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 was 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 in 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 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)

 

Peace

Work was only hours away…the little numbers on my bedside digital clock pierced through the darkness, the electronic digits advanced without mercy. A glowing dot on the clock face pulsed with each passing second like a symphony conductor keeping the tempo of time.

As I tried to fall asleep, I could hear the jangle of night sounds emanating from outside of my bedroom window. Periodically cars would drive by, their presence betrayed by the ever-increasing reverberation of their tires as they drew near and then as they faded into the cool night air after the sound of their tires reached its zenith just outside of my bedroom window.

At times these sounds would be supplemented by the “clip-pity-clop” sound of the occasional late night skateboarder as they rolled by on the nearby sidewalk. I thought to myself; Why are so many people awake!? “Doesn’t anyone in this town sleep?

I asked myself; “Where are all these people going and what are they doing awake in the middle of the night? Why aren’t they home asleep?

I considered the possibility for a moment that perhaps they were part of a throng of sleepless zombies; people like me who found sleep elusive.

I wondered if I would soon be joining them.

At long last, after several hours of wakefulness, my eyes became heavy. I sensed I was soon to be enveloped in a blanket of sleep. I felt an inner joy as I became aware of my gradual release from the conscience world. My soft pillow and I merged to become one as I drifted towards peaceful bliss.

Suddenly I was startled awake and wrenched into reality by the raucous barking of my neighbor’s dog!

I was wide awake again.

Oh the frustration!

With all this time on my hands, I found myself thinking once again about work, finances, and waxing philosophically about life.

It seems we have so much to worry about.

The world outside was one filled with ongoing wars and threats of more wars, unstable economics, college bills, debts, health issues, social upheaval, infringements on our ability to speak and worship freely, and the battle of so many contrary ideas that have simply been caught and brought without any real discussion.

Yet there must be a way to find rest in such times. I had to find a way, because I’d come to the realization during my sleepless state of mind that the turmoil of our times were not likely to lessen.

It would be sometime later, while investigating the topics of peace and rest, I found that I wasn’t alone in my sleepless misery on that particular night. After studying the matter I came to the conclusion, at least in the United States, that we’re a driven, over stimulated, and stressed out bunch of people.

In 2016, the American Psychological Association’s annual survey of stress in America had its first statistically significant year-over-year increase in stress levels since it launched its stress measure a decade ago.(11)

In 2015, we were more likely to have experienced extreme stress than in prior times. (a rating of 8,9 or 10 on a 10-point scale). Twenty-four percent of adults reported extreme stress levels, compared to 18 percent in 2014. This represented the highest percentage reporting of extreme stress since 2010. (2)

How are we as a people generally coping with all of this stress?

As you might surmise…we’re not doing a very good job.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 23.5 million people are treated each year for abuse of drugs and alcohol in the United States.(10) Our coping through such means costs our nation dearly at many levels. Translated into dollars, it’s been estimated that our poor coping behavior costs our nation $700 billion dollars a year.(9)

How are we to manage? Where do we turn for a lasting solution? Are we alone in this walk or has someone already shown us a way to experience peace within a world of sustained extreme stress?

It turns out that the problems of extreme stress and the search for peace are not new ones.

Throughout history people have struggled with the pressures of economics, security, and threats of war. Such was the case for ancient Judah.

Between 601-604 BC the Southern Kingdom of Judah found itself in the unenviable position of being under the thumb of King Nebuchadnezzar, the absolute ruler of the Babylonian Empire.

In return for not being squashed and destroyed by the Babylonians, the king exacted a yearly tax, or tribute from his subject states. Such was the case for Judah. If a state failed to pay-up on it’s yearly obligation it was seen as an act of rebellion, and he would send his armies to deal with the recalcitrant country.

During this time the Egyptians and Babylons had been constantly at odds. Judah was often caught in the middle of their power struggles. In 601 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco prevented Nebuchadnezzar from invading Egypt. In due course the leaders in Judah perceived that the Egyptians would ultimately prevail and they made a bet siding with Neco and chose to stop paying its tribute to Nebuchadnezzar.

