Spurring

I have been blessed throughout my life to know Christians from a variety of backgrounds, and, even now, I am working for a church in a denomination different than my own. I am grateful that God is big enough to reach people through His own means that I don’t always understand. I am also thankful that I don’t have to understand these things–God does.

Where I work, I run into people with big hearts who love Christ and His gospel. Do they agree with all my theological beliefs? No. Does that matter? No. We can agree on the things that are important, the things stated in the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

I can work alongside these brothers and sisters in Christ because of our shared beliefs in Christ and Him crucified, of Christ and His resurrection.

Living among so many Christians from different backgrounds for these many years has made me a bit sad.  I am sad that we have to have so much conflict.  Even within our denominations there is infighting. The very fact that the Christian church is split into many denominations and the sinful attitudes and mentalities that lead to such splits and perpetuate them is distressing. It is hard to see Christians so divided.

We can learn so much from each other about how to love more like Christ. May we be willing to put our love for Christ over of love of being right so we can spur each other on to love and good deeds.

Movies, Music, and Mondays . . .

Perhaps I should start with Mondays . . . Today was a beautiful Monday outside.  In the throws of summer on the first of July, and the high temp was 78 degrees.  What a wonderful alternative to the typical 95+ St Louis usually dishes out in the summer.  It is worth reveling in this weather.  Let’s savor it and enjoy it, as normal is almost certain to return very soon.

I worked today, as I do most Mondays.  I was feeling a bit puny, and I had the proverbial rough day at the office, so I am not feeling like much of a Monday fan.  But the day was redeemed by a movie with my youngest and jazz on youtube on my tv.  Technology really is an amazing gift!

Movies

I am dying to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.  I have been thinking about it for over a month, and now, over a week has passed since it opened, and we still haven’t made it there.  We are not the first-run movie sort of people, so this is not unusual.  But this movie has several things going for it: 1. It’s Shakespeare.  2.  Joss Whedon.  3. It looks so cool in its black and white hipness.  To get you in the mood, check out this review.

The Monday movie at home tonight with 10-year-old daughter was Parental Guidance.  Believe it or not, this is the second time we watched it.  It is just plain funny.  Billy Crystal and Bette Middler play grandparents who go to take care of their tightly strung daughter’s children.  I don’t think Billy Crystal is capable of not being funny, and Bette Middler is a great sidekick.  Marissa Tomei plays the high strung mother of three pre-teen children, and Tom Everett Scott rounds out the family as Dad.  The humor is clean, the family situations are real but still funny, and it ends poignantly enough to bring forth a tear or two.  It is a really good family movie that even teens would like if they take the time to sit and watch with you. (Mine did not, btw.)

Family Devotions Fudge Sauce

We raised our kids with family devotions almost nightly for years. However, truth be told, the last few years, as the kids have gotten older, devotions have been hit or miss, with devotion times during the last year being often unheard of. In the last month, we have resurrected family devotions in addition to the reinstatement of eating all dinners at the dining room table (except for pizza night :)) . The audible groaning is only a taste of the inner turmoil these adjustments to the family schedule have wrought. But we persevere as we know our time for molding these young hearts and minds is shorter than we ever really believed in the early days of parenthood.

In an effort to ease the pain of having to sit with siblings and parents for meals and Bible reading, I am beginning to think of some “incentives” to encourage acceptance of the restored practice. Tonight, while we were waiting for some to finish eating or to go get the Kindle from which to read the Bible passage, I sneaked into the kitchen and whipped up a treat that kept the masses quiet while listening to God’s Word. Unorthodox. Perhaps. Necessary. No. But perhaps associating a surprise sweet treat from Mom and Dad with family devotions will give us some staying power.

Here’s my quick, easy, and dareIsay, YUMMY, recipe for:

Family Devotions Fudge Sauce (served over vanilla ice cream)

4 T butter
1/2 C cocoa
1 C. sugar
1/2 C milk (I used condensed)
1 t. vanilla

Melt butter over low heat. Add sugar, and milk, whisk together in pan. Turn up the heat to medium. Mix in cocoa with a whisk to get out lumps. Heat thoroughly until it begins to bubble, mixing regularly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Serve over vanilla ice cream to your family, whether you are having devotions, or not.

