His obedient mouth with the poison of our disobedience. He drained the cup of the wrath of God so I could share all the cups of blessing that were to follow.

One of these future days I will take a cup from His hands as generously given as the one I received from John. Our fingers will touch, our eyes will meet and I will be filled to overflowing, spilled joy.

In the morning when you raise that first cup of coffee or tea to your lips, pause for just a moment to spill some joy of you own and to remember such love.

Offered with gratitude,

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin Challah by Leah Koenig

Pumpkin Challah
Perfect for a Fall Shabbat.

I have never met a homemade challah I didn't like. There is something undeniably cozy and inviting about warm, fresh bread on the Shabbat table. Few other tastes can rival this.
On the other hand, challah's ubiquitous appeal means that it's hard to find one loaf that stands out from the crowd. Enter: pumpkin challah.

With a heady mix of pureed winter squash, cinnamon, and cardamom braided into deep, strawberry-blond loaves, pumpkin challah is at once exotic and familiar to my Ashkenazic taste buds. A rare find, indeed.

In Maggie Glezer's indispensable baking book The Blessing of Bread she writes that pumpkin challah--a.k.a. pan de calabaza--is a Sephardic specialty imbued with deep meaning. Like other foods made with pumpkin, it represents the hope that God will protect the Jewish people just as the pumpkin's thick shell protects the flesh inside.

Sephardic Jews traditionally serve this bread during Rosh Hashanah, when eating auspicious, symbolic foods is especially popular. Still, it is equally delicious served on any cold autumn or winter Shabbat when the added heartiness and kick of spice can be fully appreciated. Needless to say, the leftovers make a spectacular base for challah French toast.


1 package yeast (7g)
2/3 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg (+1 egg for glaze)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle yeast into a small bowl and pour the warm water on it. Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir to dissolve.

Mix flour, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in yeast/water mixture. Using a wooden spoon, incorporate some of the flour into the water--just enough to form a soft paste. (Don't try to completely incorporate--there should be quite a bit of dry flour left at this point.) Cover bowl with a towel and leave until frothy and risen, about 20 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, pumpkin, oil, egg, and salt. Add to the risen flour mixture and combine thoroughly. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is pliable. (If it's too wet, keep adding flour in small amounts.)

Let dough rest 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly oil the bowl, put the dough in it and re-cover with the towel. Let dough rise in a warm place until it has tripled in size, 2-3 hours. Punch down dough, knead it a bit more, and cut it into two equal pieces. Cut each of the two pieces into three equal pieces (You should have 6 total pieces at this point). Roll each piece into a straight rope. Braid three ropes together and repeat so that you end up with two braided loaves.

Sprinkle baking sheets with a little cornmeal, or line them with parchment paper. Place loaves on the sheets, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 40 minutes. Glaze loaves with extra beaten egg. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield 2 loaves
Prep 45 mins
Cook 40 mins
Total 4 hrs 25 mins

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Journey to Him

She was a pure, transparent pool reflecting

God, only God.

She held His burnished day; she held His night

of planet-glow or shade inscrutable.

God was her sky and she who mirrored Him

became His firmament.

Jessica Powers

Offered today to a friend on a journey in search of splendor. May God be waiting and watching for your coming. May your heart fill with newly birthed stars, winking and burning across a sky of wonder.
The Heart in Nebula HDR

Monday, October 24, 2011

Speaking God's Language by Joni Tada

"Is not my word like fire . . . and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29).

Several years ago our son took up boxing for fun. Excuse I took up praying more. Lots more. Once he was Fighter of the Night in the ring. Once he was patient of the night in the emergency room. The opening scripture was his fighting name, "The Hammer," taken from that same passage.

This isn't a story about John David. You can read his boxing exploits in an earlier blog, (3/7/10). Right now he is working at fatherhood which is much more demanding than boxing.

This is about an essay on prayer I wish to share. It is long but full of simple, powerful truth about the ability of God's Word to move mountains, to break the rock in pieces. It is about God faithfully upholding His Word as prayer.

You may not have time to read it all at once. Print it out ad read a few examples daily over this week. Enjoy.


