The Unexpected Blessings of God – Sweet and Juicy Every Time

Tomato harvest

The unexpected blessings of God - sweet and juicy every time

This morning I am giving thanks for the many blessings of God and for the unexpected ways in which they come to us.  A couple of weeks ago I was moaning because I did not think that any of our beautiful big brandyboy and brandywine tomatoes would get ripe this year.  Summer seemed to be coming to an end and they were still hanging on the vine without even a blush or red.  Friends everywhere were sending me recipes for what to do with green tomatoes and I was contemplating the need to pick them all green and let them ripen inside.

Then suddenly it warmed up and in the last couple of weeks we have been enjoying the most beautiful tomatoes I have ever tasted – not only are they ripening but they are more flavourful than ever.  So we are living on a diet of BLT’s a la Tom Sine & tomato basil salad (recipes below) and relishing the wonder of a God who gives generously without measure even when we have given up.

This is not the only place in which I am aware of God’s unexpected blessings at the moment.  As you know we are working hard to raise the money for our first building at the Mustard Seed Village.  But it has not been easy especially in these challenging economic times and I sometimes feel as though all the tomatoes in our gift giving pool are green and will never ripen.

Many of you were very encouraging when just before our Celtic retreat in August, I wrote a blog post entitled Whatever Happened to Thomas – When Doubt Overwhelms Us  in which I shared: I am struggling because I want to see God’s plan mapped out and I want to see it happen now, on my terms. I want to see big donations come in, but God is sending small mustard seed donationsthat move us forward one step at a time. I feel like Thomas who needed to see Jesus in the flesh with the scars from the nails in his hands and feet in order to believe. 

At that point we needed $500 before the Celtic retreat to clear the area where the pole barn our first Mustard Seed Village building would stand.  I shared my discouragement with a friend at church and she said: I’ll do it!  I’ll raise that $500.  And she did.  Over the next week she asked friends at church to contribute $10, $20, $50 to the cause. That gift was immediately doubled by another unexpected gift of $500.  The land was cleared and at the retreat August 13th we held a very moving dedication ceremony on the cleared area.

In the last couple of weeks we have seen these mustard seed gifts multiplied many times.  One of the retreat participants promised a matching gift of up to $25,000 to help get us started.  Another unexpected $10,000 gift the same day provided the first matching contribution we needed and others are starting to contribute as well.  And now we are more than half  way to matching the $25,000.

It was so exciting last week to get together with our architect and say “go ahead we are ready to start” And in the next couple of months we will begin building the first building at the Mustard Seed Village.  I am convinced that without the initial gift from St Albans parishioners that this would never have happened.

God so often works in unexpected ways but we of little faith find it hard to believe that God will ripen the fruit on our vines.  In my impatience I could so easily have picked that green fruit a couple of weeks ago but it would never have had the flavour God intended.  When we patiently wait for God, miracles happen, the fruit  ripens and is sweeter than we could ever imagine.

Oh and by the way if you want to help us match the rest of that $25,000 we would certainly appreciate your donations.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches a la Tom Sine

Take 2 slices of good, crusty Italian bread and spread it with mayonnaise, mustard, or butter. Fry pieces of lean bacon and drain off the fat on paper. Place the bacon on one slice of bread and top it with tasty cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted. Top with slices of sweet onion, avocado, lettuce, and large slices of Brandywine tomatoes. Pepper and salt to taste and place the remaining slice of bread on top. Enjoy!

Basil, Tomato and Feta Cheese Salad

1 cup fresh basil, chopped

2 cups of several tomato varieties of all different shades (red, yellow, green, chocolate), chopped

1 cup sweet onion, chopped

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

½ cup kalamata olives, chopped

Mix ingredients together and serve with an oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.

 

 

 

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Enterprise employs immigrants to teach cooking classes and culture

Here is another great idea that shows creative imagination in the development of business.  Read about Culture Kitchen

Culture Kitchen

Culture Kitchen in San Francisco connects local food lovers to immigrant women, to learn to cook authentic, ethnic cuisine from the “experts”.

Why are We Making Soap?

Snohomish Soap Company soap

Soap at the Snohomish Soap company comes in many forms

Yesterday I posted that Cindy Todd MSA team member and founder of Snohomish Soap Company will hold a workshop on Spirituality and Soap  at the Mustard Seed House and I know that some of you are asking – Why make soap and what does that have to do with following Jesus or with Mustard Seed Associates? 

