Vinegar and Oil (Angel in the Kitchen)

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Decades ago, writers described the United States as a great melting pot of peoples and cultures, blended together to form something extraordinary. Later, we all realized the U.S. is actually more like a big salad bowl: our diverse cultures and backgrounds come together — and mix well — but these things still retain their identity and individuality. Imagine crispy croutons, cherry tomatoes and baby spinach leaves: they taste great together, but you can still pick out a crouton, hold it up to the light and … it’s still a crouton.

The same can be said of our favorite salad dressing, too. We keep a cruet of vinegar and olive oil (plus some seasonings) on the kitchen counter, and it serves to remind us of an interesting truth about the followers of Christ. Jesus prayed to His Father in Heaven, “I’m not asking you to take [My followers] out of the world, but to keep them safe…. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.” (John 17:15-16 NLT) Now, to a non-believer this sounds a little insane, but we believe it. We believe that those who have accepted Christ are now His people. This “fact” has nothing to do with circumstances or anything we can see. We take this on faith.

We also take from this Bible verse the idea that “we’re in this world, but we’re not of this world” — meaning that we take part in society, playing an active role in everything, including government, but our connection is tenuous; we’ve become different (in a good way) and we’re to remain separate. In other words, like the diverse cultures in our  American “salad bowl,” we’re not to lose our identity in Christ.

We’re like the olive oil in the cruet. A hardy shake and we mix right in with the vinegar, but we never blend to the point that we lose our identity. Leave the cruet on the table for about 15 seconds and you’ll see the oil quickly separates from the vinegar. Within a minute you’ll have two distinct layers of liquid. Now, the reason we represent the oil is a no-brainer: once we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, God’s Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us — and throughout the Bible the Holy Spirit is represented by olive oil!

And the vinegar isn’t a total misrepresentation of the world: our society, its people and culture; and the prevailing philosophy. Life in this world gets a bit acidic at times, and hence, people often tend to have a sour attitude and outlook. Acidic and sour … like vinegar. And guess what? We need to be a part of this. When we come together with non-believers, we can make an excellent “dressing” that contributes greatly to the “salad” of ideas and cultures. But it takes an active and constant “mixing” on our part. We need to work to periodically shake things up! If we don’t, we’ll just settle out. And then we’ll be useless as a salad dressing.

Any non-believer reading this may be wondering, does the “oil” think it’s better than the “vinegar”? Not at all. The oil is actually here for the vinegar; and there can be no delicious collaboration without the vinegar. Plus, God reminds us that our salvation and association with God is nothing to boast in: “For by Grace you have been saved through faith. …It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Hello, OIL? Please remember, “…There but for the grace of God, go I. (Being a famous quotation attributed to the Christian martyr John Bradford).

Hello, VINEGAR? Do you mind if we work together to make this great salad taste even better?

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The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread!

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What could be better than bread? It’s called the staff of life, because throughout time, grain products have sustained people across the globe. Hop in a time machine and visit any era — in any area of the world, and you’ll simply confirm that bread was (and continues to be) an important part of nearly every meal. In fact, bread was often the chief staple of those meals, sometimes complimented only by a small piece of fish or cheese. Hence, bread had value far beyond its price, eventually leading to the slang usage of the words dough and bread to signify money: “He’s rolling in the dough”; or “If you want me to go shopping for you, I’ll need some bread.”

Biscuits, bagels, and buns; crackers, cornbread, and cakes; Matzah and melba toast. Whether it’s unleavened or yeasty, whole grain or gluten free, made from wheat, barley or rye, baked as rolls, flatbread or flakes, every nationality and people group seems to have a favorite. Visit your local supermarket and you’ll find many specialty breads: high-fiber and specialty grain products such as Ezekiel bread; artisan breads, Hawaiian rolls, and English muffins. Around Easter and Chanukah you’ll find Challah bread. And Pepperidge Farms markets seasonal breads such as Pumpkin Spice and Apple Cinnamon.

We’re fortunate to have all this variety. We were making sandwiches recently, and started pondering the diversity and utility of various breads. We like ham on rye, pastrami on Italian, and peanut butter on double-fiber. By the way, sandwiches were invented by a chef looking for a way to serve meats and cheeses to his employer, who insisted on eating with his fingers while playing cards — but who didn’t want the playing cards to get greasy. The chef soon hit upon the idea that he could serve the Earl of Sandwich a layer of cold meat wrapped within two pieces of bread. People have been eating cards and playing sandwiches ever since — or something like that.

We use Arnold’s thick-sliced Dutch Country Potato Bread when we’re making French toast, because it’s slightly denser and comes in thicker slices than regular bread. Hence it soaks up more of the egg and cinnamon mixture. And there’s nothing like a slice of Wonder Bread lightly toasted with butter and jam! Wonder Bread is plain old ultra-refined white bread. We’re not sure this after-school favorite of kids still enjoys the same popularity it did 50 years ago. Sometime around the 1980s, refined bread fell out of fashion. Health-conscious people started buying whole wheat, which was more expensive at the supermarket. People who couldn’t afford whole wheat were stuck with the cheap white bread which, considering the history of commercial baking, is indeed ironic.

Prior to the late 20th century, bleached and ultra-refined white bread was more expensive than its unrefined sibling, wheat bread. As a matter of fact, only “poor” people ate wheat bread. To quote a line from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, white bread or “‘baker’s bread’—[is] what the quality eat; none of your low-down corn-pone.” Thanks to Wonder Bread and other companies, however, by 1950 practically everybody was serving sliced white bread at meals. Which brings us back to our opening question: What could be better than bread?

Answer: sliced bread! Don’t snicker, because we’ve all learned it’s the gold standard against which everything else is measured. When we think something is truly innovative, we proclaim, “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” And just imagine, what if before you could make yourself a sandwich you had to first slice the bread. TV commercials would need to be longer to give us more time in the kitchen! Plus, you’d need one of those special bread knives or the loaf just squishes.

Thank goodness, someone had the brilliant idea of … um … cutting out the extra work. In 1930, Wonder Bread was the first nationally-marketed bread that came pre-sliced. No wonder Wonder took off in popularity.

So many types of breads from which to choose, and yet there’s another. A bread far more essential, far more beneficial, and far far the greatest thing since sliced bread! It’s the spiritual Bread of Life, represented by Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Jesus said, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 NLT)

We may need baked bread to sustain our physical bodies. But we’re also spiritual beings created in God’s own image. Hence, we also need spiritual bread: Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life! …Anyone who eats the bread will live forever….” (John 6:48-51 NLT) And just as we find baked breads everywhere in life, there’s nowhere we can go where God is not present. “…Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [can] separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NIV)

Have you partaken of God’s Bread of Life? If not, don’t continue to avoid Him. Join Him at His spiritual table. And once you’ve received Him, remember to consume some of His spiritual Wonder Bread each day: the Word of God — it’s the best thing since sliced bread!

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