A freshly cut onion with the title: Onion Layers

 

Examining Onion Layers

I glance at the clock. Time to start making supper. As I close my computer and head toward the kitchen, I decide that stroganoff would make a tasty meal tonight.

At the pantry, I reach for onions. Since this batch of onions was starting to go bad, I’m glad the bag is nearly finished. I make a mental note to put them on the shopping list.Red onions

Pulling out two onions, I glance at them. One is large and decently healthy looking. The other is small and covered in rot.

I place the cutting board on the counter and begin peeling the larger onion. That done, I locate my favourite knife and slice the onion in half.

I frown at what I see inside.

Although the large onion appeared healthy, the center has a rotting section. With a sigh I dissect it, discarding what’s bad.

I eye the smaller onion. If the onion that had appeared considerably healthier on the outside was rotten at the core, what chance did this miserable looking onion have of containing anything good at all?

Maybe I should just throw it out.

I glance at the pile on my cutting board of chopped good onion. It’s not as big as I want it to be for the meal. I could grab another onion from the bag and out-right discard the bad one. However, I wasn’t planning to shop for groceries for a few more days. With the onion bag so low, perhaps it was worth checking to see if the smaller onion had anything worth keeping.

Resigning myself to the unpleasant task, I gingerly reach for the smaller onion. I’ll give it a try.

I slice the onion open.

To my astonishment, the rot on this onion only went two or three layers deep. Once I peeled away the outside, I had a crisp juicy looking onion. Incredibly, the good parts of this onion looked far healthier than the good parts of the larger onion.

Chopped onion in bowlThe good part of the large healthy onion appeared fine and passable, but the good part of the small rotten onion appeared fresh and delicious.

I shake my head in wonderment. I’ve long known that onions go bad more or less in layers. Peel away the bad layers and you’ll likely find good usable onion within. This particular bag of onions, however, had thus far contained several onions that appeared mostly healthy on the outside, but had a bad section at their core. How amazing to find that the one onion that looked the worst was actually the best inside.

As I toss the chopped onions into the frying pan and turn on the heat, I find myself thinking about how people can have layers as well.

The Sunday School Lesson

Perhaps the most well-known verse to go with this thought is 1 Samuel 16:7b – a verse I memorized as a child.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b NIV2011)

When did God say these words? God spoke them through His prophet Samuel when choosing a new king for the nation of Israel. God didn’t choose the strongest or the best looking. He chose David, a young shepherd boy at the time.

Here’s another translation of the verse: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b CSB)

Just like with the onions, I cannot see what is inside those around me, but God can.

If you grew up attending Sunday school, you’ve probably heard this principle many times. I know I have. It’s an important reminder from time to time, yet as I pondered the onion allegory, I wondered if there was something more for me to learn here.

A Further Onion Allegory

Then I recalled another passage of Scripture – a rather convicting one.

In Matthew 23, Jesus was pointing out the errors of the religious leaders of the day. He said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. … You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28 NIV2011)

For now, the lesson for me to consider has to do with my own core. What are my thoughts like and how do I behave when no one is there to see me? Am I rotten in these private unseen parts of my life?

It is so easy to do as the Pharisees did and focus on making the outside of my life look good.

Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus had said: “Everything they do is done for people to see.” (Matthew 23:5a NIV2011)

So how am I doing? Am I seeking God with all my heart or is it all for show? Am I giving Him room to work in the hidden areas of my life to be transforming me into His image? Or do I need to repent of selfishness and greed and hypocrisy and wickedness?

Will I be like the religious leaders who prompted Jesus’ cry at the end of Matthew 23?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 NIV2011)

Or do I pray as David did?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!”

(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

Picture of a bread machine paddle with title: "Marvel of the Bread Machine"

 

My Bread Machine

Recently, I was given a bread machine. I was thrilled to try it out.

Making homemade bread sounded appealing to me, especially when my favourite bread store closed. However, the thought of making bread by hand with all the kneading and learning the timing of waiting for it to rise, seemed daunting. It appeared to me a challenging art to be perfected, not to mention a workout.

This machine promised to handle all that for me. My job was to dump in the ingredients and push “start.” Its job was to magically turn those ingredients into a loaf of fresh bread.

I skimmed through several recipes before settling on one to do first. A basic whole wheat loaf.

I pulled out the ingredients. Yup, I had everything. I brought the bread pan to the table. Somehow I needed to attach that little paddle in the bottom. It took me a couple of tries before it slid into place. No screws or pins, just a little paddle sitting on a shaft. How would such a little thing be able to do the work that I, as a full-grown human being, found intimidating?Ingredients in a bread machine

Well, apparently it would work, so I started measuring the ingredients. First the water, then the flour. Following that, the rest of the ingredients were dumped on top. I’d heard that it’s important to keep the yeast from touching the water and salt so I was careful to keep them separated.

