Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Long Journey



You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  – Deuteronomy 10:19

 
I am beginning to understand the ancient Israelites.  Not long ago, I preached a sermon series about the life and leadership of Moses.  When it came time for the Israelites to cross the wilderness, I knew that story well.  They grumbled.  They complained.  They asked themselves and Moses – aloud! – if they wouldn’t have been better off in Egypt.  Having just gained their freedom, they actually considered the relative benefits of slavery– only a chapter or two past the Red Sea crossing. 

I have always thought this was unbelievable.  Was it not enough for God to draw them out of Egypt, not enough to become a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, not enough to part the waters, not enough to offer manna?  I have preached about this more than once; the unreasonable preference for captivity and servitude over freedom when the road gets hard, the fickle human nature that makes us gripe miserably even in the face of enormous blessing.

But now I’m starting to get it.

I’m starting to be a little bit more compassionate with the Israelites because I have begun a hard journey of my own.  I am finding that it is no small thing to step out into the desert without any known destination or time of arrival.  It is beyond intimidating to traverse an endless stretch of earth with no idea how long it is going to be.

Our family recently made a decision to become foster parents.  I am so glad we did.  While there is so much wrong in our world that we can do nothing about, here is one area where we can take action; in which we can do something concrete and demonstrable.  I am glad we are doing this.

But it is hard.  No question about it.  It is intimidating to have vulnerable young lives in our hands.  It is frustrating beyond belief to deal with the mystifying damage done in former troubled settings.  And it is daunting to see no distinguishable end to this journey in sight.

Of course, I could end it at any time that I want to.  The Israelites could have gone back to Egypt.  Just about any of us can make a full flight out of our circumstances if we really want to.  Escape isn’t that hard. But is the escape really that much easier?  After all, isn’t escape just another word for exodus?  Isn’t this what was already going on?  I can’t imagine any direction we choose to run where there will be no regrets, no worries, no fears or famine.

Escape isn’t the point.  Calling is.  Having begun this journey, I fully intend to travel this road as long as the call is there.  I will simply point out that it is hard to have no map or compass or expected arrival date.

The Israelites were given more than just a journey through the desert.  They were given instructions.  They were told to treat the stranger as family; in fact, to LOVE the sojourner as though they were their own, “for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”  This is a marvelous idea.  And also extremely complicated.  There is an enormous emotional toll trying to make a stranger a part of the household; to treat with love someone who is unknown at best, and possibly more than a little prickly.

Still, our family has made the choice to follow this path that we believed God called us to.  We put our feet on the desert floor and agreed to walk.  It is much harder than I could have imagined – as I’m sure it was for the Israelites – and so I am beginning to have some compassion. 

And I am beginning to understand that there is nothing to do but keep going.  Left, right, left right.  Across the sand as long as God’s call is there, because the manna will come.  The water will emerge, just in time, from the stone.  There will be enough love in the world for us to share just a little of it with the children strangers who come into our midst.  And God multiplies what we can give even when it feels as if we are empty.  God will sustain us, and God will sustain them. 

Until we reach the Promised Land.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Oil and Water

I tried to replicate a salad dressing I once made from a recipe.  I started with some basic ingredients, oil (vegetable) and vinegar (apple cider).  I added peanut butter to create a vaguely Thai-ish taste, then rounded it out with a pinch of salt and a bit of sugar.  It turned out pretty good – or at least my family was kind enough to say so. 

Don’t ask me for exact amounts.  If I had to make it again I could only figure it out by taste.  Making it required quite a bit of trial and error.  It was hard won and it took a lot of trying.

I’m not sure what prompted me to make my own dressing for our salad last night, but it seemed that among the many options on the store shelf – bleu cheese, ranch or honey mustard – this was the healthiest.  Still, it strikes me as thought-provoking that such unlike things can go together; sugar and salt, peanut butter and vinegar, sweet and savory.

I believe that unlike things are meant to go together.  This is part of the divine plan. 

I often get asked the question “Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?” (Actually more often, I get informed of the belief that one does not.)  My response for those who are willing to listen is always the same.  God calls us to be in community. 

To be a Christian by ourselves is the easy part.  On our own, there is no one to challenge our beliefs or actions, nobody to threaten our comfort, no one to compel us into unpleasant practices like self-assessment, forgiveness, patience and growth.  In the extended family known as church, we are forced (I believe this is on purpose) to rub up against one another like sandpaper.  It isn’t comfortable.  It isn’t meant to be.  But we grow through the process.  Our edges are smoothed and we become much more beautiful and useful to our Creator.

I think this is true in our individual church communities and in our general, world-wide church.

Recently, a vocal group of pastors and church leaders ignited a lot of talk about the “schism” said to be happening in the United Methodist Church.  Apparently, some consider the controversies of our time to be insurmountable and the presence of differing opinions tantamount to division in our denomination.  There are calls to make official the separation that is already thought to be in progress, and to vote at General Conference for a formal split.