Speaking God's Language
How Scripture can add power to your prayers

by Joni Eareckson Tada

The large window at Baltimore-Washington International Airport framed a gray afternoon. Our flight was late, and the seats in the waiting area were full. Judy and Bunny stood beside me to pray–something we often do before and after flights.

I was down about a number of things, including the news that we lacked funds to launch an outreach to disabled children in several Eastern European orphanages. Reading the sadness in my eyes, Bunny reached for my hands and Judy's. After praise and thanksgiving, she prayed in a soft voice laced with confidence: "Lord, send forth the corn and the wine and the oil. Send forth the early rains . . . the late rains . . . and produce a wonderful crop of blessings." I recognized the strains of Joel 2:19: "The Lord will reply to them: 'I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully.'"

Just as Bunny was repeating the part about corn, oil, and wine, I sensed the presence of a fourth person who edged between Judy and me. Then a fifth person crowded in with us, and together the newcomers punctuated my friend's prayer with "amens."

When we finished, we hardly had time to exchange names with our unexpected prayer partners–a married couple. Before rushing to catch their flight, the husband folded a $100 bill into Bunny's hand. Bunny waved the bill in the air like a flag of victory. "Yea, even while I was speaking in prayer, the angel came with the answer!"

"Joni," she continued as she tucked the bill in my coat pocket, "this is the firstfruits of what God will supply!"

She was right. And it didn't surprise me. When Bunny prays, things happen. I've learned, through years of interceding with her, that Bunny's prayers have power with God.

God's Accent
I believe that Bunny's effectiveness in prayer is, at least in part, because she has learned to pray in the language of the Father. Bunny even responds using God's language: Her "yea, even while I was speaking in prayer" was a paraphrase of Dan. 9:21.

I have learned to follow Bunny's lead and season my prayers with the Word of God. It's a way of talking to God in His language–speaking His dialect, using His vernacular, employing His idioms. (I've often teased Bunny that I hear God's accent when she prays.)

If praying "in the name of Jesus" comes as naturally as breathing, we need to pray "in the Word" just as naturally. The Bible underscores that there are two things God honors above all else: His name and His Word. "For you have exalted above all things your name and your word," wrote David in Ps. 138:2. Prayer spiced with God's Word is prayer exalted.

This is not a matter simply of divine vocabulary. It's a matter of power. When we bring God's Word directly into our praying, we are bringing God's power into our praying. Hebrews 4:12 declares, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword." God's Word is living, and so it infuses our prayers with life and vitality. God's Word is also active, injecting energy and power into our prayer. Listen to how God described His words to Jeremiah: "Is not my word like fire . . . and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29). Scripture gives muscle and might to our prayers.

Your Prayer Book
I'm convinced God enjoys it when we consciously employ His Word in our prayers. It shows Him the importance we attach to our requests. It demonstrates we have thought through our petitions and praises and lined them up against the plumb line of Scripture. It underscores to Him the high regard and appreciation we attach to His Word and demonstrates that we sincerely seek His heart in the matter for which we pray. Using God's Word in prayer–Scripture praying, as it is sometimes called–gives a divine familiarity to our words, earmarking us as servants who possess a working knowledge of the most powerful prayer book ever written: the Bible.

Saints in Scripture practiced this type of praying. The prophet Habakkuk appealed to God on the basis of His Word during a time of deep national distress: The ruthless Babylonian army was poised to sweep across the country like water from a ruptured dam. Yes, the prophet agreed with the Lord that Judah was deserving of His judgment. But how could God use a people even more evil than they as His rod of discipline? Habakkuk quoted snippets of psalms and proverbs as he spoke with God: "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?"(Hab. 1:13).

David pleaded with God in prayer based on what he knew to be true about the Lord from Scripture: "Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. . . . According to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord" (Ps. 25:6-7).

Does it sound cheeky to remind God of His character and His promises? Does it seem presumptuous? Perhaps, if you are unfamiliar with the prayer habits of saints such as Habakkuk and David. Nevertheless, the Lord would have us claim His love, plead His holiness, remind Him of His goodness, recount His longsuffering, present to Him His steadfastness, and pray in His power. In Is. 1:18, God invites us: "Come now, let us reason together." He encourages our discourse.

Word-woven Prayers
Often I attend prayer meetings where various requests for healing, finances, safety in travel, or job promotions are divvied out. Naturally, we desire prayer for such things. But a closer look at God's Word would reveal deeper and more divinely inspired ways to pray for friends and family.