That was it. All the ingredients were in. I re-checked the recipe to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. All good. Time to put the pan into the machine and figure out how to turn it on.

I closed the lid and plugged the machine in. Would it really turn such a small mound of ingredients into a full loaf of bread? There was only one way to find out.

I opened the manual and discovered that all I needed to do was press “Start”. So, I pushed the button. Right away I could hear the machine start working. It was rather noisy.

It pulsed and then whirled for a long time. Then it stopped and was silent. Again it whirled, then went silent. The indicator light told me which stage it was in: knead, first rise, second rise, and then bake. Finally, after a couple of hours, it reached the bake stage. The outside of the machine warmed up. I held my breath.

Just over four hours after I hit start, the machine beeped. I hurried to it!

It was done! I unplugged the machine and opened the lid. With oven mitts, I pulled out the pan and shook a golden fresh loaf onto the cooling rack.

There it was. I couldn’t help but marvel at it. Somehow that boxy machine and its little paddle had turned the ingredients into delicious fresh bread.

Living the Little Moments Well

As I pondered the marvel of the bread machine, I wondered what I could learn from it.

Perhaps one of the clearest allegories has to do with the impact I have on people’s lives. Whether it be children, family, neighbours, colleagues, or whoever else I have in my life, the little moments eventually add up to having a big impact.

That bread machine paddle was small – I could hold it in the palm of my hand. Yet, as it went around and around and around, it had a huge impact. Sometimes it just pulsed, sometimes it rotated to the right and sometimes to the left. Little by little, it mixed the dough just right. 

Sometimes I wonder if I need to be the next Billy Graham to tell people the Good News, or I feel like I have to be some super-neighbour.

The bread machine shows me that I don’t have to do something huge to impact others for great good. Rather, I need to live the little moments well.

What is it about the little moments that hold such value? Acting in love.

As Paul reminds us:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV)

Indeed, Paul instructs us to: “seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 CSB)

I am to aim to live the little moments of life well rather than focusing on the big ones while neglecting the little ones.

The Order Matters

There is one more key to be mentioned. The bread maker gives a critical clue regarding how such little moments can have so large an impact. The order of things matters.

I have observed that every bread machine recipe starts with putting in the water and/or milk. While I have not been told such, I believe I can safely conclude that putting the flour in first would cause the machine great trouble.

What can I learn from this? Is there something that must always come first in my life? Indeed there is.

I am to love God first and foremost and seek Him above all else. (Matthew 22:37-38, Matthew 6:33) When I do so, every little rotation will have meaningful impact.

When I fail to put God first in my life, like failing to add water first in the bread machine, I will have great difficulty making anything worth keeping. In fact, I may totally break down because the pressure is too great and I cannot rotate at all.

Does leading a quiet life mean I should keep to myself and never be bold for Jesus? No.

Paul tells us:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV)

Therefore, as I go about my day today, may I make it my goal to live wisely. What does that look like? It looks like putting God first and doing my best at what He has given me to do. Being intentional to do the little things well, with love. As the bread machine has shown me, that is how to have a big impact.

Interested in reading another allegory about the impact we leave on people’s lives? Check out The Time of Blossoms

Getting ready by tying shoes behind title: "Steady Ready Stance"

 

How we stand is important. Nearly every sport has a specific ready stance – a way of standing that improves performance. Many other activities also benefit from having a steady stance. What about my walk with God? Am I standing in a steady ready stance?Boy in ready pose

Recently, as I watered the plants on my windowsills, I found myself thinking about stance. I have plants on four different windowsills in my house. As I watered them this time, I didn’t spill when watering the plants on three of the windows. On the fourth window, however, I accidentally poured some of the water onto the windowsill… again. As I wiped the spilled drops with a towel, I asked myself why it was that the plants on this particular windowsill seem to be the only ones that, when watering, I frequently spill.

The flower pots on the fourth window are identical to the flower pots on the other windows. Therefore, the type of flower pot couldn’t be the problem. I was using the same container to water them and the container was filled to a comparable level as when I watered the other plants. So what was the difference?

Then it dawned on me. My stance was different. The angle at which I approached the flower pots on the fourth window was different from the other three windows. I didn’t have a clear path to the fourth window, so my stance was unusual. My stance wasn’t steady. It forced my arm to a weird angle as I attempted to pour water into the pots.