My feeling about this is the same as my belief about why we need to go to church.  God calls us into community.  It is not supposed to be easy.  We are not always supposed to be of one mind or identical feelings.  We need not always even like each other that much as we navigate the thorny and obstacle-ridden path we have to follow as those who call themselves the Body of Christ.  There will certainly be days when we are less than fond of each other and each other’s perspectives.  The whole point, however, is to strengthen ourselves so that we can deal with those unpleasant realities and still behave somewhat like our savior; in love toward each other and as an example to our world.

They say that oil and water don’t mix.  By and large this is true.  Maybe our church, with all of its factions, is just like oil and water.  Maybe – though I doubt it – our differences are irreconcilable.  Maybe – though I doubt it – we can never blend.  But even if oil and water don’t mix, unalike things can still be put together to make a damn fine vinaigrette.  And may I add that among the many options you have on a store shelf, this is often the healthiest.

Such mixtures can be made to work, but it might take some trial and error.  They will be hard won and they will take a lot of trying.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Who Cooks for You?



. . . all ate and were filled . . .

                                    Luke 9:17


As soon as I learned the mnemonic device for the call of the barred owl, I knew I liked this bird.  He must like me too because he frequently visits my backyard.  Hearing his scrubby, musical call is like eavesdropping on another world.  When I hear it, I close my eyes to listen for the distant reply.  It always comes.  From across the northern field or deep within our own neighborhood, I can hear, “Who Cooks for You?”

Today, as I led our preschool chapel, I told them the story of the Feeding of the 5,000.  I think of this as a common miracle.  It is a story of an extraordinary feeding of an overwhelming number of people; and it is something that God does every day.  We don’t often see bread and fish divided in this way, but we see infinitesimal seeds multiply into leaves and branches and fruit.  Grains become bread.  Vegetables become the stuff that sustains us.

All of this is provided by God in the most astonishing and most common miracle in our world.  Food grows seemingly out of nowhere.  For just a little toil on our parts – and sometimes none at all – we are fed.

We are not the only recipients, however.  God doesn’t only look after creatures who use smart phones.  From the great to the microscopic, all of God’s creation enjoys divine generosity; the giraffe, the mouse, the manatee and the barred owl.  “Who Cooks For You?” indeed.

As we enter the growing season, may we remember and give thanks to the One who provides all that is good.


Blessed eating!
 


 

I don’t know a good recipe for the activity of owl spotting, but here is one we have had recently.  Enjoy!


Creamy Rice Pudding
¼ c. uncooked rice             ¼ c. sugar
2 c. milk                                ¼ t. salt
2 eggs, separated               1 t. vanilla

Wash rice, drain, and add to the milk in the top of a double boiler.  Cook, covered, until the rice is tender, about 45 minutes.  Beat the egg yolks thoroughly.  Add 2 T. sugar and the salt to the yolks.  Stir some of the rice mixture into the yolk mixture.  Add the yolk mixture to the hot rice and stir thoroughly.  Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Beat the egg white until stiff.  Add the remaining sugar to the whites.  Beat again.  Fold the egg whites into the custard.  Serve warm or cold – Diane Taylor

 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Grace Through Pizza

Today's post is by guest writer Jacob Fields, a candidate for ministry in the North Texas Conference.  Enjoy!


Grace through Pizza
 

 Confession: I am a bit of a glutton. I really like food. If something tastes good enough I often eat past the point where I know I’m going to regret it. When it comes to food, most of the Methodists I know are not very Wesleyan… myself included. I mean isn’t it written in scripture somewhere that “Thou shalt have a potluck every 5th Sunday”?

Believe it or not, John Wesley identified physical wellness as a means of grace. John actually published a book about health called Primitive Physick. We can understand that taking care of our physical bodies might help us to encounter God when we consider that God took the time to create us in our physical bodies. Scripture makes many references to taking care of our bodies. In fact, a large number of Levitical Laws are directly related to matters of personal and community health.

So exercise can be a means of grace by way of personal wellness, but if we limit our wellness to exercise alone then our health will also be quite limited. What we eat can be even more important for our health both physically and spiritually. When you work out, or when you eat healthy do so with a mindset of lining your will up with God’s.

I find that with how much I like food, and given that personal wellness is a means of Grace, it is important that the food I cook is both tasty and healthy.

Today I would like to provide you with one of my favorite quick and healthy recipes so that you might experience God’s Grace through pizza.
 