An Open Thank You Note to My Advent Angels + A Word About Giving and Receiving

On one of the final days of November, I received an e-mail from the pastor of our church telling me that he had a box of gifts that someone wanted us to have. We wrote back and forth a couple times to work out the logistics of my getting the box. Having been in the situation of “needing” extra help from others over the holidays for some time now, I expected this to be some packages to be saved for Christmas Day to be shared with my family. I picked up the mysterious box from the church office the last day of November after choir rehearsal ended. My son carried to the car and then into our house when we got home. I opened the box eagerly to see what it might be.

Inside, I found many prettily wrapped gifts with tags attached to each one along with a typewritten note from the givers of the box. Generally, the note explained that this box contained a gift for me for each day of advent. It was prepared by two people who wanted to help me remember my worth as a “daughter of the King.” The box also contained a generous gift card to use to purchase some things for my family.

Tears were my first response because I was humbled. I had spent much of October and November wondering how we might purchase gifts for our kids for Christmas without incurring more debt. November was a hard month, as we were forced to purchase new tires for our van early in the month, and then I really felt God nudging me to visit my mom with the family for Thanksgiving, a trip from which we had just returned. The expense of the trip was felt in the family budget. When Mark went back to work at his part-time job that first week after we got home, he was greeted with the news that cutbacks are coming soon, and that his job would be cut in some fashion. So I felt sure that this box was evidence of God’s notice of my concern and worry about the coming Christmas season. Then, of course, beyond Christmas gifts, I was concerned about how we would manage beyond December.

However, my second response was not as pious as the first. My second thought was, “How needy do we seem?” And, “Are we always going to be the family that needs help?” I was getting more than a little angry with God for once again putting me on the receiving end of someone’s charity.

Yet, as the month of December wore on, I woke up each morning and was delighted by each small gift from my “advent box.” I received blank books to write in, a beautiful tea cup and saucer set, lotions, cooking utensils, a book, slippers, socks, Christmas items, and a very pretty snowflake necklace, just to name a few of the things from my special box. Every gift had a different tea bag attached to it, and I was thrilled by each one.

God was working on my attitude through the generosity and kindness of these special sisters in Christ who decided to bless me this advent season. Whoever they are, their gifts showed that they had some idea of what I like and what would make me feel special. These were not just gifts for the sake of having something to give, thoughtfulness was behind each one.

In addition to these gifts from my “secret Advent Angels,” as Christmas drew closer, Mark and I received anonymous gifts from others at our church to help with Christmas expenses. I also received gifts of thanks and kindness from people where I work that added to our holiday celebration. As I entered worship on Christmas Eve, I felt very blessed by God for the way He once again showed me that He is my Father in Heaven who wants to give me good gifts. The gift of His son Jesus was revealed to me over and over again through the kindness and love of others given to me and my family this Christmas season.

As I alluded earlier, this is not the first time we have been in this situation. Truly, every year, our family receives some sort of unexpected blessings from anonymous givers, and it is not just at Christmas time.

We are NOT really poor in the truest sense of the word. We are struggling, to be sure, but some of that struggle is the result of our own actions in the past. Yet God is not stingy in His blessings to us. He does not sit back with a record book and review all the decisions we have made to determine whether we deserve to be blessed or not. He gives to us and blesses us because He is our Father who loves us. That is all. Oh how I need to learn that lesson with my own children! Perhaps that is why we are not yet in the position to be the giver. I long to be the giver. I long to be the one who is able to bless others. Yet I wonder how much of that is pride. How can I know?

Here is what I do know—God has faithfully met our family’s needs for 20 years now. He has not seen fit to take us beyond that yet, but He has never forsaken us, and, I believe, He never will. Once again, this past Christmas season and year brought many evidences to us of God’s lavish grace. So to those of you who were a part of that, who were instruments of God’s grace to us during this time, we are very grateful. We appreciate your acts of love and faithfulness. We appreciate your being Christ to us. I pray that we can be as generous to others in whatever ways we are able. I want to remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive and to live accordingly.

