Saturday, April 27, 2013

Here's the salsa

I used two tomatoes, two jalapenos, two Anaheims, 4 cloves of garlic. Spray them with olive oil and roast in the broiler. Then turn everything over, spray again, and broil some more.

I have a small Ninja that I throw the vegetables in, along with some onion (maybe 1/4 of a small onion). Then I add a teaspoon of sugar, teaspoon of salt, pinch of cumin, pinch of oregano, some lime juice. I always add fresh cilantro, but today I was out and just used the dried variety. Drat.

Eat with chips. When you roast the veggies, the salsa is warm, which is so yummy. But it's also good after being refrigerated. Great snack option for the kids and husband! The smell always reminds me of summer.

My food journey

There are lots of great blogs our there about foods: whole foods, organic foods, non-processed foods, vegetarian, paleo, homestyle. Whatever you want to do, you can find someone else on the journey who has developed way more recipes than you have. How to find a mentor: 1) formulate a goal, and 2) add internet.

My mama raised me to function well in the kitchen, and it helps that I really love it. She would have also raised me to be a seamstress and gardener, but alas, I wasn't interested in those things. (Love you, Mom!) So I know about whole grains and the benefit of homemade vs. a box at the store or eating out. I know the benefit of drinking lots of water and eating fruits and vegetables. My response, usually, to the need for fruits and vegetables in my diet was to label chocolate a vegetable. I haven't always made eating right a priority, but I've always known the concept.

Last summer I quit working outside the home, and naturally spent more time in the kitchen. I wear ten extra pounds now, thanks to a chocolate cookbook I picked up standing in line at Target and another on cobblers I picked up in line at WalMart. Everyday we were eating delicious desserts. I love sugar.

In the fall, two things happened. Well, three. I had to stop baking so many desserts. (Burp. Excuse me.) Secondly, my middle daughter, who has always had food sensitivities, became interested in addressing them (and I had the time). Finally, some friends introduced me to a wholesale club for fruits and vegetables.

On Monday, I could order a basket and pick it up some ridiculously early time on Saturday. I never knew what I was getting for my $15: just two small laundry baskets, one filled with fruit and one with veggies. It was like winning a door prize, and then figuring out what you were going to do with it. When I got a basket, I would plan the week around that food, listing out what I had to use and scheming a way to do so without throwing anything away. Some of it fit into our regular meal plans: apples, grapes, bananas, or broccoli. Other things I found recipes for or learned to throw into things I already made (radishes can be sliced up and sent in my husband's lunch; leeks can be used in pasta skillets; spinach can be added to ANYTHING; cucumbers you should just give to your best friend).

These inexpensive baskets began to dominate my life. Initially, as I tried to use asparagus in a new quiche recipe, I was buying ingredients to fill out the recipe. Then I discovered the bread I could buy at the co-op for a great price, and started freezing it. We discovered my daughter was sensitive to MSG, and wanted to eliminate malted barley flour from our diet, which required a certain kind of flour that I could only get one place. I started buying several flours at a time and freezing it.

I began to notice I was going to the grocery store less...and I LIKED that. We made fewer impulse buys and were more likely to choose homemade over easy and enticing store-bought products. In the quest to use all the produce, I was too tired to make as many desserts. I still haven't lost those ten pounds, but this blog entry isn't about exercise.

Today, at breakfast, my husband finished off the last of the sourdough bread. Normally, my husband eats an oatmeal packet, which I make up in small snack-sized baggies about every two weeks. I made biscuits for me and my middle girl, which we tend to keep on hand for breakfast all the time. Usually my youngest has toast and homemade strawberry preserves, but today she had honeydew melon and a cookie (she slept until noon; a cookie seemed reasonable). My eldest daughter takes care of herself; I'm not sure if she even ate breakfast at home today.

We have leftovers to manage: tuna casserole, chicken casserole, some chili, some very yummy salad dressing. Tomorrow I will make a salad with some of the vegetables laying around to use up the dressing. I thought I had thawed a roast for dinner today, but it turned out to be cube steak (oops). Here's another change: in deciding to make swiss steak, I didn't feel compelled to go buy carrots for the recipe. I had on hand a big potato and some Anaheim peppers...ta da, veggies for the crockpot dinner. I need to make lemonade and salsa to use up some other produce, including two Anaheims that I'm going to roast with the jalapenos for the salsa. I need to make fruit salad with some tangelos and mangos. I forgot to give the cucumbers to my best friend, so I'm going to try Guy Fieri's recipe for quick sweet pickles.