This morning I read this post on the Do Lectures 2011 – 5 Lessons on How to Love Life and Improve the World Around You.  It makes inspiring reading.  The first lesson from speaker Steve Edge  was: Things are not the way they are.  We don’t have to settle for the status quo.  We all have the power to decide to be different, to go against the grain, to stand out, to stand up.  Hmm now that could easily be something that Jesus told his disciples.  We are indeed called to be different and to make a difference in this world.

In another article on the Do Lectures entitled What Can You Uniquely Do ,graphic designer Frank Chimero in his talk about the gift of giving is reported as saying:

… use your gifts to “build a machine that turns into a gift giving machine.” Frank’s Big Do is this: “How can we uncover the auspicious wonder that lies at the heart of making?”

We can make a living and make a difference in this world if we are willing to step out and take a risk and that is at the core of who we are and what MSA is all about.  We increasingly want to inspire and equip people to step out into the ways of God.  To see that God has uniquely gifted each of us to be co-creators with the living God in our unique ways that can make a difference in God’s world.

And that is part of what Cindy is showing with her soap business.  What began as a way to help her and her family survive in difficult financial times has become a thriving business that highlights the importance of local sustainability while providing jobs for single parent mums.  It has networked her into the local community.  It has exposed her to the stuggles and dreams of others who make their livings through small businesses.  And underlying it are her Christian values and a desire to make a difference in God’s world.  One of her dreams is to help women with disabled kinds in the Ukraine learn to make soap as a cottage industry.  I love to hear what Cindy has learned about God and faith through her business creation and I know that there are many in God’s world who are blessed because she has stepped out in this way.

How have you used the unique gifts God has placed within you to make a difference in this world?

 

 

The Spirituality of Soap

Cindy's soap

Looking forward to the spirituality and soap seminar with Cindy Todd

For months now I have been trying to convince Cindy Todd the founder of Snohomish Soap Company and MSA team member that she needs to hold a workshop on spirituality and soap here at the Mustard Seed House.  And now it is happening.  I am so excited.  I love Cindy’s soap and a great idea for inexpensive gifts, but more than that I love her attitude to business formation too which I kno she will share more about so hope that you can join us.

Its going to be a good day!  Come to Mustard Seed House October 29th 11am – 2pm to learn about the spirituality of soapmaking and share your own “clean” stories about how God can use unexpected things to help us learn more about him.  Hint:  Its all about process and transformation…

In this hands-on workshop, Cindy Todd, MSA team member and owner of the Snohomish Soap Company, will teach hot and cold process soapmaking, use of color and fragrance, plus…you’ll leave with your own bar or two. Everything you’ll need is included in the $40 fee.

Prepare for a home made holiday with a couple of bars to take home!

Tea, coffee, and snacks provided.

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World Population – 7 Billion and Counting

The world’s population is about to hit 7 billion.  And it seems only yesterday since we hit 6 billion (actually 12 years).  So what does this all mean.  Here is a helpful video to give an over all perspective of the trends.

And for those that find 7 minutes a little long to sit and watch anything, here are the numbers behind the numbers – a few of the most pertinent facts on Grist.

What do you think are the implications for us as followers of Christ?

God’s Managers – Balancing Finances in a Changing World

The new normal - money isn't what it used to be

The new normal - money isn't what it used to be so be generous

Life will never be the same.  We are not going back to the economy as it was.  There is a new normal in town and it isn’t just a radio network.  Some are predicting an economy beyond jobs.  Others feel that the vacuum left by the upheavals of the last few years are fertile ground for new innovative and more sustainable approaches to life, jobs and even faith.  One thing I am sure of as the New Normal radio network put it: the new normal has no choice but to be different.

So how do we steward our finances in this insecure time with the kingdom of God in mind?  I could not help but think about this as I work on strategic plans, budgets and fundraising letters this week. Also it is that time of year when many are thinking about end of year financial gifts.  Everyone is conducting their annual pledge drives and suddenly sermons on stewardship abound and are overwhelmed by the need and the number of requests.

Ironically the best resource I have found for this was given to me 35 years ago in a very different economy, where most people felt they could spend lavishly without worry.  It was also the time when I lived on minimal support on board the mercy ship Anastasis.  A small bowl of Greek yoghurt was seen as an extravagant luxury, yet I have never seen such generosity and shared caring amongst a community.

The resource I was introduced to at that time is called God’s Managers by Ray and Lillian Bair.  It’s principles are still the ones I use today, and it is still available today as a resource.  What I most appreciate about their budget advice is the two concepts they use for charitable giving – Firstfruits and overflow.

