No one in their right mind makes bagels from scratch.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way…
So there I was, mixing up the sponge for my first attempt at poppyseed bagels last Saturday, because what could be more fun on a Reformation Sunday morning than fresh bagels? The fact is, if you live in a place that has kosher bakeries, then the silliness of this venture is taken to the 14th power. You are not saving money, you are not saving time, and odds are your homemade stuff won’t taste as good as the bakery goods. And while I am not in New York, arguably THE place to get perfect bagels that kind of make you wish you were Jewish (note: I have not ever been to New York. This is just what I hear. Those more well-traveled than myself, feel free to correct me in the comments, but know that I probably won’t be totally convinced until you ship me the bagels in question with my own personal container of schmear. Email me for my address — security goes out the window when carbs like this are involved firstname.lastname@example.org), I am close enough to Seattle to purchase bagels from Einstein Bros., and they are decidedly fabulous BUT —
They stopped making poppyseed bagels!!!!
I don’t know if my fascination with the poppyseed variety in particular comes more from the rarity of the breed, or from the rumor that if you got pulled over after eating one you would automatically fail a breathalyzer test, or from the fact that the texture is a bit like shattered Pop Rocks. But I am inordinately fond of them. Poppyseeds have actually become something of a family fable around the holidays, and I am going to tell you this story on faith that you have been here long enough to still like me after you learn this shameful piece of my history, and see my lousy sinful heart for what it is. Deal?
In my family, we gather with my siblings and parents and all the cousins for an epic Christmas celebration we call Cousinpalooza. Kindly stick around into December so you can hear all about that, but for today, all you need to know is that in lieu of normal presents, we swap goodies: the cousins do a candy exchange the likes of which can keep their young blood sugars at mildly diabetic levels well into the spring, and the adults trade homemade somethings (my brother-in-law makes the most profoundly tasty beef jerky you have ever had the good fortune to taste and it is possible that one or more of us have been known to hide in closets, gnawing through the whole bag, hoping the rest of the family will think he must have decided not to make any this year). And this lovely tradition has exposed an interesting character trait in my sister-in-law: anything I can do, she can do better.
Seriously though. I don’t even think she is making a conscious decision to completely outdo whatever I make, I think she is just really talented and able to follow instructions, but for years, whatever I brought would show up from their household the following year… way better. I spent a decade or so trying to master my grandmother’s homemade caramel recipe. She did it at the last minute one winter and they not only tasted fantastic, they were pretty (growl). This has driven me (because I have issues with insanity, see above) to try and find more obscure and harder to imitate recipes… we have dabbled in pepperkaker and stollen, in homemade Irish cream and baklava babka. And apparently I was not very successful at hiding the jealousy that lurked in my heart, because a few months back, when my youngest Quail was assisting me in the kitchen with a batch of lemon poppyseed muffins, her eyes suddenly lit up and she cried out, Mom! I’ve got it! We will call them bug muffins and then Talented Auntie won’t want to make them!!
But this leads me back to those bug, er, poppyseed bagels. They are a laborious work of love. There is a sponge that sits, long kneading, something about a windowpane I didn’t really understand, shaping and reshaping and retarding (not making this up) them in the fridge overnight, baking soda and barley malt bath (side note: barley malt appears to be the key ingredient to making these bagels exceptional, combined with the boiling. I personally don’t give much thought to what things like barley malt really, fundamentally ARE, but it was sitting out on the counter when the Beloved walked through, and after a moment reading the label, he said oh, it is basically beer making… and then walked off. Apparently that was all I needed to know about it, so, ya know, beer and bagels. It’s a thing I guess), baking at 2 different temperatures… and the results were pretty amazing. They were chewy, yet light and flavorful and this obviously put me in mind of Reformation Day, which, incidentally, is today.
We are celebrating a thing God did in history over 500 years ago. He took His wayward people who had perverted the Gospel and wandered from the truth of scripture, and He used imperfect men and women to change the world. And while we continue to pray that He will do it again on a macro scale, that the grievous mess of our world today will be turned upside down by the Spirit of God and that people will again run to the Savior and love His word, you and I, Reader, are in a constant state of reformation. He is faithful on the micro scale as well.
We are like that bagel that He is shaping slowly, over time, feeding and punching and breaking and molding, dipping us into scalding hot trials and snatching us out just when we think we will burst, and then toughening our skin against sin, making us sturdy enough to withstand affliction, even as He tenderizes our inner man. And perhaps this day, as we remember how God has been faithful to His people in history, He is also showing us areas in our lives that are in need of Reformation.
Sola Gratia (by grace alone) — do you know that you do not earn God’s good pleasure? That the work sitting in front of you today does not elevate your standing with Him, because you are saved by grace alone? Does that grace spill forth from you and onto your family? Is your marriage marked by grace, by offering love that is unearned, freely?
Sola Fide (by faith alone) — it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God. Don’t believe me? Look at Ephesians 2:8. But faith is not only relevant in that first conversion, that first moment of salvation. The whole of your life must be by faith alone. You cannot walk this road of following Christ without faith, and do not miss this: even the faith is a gift. Today, give up scrambling to have “good enough” faith. It is a gift from God. Trust fully in this gracious Savior, who has supplied your every need.
Sola Christus (by Christ alone) — that is all. Not Christ and your consistent quiet time, not Christ and how much you volunteer at church, not Christ and your homemade bagels. He is the beginning and the end, and the burden does not rest on you — He has done it all! Can you fathom that today? Do you realize, deep down in your bones, that there is no condemnation left for you? There is not a single sin you have committed or will commit that has not been entirely paid for by Christ, and you are free. If you believed that, would it change how you lived today? Would you sing differently, serve differently, love more fully, let go of your worries?
Sola Scriptura (according to scripture alone) — He has given you everything that you need for life and godliness. Are you hungry for His Word? He has laid a feast, brimming over with love and comfort and grace — what in your day could possibly demand more attention than that? If you have neglected this daily feasting on His word, and you are ready to pull up a chair and could use help getting started — use that email above.
Sola Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone) — do you know why you exist? Your life has purpose. You were made for the glory of God alone. This whole story, this great salvation, is to bring Him glory. Pull your eyes off yourself, off your own sin, off your trials and temptations — LOOK UP. He is shaping you, reforming you for His own glory.
And all of this is a gift. Whatever we want to say about Halloween, and trick-or-treating, and I am sure there is plenty, today when you drop handfuls of candy into pillowcases and see the gleeful young faces, see yourself, because that is the picture of what God is doing and has done for you. The gift is FREE. Those kids do nothing to earn the candy — what a novel thing, to simply walk up and open your hands and be given candy. Go ahead. Open up — the Gift is free, and it is yours to receive with a thankful heart. Happy Reformation Day!!