A Lesson from the Lord’s Prayer

So Mark and I were talking last night about how we so much want to have our situation change in regard to the overarching category of financial provision for our household.  We keep praying, but it seems when we make a step forward, there are at least 2 steps back.  Then, there’s the whole worrying that what we are able to do now could go away because of the current economic situation and other circumstances beyond our control.  We left our conversation consoling one another that God has always provided for us to this point, and all we can do is trust He will continue (while, of course, doing our part.)

Then this morning, we went to church.  After the worship service, we teach 3rd grade Sunday school.  I confess, that when I have been the one doing the lesson, I haven’t done much preparation.  But this is the second week I have asked Mark to teach the lesson.  I should just be the helper every week because even when he is teaching the young children, Mark brings out things I never see.

The overall theme of the quarter in the Sunday school curriculum is worship.  So we have had a couple lessons on the temple and the tabernacle, comparing the worship of the Old Testament to our worship today.  Last week, we talked about Daniel and his refusal to worship the King and his desire to obey his heavenly father and to worship only the True God.  The Lord’s prayer was tied to the lesson beginning last week, and that continued into this week.

Today, our Bible story was about Hannah, and her desire to have a baby.  We read the story, and we talked about how Hannah persistently pled with God to give her the desire of her heart.  After many faithful years of petition on her part, God granted her request, and Samuel, who would become an adviser to the king of Israel, was born.

The phrase of The Lord’s Prayer we focused on today was “Give us this day, our daily bread.”  I say these words over and over again, mostly in public prayer, and it wasn’t until today that I realized this little phrase is more directive than I have ever given it credit for.  In this little phrase, we are being told to ask God to meet our needs each day.  Bread, symbolic of the staff of life, the body of Christ,  the hope of the world, is definitely God’s gift to us, but He wants us to ask him for it every day.  He wants to hear from us–to have us tell Him that we know He is the one who provides all that we need.

Also, through the conversation Mark was leading of these 8-year-olds, I saw a connection of the Lord’s Supper to the “daily bread.”  In the Lord’s Supper, we are being refreshed, renewed, restored, and prepared to enter the world as representatives of Christ, the bread of the world.  When we pray for the “daily bread,” we are also praying for Christ to work through us every day–that we would have Christ in us in a way that is meaningful to ourselves and those around us.

Maybe this isn’t too profound for the rest of the Christian public.  But for me, today, where I was, it was what I needed to hear.  I was convicted that I just “expect” God to work and provide too much of the time, and I don’t call on Him enough to meet my daily needs–to provide our daily bread.  Yes.  I often (if not always) thank Him for the food at meals, but daily bread goes a lot further than that–it is the full-orbed stuff of life that we need to ask God for.  He wants to hear from me that I know I can’t survive apart from His gracious will.

 

Church Camp Redux

I went to church camp every summer when I was a kid.  It was the highlight of my summer because we didn’t really ever go on family vacations.   Camp was normally during mid-July, and from the end of the school year until the day we left for camp, my friend Carlene and I would call each other on the phone at least once a day to go over the “list” to make sure nothing of supreme importance was left at home during camp week.

Another important part of camp was the Bible/spiritual part.  We would memorize countless verses to earn points for our team.  We had Bible studies together everyday, and of course, there was a campfire worship service every night, culminating with the big last night of the week-crying because of the work of the holy spirit-throwing sticks in the fire to represent the sin you were repenting of-CAMPFIRE.  After I would get home from camp, it would take another week to decompress, to sort through what I learned, and to set out to be a better Christian by keeping all the promises I made to myself and God regarding my behavior.

Here’s where the REDUX comes in.  I attended a 2-day leadership seminar sponsored by the Willow Creek Association this past Thursday and Friday (The Global Leadership Summit).  The seminar is two days of well-known Christian and business leaders speaking on topics relevant to Christians in leadership roles.  I went as a part of group from the church where I work.  My post-seminar personal debriefing has a very familiar feeling–I feel like I did after church camp as a kid.  I am re-evaluating my personal piety practices, my work habits, my personal schedule.  I am asking myself how I can be a better Christian in all the roles I play in my life.

