Plow Forward

You may have noticed the last two articles seem a little contradictory.  After all, the moral of Cooking Tip #1 is to consider your actions before you leap; the moral of Non-Newtonian Fluids is to leave the pondering to someone else.  Leap out of the boat and go with gusto!  So wait, aren’t those contradictory?

Personally, I prefer the term “complementary.”  Here’s why. 

In Cooking Tip #1 we looked at what happens when we act impulsively on our own hasty desires without considering the consequences.  In this case, the desire originated from us.  It’s something we want.  And anytime it’s something we want, we need to pause and consider the consequences.  Is it also something God wants?

Interestingly, Peter’s walk on the water (Matthew 14:22-33) also originated with something he wanted.  It was Peter who first said, “Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  But think about this for a minute.  Peter didn’t just decide: “Check it out!  Jesus is walking on the water!  I’m going to walk on water too!” and hurl himself out of the boat.  He told Jesus “[You] tell me to come to you.” 

Jesus could have said, “No, you fool, stay in the boat.”  But He didn’t.  In another exhibition of His glory and power, Jesus said, “Come.”  And at that point there was no more time for second thoughts.  It was too late for Peter to shout “Just kidding!”  The time for pondering was over.  The time for action had arrived.  Peter got out of the boat and went.

Jesus is very clear, at several points within the Gospel accounts, that when He calls, it is our job to follow.  We see this in the calling of the disciples.  “Follow me,” He said.  And every time He called, his true disciples dropped everything and followed Him.  Then, before sending out the seventy-two, Jesus told those following Him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Once we are called, we must move forward.  Once we step out of the boat, we must not look at the wind or the waves.  We must not hesitate.  Even when opposition blocks our path or makes us stumble – physical opposition, emotional opposition, mental opposition – we must put our hand to the plow and move forward.  Even when faith itself is weak, we must dig in and plow forward.

I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about faith in Mere Christianity1.  “Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (p. 140).  In other words, faith is keeping our hand to the plow once we have started.  Even when, as C.S. Lewis wrote, our “emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz” (p. 140).

Plowing forward is not blind activity; it is commitment to what we believe.  It is commitment to Who we believe.  C.S. Lewis noted: “I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up.  Those have to be faced and that is a different matter.  I am talking about moments when a mere mood rises up against it” (p. 140).  He is talking, in other words, about the wind and the waves that we must simply plow through.  The wind and the waves are scary, but they do not change the fact that Jesus is still standing there, calling. 

Christianity has never been a contradiction between reason and faith.  It is prudent to check our desires and to seek wise counsel in our actions.  But once God has called us – whether generally into His Christian family or specifically to some purpose you feel He is guiding you toward – the time for hesitation has passed.  When He calls, we must plow forward.

 “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

1 Lewis, C.S. (1980). Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins.

Non-Newtonian Fluids

I had a friend recently introduce me to the wonderful world of non-newtonian fluids.  (Stick with me here; this is cool.)

Non-newtonian fluids are fluids that change their properties when presented with different forces.  One classic example is a mixture of corn starch and water.  Try this at home: mix 2 cups of corn starch in 2 cups of water in a small bowl.  (Disclaimer: I have not actually tried this at home myself, but I have experienced the end result when someone else did the mixing.  If you try this, comment below and let me know how it goes.)

Now the fun part!  If you are not playing along at home, picture a bowl with a goopy tan mixture.  Take your hand and slowly sink it into the bowl.  Your fingers will slide through the fluid like sinking into soupy mud.  Nothing unusual about that.  But now, remove your hand.  This time, put your hand quickly into the bowl with some gusto.  Your finger tips will break through the surface and – wham!  It’s like you hit a rock.  Keep tapping away quickly, and your fingers move across what feels like a solid layer just beneath the surface.  Hesitate for just a few seconds and you will feel your fingers sliding once more into soupy mud.  (Now you want to try this at home, don’t you?)

This crazy phenomenon is a property of non-newtonian fluids.  This is what scientists or engineers mean when they say these fluids behave differently under different pressures or under different forces.  In the case of corn starch and water, greater pressure makes it feel more like a solid, while lighter pressure makes it feel more like a liquid.  As long as you move quickly and with enough force, you will not sink.  If you had a small swimming pool and enough corn starch, you could make a non-newtonian fluid that you could literally run across. 

Yes, that’s right.  You could literally run across a non-newtonian fluid!  You, too, could walk on water (or at least water and cornstarch).  But here’s the catch.  It only works if you go quickly and with gusto.  Stop moving, and you sink to the bottom.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, I suppose.  After all, Peter and Jesus already demonstrated this for us (Matthew 14:22-33).  Only for them, it wasn’t in a giant swimming pool of corn starch and water; it was in the stormy Sea of Galilee.  (Which, just for the record, is NOT a non-newtonian fluid.)

