Sourdough Patience

Some years ago I took an active interest in baking bread. After having to eat a few failures, I started to get the hang of the whole process and found myself enjoying the making of homemade bread on a regular basis.

One day, I came across some sourdough starter in a specialty baking store and thought I would give it a try. I like sourdough, and I’d always heard that making sourdough bread was a bit more challenging than baking regular bread. But I felt like I was up to the task after mastering the baking of regular bread. But it didn’t take me long to realize how different and challenging it really was.

In my early experience with sourdough bread, I chose to draw upon my traditional bread making experiences, but I failed miserably in the making a decent sourdough round. I sought out different approaches and read up on how to make such breads (This was in the days before Google) and could not seem to find anything written for the total novice. Most recipes used terminology that I was not familiar with and referenced techniques that I had no experience with.

After numerous failures, I set it aside and decided I would come back to it later, as I was just getting frustrated and not making any real progress. Over the years, I would occasionally think about taking up the effort again, but the many past failures and my busy life precluded me from going after the challenge.

Last Christmas, my wife purchased some sourdough starter for me, along with a number of cool things, a special jar to keep my starter in, some willow baskets to form the bread, a scraper tool to help handle the dough, a book, and most importantly, her encouragement and belief that I could master the necessary skills to be successful.

In the intervening years in my professional life, I had also learned a great deal about business process controls, and how to diagnose and fix process failures. This combination of skills played a part in my ultimate success in learning to make a proper round of sourdough bread.

First, I cracked open the book my wife gave me. The book was supposed to be for beginners, and the author made an effort in that direction, but he still wasn’t writing at a basic enough level for me. But what he did do well was talk about the science and history behind sourdough yeast. His deep understanding of the biology of yeast, and how yeast functioned, and the different types of yeast were a game changer for me. Once I realized how different sourdough yeast was from commercial yeast, I felt more confident.

My wife had ordered live starter for me, basically some raw sourdough with active yeast in it. There were instructions on how to get my starter going and how to care for it. I followed these to the letter, and within  a couple of weeks I had before me some healthy starter. While the starter was doing it’s thing, I did some more research (By this time Google was invented) and found another book written by this lady that really spoke to me as beginner. I ordered her book and using her approach plus my newfound understanding of the science behind sourdough, I attempted my first round of bread. It was closer than anything I had ever baked in the past, which was a huge win, but it was still a far cry from what I considered to be a decent sourdough. The bread was a bit flat, the crust was overdone. So I went back to her book and did some more reading and learned more.

I documented my recipe and the process I was using to make my bread step by step. Using my understanding of solving business process failures, I took an objective look at what I was doing and documented the factors that were potentially causing my bread to turn out poorly. With each successive try, I learned more and more, and after nearly a dozen attempts, I finally produced an amazing round of sourdough bread!

Now the real test was around repeatably. Could I use my cleaned up list and my newfound experience to repeat the same process and reliably get good results? I made several more rounds, and each came out perfect, confirming that I had finally mastered the basics of making sourdough.

There will be new things to learn, as I now shift from making basic sourdough to making different kinds of sourdough breads. After all, learning never stops and that’s half the fun.

But why did success ultimately happen?

There were several universal keys that are applicable to all things in life, not just mastering the art of making sourdough bread:

  1. Patience and persistence: All of life skills take patience and persistence in the face of failure. Even if it means we stand back for awhile and then re-engage to get better. One of the things I learned is that sourdough yeast is much less concentrated than commercial yeast, therefore, one must patiently wait much longer for the yeast to do it’s job of making the dough rise. There was no rushing this.
  2. Encouragement from others: Being encouraged by my wife and family really helped me be more persistent during those many failures that I experienced. Of course they were happily eating my mistakes as well.
  3. Knowledge: Without study, without a deeper understanding of the science behind sourdough, and the processes suggested in the baking steps, I would not have been successful in my later efforts.
  4. Application of knowledge: Of course, knowledge is pretty much useless unless I can apply what I learned in real life. Experience and  application of what we learn brings the entire subject to life, giving it purpose and significance.
  5. Consistency of process: I had to work very hard on this one. Consistency in the manner in which I prepared the bread dough, the steps in rising, controlling the temperature during the rise itself, and finally managing the bake times and temperatures to the exact minute, all were all critical to success.

The result of all of this was personal satisfaction and growth in my skills as a better baker.