I didn't get a basket today, which means I may need to choose what we eat next week, instead of being driven to use up random vegetables. I've learned to eat chayote squash, so I might indulge in one from the store and make a potato/chicken skillet with it. It might be a good time to go on a date with my husband.

Our eating out budget has been cut in half. Our grocery bill has dropped 25-30%. I do spend a lot of time cooking, and while that is not paying off at my waistline, it has improved our family's health. My girls like it.

Where are you in your journey with food? How are you feeding your family these days?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Come to church

I have always attended an evangelical church, where I am exhorted to "Bring people to church!" Over and over again...if I bring people, then I'm okay, and they'll be okay. Isn't that exciting? All this, and free coffee.

I attend church every Sunday morning. I like worshipping with a group of believers. I like hearing a sermon and talking with my family afterwards. I like seeing familiar faces and greeting people. But if this experience was all I had to be a Christian, it would be empty. I can't imagine coming to this environment from no religious background and thinking, "Wow, this is what I want to do with my life." Being part of an organization that is excited and happy? Well, that's okay, but it's not all that useful.

What is useful for life is real people. How valuable is it to be able to call someone when you're trying to make a decision and talk things through. How wonderful is it to have a meal with friends and not care what you're wearing or what the house looks like. How meaningful is it to be able to ask real questions, to put your warts and issues on the table and not fear judgment. When you don't know what to do, how amazing is it to have others surround you with their prayers and love.

The real Christian invitation is not merely, "Come with me to an event," but rather "Walk with me in life." I need Jesus because He understands me. He values me. He directs me. My life genuinely would not be the same without Him, and I have reoriented myself to know that I need His salvation; there is no hope for me without Him. I have changed to be more like Him, and that is the direction I want to keep moving, until game over and I see Him face to face.

Because Jesus is so amazing at accepting me and changing me for the better, I want other people to find Him. I can't imagine not having the security of knowing Him, and so my goal is to love, accept, challenge, and walk with others. The way we live reflects Him, and that is why Christians have a longing to be with other Christians: in their lives, we see more of Jesus than just ours alone. We also want to be around the hurting and needy, because in their faces we see our own, as we were when we so desperately needed Christ. Serving others reminds us of our own need, and how beautifully that need has been met.

So, I would love to have you come to church with me on Sunday morning. I would also love to have you over for dinner, or meet you for coffee. I would love for you to call me if you have something you need to talk through, or just to have a listening ear and a heart that cares. You matter to Jesus, and I would love to talk more about Him. Truth is, church is a group of real people, not a building or a Ponzi scheme. I would like you to come to church.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

If you want to change

1 John 1:7 says, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

If you want something to change, you must bring it into the light. This verse says that the light improves our relationships with others and purifies us. Personal growth and getting along with others...those seem to be the two most important things I can think of. I used to tell my best friend about some situation, and it would often take a bit of talking for me to figure out what the problem was. Once I could see what was wrong, I would ask, "What should I do?" She always said, "Well, noticing the problem is a good start." A lot of times, just seeing what is wrong is half-way to fixing it.

If you can see, "I don't know how to talk to my daughter," then you can imagine what needs to be said and how to say it. If you can see, "This habit of my husband is driving me nuts," then you can figure out how to communicate what you feel. Problems are not usually hard to solve; untangling them, and truly seeing them, can be quite difficult.

But in Jesus, the light to see our problems is available. He is in the light, and when we walk with Him, that light shines on us. Here are some Scriptures on light. Do you hear the Father speaking to you?

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." (Psalm 139:11-12)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. (1 John 1:5-6)

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
Because we know God, there are answers. As I think about my own healing from hurts over the past year, I know that I have had to do a lot of work: to figure things out, to forgive, to escape bitterness. But if the Lord did not make healing possible for me in the cross, I could not have found my way in my own effort.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How to serve on church staff

I loved the time I spent on staff at a church. It ended painfully, however, and I remember visiting a new church on Sunday and watching the staff: the senior pastor, the ministers serving around the edges, the worship team. I wondered if they were genuine. Was it possible for anyone to serve on the staff of a church and be a healthy, likeable person?