After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sent his disciples on ahead of him in a boat.  “During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake… “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” He said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus (Matthew 14:25,28-29).  Just like skipping quickly across a pool of non-newtonian fluids!  I see such purpose in Peter’s strides.  Despite the wind and the waves and the late hour and the exhaustion of the previous day, Peter is moving without hesitation.  Jesus called and Peter went… walking across the water.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30).  Why is it Peter could be walking across the water just fine one minute, and sinking the next?  Well, just like that bowl of non-newtonian fluids, as soon as Peter hesitated, he began to sink. 

There are certainly times in life when it is wise to proceed with caution.  But there are far more often times when God is calling and it is our job to simply go.  We are not supposed to stop and measure the wind or ponder the waves.  We are not supposed to identify just how that liquid is going to be turned into a solid.  When Jesus calls, we need to climb out of the boat and go with gusto.  Because it is only when we are moving forward that the fluid will remain solid beneath our feet.   (And that’s something worth trying at home, too.) 

“Come,” He said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus (Matthew 14:29). 

Cooking Tip #1. Do Not Microwave Cool Whip

I had a friend in college who used to microwave her ice cream.  Apparently it was too cold straight out of the freezer, so she warmed it up a bit.  We laughed at this idiosyncrasy for weeks… until we all started doing it too. 

Such is the nature of friendship.

Now it seems to me that if microwaving ice cream is a good idea (don’t knock it if you’ve never tried it), then microwaving Cool Whip would also be a good idea.

Okay, maybe this isn’t really a logical conclusion.  After all, ice cream is made out of things like sugar and cream, while Cool Whip is made out of things like xanthan gum and artificial flavoring.  But I didn’t really think that through at the time.  I just pulled the frozen whipped topping from the freezer and didn’t want to wait the recommended 4 hours to thaw it in the refrigerator.  A few magical seconds in the microwave and – Voila! I was left with a thick yellow syrup barely coating the bottom of the previously full tub of whipped topping.  Frozen to liquid in 5.2 seconds.  Amazing!

Now just in case you ever disregard Cooking Tip #1, let me advise you with a subpoint.  We’ll call this Cooking Tip 1a:  After microwaving Cool Whip, do not try to put it back in the freezer.  It will indeed solidify again.  But into a solid yellow brick that would be more appropriate for the back porch’s foundation than your piece of pie.  Trust me on this.  I learned it the hard way.

Perhaps if I had been paying more attention to Solomon’s wisdom, I could have avoided this whole incident.  Not that Solomon wrote much about Cool Whip and microwaves, but he did say Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way! (Proverbs 19:2)  In modern lingo, I think that could be translated as: Do not microwave Cool Whip.

In cooking, as with other things I don’t particularly enjoy, I often want to be done quickly.  I want to finish cooking so I can move on to the fun part of eating.  Unfortunately, this hasty desire frequently usurps what little knowledge I do have.  And as Solomon attests, such hastiness often misses the way.  If I had taken the time to just look at the tub of Cool Whip, I would have noticed it specifically says “Microwaving not recommended.”  (Whether I would have tried it anyway is debatable, but I think that’s a topic for a different piece of Solomon’s wisdom.)

Regardless, my hastiness on that particular night led to a syrupy mess.  This was quite sad, since I’m a fan of Cool Whip even if it is made of xanthan gum and artificial flavoring.  But ruining a tub of Cool Whip should be the least of my concerns. There are far more serious circumstances where I could act on my hasty desires without thinking through the consequences… or without even knowing what the consequences may be.  There are times when taking the time to glean a little knowledge could make a big difference in the outcome.  So let the lesson of the Cool Whip shine forth: Truly, desire without knowledge is not good.  And sometimes hasty actions are not so easily undone.

Cool Whip Brick, anyone?

Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way! (Proverbs 19:2)

Cooking Tips I Learned the Hard Way

I am the last person on earth you should ever take cooking lessons from.  Except for one simple fact.

I’m a survivor.

This in itself is proof of God’s divine intervention in my life, as anyone who has ever witnessed my cooking can attest.  Cooking, for me, frequently involves large flames, explosions, billowing smoke, and the sound of running footsteps fleeing the premises.  And that’s on a good day.  We won’t discuss the bad days.

Despite this apparent handicap, I continue to persevere.  Mostly because I have no choice.  Because as much as I dislike cooking, I really like eating.  And one of these days I’m convinced I’m going to actually cook something that doesn’t require extrication by men in HazMat suits.  My father can then stop buying me kitchen fire extinguishers as house-warming gifts.