Things didn’t turn out the way they planned and Nebuchadnezzar didn’t take the news of Judah’s lack of tribute very well. He responded by laying siege to Jerusalem (598-597 BC). When it was over, the Babylonians plundered Jerusalem taking the temple treasures and forcibly deporting many of the Jewish leaders relocating them to Babylon. These were tense, tough times for the people and families that lived in Judah.

Fortunately for most of the population, Nebuchadnezzar allowed them to remain in their homes. The city was basically left intact under an appointed governor by the name of Zedekiah. During this time the people of Judah were under tremendous pressure, living in a volatile place with a great deal of uncertainty and stress.

In times past, when the Kingdom had been under King Solomon, there had been security and certainty. One could plan their future with some degree of confidence. God had blessed Solomon and the people benefited from the resulting peace. But that was then, now under Zedekiah they found themselves in very uncertain times.

Zedekiah didn’t remain faithful or grateful to King Nebuchadnezzar for very long. Things went sour and in 587 B.C. Zedekiah decided to spawn yet another rebellion against the very Babylonian King that had appointed him as governor. Once again, Judah’s faulty decision making was inspired by the Egyptians as they advanced against Babylon, this time under Psammeticus II.

Again Judah bet wrong. The failure of Judah to pay its tribute the second time pushed Nebuchadnezzar over the edge. In 586 B.C. he responded by once again laying siege to Jerusalem. This time he didn’t stop at just laying seige to the city, he sacked it after it surrendered, destroying the entire city and it’s fortifications. He burned the temple, palaces, homes, and deported large portions of the remaining population back to Babylon. (12)

The years rolled by and the Judean captives that had been deported to Babylon had adapted to a relatively secure life, yet it was not a real life of peace for many. They still remembered their past and what it had been like living in Jerusalem and worshiping in the temple that had been the glorious center in the City of David. Their lament over this spiritual separation from their past was evident and expressed from the heart in Psalm 137:1.

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

By 539 B.C. the Persians under Cyrus had come to power and invaded Babylon under the banner of liberator. In keeping with this theme, Cyrus ordered the restoration of ancient temples while suggesting the possibility of the return of dispersed peoples to their homelands.

In 538 B.C. Cyrus did just that, by issuing an edict allowing the Jews to return to Judah and ordering that the Jerusalem temple be rebuilt. He even contributed some of the funding for this project from his own treasury. (Ezra 1:2-4;6:3-5;2 Chr 36:22-23) In general, most historians painted Cyrus as much more tolerant towards peoples in his empire than his predecessors the Assyrians and Babylonians.

A fellow by the name of Sheshbazzar, who was of a royal Davidic lineage, was appointed governor and entrusted by Cyrus to the return of the silver vessels taken originally from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar. Under his leadership the foundations of the new temple were laid.

By 530 B.C. Cyrus had been killed while fighting in the northeastern areas of his kingdom. His son Cambyses took over briefly before dying in 522 B.C. . His death left Persia in a state of chaos for two years while rivals fought for control of the throne.

Darius I ultimately emerged as the winner and took his place on the throne to rule the Persian Empire.

It was shortly after this time that the Prophet Haggai preached in Jerusalem, during the second year of Darius’s rule, encouraging the Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. It was believed that Haggai was an older man by this time and may have remembered Solomon’s Temple in better times. (Hag 2:3) Haggai shared the following to the people:

“‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”” (Haggai 2:9, NIV)

In the aftermath of war, invasion, deportation, hardships that one could only imagine, the people of Judah simply wanted and desired peace. Through Haggai God promised that He alone would grant such peace.

Many theologians believe that Haggai, in speaking of the peace that God promised, was pointing to the future glory of Christ and the eternal peace that Christ would ultimately bring.

Years later, the apostle Paul wrote of peace in his prayer at the conclusion of his letter to the church at Thessolonica:

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NIV)

God is the author and giver of peace and the one solely capable of giving us real peace. Our God always wants to give us good things, and one of the good things He desires to give us is genuine peace.

Much like the times of Judah, we too face turmoil and unrest. Threats from powers outside of our country and division within our country. We are in a state of constant agitation which makes peace, and subsequent rest problematic.

At this point it might help if we try to better describe what peace actually is and what the these passages tell us about peace.