I think so. When you are on staff, you put forward the best person you are in Christ. When you serve, you do so with the strength that Christ gives. You think about who He is, how patient, loving, and kind He was when He walked among us, and you greet people with the love He has for them. I set Angie aside, and let God love through me. That sounds kinda weird, but it just highlights that I'm not the point. God is great, and the people coming to worship or serve or learn are very precious. The way you smile, the way you make eye contact, the words you choose--all of these communicate His care for each and every one of us. I can love each person I talk with because I know I am incredibly loved and accepted, despite my faults and hangups.

When you are on staff, you are a leader in the body, and the way you function helps set the tone for the body. My favorite tone is "genuine." I want to be genuine; I want people around me to be able to be genuine. Ministers can go from one conversation of celebration to a conversation of tragedy or desperation within five minutes. God is able to move that fast (even faster!), but I cannot without His Spirit in me. If you greet each person with love--not happiness or enthusiasm or excitement, but love--then your heart will hear what they are needing: a word of encouragement, a hug, some advice, a prayer. Love adapts; cheerleading is focused on the organization you represent. It's fine to be excited about what is happening on a given day, but it is better to love each person you encounter.

Sometimes, a staff member awakens on Sunday morning with their own burdens: not feeling well physically, some kind of discord, worries from a non-work area of life. The church where I served always gave me the freedom to minister to me. I arrived early on Sunday to have time to pray, to settle my own heart before the Lord. Any given day, before work, I could spend time in the Word or slip off to the worship center to quietly sit before my Father. When you serve on staff, you represent Christ. If you are not ministered to by Christ, if you are not more in love with Him than anything else, if you are just stuffing your own problems instead of laying them at His feet, resolved or unresolved, then you can't minister. You can't be filled with the Spirit.

Dying to our own selves is a lifelong process, but you have to be actively engaged with Jesus in order to lead. And those places where you are struggling? Sometimes, I surrender a problem to God, take it back, realize I'm worrying over it, surrender it again, and so on. Trusting God is more work some days than others. As a minister, you tap into this struggle when someone comes to you struggling. You don't share it if the person you are talking to doesn't need to know. But your struggle is a strength to someone who is also battling.

1 Peter 2:1-3 tells us, "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." As a preschool minister, I used to say that the preschool truths were the greatest of all: God made me, God loves me, and Jesus wants to be my friend forever. When you understand this pure spiritual milk, you can grow up in your salvation, to love and lead others around you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A cup of Scripture to sip on

Before I began working, I was knee-deep in homeschooling. After getting my husband off to work each day, I would close myself in our bedroom and read my Bible, pray, worship, and meditate. We were supposed to start school at 9:00, but I would often take more time for my studies, on the theory that this really was the "most important thing" (Luke 10:42), and we would get through the school day fine if I were late for this reason. Note that I am not one of the noble women who rises at 5am to read her Bible. I've tried that, and I always fell asleep over the Word. Not pretty.

These days, I have two girls to drive to school at separate times, different lunches to make, and I have squeezed out my "most important thing." Part of me misses the open-ended nature that I used to have, and I resent having to just fit in the time to read. Frustrated that I can only work in fifteen minutes (and loathe to get up earlier), I often skip this quiet time with God altogether.

Instead, I have been reminded recently of the art of meditation. It seems I am always thinking about God, and so lately, I look up whatever familiar Bible passage has come to mind. Sometimes this will be as a result of praying for a friend; sometimes it will be from a sermon or song I have heard recently. I know where a lot of "famous" things are in the Bible, and I am good at providing paraphrases, but often when I review the verse itself, I see something new in the wording. Or the verse before or behind jumps out at me.

One or two verses, drawn from the well of His Word, can sit in your cup all morning as you hurry about your tasks. In the same way that I have a cup of coffee with me all morning, which I am always sipping on, I can think on a verse of Scripture and let it shape my mind and heart.

Meditation is especially important for areas of your heart that are not resting in God. You know what I'm talking about: those things that you know in your head, but that your heart is too stubborn to receive. For example, I have been anxious lately about my middle daughter. I shouldn't be anxious; I know that. But instead of stopping with, "I know I shouldn't do this," I looked up the Scripture in Philippians that tells me so: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (4:6).