Is there a cancer? Yes, prayer for healing is in order, but so is prayer for the robust blessings of Ps. 119:140: "Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them." How rich to pray, "Lord, this cancer is testing Your promises in the life of my friend who is ill, but You are faithful to every promise You've made to her. May Your servant love Your promises through this time of testing."

Is there a need for finances? Yes, prayer for needed money is in order, but so is prayer for the rewards of Prov. 15:17: "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." How invigorating to pray, "Lord, financial blessing isn't the focus; Your Word says that love should be. May we learn to live on little if it means leaning harder on You, as well as each other."

When I pray for disabled children I know, I intercede with Mt. 19:14 in mind: "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' " In verse 15 we're given a picture of Jesus tenderly placing His hand on each child. "Lord Jesus," I'll say, "Your heart went out to children when You walked on earth. I can picture You tousling their hair, bouncing them on Your knee, and laying Your hands on their heads to bestow a blessing. If Your heart went out this way to the boys and girls who could walk up to You, how much more must Your heart overflow toward little Jeanette with spina bifida or Benjamin who has cerebral palsy? Today, may they feel Your hand of blessing on their heads."

Often it's good to quote an entire passage, substituting a person's name for the pronoun in the passage. Colossians 1:9-12 is a good example of scripture to pray this way: "I ask God to fill Susan with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And I pray this in order that Susan may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work she does, being strengthened with all power, so that she may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully give thanks to the Father."

Remember, God's Word is alive, active, and powerful. Prayers laced with the Word of God not only bring about fundamental changes in people and situations, but such prayers keep us in touch with God's priorities. Weaving God's Word into our prayers brings His purposes to the forefront of every request.

Language Lessons
My friend Bunny is a good instructor on how to pray using Scripture. She would suggest that, first, we must read long portions of God's Word, not necessarily as Bible study, but to seek insights that might be applied to petitions or praises. Next, we should meditate on those portions that reveal a particular truth to be applied in prayer. Evaluate how the passage might translate into a specific petition, asking yourself, Does this verse prompt me to pray for someone with such a need? Is it possible to use some of the words of this scripture as I pray? Third, form a personal prayer, enriched by the passage you've chosen.

Suppose your brother is feeling as if life is over since his wife died. One morning you're reading Phil. 1:6: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Aha! you reason. This is just what my brother needs. So you pray, "Lord, I cling to this passage on behalf of my brother. Help him to see the good work You want to accomplish in his life through his heartache. Carry him to completion, Lord Jesus. I know You'll be faithful to this promise in Phil. 1:6, and although my brother may be too depressed to ask, I hold You to Your Word."

As you center your prayers on God's Word, its power and life become not only a part of those for whom you pray but also a part of you. Focus on quoting God's mercies in prayer as David did, and you will become more merciful. Plead with Him for His wisdom, quoting Proverbs 4, and wisdom will be yours. Center your requests upon His holiness, and you will grow in holiness.

An Enlargement of His Promises
E. M. Bounds was known for his extraordinary prayer life. He once testified,

The Word of God is the fulcrum upon which the lever of prayer is placed, and by which things are mightily moved. God has committed Himself, His purpose, and His promise to prayer. His Word becomes the basis, the inspiration of our praying, and there are circumstances under which by importunate prayer, we may obtain an . . . enlargement of His promises.

Bunny would say, "Amen!" I would, too. I will never forget the time I received an "enlargement of His promises" from praying Scripture. It was in the early '80s, not long after the honeymoon was over for two newlyweds: Ken and me. I learned that my new husband preferred to spend Monday nights in front of the TV with chips, salsa, and the NFL rather than being my hands to write out my Bible study for me. Horrors, I thought, he's not a man of the Word!

I was itching to change my husband, but my nagging and scolding only made things worse. Feeling like a martyr, I sought help in God's Word and stumbled across these words in Phil. 2:3-4:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Yikes, that's me, I thought. I've wanted Ken to change for selfish reasons�so that he'll meet my expectations. And to be honest, I don't consider him "better than myself." I feel I'm the one in the right. I feel I've got it spiritually together, not him.