Much of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew word used most commonly for peace was the word “shalom,” which has the sense of “health”, “wholeness”, and “salvation.” It’s not simply the absence of strife, which is the most common view of peace that we hold today.

When the Lord told Haggai that he was going to “grant peace” to the people that had came to restore the temple, he used the Hebrew “Shalom.” He was speaking of a deep underlying peace present even in the most difficult of circumstances.

The people that had come back to restore the temple faced a daunting task. After so many years they could not start the restoration of the temple right away because the place had become completely overgrown. Additionally they needed to build shelters and homes for themselves. Add to the whole problem the lack of resources and other logistical challenges, one could see how they might have become very discouraged.

We’re not much different ourselves today. The Evil One never wants us to have peace. Instead he would rather have us to live in a state of perpetual strife and angst. One could make the case that peace and rest go hand-in-hand. Without peace it impossible to rest; and yet rest is what we often find ourselves seeking in order to have peace.

Paul reminded us that when God grants us peace, it’s a peace for “all times” and in “every way.” God’s peace is not a peace that comes and goes. The author of eternal living peace can only be found in Jesus, the ultimate author peace. The scriptures attest to the degree of peace that’s associated with Jesus.

Recall if you will the scene in the Gospel of Luke:

“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”” (Luke 8:22–25, NIV)

Imagine the scene. Waves were crashing around the the boat, the disciples were panicked believing that they were in imminent danger of sinking. Through it all what did Jesus do?

He slept.

Only a person totally at peace in the midst of a raging storm could possibly sleep under such circumstances. After Jesus calmed the storm with divine power, He asked them; “Where is your faith”? He did so because he was reminding them of how much God cares for them and that even in the midst of a raging storm, Jesus’s silence as he slept did not equate to a lack of awareness and love for His disciples. We should take solace in this wonderful example of God’s expression of love. He loves us even in the midst of the torrents of the storms of life, and that love translates as peace in the moment.

The truth is, his love is the only love that can give us the peace that will allow us to rest in the midst of the tensions and stresses and challenges that this life can dish up. Someone once said that “the legacy of Christ is not advice about peace, it is peace.”

During the that night in which I had so much trouble sleeping, I pulled out my Bible. It was during that wakeful evening that the Lord impressed upon me though the scriptures that authentic and lasting peace can only come from Him, and that if one accepts this fundamental propositional truth, then rest will come. And it did and continues to do so for me.

Has life got you down? Are you having trouble finding the peace that seems to so allude so many? If so ,I would like to suggest that you take a moment and look at what Jesus has to offer. The Prince of Peace has enough peace to give you and anyone who desires it, the gift of peace and the deep rest that follows. His peace is a lasting peace, in fact he offers it as a gift to each of us. His peace is an eternal peace.

C.S. Lewis shared that God and peace are completely interwoven, they’re one. In the end he concluded that “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”

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(1) https://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/
(2) http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx
(3) https://www.instapaper.com/read/894555129
(4) http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/september/are-us-christians-really-persecuted.html?start=2
(5) https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/preliminary-semiannual-uniform-crime-report-januaryjune-2016
(6) https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76
(7) https://studentloanhero.com/featured/effects-of-student-loan-debt-us-economy/
(8) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2016/03/28/u-s-debt-is-heading-toward-20-trillion-where-its-been-where-its-going-and-why/#57a60a197a25
(9) https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics
(10) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-statistics
(11) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/05/01/stress-negativity-mindfulness/100989170/
(12) Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas, Holman Reference (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998); p158-186

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

In Pursuit of Stillness

“Be still, and know that I am God;” (Psalm 46:10 a)

There are times I hearken back to the days when I was a child. Summer was the best of times for me. I spent most of it barefoot, playing with my siblings and friends; all the while exploring and inventing imaginary games of adventure and fun. School would be out for the Summer, and other than a few chores, I had no real responsibilities to contend with. My parents wisely recognized the importance of play and unstructured time for kids.

On warm Summer days when it became too hot to play, I would often scamper up an old car tire that we had leaning against a massive trunk of a stately Silver Maple that resided in our backyard.