Once I cleared the path to the windowsill, enabling a better stance, I had less problem with spilling as I watered.

This got me thinking about how important good stances are.

Growing up, I played ringette for many years. (If you don’t know what ringette is, picture ice hockey and you’ll be close.) Early on, they taught us the ready stance. The ready stance involved keeping knees bent and hands on the ringette stick poised for action.

(For those unfamiliar with this ready stance – often refered to as the “hockey stance” – here’s a quick video example.)

   

From this stance, it is easy to skate toward the action with a burst of speed. If, on the other hand, I were to stand tall and cross my arms while I waited for the action to start, I would be caught off balance. I would likely stumble and fall. Even if I didn’t fall, I would lose valuable seconds as my opponent got to the ring first. Elite ringette or hockey players will frequently be spotted in the ready stance.

Then I began playing goalie for my ringette team. Again there was a ready stance, but this one was different. The ready stance for goalies involves keeping the blade of the goalie stick flat on the ice, and their legs ready to go down in a butterfly at a moment’s notice. Despite the difference in this particular stance, the same principles apply. The goal of the ready stance is to be able to jump into action at the blink of an eye without being caught off balance or flat-footed.

Other activities also benefit from having a good stance.

When walking on ice, having a steady stance is important. Those experienced with walking in icy conditions learn tricks in how to move their feet and legs that help them stay upright. When climbing a ladder, using a good stance keeps the person from falling or toppling the ladder. When lifting a heavy box, using the right stance protects the person from back injuries.

Stance is important in many areas of life. Stance is also important in my walk with the Lord.

The Bible talks about a steady ready stance from which to approach life. This stance is especially helpful when life gets tricky.

What is that stance? Well, first off, much of the Bible is filled with instructions and examples of what my stance ought to be (or ought not to be). Therefore, if I want to understand the full picture of the stance God desires for me to have, I must be reading the Bible – the whole Bible – regularly.

However, to keep this post short, I will focus on two aspects of the Christian stance: faith and readiness.

2 Corinthians 5:7 reminds us that: “we walk by faith, not by sight.”

What is faith? Taking God at His Word. To walk in faith is to trust and obey God. Faith gives steadiness to our stance. (For examples of what faith looks like, read Hebrews 11.)

The second aspect of my stance ought to be a readiness.

“Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear…”  (1 Peter 3:15b-16a HCSB)

My stance is to be a ready stance – ready to explain what I believe.

What does this look like? Many examples exist in the book of Acts of godly individuals using the opportunities they had to share about Jesus.

Truth be told, my stance is not always one of readiness and faith. How can I change that? By being intentional to know God and His Word.

We are told that the Bible is “able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3:15b-17 HCSB)

Keep in mind that the Christian stance is not just about head knowledge. The closer I am walking with God, living according to His Word, the more my stance will be one of faith and readiness.

So how is my stance doing? Have I stopped to consider it recently, or am I too caught up in the busyness of life? Am I off-balance and flat-footed? Or am I steady and ready for action, walking close with my Lord?

Person contemplating at beach with title: Beauty From Trials

 

I slipped out of the cabin and stepped quietly down the gravel path. Lifting my head to the early morning sky, I pulled my jacket closer.

It was November, many years ago, and I was on a retreat with my youth group.

As I moved away from the cabin, I looked around. Where should I head on this solitary morning walk?

Having made up my mind, I wandered towards the lake. I sang softly as I strolled, enjoying the crisp edge of the chill air.Waves on shore

At the beach, I breathed deeply. What lovely peaceful solitude. What a wonderful way to start my day with some alone time with my Lord.

I had a lot I wanted to talk to God about this morning. A number of months earlier I’d begun dealing with health issues. We did not yet know what the problem was.

This being my first retreat since the issues arose, I knew I couldn’t join any games as I tired easily, but I hoped and prayed I would be able to participate fully in the rest of the retreat.

As I stood discussing this with my Lord, and expressing to Him the grief of having to miss out on the games which I enjoyed so much, my eyes shifted to the edge of the beach where it met the water. I stopped. I stooped to look closer.

There, where the sand met the water, a narrow band of ice had formed. It was no more than a few inches wide. In an Albertan winter, ice is common, but this ice was different.

I expected ice on the edge of a lake to be flat and dull, but this ice displayed a sparkly shine. Not only that, but this ice was beautifully rounded as if by a master craftsman. It reminded me of glistening diamonds. I wish I had a picture to share with you!

As I crouched admiring the beauty of this ice, I puzzled over it. How did it become so lovely?

Examining it, I noted the wind causing the water to lap against the beach. As each chilly wave rolled over the ice and drained back, the ice became a little more sculpted and a little more sparkly.