In the meantime, I have begun to compile all the important lessons I’ve learned, and I have decided to share them with you.  You may wonder what my cooking tips have to do with God.  A whole lot, I think.  First, we are in the mustard patch, and mustard can serve as a condiment, a fine cooking ingredient, or, in a pinch, an entire three-course meal.  Seems relevant to me. 

On a more serious note, I was surprised, when I actually paused to think about it, just how many stories in the Bible involve food.  There are feasts being prepared in celebration (Luke 15:23), God providentially providing for his people (Exodus 16), food stores that miraculously never run out (1 Kings 17:16; Matthew 14:13-21), or Jesus himself turning water into wine (John 2:1-12).  None of my tips are quite that good – I’m still trying to boil potatoes without setting off the smoke detector – but I think it’s fair to say cooking tips are not entirely outside the scope of Biblical insight.  So I’m going to see where they take us.  If nothing else, maybe I can save someone else from having to learn these things the hard way.

Watch for the random posts with the Cooking Tip heading; together maybe we can save the HazMat folks another trip to town.  And learn a little something about serving Jesus along the way.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).

Cracking, Part III

Click to read Part I or Part II.

Paul literally wrote the book on human weakness and God’s strength – or at least one of them (2 Corinthians).  But he is certainly not the only example we have.  Nor, you will be happy to know, is weakness necessarily synonymous with suffering.  The “cracks” that allow God to shine through can also come from reliance on God and adherence to his commands.  The more we rely on God, the more his strength is manifested within us.

Perhaps one of my favorite examples is on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God became evident not only to the disciples, but to the crowds around Jerusalem.  After His resurrection and shortly before His ascension, Jesus commanded His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, the disciples were together in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon them like “tongues of fire.”  They began speaking in different languages, and the crowds outside were drawn to this strange display.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?” (Acts 2:7)

The answer, of course, is that it was not really these men speaking.  It was the Spirit of God, shining through them.  The disciples were ordinary men before Jesus commanded them to follow him.  They were “sinners and tax collectors” when it was just them.  But Jesus gave them something more.  When they followed His command to wait in Jerusalem after His ascension, the result was far more than what any of them could have imagined.  For it was on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended, that the church was born.  It was on this day that men stood up for the first time to publicly testify that Jesus was the Son of God.  Only it was not just men standing up, but the very Spirit of God.

Jesus had alluded to this help from the Holy Spirit earlier when he commissioned the twelve to go throughout Israel and preach that the kingdom of heaven was near.  He warned them He was sending them out like sheep among wolves, but that they should not be afraid.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10:19-20).

Again, Jesus was emphasizing not the human shell of his disciples, but the Spirit of God who would shine through them.  It was up to the disciples to go.  It was these men who needed to physically carry the message, but when the time came, it would be the Holy Spirit who would serve as the teleprompter.

Like the disciples in these two passages, we too have the power of the Holy Spirit within us.  And as the disciples demonstrated, the Holy Spirit will be manifested strongest when we rely on God and follow his commands.  We don’t have Jesus physically next to us to tell us to “wait in Jerusalem” or to “go throughout Israel”.  But we do have the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  And we have opportunities that open or close (sometimes against our wishes) to help guide us. 

God is equipping us, right now, to face whatever is before us.  He is sending us, right now, the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Spirit of truth.  He may be telling us to wait.  He may be telling us to go.  Either way, He is teaching us the same lesson:  reliance not on ourselves, but on the Spirit of God within us.  For it is Him, and not us, that has the power to get through the path before us. 

It will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10:20).

Emotional Trust

Sometimes I wonder: If I have faith in God, why do I still feel afraid or angry or overwhelmed… or all three? Shouldn’t faith mitigate all these negative emotions?

My impulse is to think of such emotions as bad, as though my faith must be weak if I am scared or sad. But when I look to the Bible, I see that many of the most faithful also exhibited the most heart-rending range of emotions. Faith is clearly not exclusive of emotions. In fact, such gut-wrenching emotions may actually be a sign of trust.

Yes, trust.  If this sounds backwards to you, consider this: How much do you have to trust someone to share with them how you really feel? How much do you have to trust someone to – heaven forbid – cry in front of them? For me at least, the answer is: a whole lot.

The Bible says God knows our inmost being (Psalm 139), but it is still human nature to “put up a good front.” Sometimes emotions are God’s way of getting us to be honest with Him. When we trust Him enough to admit what we really feel, He never casts us away. He pulls up a chair and listens.  God is the friend we can trust with our darkest emotions.  And when we turn to him with what we feel – even when we think we shouldn’t be feeling it – the result is not a weaker faith, but a stronger one.

Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord (Lamentations 2:19).