Nov 24, 2011

A Beautiful Bowl of Soup

As I write this my stomach is full, I’ve just returned from eating lunch with a friend from church that included good conversation and great Thai food; including a sweet and sour soup. 

I love to cook and I love to eat, to taste, to linger and savor and eat each and every morsel of food that my eyes see. So this season that we are entering into of holidays that include much feasting suits me just fine. Somehow all of the extra exercise that will be required to keep my youthful appearance is worth it to eat extra food.

One of the cookbooks that sits on a shelf in our kitchen is called; “A Beautiful Bowl of Soup”. It is filled with hundreds of recipes of some of the most delicious soups and stews; each and every one brimming with international flavors and unique accompaniments, garnishes, and toppings that add tremendous visual appeal and lead to a beautiful bowl of soup.

This is also the time of year when volunteers come out to serve the less fortunate. Each Thanksgiving Day, local food shelves and some restaurants serve a meal to those less fortunate that meets their need for one day; a single day.

And yet, in Minnesota thousands of people go hungry on daily basis, not just at Thanksgiving. Each and EVERY day they wander as they wonder where their next meal will come from.

EACH and EVERY day they seek out somewhere or someone who will give them a simple bowl of soup to warm their stomachs as well as their soul.

EACH and EVERY day they seek out somewhere or someone who will love them and let them know that they have worth; that their situation need not define who they are and can be.

So today, with my belly full and filled, I am filled with gratefulness that I (for some reason) have not had to search for food today. I am grateful that I (for some reason) was fortunate enough to have a friend who would sit with me and eat and laugh and talk and enjoy a beautiful bowl of soup. And so I offer up thanksgiving to God for His goodness to me.

Psalm 150
1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
2 Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp!
4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
5 Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Nov 17, 2011

Observations from a Potter

I spent some time recently watching some videos of potters on YouTube making pottery using a potter’s wheel. I had been thinking about a passage in the Bible that says; “…as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” (Jeremiah 18:6b NJKV). Jeremiah had been requested by the Lord to “Arise and go down to the potter’s house” 

I have observed many different potters over the years, both live and on YouTube. One shop that I stopped in the potter was cleaning up for the night. I watched him as he spent 5 minutes scraping the clay off the bottoms of his shoes; something that I hadn’t really thought about as being part of the process of making pottery. Lesson learned: The refuse from the pot is left upon the potter; something that he or she must remove so that they don’t leave it on someone else’s “carpet”. 

As an artist, I have worked with many different types of mediums including clay. I have used all types of clay; from “plastilene” to earthen clay. Plastilene Clay is an oil-based product and does not get baked or get hard. I have used it to create temporary sculptures from which I would make a mold; and then cast some other product into the mold, thus giving me a permanent sculpture of some sort. Earthen clay, on the other hand, needs to be fired in a kiln. 

One of the styles of clay that I haven’t done is working on a potter’s wheel. The idea of watching and observing and learning from a potter intrigues me because I personally have only made pottery without using a wheel. So I sat and watched several YouTube videos on potters to see what I could learn. And here is what I saw:
  • The potter leaves marks on the pottery from his/her hand
  • Water was constantly added or subtracted with hands or a sponge
  • One potter said; “You can only pull it up so many times depending on the clay”
  • It was the “flaws” that made the pot unique and beautiful
  • They weren’t really flaws but planned markings by the potter
  • So much energy was spent keeping the wheel moving at just the right speed
  • The clay needed to be placed exactly in the center of the wheel or else the pot would be off center/oblong/out of shape
  • When the pottery was finished, it was left setting on the wheel at the end and no one picked it up right away
  • I saw the gentleness of hands picking it up off the wheel
  • Wire was used to remove it, cut it away from the wheel
  • Once the pot wass trimmed it was set on the shelf to dry for several days.
  • After the pot is completely dry it is ready to be bisque fired in a kiln to remove the water so that the piece can be glazed without returning to the original clay and cause the pottery to break.  
  • After the piece is fired and cooled down, the pottery is inspected and sandpapered. This is to remove imperfections as well as to provide a smooth surface for the glaze to adhere to.
  • Then paraffin wax is applied on areas of the pottery where the potter doesn’t want the glaze to adhere.
  • Then the glaze, which is uniquely mixed and chosen by the potter him/herself, is applied on the pottery.
  • Then the pottery is set aside until the glaze dries.
  • Once the pottery is glazed, it is returned to the kiln for a second firing, in which the pottery is no longer porous and the glaze achieves a glasslike finish.
  • Then the pots are allowed to slowly cool over the next 24 hours before the kiln is opened and finished pot is seen for the first time.
  • Then the finished pottery is then given a final sanding and dusting.
THEN, and only then can a piece of pottery be used for its intended purpose.