I asked the Lord what I could learn from this, and quickly knew the answer.

That ice, had it never endured each wave, would have been bland and flat. Only the trial of many waves over an extended period of time could have given it the sculpted beauty I beheld.

What did it mean for me? In that moment, I needed to trust that God was using the trial of my ill health to round me and sculpt me so as to make me beautiful in a way that only He can. Then I can sparkle for Him.

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”  James 1:2-4 CSB

Why do I share this story from so many years ago? Because I believe it holds an encouraging reminder for us. The trials we are facing today, perhaps pandemic related or perhaps not, are being used by God to shape us to be more beautiful in His sight. Therefore, let us trust God to be at work when we face various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith leads to beauty.

Christmas Dinner behind title "The Full Feast"

Do I have a full-feast relationship with Jesus?

With Christmas day quickly approaching, many of us have food on our minds. Whether it is the new dessert you want to try, the classic Christmas turkey, or whatever your Christmas food entails, it seems appropriate for this post to talk about food, and the reminder our Christmas dinner can be to pause for a moment and think.

Generally speaking, a large feast has several courses or dishes. These include the appetizer, the main dish, side dishes such as salad, and dessert.

First, we start with the appetizer. It is typically small but tasty. It takes the edge off our hunger, yet if we ended the meal there, most of us would still be hungry.

Then follows the main course and side dishes. The main course is where the sustenance of the meal is. It quenches our appetite, gives us good nutrients, and strengthens us for whatever tasks lay ahead.

Side dishes can take many forms, but for now, I’ll mention only a side dish salad. While this isn’t the case for me, stereotypically there are many people who eat salads begrudgingly. The only reason they eat it is because they know it is good for their health. However, if they could reasonably do so, they’d skip salads all together.

Finally, all the dishes are cleared away, and then comes the part so many of us eagerly await: dessert! Dessert is sweet and delightful. It is sugary and designed to bring a smile to our faces. The reward of dessert, however, is short-lived. Why? Because dessert gives primarily short term energy – a sugary high that soon fades. Indeed, too much dessert adds unwanted weight that makes the rest of life less pleasant. Still, in reasonable proportions, dessert is a delightful and good addition to the meal.

Okay, sure, but what does that have to do with Jesus?Turkey dinner on a plate

I’m glad you asked.

I’ve found myself thinking recently about how people can have a side dish relationship with Jesus.

Let me explain. Remember what I said about salad side dishes? In a similar way to how some people approach salad side dishes, some people approach God. They go to church and pray begrudgingly as something they have to do, not something they want to do. They acknowledge that Jesus is important, but He holds merely a side dish position in their life.

I thought to myself, I want to have a main dish relationship with Jesus. The main dish is the core of the meal. Likewise, I want my relationship with Jesus to be at the core of my life. That relationship with Jesus is what sustains me and gives me endurance when the going gets hard. Just as how a meal without a main dish would be lacking, likewise, my life without Jesus would have a hole in it.

Yet as I thought about it some more, something didn’t add up. What about the appetizer and dessert? Are they separate from my walk with Jesus?

What in my life do I treat as the appetizer? What is that thing that I run to first? What takes that edge off my hunger… or hurt, or fear, or anxiety? Do I run to Jesus first? Unfortunately, the answer is not always yes.

And what of dessert? What do I do when I just want to have fun? Is Jesus a part of that? Or is that type of fun something He would disapprove of? Is it simply an “okay” thing to do, or is it the best?

Having thought about these questions, I realized that I don’t want to only have a main dish relationship with Jesus. No, I want Jesus to be not only at the core of who I am, but a key part of everything I am and everything I do. 

“For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” Rom. 11:36 NASB

What does that look like practically? There is no one answer. In every season of my life having a full-feast relationship with Jesus might look different. It probably will.

Sometimes it will be serving at church. Sometimes it may mean taking cookies to a hurting neighbour. Sometimes, or perhaps often, it includes washing the dishes and making the meals along with all the other small tasks that make up a day.

Regardless, my relationship with God is to shape every aspect of my life.

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Col. 3:17 NASB

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people…” Col. 3:23 NASB

Whatever exactly it looks like, I am confident that having a full-feast relationship with Jesus is what will bring me the most joy and peace (Ps. 16:11, Ph. 4:6-7). Jesus is the reason that we sing about “joy to the world” and “peace on earth.” His coming made that possible.

Therefore, as I help prepare a Christmas feast, I want to keep seeking to grow toward that full-feast sort of relationship with Jesus. He is worth it.