I was convicted. These verses catapulted me into a major prayer advance for Ken. I sincerely wanted to follow God's Word and have humility of mind, as well as to regard Ken better than me. How could I look out for his interests? I feverishly flipped through Scripture until I found the perfect passage to pray for my husband.

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. – Ps 24:3-8

I'd spend evenings in our bedroom, praying, "Lord, You want Ken to stand in Your holy place, to have clean hands and a pure heart. May You cause him to lift up his soul to You and receive Your blessing. May he seek Your face. Lift up the gates of Ken's heart that You, the King of glory, might come in! Lord, say to him, 'I, the King of glory, will come in and rule your life. I, the Lord, strong and mighty.'"

I can't tell you how many times I prayed this way. But now, years later, it's clear that Christ sits on the throne of my husband's heart. (He's in the process of memorizing the entire Sermon on the Mount; I didn't put him up to it, really!) Something else is clear: Ken still loves Monday Night Football. What has changed is that so do I! And I've found other "hands" to help me write out my Bible studies on other evenings.

I began praying Psalm 24 over my husband believing that God would change him, but God did much more. He changed me. It was, as E. M. Bounds would say, "an enlargement of His promises." I'm convinced we are still feeling the repercussions of that Scripture prayer. That's because it was based on Psalm 24 and was alive, active, and powerful, bringing about fundamental changes in me where it counted most. And in my husband, too.

The Bible is our prayer book, and we'd be remiss to neglect its riches. It holds the key to finding God's will when we pray, providing balance and meaning. Great themes abound–God's holiness, wisdom, faithfulness, sovereignty, love, and mercy–all of which beautify our praises, adorn our intercessions, embroider our petitions, and give weight and significance to every supplication.

Most of all, using the Word of God in prayer is about as close as we can get to the Living Word, the Lord Jesus. If we're going to pray in His name, it makes sense to speak in His language.

About the author:
Joni Eareckson Tada is president of JAF Ministries, an organization that accelerates Christian ministry into the disabled community around the world. She is also author of several books, including When God Weeps and More Precious Than Silver (both Zondervan).

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving
and make a joyful noise unto him
with psalms...
Psalm 95

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Best Thought

Be Thou my vision O Lord of my heart

Be all else naught to me save that Thou art

Be Thou my best thought by day or by night

Both waking and sleeping, Thy Presence, my light.
(Irish hymn)

As the rest of the States are full into Fall, in Alaska we are moving towards Winter. A large bull moose stands in my yard eating the leavings of the sweet peas and over his shoulder I see snow building on the mountains. It is darkening early. Soon it will be sun up at 10am and sun down at 4pm. I am not a fan of the dark even if I did work lots of night shifts.

I am also not a fan of fog. I have felt engulfed by a creative one lately. I told a friend I feel I have been holding my breath waiting for the moment to pass. There have been many obstacles to my heart life, my heart lights, turning on at dusk. Some are beyond my control but not all.

There is always a choice as to how I will think about things. In the hymn above the writer asks God to, " Be Thou my best thought by day or by night." This is a prayer I embrace. My best thoughts, highest thoughts, most hope laden thoughts, come from the One who thinks of me constantly. The One who has always wanted to show me all He is about.

This is the One who "walked with Adam in the cool of the day," who asked Himself, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?". The same who was transfigured before friends, whose glory was made undeniable. This One wants us to know Him, His world and His ways.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3

The root word for His "telling" us means to make something conspicuous. To make the hidden visible, even obvious. Remember He is referring to "great and unsearchable" things. Hidden things, mighty things, mysterious things, per other translations, made conspicuous. Hidden in plain sight? No. Obvious. Not hidden at all to those who walk with Him. Those who are friends to Him. Those whose minds are being transformed by grace and the Word.

In need of inspiration? "Call and I will answer." Ours is a God who wants to show us and to share with us so that what is done in Heaven can be seen upon the Earth. Truth and wonder through lens or brush, through pen or paint, in clay or between book bindings, in speech or behavior, all God's character manifesting itself in life.

May He be the best thought of your day and of your night and mine as well. May His inspiration swell the moments of our lives to overflowing with conspicuous grace and beauty.

"Waking or sleeping, Thy Presence, our light."