And yet, at any point, including after it has completely gone through all of these stages, the pottery still remains so very vulnerable to being broken.

 The prophet Isaiah wrote; “But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8 NJKV) 

The Apostle Paul writing to the Church in Rome wrote; “Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, "Why did you shape me like this?" Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans?” (Romans 9:20-21 The Message version)

The comparison to our lives as “pottery” can easily be applied. The Lord is asking us to let Him as the Master Potter form and fashion us into great vessels fit for His use. And that will require us to go through ALL of the necessary steps from clay to a completed piece of pottery. The Lord calls us to offer up ourselves a living sacrifice. 

“The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 2 “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” 3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the LORD. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” (Jeremiah 18:1-6 NKJV)

Nov 10, 2011

Motorcycles, Coffee, and the Eye of the Farmer

By Larry Houghton 

The day had started out like most Fall mornings, with frost heavy on the last of the green grass. Lawn chairs now look out of place sitting lonely in the back yard. The vine winding its way through the fence is covered In a silvery coat of what is to come.

I sometimes find it difficult to ignore the whispers of winter yet refuse to accept it as my future. Then one day I awake to find a cold suffocating blanket of white death has conquered the last warriors of warmth and buried them where they will remain until winter moves on. 

Now, I am fully aware that this blanket of depression to me is someone else’s prize of winter bliss. But I must be honest with myself and those reading this and proclaim that I am a southern boy and don’t mind telling you that winter is a struggle for me. So, this particular morning I am thrilled that the forecast tells me that the sun will hold off winter for yet another day and allow me to roll the bike out of the garage and ride.

A few hours pass while a handful of bikers sit in the clubhouse and sip coffee and share stories and struggles while the suns warmth raises the temps to an expectable riding level. Then it’s down the road we go, headed to a small cafe that makes a very good bowl of soup. I find myself looking forward to the warmth of the café as the east wind creeps its way through my jacket and gloves. The leather vest is little protection from the biting sting of cold as it fights to get to the skin hiding under the layers of leather and cloth. Somehow I still find the ride fun and exhilarating. I always feel so alive and free when I am riding the last few rides of the season. As if I have stolen back the day from the would be thief. 

Most of the fields have been harvested leaving the rolling hills lying naked and open. Broken stalks and empty cornhusks litter the ground where just a few weeks ago perfectly planted rows of crop stood tall. The ground seems to be waiting for the cold northern air to bring the blanket that will cover it for the next 4-5 months.

As our motorcycles thunder down the road I consider the sowing and reaping ritual of the farmer who prepared the soil and then carefully placed the seed in the ground. Did he consider the orchestrated effort of the soil and seed fighting the elements to yield a crop? Do I consider the orchestration of sowing and reaping that plays out in my life?

I ponder how I spend little time sowing the love of Jesus and then wonder why the harvest is so spars. What seed am I sowing. Am I sowing a crop worth harvesting or am I actually planting those weeds of doubt and thistles of pain in peoples life?

I think we all go through life planting seed of some kind. I'm afraid however; I too often plant seeds of doubt or fear and then drown them with torrential storms of worry and complaints.
I question whether I keep my eyes open for good soil that God has prepared where I could plant a seed of hope. 