Flatbread Pizza
Ingredients:
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Shredded Cheddar Jack Cheese
Low Sodium Tomato Sauce
FlatOut Artisan Thin Crust Flatbreads (Spicy Italian)
Mamma Mary’s sliced Pepperoni
Parmesan Cheese

Step 1:
Preheat Oven to 350. Then place FlatOut Artisan Flatbread on a baking sheet. Add 2 tablespoons (each pizza) of Low Sodium tomato sauce on the flatbread. Spread sauce evenly almost to the edge of Flatbread.
You can see in the picture I make 2 at a time because my wife and I can both have a whole pizza for less than 500 Calories.
 
 

Step 2:
Sprinkle 1/3 cup of Shredded Mozzarella Cheese over the tomato sauce of each pizza. Then place 8 pepperonis onto the pizza in whatever pattern your heart desires.
 
 
Step 3:
Sprinkle 1/3 cup of Shredded Cheddar Jack Cheese on each pizza then garnish the edges of the crust with parmesan cheese.
Place the pizzas in the oven on the center rack for 10-12 minutes. 
Understand that because of the crust a typical golden brown color is unlikely. It is easier to notice the parmesan turn to the typical golden baked color.
 
Done
When you take the pizza out you want to make sure to let the crust cool. If you try and cut or pick up the pieces too quickly you will notice the crust is still soft. The crust gets more firm as it cools. Enjoy eating every bit of this low calorie and delicious dinner.


 

Guest Post by Jacob Fields
My name is Jacob Fields. I am a seminary student at Perkins Theological School and a candidate for ordination in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. I am married to a wonderful woman named Kim who is the mother of my son George and pregnant with our next one. I am thankful to Nancy for allowing me to guest post. If you enjoyed reading my article or eating my recipe feel free to let me know or check out my website at www.jacobfields.org.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Snow Sadness

I wish I could describe the lovely scene that lay outside my window.  The fluffy snow floated down onto a landscape becoming increasingly white.  Sitting in my living room by the fire and watching the beauty unfold was like residing in a story book for just a while.  The silence was marvelously calm. . . and then the calm was spectacularly broken as we sledded down our hill on cardboard boxes.


Am I the only one who liked the snow?  The recent snowfall events – that are not so terribly uncommon to the south – have been spoken of as if they were natural disasters.  They have been given exaggerated and punny names: “Snowpocalypse,” “Snowmaggedon,” “Snowjam” and now “Iceolation” and “Snoverdose.”  No one seems to comment on its loveliness, or its capacity for fun.  You would think those fluffy white crystals were aliens from outer space, invading our planet with evil intentions to stop our traffic.

Maybe it is easy for me to view it positively.  I didn’t spend the night in my Ford Focus, enduring the freezing temperatures.  I didn’t hike for miles on icy roads or through the slush.  I haven’t even lost power.  So I don’t mean to make light of the fact that real hardship resulted for many.  Still, the snow is not quite a hurricane or earthquake.  And, for myself, I am grateful to have been able to enjoy it.

Naturally, my family celebrated with food.  Finding activities for four kids over multiple snow days wasn’t easy.  But my “go to” adventure usually lies in the kitchen.  We made gingerbread cookies, in all kinds of shapes – not just gingerbread men.  We made horses, trains, stars and hearts that were, at one time, meant for the neighbors but somehow never made it that far.

We took out the cake mold a good friend gave to us and finally made the giant cupcake that had been on my To-Do list for months.  I got lazy and used cake mix instead of making one from scratch, but everyone had a great time applying icing and coating it with sprinkles.


There was no lack of activities, or at the very least movies and TV to watch.  But like probably every other family prevented by the snow from leaving home, we got cabin fever.  We got grumpy, irritable and cranky, tired of looking at each other and tired of looking at our four walls.  This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of good relations.  At times like this, we need to exercise our tolerance.  We need to get creative in our persistent efforts at calm, and to stretch our patience to make it more durable.

To me, it feels a lot like church. 

God gave us the gift of church – our faith community – for a lot of good reasons.  Our Christian brothers and sisters support us on our journey.  They walk alongside, sharing experience and advice. They give us a hand up when we trip.  They also get grumpy, cranky and irritable.  They can be hard to get along with; they disagree with our best ideas; step on our toes.  And so do we.  The gift of the church is the building up of our getting-along-with-others muscles.  Through this continual workout – if we don’t give
up – we will find the many blessings that come from sharing God’s love with our neighbors.


Just like the snow, there is beauty and challenge in every gift from God.  It requires persistence and patience to root it out, but the effort is always worth it.