These universal keys apply to many areas of life. When I think about my spiritual journey as a follower of Christ, there have been times along that journey where I  felt like I’d hit a patch, a place where I was kinda stuck. God seemed kind of quiet at times. But then I would be encouraged by others and realize that this is really a normal thing:

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.” (Lamentations 3:25–28, NIV)

In fact, I’ve had to learn that the grand meta-narrative that exists is really not about me at all, it’s really about God’s Kingdom and what it is that He has set out to accomplish. My part in all of this is to live out my life with Jesus, learn and apply his teachings, and allow my life to be used by God as a testimony of the Gospel itself.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV)

I know that along that journey, it’s absolutely critical that I must take the time to pray, to read the scriptures, and to seek to apply the principles that God teaches me to live out my life. It’s only through this careful and consistent approach that one gradually builds a sense of who God is, which increases our sensitivity to His voice in our lives, this in turn allows me to make better choices that are more consistent with his will and direction. To be sure, when I say hearing “God’s voice,” I don’t mean in literal audible sense,(Although scriptures record instances where God has spoken audibly) rather, I sense that normally God speaks to me through impressions that touch my heart, or in an idea that comes to mind. (Particularly one for which I would not have considered as my own.) Of course, because we are fallible human beings, it’s always good practice to validate God’s direction through prayer, the reading of scripture, and to take inputs from fellow believers for whom you know and trust to have God’s heart first. This way I can better limit my personal self-serving agendas and allow God to set His course for my life.

Life is a grand journey, and I hope that each person reading this will be encouraged wherever you are. Be confident that God does have a plan for how you will engage in his Kingdom. If you don’t know what that direction is at the moment, be at peace, God will communicate direction in His own time. But in the meantime, study His word, pray, and where appropriate, seek out the council of fellow believers.

In the end, your life will be ultimately be in alignment with Jesus, who himself is the bread of life.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35, NIV)

 

Are You Following the Right Flight Plan?

The flight that left London for Dusseldorf, Germany was uneventful and routine in almost every respect. Many passengers slept while others read or busied themselves with work on their computers.  It wasn’t until the plane landed that much to the traveler’s surprise; they found themselves in Edinburgh, Scotland instead!

How was that possible?

It was later determined that the crew were given the incorrect flight plan, which they followed all the way to Scotland. The airline was quiet apologetic, and after a short stent to refuel, they immediately took-off for a second time for Dusseldorf and arrived without further delay. (1)

What I found most fascinating about this true story was that the passengers didn’t know that they were heading in the wrong direction. They thought they were going to Germany, and they trusted the pilot to get them there. From London, the pilot should have been flying South to arrive in Germany, but they were flying North, completely in the opposite direction.

I wonder how many people today think that they’re going in the “right” direction when it comes to their lives? Wouldn’t it be terrible to come to the end of one’s life only to find out that all along we’d been following the wrong flight plan of life? Unlike the flight that landed in Scotland in error, when our lives are over, they’re over. There is no opportunity to refuel and try again.

Thankfully, God has provided us with the means to know the correct “flight plan” to take in this life. His flight plan is clear and unambiguous. Better yet, once we agree to his flight plan, and we let him be the pilot of our lives, he will always be present to help us correct our course should we attempt to   fly through life by our own faulty sense of direction. He becomes our trusty compass.

What about you? How’s your flight plan for your life working? Do you sense that perhaps you might be flying “off-course” but you don’t know where to turn for a better plan?

The good news is that Jesus said that he came to this earth to “seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) So it’s okay if you’re lost along the journey of life, just so long as you recognize it and change your course.  If you desire, Jesus, who loves you and is seeking you out, is available to set your life on the right and true course.

The news gets even better! Not only can we be on the right course though life, we can settle the question of eternity through faith, and know that our eternal life is set and founded on the rock of Christ, and nothing can dislodge it!

Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing you or I could ever do to earn the love that Christ has for us. His love is freely given to us through the grace of God. Our eternal standing before God almighty is given to us as a gift, a gift, which is transferred upon us by God’s grace. (Eph 2:8-9)

Jesus desires that each one of us experience life to the absolute fullness possible. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Yet there are many that insist on being their own pilot in this life. For them, sadly there is a stark and harsh ending to that story. The bible tells us that when we die, God will hold us accountable for the lives we’ve lived based upon our own plans.