(Picture is summer evening shower with rainbow over Anchorage 2011)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Days of Awe

Recently God gave me an encouragement for the dearest of friends. While I would never disrespect our friendship by broadcasting an identity, as the days passed and I prayed over this word, I was seized with a desire to lay hold of it for myself, my family and all those whom I love, even for our country. So I offer it now in print for anyone who would hold fast to it and God for a blessing.

To my dear friend, know this is daily in my prayers to come to pass and bring special grace to your much loved life.

The Days of Awe

The days of loss are past
as one season yields ground to another.
The days of multiplication are at the door.
Courage. Courage as never before.
Daring obedience.
Old wounds close forever.
All is newness.
Break the bread of celebration.
Spill joy from its
overflowing cup.
Life speaks
All is gratitude.
Gratitude in bed and barn
in heart and limb
in friendship
and field.
Misery is stricken,
wounded mortal
and cast down.
Life is uplifted
and heroic,
in love.

Psalm 20:4-6
New International Version (NIV)

May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the LORD grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.


Flood scoured away my beauty.
Drought burned me tight skin over sharp bone.
Locust nibbled away the dry lump of heart.
Frost paralyzed thought.
Sin multiplied misery.
Foul-breathed, fanged beast coaxed
all honeyed tones, "Surrender."
Tempting offer.
But came the sound of hammer on headstone.
Or so I thought.
Great groaning sets it in place.
I am finished, then?
No words spoken over me?
"Father, forgive," He breathes.
A whisper caught in dry throat.
A shudder.
Fierce quietude.
Blood-stained water finds me, washes me.
Hope painful as electricity awakening limbs urges, "Surrender."
Lungs fill with air.
I am new skin and heart in the presence of His naked love.
Standing on sure feet
Looking upon sin's grave
Covered by the shadow of great mercy.
He has left His robe nearby.
I cover myself.
The robe is His.
I am His.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:4-6

Painting of God Rain is by Michael J. Hebard

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Broken Better

Eggs and Us

The eggs' intended fate was never in question.
Their destiny was to be broken.
Too solid blue beauties,
smother the living.

Shatter a porcelain cup
and you will sip tea from your palm,
but sky colored shell shards
are evidence of life with wings.

God has given each heart
an egg tooth just as
surely as He has given
each soul a flight plan.

Lovely shells past opening
are the tiny coffins
of dead dreams and failed promises.
Wishes without birthdays.

Our lives are air and sky-
distant horizons of faith answering to
the straining-flexing of feeble wings;
damning shells to free our singing souls.

The nest is but a cup to be emptied
as life is more than the most perfect egg
upon even the highest branch.

Kat Cavanaugh LaMantia

A missionary in India came home to her apartment with a large and beautiful nest built by her window. A pair of crows had labored in her absence and deposited six blue speckled eggs in an architectural masterpiece. After many days two downy baby crows appeared, grew, flew and returned to mimic her voice. Four eggs remained beautifully unopened and lifeless.

So it is with us. It is not how good we look. How well positioned. It is all about our standing broken before the Cross of Christ. The following words of David Wilkerson say it to perfection.

"Here is the sacrifice we are to make, according to Isaiah: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart you will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

What is brokenness?

Brokenness is to give up all hope of attaining heaven by any measure of personal goodness. It is to lay down all trust in our own efforts. It is turning wholly to the victory of the Cross of Christ, believing he is the only way. Finally, it is trusting him to empower us through his Spirit to live up to his claim on our lives

That is brokenness, contriteness, humility. And we need such brokenness to keep walking in faith: The Lord is near unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18).

Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57:15).

No matter how I may feel, Christ is my righteousness. No matter how many doubts may arise, Christ is my righteousness. No matter how many accusations I hear from the devil during the day, I stand on this: God sees me as righteous in Christ!

To this one will I look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and trembleth at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)."

It is not our fate to be as the four unbroken, unopened, flightless, lifeless birds. We were made to be broken and overflowing with the goodness of God, to be His voice to a world in need. To be the ones to whom He will look. " live up to his claim on our lives."

Nest Photo by Jackie Tallent, Calcutta, India
Reaching the street children of South Asia
1445 N. Boonville Ave.
Springfield, MO 65802
Donation Acct. #207093

May the world never break you. May you, in obedience and love, be broken better.