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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jelly anyone?

Have you ever tried to make jelly?  When we look at all those various flavors, colors, and pretty jars all stacked with care on our grocer's shelves, we often forget what goes into making the jelly.  It really is a science - I've tried it!  Some of it tasted pretty good, but I had a few "flops" in the process!  Today, I'd like to share a few lesson I learned in the process.  Pretty jars were all assembled, fresh lids, stock pot filled with water to boil those jars, and sugar all measured out.  Who knew the most important part of making the jelly was not in the "prettiness" of the jar I chose, nor the shininess of the caps which adorned them?  What I learned made the most difference in the jelly was not any of the things I assembled, but the fruit that went into making the jelly!  Who knew?

If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.  (Matthew 12:33 MSG)

If you have mastered this art of jelly-making, you know fruit which is too green actually makes the jelly a little cloudy.  It affects the clarity of the jelly.    The fruit must be ripe, but firm. If it is too green, it does not go through the "straining" process well.  We used to look for the orchards, or fruit markets, who sold large bunches of the fruit - often some quite ripe, while some others were just about ripe.  We'd sort the fruit, because if it was still too green, it would cook up, but we had to exert too much pressure on it to get the juices out of it in the straining process.  It actually made the resulting "juice" for the jelly very cloudy.  If you have ever tried to "force" fruit from your life (or had someone else trying to do it for you) - producing some semblance of "jelly-quality juice" from your life - you might have seen some of the issues of being "squeezed" too hard.  Yep, you "produced" something, but the quality of what was produced only produced something which lacked clarity!

Some of the earlier mistakes I made with "straining" my fruit for the jelly was a result of my impatience.  You see, for the clearest jelly, you allow the fruit to sit in the strainer, juices dripping freely from it.  You don't squeeze the bag!  You add the fruit to the cotton flannel bag, then you wait - patiently.  Not my strongest suit!  I'd squeeze a little hear and there, hoping to get just a little more juice out, or to speed up the process.  The important thing for me to recognize - fruit comes forth in a process of patient and consistent growth, just as much as the clearest juices are extracted in allowing the process of separating to occur.  No amount of my "squeezing" will produce anything as beautiful as the slow, but consistent, process of having the separation of those things which will "cloud" up my life left in the hands of God.

Another common issue with "jelly clarity" stems from the cooking process itself.  If the fruit is cooked way too long, the jelly-juices which are produced are just made cloudy by the "over-cooking".  Mushy fruit produces little particles of fruit which escape the "straining" process.  In turn, they make the jelly cloudy.  The clarity is produced by cooking the fruit ONLY until it is tender.  To be able to produce the clearest jelly, I had to "tend the pot" quite frequently.  I could not just put all the fruit in, turn up the heat, and walk away.  I had to test, retest, and then finally be pleased with just the right quality of "tenderness" which would produce the excellence desired.  I think God does this with us, too.  He allows the "mixture" of fruit in our lives to be brought to a boil, but he doesn't want it to be "over-cooked".  He looks for us to be just "tender-enough" to produce the clarity and beauty he desires.  When we reach this point, he removes us from the heat - so as not to "over-cook" us!

Probably one of the hardest lessons I had to learn was the art of "pouring off" the jelly into the jars.  Pour it too slowly and you allow air bubbles to get in - giving it the appearance of being cloudy.  Pour it too rapidly, and you might actually over-fill, splash hot juices onto yourself, etc.  Letting the jelly sit in the pan for any length of time before pouring it off allowed it to begin to "set up" where it was, so pouring it off quickly was important.  

Sometimes, I think we struggle with some of these ideas as we look at how God brings fruit from our lives.  He "picks" the right combination of ripe and "hard-ripe" fruit in our lives - to make the clearest "jelly"!  He allows the straining process because he knows the "sweetness" and "richness" of the end product when it is allowed to occur through patient "processing".  He might be able to produce "more" juice from the fruit by squeezing the "straining bag" a little, but the sweetest and clearest juices are produces from allowing the fruit juices to "pass through" the straining bag over the course of time.  The goal is not the "quantity" of "jelly", but in the richness and clarity of what is produced.  God doesn't let us "over-cook" - he is attentive to the "fire" in our lives.  We may only feel the heat, but he knows when we are just "tender enough" to produce the most flavorful of juices.

Just some lessons we can glean from the jelly jar today.  Now, the next time you pick up a jar of jelly, think about what "jelly" God is working on in your life.  The mixture of "fruit" he is using, the care he is taking in getting it "just tender enough", and the patience he exhibits in waiting for it to be "strained" to purity.  When he finally "bottles" the fruit in your life, he indeed will be delighted by the richness of it!  Just sayin!