Blessed eating!
Nancy

Gingerbread Cookies

1 c. shortening                                   1 c. sugar
1 egg                                                    1 c. molasses
2 T. vinegar                                         5 c. pl. flour
1 ½ t. soda                                           ½ t. salt
1 T. ginger                                           1 t. each cinnamon & cloves
Cream shortening and sugar.  Add egg, molasses, and vinegar.  Sift in remaining ingredients.  Mix well.  Chill 3 hours.  Roll thin on a floured surface.  Cut into shapes and place 1 inch apart on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375o for 5-6 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack. – Laura Taylor

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine’s Day

No one is sure about the original Saint Valentine.  More than once saint with that name existed in our history.  The most talked about, however, was a martyr – executed for officiating marriages which, in the third century, were banned throughout the Roman Empire.  February 14 was named by Pope Gelasius as the day to honor St. Valentine in the 5th century, (also serving the purpose of Christianizing an earlier pagan festival) though it wasn’t until the 13th century that the day became associated with love and romance.

Today, card-makers and other commercial industries – bless them – have broadened the holiday even further to make it about love of all kinds, not just romantic.  There are red Valentine toys for kids and cards addressed to sons, daughters, friends and neighbors.

The holiday also seems to be marked by sweet things to eat.  Maybe you got a box of chocolates today.  If you did, enjoy!  If not, the recipe below is a great way to celebrate the day.  I hope you enjoy it. 

As we celebrate this day, may we remember the greatest – in fact the only – source of love we have.  God our creator, revealed in Jesus Christ, offering us the blessing of indescribable love on this and every day.

Blessed eating!
Nancy


Strawberry Dessert

Layer #1                                        Layer #2                                              
1 ½ c. biscuit mix                        1 ½ c. confectioners sugar 
1 ½ sticks margarine, melted   8 oz. cream cheese                           
1 c. ch. pecans                            12 oz Cool Whip                                

 Layer #3
1-2 pints strawberries
1 pack strawberry glaze
12 oz. Cool Whip

Layer #1  Mix all ingredients.  Press into a greased 9x13 inch pan.  Bake 15 minutes at 375o or until lightly brown.  Cool.

Layer #2  Mix sugar and cream cheese.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Spread over cooled crust.

Layer #3  Chop strawberries and mix with glaze. Spread mixture over second layer.  Top with 12 oz.  Cool whip.  May add chopped pecans or strawberries on top for decoration. – Lisa Lawson

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Something Different


I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. Psalm 139:14
 
I was trying to do something different.  I made the recipe to take to a friend who had had surgery.  It was around the Thanksgiving holiday and so I tried to steer clear of turkey-related dinners, guessing that they might have had their fill.  I also wanted to keep a distance from what is at least my old standard, lasagna, imagining the possibility of their having eaten it for a solid week.  I was trying to come up with something they might not have received by other well-wishers like me, so I tried this dish.  Pork Chops “Old Faithful” . . . I hit the jack pot.


They seemed to be thrilled with the dish and, in fact, had not received pork chops before.  With it, I brought cranberry relish, homemade bread and blueberry spice jam.  It was a hit.  My friends, who are very kind, raved over the meal. 
 

In this case, I had made an intentional effort to be unusual.  I deliberately endeavored to create something that would be unlike others.  Often, we do this without trying.  Each of us is given our own unique character, perspectives and ways of doing things.  By just being ourselves, walking around in the world and filling our roles of worker, parent, student, citizen in the ways that come most naturally to us, we will be distinctive, individual, unlike anyone else.
 

This seems like it should be easy, but it isn’t.  We live in a world that encourages us to conform, to do what everyone else is doing, just like they are doing it.  This expectation is often unspoken, but still powerful.  If we are true to ourselves, living from the deepest places God created in us, we will naturally fall out of the mold sometimes.  Some of us will do it a lot.  This can be challenging, even painful, when there is pressure to go with the flow but it is also something to be celebrated.  Our uniqueness is literally God’s gift, not just to us but to the world.  Our individuality has been placed in us on purpose and is meant to add color and texture to the landscape of humanity.
 

We can honor God the best by being our most true and original selves.  We will fit right in at times, and on occasion we will stick out like a sore pinky finger.  But if we do stand out, it should be because we are being the best and most authentic version of the person that God created.  Anything else would be as dull as a week of lasagna.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  One of those blessings is you.

 
Blessed eating!

 

While I have this recipe on a typed index card with hand written notes, it references Peg Bracken.  Many thanks to both her and Mom.

 

PORK CHOP “OLD FAITHFUL”
 
4 med. Thick chops                        1 large onion
6 tbsp. raw rice                               2 ripe tomatoes
1 can consomm√©, broth,              ½ green pepper, in rings
    or bouillon                                  2 tbsp. fat
1 tiny pinch marjoram                  Salt & Pepper
1 tiny pinch thyme

Brown chops in fat (or Pam) in skillet.  Meanwhile put rice in bottom of greased casserole dish and slice the vegetables.  Then lay chops on the rice (salting and peppering as you go) with slices of onion, tomato, and green pepper.  Pour consomm√© in, add marjoram and thyme.  Cover and bake 1 hour at 350o.