Our eternal standing will not be based upon what we’ve done, rather it will be predicated upon our response to the message of Christ and his offer of eternal life. No one is excused from this reality, no matter how many good things a person may have done in their life. The fact is, unless we place our trust in Jesus, unless we allow him to be our pilot, our plans are guaranteed to fall short before God. (Rom 3:23)

But the Bible tells us that if we surrender our lives to Christ, completely and fully, that one day when we stand before God, God will allow us to live with him for eternity. Our eternal standing will be justified entirely by God’s grace through Christ’s work on the cross. It will be Christ who will redeem our lives freely and completely. (Rom 3:24)

What’s your decision? Will you keep being the pilot of your own life, flying the course that you think is best, or will you surrender that job to Christ?

If you desire to surrender your life to Christ, then take a moment and pray, (Prayer is just talking to God, he will hear you.)

There is no magic formula to this prayer. It’s not the prayer that saves us, rather it’s your faith in the work of Christ who died and rose again. If you are unsure of how to pray, feel free to use the following prayer as a guide:

“Dear God in heaven, I acknowledge to you that my life has fallen short of what you desire, that I have not honored you in the life I have lived, that I am in your eyes a sinner in need of your forgiveness.

I believe that your son Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross for my sinful condition, that he died and rose again, and I am willing now to change course in my life, to leave behind those things that dishonor you.

I confess Jesus as the lord of my soul. This very moment I accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior and according to His world, right now I am saved.

Thank you for your unlimited grace that has saved me. Please Lord, transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you along and not to myself.

Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me and giving me eternal life. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

(1) “Airplane Mistakenly lands in Scotland instead of Germany,” http://www.wdsu.com/article/airplane-mistakenly-lands-in-scotland-instead-of-germany/26931138, March 25, 2019

Our Time Opportunity

God gives each of us something I would characterize as “time opportunity.” It’s a window of time from the moment we are born until we die.

Time is one of the few things in life that cannot be restored or replenished. Once a minute passes by, it’s gone forever. We can never get it back. No amount of effort on our part can restore time that has been consumed.

In 1932, Robert H. Smith, penned the following poem entitled “Clock Of Life.” (1)

The clock of life is wound but once,

And no man has the power.

To say just when the hands will stop;

At late, or early hour.

Now is the only time we own to do His precious will,

Do not wait until tomorrow;

For the clock may then be still.

The time set for each of us is known only by the Master Time Keeper. In all cases, God gives us a pre-ordained and finite gift of time; from conception until we pass from this life into eternity.

The Psalmist captured this concept beautifully when he wrote:

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16, NIV)

This much we also know; life is uncertain, and we don’t know at which hour we will breath our last.

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:12, NIV)

As the author of Ecclesiastes observed, we experience death because of evil. And we know from the balance of the scriptures, that we experience evil because of humanity’s choice to have rejected God’s original plan for us.

It is the wise person who values and cherishes the time they have now. This same person understands that none of us can afford to waste our gift of time frivolously, rather they should invest their gift of time in the things of life that count.

Moses wrote:

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NIV)

It’s important that we should take a moment now and again and assess how we are using our time. Are we using it wisely or foolishly? Are we using our God given gift of time in ways that please our Lord?

These are important questions. In the end, when our time has run out, each of us will be individually accountable for how we used the time opportunity God gave us.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12, NIV)

In life, how we use our limited and non-renewable time reflects our priorities. When we use our time in ways that bring honor to God, we store up treasures in Heaven. Our rewards and treasures that God will shower us with in Heaven will be waiting for us when our time comes.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20, NIV)

“Herman Wouk, in his novel, “The Caine Mutiny”, (2) told about Willie Keigh, a character who was aboard a minesweeper in World War II, when he received word from his father that he had an incurable disease that would soon claim his life. In this letter, the father offered his son the following advice:

“There is nothing, nothing more precious than time.… Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end.…”

When we’re young, we often foolishly think we have all the time in the world…but that’s pride speaking. In reality, we don’t know how much time God has gifted us in this life. I’m sure many of you reading this, have experienced the death of someone for which it seemed unfair, that their life was taken all too early. I suppose all of us are at risk in this regard, as we simply don’t know when our time will be.

I recently attended the memorial service of a friend that died seemingly too early. He was a soft-spoken man of few words, and yet he had a profound impact on the lives of many people. At his memorial service, the church that we were in was packed. The main floor and the balcony were full, and people were standing in the aisles to honor him.