From the tire, I would reach up to grab hold of the lowest limb, from there I would swing up onto the huge limbs that offered shade from the hot rays of the midday sun. The branches were so big that I could easily lay back comfortably, resting by body much like I was sitting in a large wooden lounge chair.

With it’s branches dressed in shimmering leaves that stirred  gently in response to the touch of the warm afternoon breezes, I would lay nestled securely under the massive canopy of greenery.

The warm summer air would often draw me into a sleepy dreamlike state. It  would be then that I would find myself entranced,  staring upwards as I would lay on my back watching the occasional birds bounding and chirping from one branch to another.

In those moments, all would be well in my world; there were no worries, I found myself awash  in a state of blissful peace.

I believe God originally intended for us to live our lives without the worries and anxieties that we’re routinely faced with today. Sadly, when humanity fell, the Evil One stole from us the security and peace that was once intended.

Since then, we’ve continued to trade God for a world filled with stuff, worries, busyness, and the constant concerns of life. We’re fed a steady diet of news, piped directly to us at every moment of the day. Most of the news is bad. But Evil sells, so we have lots of bad news.

Even as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, one would think I would be able to steer clear of the worry and stresses of this life, but there are times where I manage to allow myself to become gradually sucked into an abyss of worry. I recently heard a pastor share that “tomorrow is God’s realm and not ours.”  What a simple but profound thought.

In reality, worry is a symptom of misplaced trust, or more accurately, lack of trust in the only One for whom any trust should be given. Jesus.

Jesus said that He came so that you and I might live out our lives to the full. (John 10:10) He did not say we should live out our lives in a state of stress and worry.

Admittedly, I toil to live my life to the full. Often I allow the noises and worries of this life to drown out the gentle voice of my Lord. At times, I’m so busy trying to tackle the struggles of this life, that I don’t always savor the moments of fullness that Jesus wants me to have.

I am reminded that I am but an imperfect person, born in an imperfect world. Because we live in this fallen state, I cannot hope to live my current life as fully as I will one day be able to in Heaven. Yet Jesus has given us a little taste of where all of this is going. When He came, He did so to set the stage for his final return.

In the meantime, I need to take the advice of the Psalmist who shared a simple but direct message from our Heavenly Father; “be still and know that I am God.”

While I can’t fully disconnect from our world, that’s not realistic in our current imperfect state;  I can consciously and intentionally elect to carve out part of my day and spend it with Jesus.

The choice is ours to figure out  in terms of when and how. But I know for me it’s been a priority to turn off my connectivity for part of each day, to spend that time in prayer, to read my Bible, to meditate upon Scripture, or consider a devotion.

Furthermore, with God’s help, I have learned that I need to keep on surrendering my burdens to Jesus, (Matthew 11:28 ) because I cannot carry them myself.

But the most important pursuit in my walk with the Lord is to “be still.” Allowing me to hear Him speak to my heart, secure my mind, and bring a divine peace to my soul that only God can provide.

Peace Through Division

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

A sword divides that which it strikes. By its nature it is associated with conflict. We are called to honor God with all of our being, with all that we are. We do so not out of obligation, but from a continuous loving response to His love for us.

As His people, we are called to be holy. This is a reflection of God’s very nature. The Hebrew word for “holy” means that we are to be “set apart,” such that we may serve God in a manner that is consistent with His nature.

It is from the scriptures that we learn of God’s nature, we know this through God’s word which is made known to us through his Spirit which resides within each of us. (Ephesians 6:17) His word has been described as the “sword of the Spirit.”

We are on a journey in this life, however long or short it might be. In this time, God’s word is penetrating and powerful, it will judge our very thoughts, attitudes, and the true motivations of our hearts and minds. (Hebrews 4:12)

It’s only when we respond honestly; to the reality of what God’s word reveals in our hearts, that we grow, that our journey in this life becomes clear, that His peace reigns over any circumstance we may face.

Are you being truly honest with yourself in what God is revealing about you and your life’s choices, your priorities, or how you’re spending your time and resources? Dividing is painful, but more so when we cling to that which we should let go.

To be set apart is to divide ourselves from our old self and to cling to God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. For only then shall we experience a lasting peace that transcends all understanding.