Shaken by Circumstances

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

Hebrews 12:28

The Thanksgiving holiday is in sight and we are called to be thankful.  There are seasons when it seems almost impossible to practice gratitude. Things are falling apart, and maybe have been for awhile. Your job is not what you thought it would be. Your kids are not obedient. Your marriage is suffering. You are struggling with your health. You are single—still.

And then there are greater, bigger picture things going on in the world that grab your attention. Horrible atrocities, people dying, social injustice, poverty, and the orphan crisis.

How can we practice being thankful when everywhere we look there is something hard to bear? What can we stand on if everything around us is falling apart?

A few years ago my husband and I were simultaneously facing the heartbreak of  infertility and a major job crisis. One would have been enough to deal with but the Lord, in his providence, allowed us to face both at the same time. There were days when we wondered if we would ever be through that dark valley. Our circumstances shook us on a daily basis; however there is a reason why Paul writes in Philippians to think on what is true (Phil. 4:8).

Meditating on what is true is a powerful remedy when we cannot stand. It certainly gave us hope when everything around us caused us despair. When we fix our eyes on what is true, it changes the way we see our circumstances. The circumstances themselves may not change but we know that God’s Word tells us that those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed. (Is. 49:23)

Hebrews 12:28 tells us that in Christ we have received a “kingdom that cannot be shaken.”  That, my friend, is truth to stand on. What glorious hope is found in this verse! Circumstances will shake us. But in Christ we are never shaken. In Him we can bear whatever He allows us to walk through because He has triumphed over sin and we can have fellowship with God. We might feel shaken in this world but that does not change the truth. Once we understand that Christ is our only hope that saves us from the penalty of sin, we can stand firm and trust that He has purposes even in the suffering.

This Thanksgiving are you finding it hard to be thankful? Try fixing your eyes on Christ and what He has accomplished, and you will move from a shaky place into a place of worship and gratitude. ~Courtney

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace
.  -Helen H. Lemmel (1922)

Green Beans with Smoke, Spice and Everything Nice

“Everything nice” sounds like an inviting recipe, right?  Truly, it’s a tasty combination of flavors, especially if you enjoy a Southwestern palate.  How then do the green beans go from being plain to smoky and spicy and everything nice?  Simple: the cook adds the seasoning.  Such a profound concept of grace imbedded in a recipe!   The green beans are unable to become seasoned on their own.

As you sink your teeth into this dynamic combination of flavors, consider Ephesians 2:8-9…”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Now, that is something amazing to give thanks for during this season of gratitude – I mean, “seasoning” of gratitude.  ~Lauren

1 1/2 lbs. green beans (as thin and tiny as possible), washed and ends trimmed

4 slices of thick-cut bacon, diced evenly

2 large shallots, halved lengthwise, peeled, and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (more or less to your taste)

* optional: 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Put a skillet over medium heat and add bacon.  Cook until bacon fat has rendered and pieces are crispy to your liking.  Set aside.  (At this time, you may drain some of the fat off if you desire but leave at least 2 tablespoons.)

3. Blanch the beans in the boiling water for about 3 minutes or until beans or tender and bright green in color, not mushy and army green.

4. While green beans are cooking, return to the skillet to finish the sauce.  Place skillet over medium heat again and add shallots.  Cook until soft.  Turn up heat to medium high and add minced garlic.  Once it sizzles (being careful not to let it brown), add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, chipotles, a generous pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper.  Stir ingredients and allow tomatoes to become soft.