I know that Scripture is powerful. It is "alive and active, sharper than any double-edged judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). And all Scripture is given to us by God, made alive by Him, and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The funny ecards you read on Facebook are not powerful. The inspiring pictures you pin on Pinterest are not useful to train you in righteousness.

But Scripture will change you. If you have a headache, and you know ibuprofen will help, but you never take two pills from your cabinet, will your headache get better? Maybe. But you have done nothing to help; just knowing what to do is not enough. You have to act. In the same way, if you want to change, you must do something; you must take in Scripture.

Devotionals are very good resources for taking in a little Scripture daily. Make sure there is a Bible verse included, and when you find one that comes alive to you, stir it into your morning drink and sip on it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Three types of people

My world used to have two types of people: those who followed Jesus, and those who didn't. This is the most important division for me, because what a person decides about Christ determines their relationship with God (either with Him or separated from Him). I believe the Bible is one big story of redemption, of God reaching out to us. Jesus is our gift; we can accept Him or reject Him.

I've been involved in church since I became a Christ-follower in my teens. I've seen a lot of sin in the church. I've seen plenty of hypocrisy and hurtfulness. Two of the churches we were members of broke apart due to fighting among believers. And still, a church community has remained central in my life. In fact, my husband and I were part of a new church that sprang up in the Tulsa area about ten years ago, and it was one of the greatest blessings in my life. I have learned from church people, been encouraged and supported by church people, and served the needs of others alongside church people.

This past year, however, something has happened to my worldview. My husband and I have had one theological difference our entire married life. I was saved in a Southern Baptist church, and we were certain that once you were saved, you were always saved. What about those people who walked the walk and talked the talk and then fell into utter sin? Well, either they need to repent, but God's still got them in His hand, or they were never saved in the first place. My husband maintained that a person could lose their salvation, but it wasn't a casual "in and out" with God based on our behavior. My husband believed that if a person lost their salvation, they could never be saved again. Salvation happens once; if it's gone, it's gone.

We of course referenced Scripture in our discussions, and I was pretty sure I was right: two kinds of people, the saved and the not saved. When a person comes to Christ, he is a new creation. The old passes away, and all things are new (2 Corinthians 5:17). I didn't see how, if you were a new creature, you could ever go back.

Hebrews 10:26-27 says, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." In verse 29, it refers to this group of people as having "treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them." It speaks of them having a disdain for their salvation. The writer tells us, "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded" (v.35).

The call to persevere once you have received Christ is found all over the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says, "I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." I always thought, "Poor Paul! He had no need to worry! How could he be disqualified?"

I really don't know if someone can "lose their salvation." I have a feeling I'm asking questions that my Father will not answer clearly until I stand before Him. But I have definitely created a third group of people in my worldview.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul says, "No wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve" (v.14-15). Peter warns the believers, "Since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position" (2 Peter 3:17).

There are people who are serving Satan, and they dwell in the church. My blog entry Leaders who deceive addresses this, and I don't know why I feel compelled to say it again: these people exist. I don't know their standing before God, and it is not my job to sift through everyone I know and assign them a category. However, I need to be alert, because these people, who are in the church, are working against Christ.

The other day, my youngest asked me about a girl at her school. "She's very religious, but when I am around her, I feel bad. What does that mean?" I told her that she could be having one of two reactions: either she feels convicted about her own walk, which comes from the Holy Spirit and is good, or this girl is something false, and she should stay away from her. My daughter needs to examine her own walk, and if the Spirit does not reveal a problem, the problem might lie with this girl, and she should avoid her. As I'm talking, it becomes abundantly clear that this is the situation I am facing with several fellow church people. Something about them disturbs me deeply; I should not submit myself to their teaching.

John says, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring [sound] teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work" (2 John 10-11). We are to welcome fellow believers, love them, help meet their needs, encourage each other with true teaching and singing, be gentle, forgive each other, work for restoration of relationships, consider others before ourselves, bless our teachers. But we are also to be perceptive, and avoid false people in the church. I don't know if these people were once saved but have lost their salvation or were never saved and just pursuing wicked schemes with a Christian coating, but the Scripture warns me over and over, they are there. They are among us. Pay attention, church, because the newer converts to Christianity and those who struggle more in their faith can be very wounded by the wolves.