Person after person shared how this man always made himself available to help others, he served in quiet ways, seemingly in the background. Young and old alike were served by him.

As my family and I left the memorial service that day, I thought about this person, I thought about how wisely he had used his time. I thought of the huge impact he had on so many lives. While his death was unexpected for us, it was not for God. Like most of us, my friend had plans for the years ahead, yet he lived in the moment, in the now, to honor the Lord he served and loved. God has no doubt richly rewarded him for the manner and in the priorities in which he chose to live out his life.

The apostle Paul shared insights on how we as God’s people should live out our lives. He spoke of a framework of virtues from which we might bring to life by our actions.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”(Colossians 3:12, NIV)

Notice that Paul tells us to “clothe” ourselves in the virtues that God cherishes. These virtues speak of an expectation of actions on our part. They are to become the very fabric of who we are as Christ followers. Think of some of the actions that might come about from these virtues that Paul shared:
Compassion: Seeing a need and taking time to perhaps fill that need, or perhaps to talk to a person that is struggling with the weight of something significant in their heart.
Kindness: Offering your time to provide a meal, do a chore, or help a person in some other way.
Humility: Lending an ear to listen and while not offering unsolicited advice.
Gentleness: Visiting someone in the hospital and praying for them.
Patience: Investing time in a young person or family member, mentoring them and understanding that life is challenging, and that we need to be patient as we help them to uncover God’s plan for their lives.

Before we engage in our day, we should take a moment at it’s start to pause and consider how we are planning on using the time God has given us. As you look ahead, what are the actions that you plan to put in place to connect to the virtues that Paul spoke of?

Will you use your gift of time to honor God; to improve yourself so that you may serve Him more wisely, or will you consume your time to primarily serve self and passion?

In His wisdom, God has given each of us the time opportunity needed to fulfill His purposes, however long or short it might be. In the end, the question is not; do I need more time? Rather, it’s how will I use the time opportunity I’ve already been given?

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(1) Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 1481.

(2) G. Curtis Jones, 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1986), 350.

Staying Out of the Web

The Boeing 737 made a perfect touchdown on the seven-thousand-foot runway at the Oakland, California, International Airport, completing its one-hour-thirty-minute flight from San Diego. Once the aircraft arrived at its assigned terminal, its passengers, including nineteen weary but satisfied adults and teens, disembarked and made their way through the airport to collect their bags.

After a short wait in the baggage claim area, the giant chrome baggage carousel came to life, and one by one, individual pieces of luggage begin to spew from the baggage chute onto the now slowly turning carousel. The exhausted team joined other anxious travelers as they bunched up near the big machine, pulling their bags off the carousel.

After all the bags had been retrieved, the group made their way to the parking garage. There they were greeted by several volunteers that had arrived from their church to pick them up for the final forty-mile drive North towards home.

I was out shopping when my son called to let me know that they had landed safety and were on the road from the airport to our church parking lot. I arrived at our church  after an uneventful fifteen-minute drive from our home.

As I pulled in, I spotted my son standing near his grey suitcase, tanned, wearing a handsome wool poncho that he must have purchased while in Mexico. On top of his head was his ever-present sombrero, now marked with an additional stripe of paint on the brim, making it four colorful stripes on the hat. Each paint stripe signified yet another successful mission to Mexico, where this amazing team spent the past five days showing the love of Jesus in a tangible way, by building a deserving family a modest home.

The family that would occupy the new home would move from a leaking shack assembled from cardboard, old tarps, and scraps of wood, to a much-improved shelter. Family members had reported that during the seasonal rain storms, their old “home” rained inside as much as it did outside. There were as many as five family members that slept in a single eight foot by ten-foot room.

Their new home, built by our church team, would probably not be considered much more than a high-end shed in our country, but it had electricity, a real roof, a slab floor, windows, it was even furnished with curtains, beds with mattresses, complete with sheets and blankets, and even dishes on their new kitchen table. The family would stay dry during the rainy season, and this house boasted several rooms, enough to provide for much improved sleeping arrangements.

During our drive home, my son and I were reflecting on his experiences while he was in Mexico. One of the first observations he shared, was that despite the desperately poor conditions, many people loved the Lord and felt comfortable expressing their faith causally in everyday conversation. In general, he described the atmosphere as that of a culture of respect for Christ and God in general. People who spoke about Christ did so with no inhibition on this topic.