5. Drain green beans and add to the hot skillet and toss.  Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Serves 6-8

Cauliflower Puree

1/2 pound cauliflower florets, stems trimmed

3 cups water

Salt

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

2-3 tablespoons or more to taste grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Freshly ground pepper (white or black) to taste

Splash of fresh lemon juice, to taste

In a large saucepan, combine the cauliflower, water and salt over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until the cauliflower is very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain. Put the cauliflower, butter, cream, and cheese in a food processor and puree until smooth – like creamed potatoes.  Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

~Lauren

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

I am excited to share this side dish. By the way, each recipe is meant to tweak for your family and friends. If you like it spicy, add more spice. If you like bacon, pile it on. Enjoy! ~ Lauren

6 sweet potatoes, even in size and scrubbed

4 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

* Optional garnish: ½ cup pecan halves, 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1 tablespoon white or brown sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Place sweet potatoes on sheet tray or in a baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until soft. Remove from oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

3. Split the potatoes lengthwise (not in half, but only on one side) and remove the flesh to a medium sized bowl, reserving skins. In another bowl, add brown sugar, butter and cream cheese and the all of the spices and mash and mix with a wire whisk or fork.

4. With a rubber spatula, add the sweetened butter and cream cheese mixture to the sweet potato flesh and fold in completely. Add the filling back to the potato skins and place on a half sheet tray. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

5. Optional: If using pecans, toss pecans in a small bowl with melted butter, followed by sugar and salt and place on a small baking tray or into a small dish so that nuts are evenly spread but close and touching. Then put them into the oven on the lower rack for about 3-5 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly toasted.  Once cooled enough to handle, remove from tray and use whole or chop roughly and sprinkle over baked sweet potatoes when ready to serve.

Serves 6

Red Wine Braised Cabbage

You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.  I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.  –Psalm 4:7-8

As a trained chef, I realize that I speak two languages:  English and Food.  I hope you will feel welcome and enjoy reflecting in my kitchen.

Cooking is a beautiful and truth-revealing process when we take the time to reflect on what’s happening before our very eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.  If God truly created plants for us to eat, enjoy, and be nourished by, how then does the cooking process connect with Him and His words?  Looking for God in the everyday activities like cooking brings the fullness of joy.

As you make your plans to gather around a Thanksgiving table, may I suggest that you volunteer to bring “Red Wine Braised Cabbage” and consider it an exercise to reflect on the Lord’s safety.

While you are cooking, consider some thoughts:

What if our hearts were placed safely in a heavy cast iron pot with the intention of turning our bitter and sulfur smelling self into something tender and healthy?  What if we think about the Lord himself as having the ability like the cast iron pot to evenly distribute heat so that our bottoms do not burn! What if we think about the Lord providing His protection to us from ourselves through that enamel coating? We would rust without it!  Because we can’t properly “season” ourselves, he put His “coat” around us. What a visual for his promises of true safety as we give thanks at Thanksgiving.

Red Wine Braised Cabbage:

1 head of red cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, cored, and

sliced thinly

4 large firm and sweet apples

2 lemons, juiced

1 bottle of dry red wine

3 red or yellow onions, peeled and sliced thinly

6 tablespoons butter

¼ cup brown sugar

1 cup red wine vinegar

4 coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cinnamon (or a small cinnamon stick)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy stew pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions.  Stir while onions caramelize.  Once they are golden brown, add sugar and continue cooking and stirring until onions become dark brown but not burned.  This process should take about 15 minutes or so.
  3. Add the sliced cabbage, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the vinegar, and cook until dry, about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the red wine into the pot and bring everything to a boil.  Add the coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon (or whole stick), thyme, and the juice of the lemons.  Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Cover, and bake in oven for 1-1 ½ hours, until liquid is almost absorbed.
  5. While cabbage is cooking, peel, quarter, and slice apples thinly (about 1/8 inch thick).  Place the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over high heat.  Once butter is melted, add apple slices.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Allow them to soften and brown a little.
  6. Remove cabbage from the oven and toss with the cooked apples.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 8-10. I’m eager to hear thoughts or questions you may have as you reflect and cook. ~ Lauren

 

In All Things

Sacred Story is honored to hear from Judy Douglass as a guest contributor. Judy is a staff member with Cru (the Christian organization formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) since 1964, serving previously as editor of Collegiate Challenge magazine, manager of the Publications Department, and founding editor of Worldwide Challenge magazine. Judy currently assists her husband, Steve, in giving leadership to Cru. Her primary focus is Women’s Resources. She is the author of three books and has had articles published in numerous magazines. 