Jesus said we often harvest a crop that we did not labor to sow; what a blessing to share in the harvest. To know that we might play a part in someone finding the love of God in the day is such a blessing. 

So in the future, as I travel life’s road as it twists through the fields of coworkers and neighbors. I pray that God open my eyes to see the fields white with harvest; to know when the time is right to plant and when to reap; to water with words of encouragement and hope.

The sun seems warm on my back now as we roll to a stop in the small cafe parking lot. Just inside the door I can see folks sipping coffee and enjoying a hot bowl of soup. I silently ask God for wisdom and the eye of the farmer. 

Always ride the narrow road and stop in and see us again.
- Larry

© 2011 Larry Houghton     ALL RIGHTS RESERVED USED WITH PERMISSION                               


Nov 3, 2011

“Disappointment or His Appointment”

I love autumn in Minnesota!  Autumn (along with springtime) is a season of changes; radical changes! All around, the trees are changing from green to vibrant colors as a way of distracting us from the fact the temperatures are plummeting from the eighties towards the freezing mark.

Along with these changes come opportunities for disappointment as we ponder how we could have better used our summer and things we never got to instead of being grateful for what we DID do. 

I love autumn in Minnesota because during this time of year we spend our leisure time watching (pro and college) football and hockey, along with the World Series. Rivalries are brought out as we choose our team and make our boasts as to what will be the outcome of a season, a series, or even a single game.  

In a moment, hearts can be broken and lives can be changed forever with the outcome of a single game. Along with these changes come opportunities for disappointment for what could have been as trophies and “pink slips” are handed out; sometimes on the same day.   

Too many people spend their lives stuck on what could have been as they fail to fulfill the expectations or wishes of themselves or others for their lives. Too many live their lives frustrated by the defeat of the fulfillment of their hopes and plans and disappointment becomes the new focus of theirr existence.  

Singer and songwriter Phil Keaggy wrote; "Disappointment - His Appointment. Change one letter and you see that the thwarting of my purpose was His better plan for me." 

The Bible says; “A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.. (Proverbs 16:9 NJKV)” In other words, just because we planned some path for our lives, it may not go that way; God may have a different direction. And grasping this truth will make the difference between disappointment and “His”-appointment.  

"Disappointment - His Appointment. Change one letter and you see that the thwarting of my purpose was His better plan for me."  

Grasping this truth can change your perspective and can give an opportunity for anticipation of what God might be up to; rather than disappointment for how things appear to turned out.

The motivational speaker W. Mitchell says; "Before I was paralyzed, there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I lost, or focus on the 9,000 I have left. It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it”  

My friend, you don’t need to live your life weighed down by disappointment. Flexibility is about bending and adjusting with the changes that come our way. Being rigid can leave things broken (physically, relationally, emotionally…).  

Let’s choose wisely how we respond and stop the mental erosion by asking the Lord to open our eyes to see what He is doing.  

My friend, your story isn’t over yet!  My guess is that His plans are so much better than what you would have ever thought or planned. Let Jesus Christ change your story for HIS-story. The best is yet to come! 

"Disappointment - His Appointment. Change one letter and you see that the thwarting of my purpose was His better plan for me." 

Not sure where to start and need help? Call 1-888-NEED- HIM

Disappointment  By Phil Keaggy

Disappointment - His appointment,
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God's better choice for me.

His appointment must be blessing
Though it may come in disguise
For the end from the beginning,
Open to His wisdom lies.

Disappointment - His appointment
Whose? The Lord's who loves best.
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test.

For like loving, earthy parent
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts unquestioned
All that from His wisdom flows.

Disappointment - His appointment
No good thing will he withhold
From denials oft we gather
Treasures from His love untold.

Well, He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller deeper trust
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

Disappointment - His appointment
Lord I take it then as such,
Like the clay in hands of potter
Yielding wholly to Thy touch

All my life's plan is Thy molding
Not one single choice be mine
Let me answer unrepining,
Father not my will but Thine.

Oldie but a good message....