Friday, January 27, 2012

A New Desire

Over the past several years, I've written a new year's post nearly every January. A few of them have only made it to my journal, but for me personally, and probably for many of you, it is the time of year to evaluate priorities, and set new goals.  It seems nearly without fail, God speaks some sort of theme into my heart for the following year, meant to be meditated upon, pursued, and applied. This year has been no exception, though the tardiness of writing about it hasn't been so exceptional. I guess one can only write, though, as thoughts are formulated, and this has been at lengthy process for me, yet one that I pray will continue without ceasing this entire next year and beyond.

Several weeks ago, God placed a question in my heart that has grown to cover a wide spectrum of application, but it started out small. "Who do you want to be known as?" In facing reality, most of us would have to admit that our reputation means a great deal to us, and we are usually at least somewhat concerned about the ramifications of our actions and life upon it.

At one point in my life, my goal was to be known as a great piano player. I had aspirations of attending a prestigious music conservatory,  and launching into a career of fame and excitement. My life reflected that desire. Hours were spent every day pursuing that goal, and already at a young age, my aspirations were being somewhat realized. I was known as a teenager that was passionate about music, and was willing to go to great sacrifices to excel at this art.

Later on down the road, after the Lord had done a great work in transforming my life and setting my heart on pursuing Him, my goals changed again. Music to the degree that I was pursuing it was laid down, and I started to pursue after the One who had changed my heart so drastically. Those first years were a series of ups and downs as I waded through countless opinions and ideas of those around me as to what true Christianity and spirituality was. I grew to look up highly to certain individuals, and gradually, my goals changed again - this time to something much more righteous sounding.  I now wanted to be known as a great and spiritual Christian.

Those next years were ones of great wrestling, because as we all know, the ideas around us of what a great Christian is, are as varied as the personalities that walk the street. To one set of people, I was labeled as an ultra-conservative and radical, and to the other, worldly and liberal. To the degree I set myself to please and placate those around me with proof that I was indeed walking with God and sensitive to His Spirit, the more my confusion grew. Truth seemed to not take on as definitive of a form anymore, and I found it much easier to walk with many gray areas in my life. It pleased and satisfied the most people, you know!

I can't put my finger exactly on when my mindset began to change, but it's only been recently that I've been able to put word and thought to it. As God asked me that question pointedly a few weeks ago, "Who do you want to be known as?" in tearful surrender, I realized that only one thing mattered. Only one thing was worth pursuing after. And that one thing was loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I realized that truth and righteousness was perfectly represented and embodied in a Person, and that Person, Jesus Christ, wanted every ounce and bit of my affections and pursuit.

As I've pondered the people who have most affected my life over the years, I've realized that there is one outstanding characteristic that sets them apart from everyone else. It's not the way they dress, it's not what music they do or don't listen to, it's not what church they attend, and it's not what a great soul-winner they are. True, these things may have momentarily make an impression on me, but it's not what I thought about later on. The one thing that set them apart is that they loved God. It was written over their lives. They didn't need to be prompted to speak of Him. He was at their center, and their consumed passion with Him streamed out of their lives as easily as water flows through a creek bed.

Those kind of people make me thirsty. Thirsty to know God better, and they bring to the forefront of my mind the words of Paul, when he cried out in a single-hearted desire, "Oh, that I may know Him!" (Phil. 3:7-10) 1 John's central theme is that having a love for Christ is the foundation to knowledge of Him - it is the very proof and outworking of our knowledge.

Truth is not head knowledge, it is a Person. If I come to end of my life, and am known merely as a woman that had all her I's dotted and T's crossed in moral character and appearance, who had every doctrine in the Bible figured out and followed, and who lived the disciplined life of a saint, I would consider my life a great failure. When Paul said, "I count all things but loss..."  he meant all. He was saying that if anything shines at the forefront of his life other than Jesus Christ, it is a devastating loss.

My prayer for this new year, and for the rest of my life, is that all those things in my life that I see as Biblical truth would be dim and nearly unseen behind the greater testimony that my life is lived, consumed with pleasing, and in love with one Person. That His approval is all that matters because He is the One I love the most.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Designed to produce salivation

If any of you out there have never experienced the joy of baking, I will be the first one to say that is nothing in the kitchen quite so satisfying. At the top of my list, is homemade bread. Apart from being SO much healthier, there is nothing you can buy at the store remotely similar in taste and quality.

I remember as a young child, buying our first Bosch machine, and our family delving into the world of grinding flour, kneading dough, and shaping loaves. If I remember correctly, we would always make 6 loaves, and only four would ever make it into bags. Almost immediately upon leaving the oven, we would slice open two of the steaming, fragrant loaves, slather them in butter and honey, and make a meal right there. Even to this day, I have a hard time resisting that crackly crust on the end of the loaf, still piping hot with butter melted in for a snack.

I dare you, if you've never tried making your own bread, try it, and you may just get hooked too.  :-) Following is the recipe I've grown to love over the past few months. Moist, SO flavorful, and long-lasting. I never store my bread in the fridge, and this easily lasts a week without molding, and still is incredibly moist and tender.

Thanks to some friends, I came across this recipe in a cookbook they gave to me for a bridal shower gift, and it had become my all-time favorite.

I always write in my recipes if I've done an alteration or really like or dislike it. 

I like home-ground flour, I'll admit it. :-) Right now we are fortunate to have one that (sort-of) works, and I'm hoping once it completely wears out we'll be able to replace it. If you as well have the option of grinding your own, I've found a half-and-half mix of hard red wheat, and hard white wheat to work the best. Using just red wheat creates a lot of complication in obtaining a nice rise which equals fluffy wheat, but it also adds a nuttiness that I wouldn't want to trade by using just white wheat. I find the balance works well, and as I made a note in the recipe, I usually use 1-2 cups of white flour in place of the wheat. 100% whole wheat bread is rather tricky to get just right, and I find this eliminates a lot of complications. One other note concerns the wheat gluten. This makes such a huge difference in whole wheat bread, I try to never be out of it. A good rule of thumb in any wheat recipe is 1 Tbsp. per loaf. If you've never tried it, be prepared to have your bread baking revolutionized! :-)

This machine was one of the most generous wedding gifts we received. We use it nearly daily!

If you don't have a Bosch or mixer, this recipe would be easily kneaded by hand.
The nice, pliable lump of dough when it's finished kneading.
This recipe says 6 loaves, but with my size pans, I always do 4.
 I use to have problems with big holes in my bread until a bread taught me to roll it. I found it made such a difference, I don't do it any other way now. 

Make sure to roll it tightly to eliminate a hole at the very beginning.
Tuck the ends under, and it's ready for the oven.
I like to put mine to rise above the vent in the oven while it is warm.
I could have let this rise a bit longer, but I was running short on time and considered this good enough.
Hot out of the oven and brushed with soft butter.
Now if that doesn't make your mouth water, I haven't done my job. :-D