Wow!

The doctor kept saying wow!

It was good news! Our son-in-love Nick, who has an auto-immune liver condition that almost killed him over a year ago and for which the only cure is a transplant, just finished his first Mayo check-up in a year. All the reports came back good—equal to or better than a year ago. The doctor’s response: I didn’t expect you to be so healthy.

Our response: Thank You, Lord. Praise God! So grateful!

It was not hard for us to thank God for this Wow!

But my friend Marie—she is young—just got a report that she has colon cancer. Young people aren’t supposed to get colon cancer. Can she say, Thank You, Lord?

Another friend has buried 2 loved ones in the past year. Saying Thank You, Lord has not been easy.

Other friends, for whose prodigal we have prayed, recently called to say their child took her own life. Thank You, Lord?

We know the verses:

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation…with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

In all circumstances, in every situation: Give thanks.

Easy to do when the news is good. So challenging when the news is not what we want to hear.

How can God ask such a thing? What kind of impossible requirement is that?

The answer is: God is God and God is good.

Sounds simple, glib, out of touch with reality.

But it is true. I know it because God says it. And I have proved it. Over a (now long) lifetime, I have seen it true over and over.

In fact, I have found those two words—Thank You—spoken to God are the key to amazing changes:

God seems bigger. He isn’t bigger–He is already the biggest. But He grows in my understanding and perspective. I begin to grasp that He truly is God—in control of the universe and my life—and He truly is always looking for ways to do good to me.

My heart changes. The fear, anger, confusion lessen and peace grows.

Doors open. The key that is “Thank You” opens my heart and mind to see good that God is doing, to recognize opportunities, to trust God’s love and goodness at a much deeper level.

For years I have practiced saying “Thank You, Lord.” Now, when little or big challenges come, my first response is almost always “Thank You, Lord.” Almost always. Still not easy. But oh how it protects and encourages and frees my heart and my mind.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

To hear more, visit Judy’s Blog

 

Gratitude As A Weapon

At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves. 2 Chronicles 20:22

Bad news, again?  What is your breaking point?  Everybody has one.  If you’re not in touch with yours, don’t worry.  Life can help you find it.   And when it does, pay close attention to your response.  I’ve noticed that my natural response to bad news is anything but thankfulness, yet it never helps the situation.  I decided to try something new.

If you are pressed on all sides, heartbroken with disappointment, or simply exhausted with “believe it, achieve it”, having an “attitude of gratitude” is a nauseating notion, reserved for people who have never walked in your shoes.

After all, if grat·i·tude  [grat-i-tood, -tyood] noun is “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful” why would I use it when I am not?  It is the most unnatural response to a negative event, and yet the most supernatural.

In Psalm 8:2 we learn that “God has ordained praise from infants and children to silence the foe and the avenger.”  We also know that when the Israelites went to war the LORD set ambushes against their enemies “as they began to sing and praise.”  They defeated their enemy by praising God.

If gratitude is a powerful weapon, would you pick it up?

When we thank God for who He is and what He has done, our attention is refocused on the Author of Life, the One who gave His life, so that we could believe in Him, be freed of the burden of our sins and be assured of eternity in Heaven.  He also meets our every need between now and then.  It’s easy to forget that part when life is not going as we hoped.

Consider this.  God knew about your bad news before it arrived, which means he can also see how He works it out for your good and His glory.

Your heart may be hurting over bad news, but His is longing for relationship with you.  He hoped that you would turn to Him first before you let disappointment manifest into reality.

If we know that God’s ways are higher than our ways and he works all things out for those who love him, we should place our requests before him with thanksgiving in advance for what we know only He can accomplish. What is impossible with man is possible with God.

An ungrateful heart says to God, “I don’t trust you.”

A grateful heart says “You’re more than enough.”

Weapons are vehicles of change. They defend and protect and evoke freedom.  If you are at a breaking point, pick up your weapon of praise and break the cycle of defeat. Defend and protect your rights as a Daughter of the King and free yourself from you.