Firstfruits is the commitment of the first portion of our income to God.  They suggest starting at 10% though they realize that for some this may be impossible.  But they offer a further challenge to all of us: for most of us, we are convinced that good money management and a deep desire to become more like Jesus will cause that percentage to grow from 10% to larger portions.  

Overflow: The second form of giving they recommend is called overflow.  It comes not from our budgeted tithing or firstfruits commitments but from deliberate cutting back in other areas of our budget so that we can be generous to others.  For example – maybe you budget $5/ per person per day for food.  If at the end of the month you realize that you have only spent $4/ day then there is $30 for each person in your family that you can now give generously to others.  We practice a version of this each year as we commit to restrict our food budget to $2/person/day for a week.

Other forms of overflow occur when we receive unexpected gifts or income that moves us beyond our budget – an end of year bonus, an unexpected raise in pay, a family legacy can all provide fresh opportunities for us to be generous beyond our normal firstfruits commitments.  The authors comment Overflow… is the thrill and satisfaction of giving resulting from decisions about our way of life.  Overflow provides a direct line between giving up something or changing our style of living and the giving of the gift to where it is needed.  

I am more and more convinced that God’s view of economics revolves around sharing and caring, praying for our DAILY bread and trusting that God who loves and cares for us with a depth of love we cannot even imagine will indeed provide – enough for our own needs and an abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8)  Being different means being generous in a time when everyone else is cutting back.  Being different means caring for those who have lost jobs and livelihoods.  It means seeing what we have in our hands as provision for God’s kingdom purposes not for our own.  And being different means that we wait expectantly for God to provide in unexpected and sometimes miraculous ways.

how have you seen God provide in the midst of hard economic times.  Where have you encountered the unexpected generosity of God and been able to share it with others?  We need your stories to strengthen our faith and enable us to move forward into the new world of sharing and caring that God is creating .

Is God Really A Generous God?

The generosity of God lavish in every way

The generosity of God lavish in every way

This morning I was meditating on two gospel passages.  The first is the parable of the landowner who hired workers, some early in the morning, some at lunch time and some late in the afternoon.  (Matthew 20: 1-16)  The second was the gospel reading for the day from the Book of Common Prayer – Matthew 6:25 – 34 which starts with the admonish “I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink…  It ends ” Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and he will give you everything you need.”

This is a scripture that many of us struggle with, particularly in challenging financial times like this when many are seeing their savings and their sense of security stripped away.  Does God really provide we wonder?  Is God really a generous God?  These are hard questions to answer and there are no simple answers either.  But I think that the first of these scriptures highlights part of the problem.  We like to be in control of the generosity of God and we are not always impressed with the generosity of God when it is given to someone else.  We are even less impressed if that person is someone we think is undeserving.

Most of us do not understand God’s principles of economics which I think are best summed up in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 “the one who plants generously will get a generous crop…. And God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others…. he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you….

Generosity is at the heart of who God is and who God wants us to be.  We look at what we hold in our hands and don’t think we have enough for ourselves let alone enough to share generously.  So how do we recognize the generosity of God?  here are some principles that I try to live by which I will try to expand on in the next week.

  1. Budget wisely and always spend within your budget.  I find that when I have no budget I often spend far more than I intend on items that do not really matter. (more on this tomorrow).  A corollary to this is only ever shop with a shopping list in your hand and don’t buy items that are not on your list.  It is usually those unexpected purchases that push us over the edge.
  2. Live simply and be frugal in evaluating your own needs so that you can give to others even when you feel strapped financially.
  3. Trust God for your daily bread and act with generosity at the center of your life.  Sometimes we do not see the generosity of God because we take on ourselves the responsibility of provision and in the process we don’t leave room for God.  Tom and I have always given at least 10% of our income away.  We have shared our home, our hospitality and now a growing amount of produce from the garden and we have discovered that the more generous we are, the more generosity God seems to lavish on us.
  4. Look for and celebrate where God has poured out generosity, not just on you but on others as well.  A couple of weeks ago good friends of mine Jack and Cherie Minton who head up Hope Force International  found out that they were the Grand Prize winner of American Airlines “Flights.Camera.Action” contest  Hope Force International, from Brentwood, Tenn., was awarded more than 100,000 Business ExtrAA points – enough for 50 domestic round-trip tickets. The winner will be featured on American Airlines inflight television, a full-page ad in one issue of American Way magazine, banners on AA.com, and more. This is a time to rejoice and see in this event the lavish generosity of God.  Part of what I realized was that as I rejoiced with Jack and Cherie, my trust and expectation that God would provide for our needs too, increased.