He found this to be in remarkable contrast to the United States, a country that boasts so often about freedom of expression and freedom of religion. A country that once securely aligned its foundation and cultural identity with God and the Scriptures. And yet today, it seems that the typical Christ follower can almost expect to be shunned and shutdown in the social media and academic settings, places where one would expect a free exchange of views.

As we conversed, we concluded that it was almost as though the great blessings, wealth, and protection that God has provided our country has allowed its people to forget our roots and the Author of our blessings. In many ways, we’ve become an ungrateful nation. We seemed to have forgotten that we too were once a nation on edge, struggling to survive. Somewhere along the way we seemed to have lost our gratefulness, forgotten God, and replaced our faith with trust in ourselves.

Job expressed himself on the topic of forgetting God:

“Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web.” (Job 8:13–14, NIV)

To lose touch with our God is to lose hope, it’s the precursor to losing our love and compassion for others, it prevents us from standing up for God’s best in our lives while engaging in our counterculture world. In the process we run the risk of replacing the love of Christ with the easy to reach traits of cynicism, disengagement, and anger, all directed towards those around us that we encounter daily, often the very people that need to hear the hopeful message of the Gospel. Much like Job’s spiderweb, it’s often hard to see until we too become trapped and tangled in its many strands.

We should be encouraged though, because God has given us the Scriptures in which to offer us insights as to how Jesus responded to the world at large in his day. While our technology has changed since his days of His ministry on Earth, the fundamental human being and the challenges we face have remained remarkably similar.

There are at least three things we can do right now to help remind us of God’s blessings and to preserve within us a heart of genuine gratefulness:

  1. We should strive to live our lives with daily compassion towards others.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV)

In this passage, Matthew recounted his observations of Jesus as he was traveling from town to town, sharing the Gospel of salvation and healing many from physical and emotional illnesses. Matthew could not help but notice the deep compassion that Jesus had for others.

Sometimes we go through our day and fail to “see” the hurt around us. Jesus was active in his compassion towards others, it was built into who he was and is today. We ought to model that type of compassion in our lives as he did.

Take a moment when you spot a family member, a friend, co-worker, etc. that seems like they need a listening ear, and be a compassionate listener. Often, we are powerless to solve their actual problem or take away their pain, but just as often, they can be encouraged by our presence as we offer ourselves up to listen. In doing so, we help move them from being a helpless harassed victim to being strengthened and encouraged to carry on through their current situation. In time, our efforts at listening may allow us to share with them how they might have lasting encouragement through a relationship with Christ.

  1. Love the unlovable

“ ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’” (Luke 6:32–33, NIV)

I once had a pastor who always seemed to love the unlovable. Once during a potluck at our church, I saw him with a plate of food looking for a table to sit at. Any table would have loved to have him join them; but he chose the table occupied by several people that were kind of “special,” as our society would politely call them.

They lacked social graces, and probably didn’t score too many points in the personal hygiene department either. Essentially, they were outcasts, even within Christian circles. Nonetheless, that’s who our pastor had dinner with that night. He loved on them like any other person in our church family. He made those folks feel like they were the center of his world.

The world is full of those that aren’t the most lovable. Jesus made a good point that if our motive to love others is predicated on the return of such love, then our hearts have missed the entire point of what real love is.

Thankfully He loved me first, when I was a lost outcast, without any expectation that I would return His love. I’m so grateful for His unconditional love.

  1. Be generous with our mercy

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36, NIV)

Mercy is the idea of being generous, forgiving of others, and having compassion, reaching out and identifying with a person at an emotional level. It also captures the idea of providing help and encouragement, particularly where others fail to do so.

When we extend our mercy to another, our actions often permit a person to have a fresh start. Our actions can often release them from some personal indebtedness that might have arisen from some past offense. To be free of such a debt is a gift by itself.

Mercy is one of God’s most fundamental qualities. Without which, none of us would ever be able to engage with God in a personal relationship.

Interestingly, when we see the quote from Jesus on the topic of mercy, he describes what our state should be, even before he speaks of what we should specifically be doing to show mercy towards others. We need to live out our lives with this mindset of mercy. Mercy is not something that can be made a duty, it must come from our hearts.

Ultimately, to guard our hearts and to keep us from adopting the easy negative virtues that are so common today, we must actively engage Jesus everyday through the scriptures, prayer, song, and in the way, we live out our lives each day. If we can connect our hearts of compassion and mercy to our actions, our hearts will be guarded because of the transformative power made available to us through our living relationship with Christ.