Next time you get bad news, try responding with a courageous heart of gratitude. ~ Brandi

Picture Gratitude

image

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
-Psalm 107:1

Marks of Gratitude

For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus. (Galatians 4:17, NLT)

It’s hard—to feel grateful especially when we find ourselves in the middle of suffering. Many of us who understand suffering and pain often carry the scars to prove it.

There are many different types of scars. Some of my scars come from playing wildly as a little girl. The scar on my forehead reminds me of the fun times I had with my sisters, while the big one on my knee takes me back to the time when I pushed my little brother on his bike and I fell on a huge piece of glass. In all honesty, I don’t mind looking at these scars. I enjoy sharing the stories behind these, but the ones deep inside me—those bring me to my knees.

I can’t help but pray when I remember those scars. Those scars—the deep, painful ones—often times help me to reflect on God’s mercy. They remind me to thank the Lord for His provision. That’s the thing about these kinds of scars; they help us remember God’s grace, healing and faithfulness.

These deep-rooted scars also provide us with our stories. That’s what makes all of our stories different, unique and so very special. These scars remind us of our history and they give us hope for the future. They don’t make us ugly; they make us beautiful because we get to see Christ in each other’s lives.

Often times however, we look at our scars and we lose faith that our God has our best interests at heart and in our desperation we stop talking both to God and to others. The apostle Paul writes, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Rom. 8: 35, 37, NLT)

I guess I will always find it difficult to thank God during times of suffering. Self-pity just seems like the norm sometimes. For that reason, I strive to stay on my knees, thanking the Lord for His work on the cross and the abundance of grace that He showers me with every day.

What kind of suffering are you experiencing in your life that seems impossible to overcome? How can you be thankful in times like these? God reminds us that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. I encourage you today to surrender your suffering to God with an open heart and seek His direction in your life.  ~Raquel

 

Giver of Good Gifts

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father,  James 1:17a, NLT

This season God has been teaching me about Himself as the giver of good gifts.  I must admit that this has been refreshing after receiving teachings and life experiences on God using brokenness and suffering to bring us closer to Him.  In an effort to challenge the ‘prosperity and wealth’ gospel that teaches that God gives material, spiritual and physical blessings to those who believe in Him, there have been many well-meaning teachings on God’s desire to use brokenness to draw us closer to Him. I have seen and heard so much about suffering that I along with others have become afraid the other shoe is going to drop in my life.  But hey, I will know Jesus more, won’t I?

Just as prosperity and wealth can become glorified causing people to expect only blessings from God, suffering can become glorified causing people to expect only gloom and doom from God.   Just as God uses brokenness to draw us closer to Him (Genesis 37-45), God also blesses people with good gifts to demonstrate His love (Lk 11:9-13; James 1:17).   It is important that a believer holds these two truths together, never separating one from the other.

In the story of Job, we see these two truths work together.  In Job 1:1-12, God gives permission for Satan to inflict suffering on Job.  Job went through a season of deep brokenness and suffering but held onto his faith through it all.  At the end, Job experiences God intimately (Job 19:25) and God rewards His faith with many good gifts and blessings (Job 42:10-17).  We also see God blessing Hannah with a son, Samuel, after struggling with infertility for years (I Samuel 1:1-20).  Then, there is the Gospel.  God freely gives us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Through all these stories, the end of the story is God’s blessings of good gifts.

This Thanksgiving season I am focusing on praising God for the many good gifts He has given in my life.  I must admit it feels strange to me.  I sometimes feel like I am not a good Christian and I should hope only for suffering and brokenness in my life.  However, God is releasing my heart to worship Him in the good gifts He has given to me.  He has blessed me with a wonderful church that I love.  He has blessed me with an amazing husband who is the hands and feet of Jesus to me.  He has blessed me with a healthy baby boy and another one on the way.  He has blessed me with wonderful family and friends that I love dearly.  When I reflect on the things that God has given to me, I am overwhelmed by His abundant love, kindness and mercy.  Thank you, sweet Jesus, for being a giver of good gifts.  ~ Edna