I know the tone of this post sounds somewhat sarcastic, and well, I am a bit jaded about these intense periods of teaching and spiritual contemplation and what kind of real impact these sorts of things can have on my life.  BUT, I ultimately think times like these can be helpful.  I am blessed to be in a church where we partake of the Lord’s Supper each week, and through that practice, I find myself being better about personal repentance and keeping a shorter account with God.  But hearing the thoughts of Christians outside my own tradition for a concentrated time and allowing my guard to come down so the Holy Spirit can prick my conscience is still good.  It is helpful for me to take a little spiritual inventory, and consider ways I might become more like Jesus.  The part that is a lot like my church camp experience is that ultimately, I will probably fail in my resolutions to make a change.  Ultimately my behavior may not be noticeably different to those around me.  But I am counting on God’s grace to use the experience I had this past week in the same way that he used camp when I was a kids.  I am counting on His forgiveness when I fail, and I am counting on Him to change me just a little bit and to slowly change me in more noticeable ways for His glory.  I am also starting to count the days until I can attend the Summit again.

Recipes — from me, the one who barely gets to the grocery store anymore

Perhaps I am posting recipes because I wish I had a stocked refrigerator and pantry in order to cook real meals.  Lately, I have been fortunate to make it to the grocery store to buy milk.  Cereal and other daily staples have been in short supply because I have just had other things to do with my Saturdays, and going to the store on a weeknight after work is also just not appealing.  But I popped on over to Annie’s blog, and she was, as usual, posting some great recipes.  Some of these recipes were for her crockpot, and I was inspired to share a recipe that I love for the crockpot.

My sister-in-law, Tricia, sent it to me probably ten years ago, and I have made it pretty often since then.  At some point, I lost the recipe she sent, so I searched on-line to find one very similar to it, if not exactly the same, and the taste was very close.  So, here it is (Of course, for my crew, this has to be doubled.):

Crockpot Porkchops

Ingredients
3/4 cup flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper blend
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
4 boneless pork loin chops (1/2 inch thick)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 c. chicken broth
1 C. sherry

Preparation method
1.     In a shallow dish or pie pan, whisk together 1/2 cup flour, mustard, pepper, and salt. Dredge pork chops in mixture.

2.     Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry pork chops in hot oil until browned on both sides, about 4 minutes,   then place in a 5-quart slow cooker.

3.     Whisk 1/4 cup flour into chicken broth and sherry, then add mixture to slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

4.     Serve pork with pan juices poured over each.

(I am thinking of trying this recipe with chicken breasts instead of pork tomorrow, since I happen to have chicken breasts in the freezer.  I think it will work well!)

Another source of recipes I use all the time is a cookbook called Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas. I have had this cookbook for at least 15 years, and some of my “regulars” come from this book.

Since I am linking the cookbook’s website and the Amazon link to the book, I am going to post a couple of the recipes from the book with little fear of copyright infringement.

I use this first recipe for Mexican Style Chicken and Rice at least 3 times a month.  I LOVE it, and my family likes it.  It is easy and quick as the book title promises, and it is obviously tried and true.

Mexican Style Chicken and Rice

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 tsp minced garlic

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can chopped chiles (We don’t eat chiles at our house, and it is great flavor without them.)

1 can chicken broth (low sodium, if you want to be super healthy)

1 3/4 C quick cooking brown rice (I use white rice sometimes)

6 drops tabasco sauce (I never use this)

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 oz grated, lowfat cheddar cheese (true confession–we use regular cheddar most of the time :)

Preheat oven to 350.  Cook onion and pepper in skillet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Add the next 6 ingredients.  Mix well and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and spoon into a 9×13 baking pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Arrange chicken on top of rice mixture.  Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 35 minutes or until rice is cooked.  Sprinkle cheese over chicken.  Let stand for 5 min or until cheese is melted.

I often skip the cooking of the onions and peppers and boiling of the rice in the chicken broth when I make this because of time and a desire to keep the number of cooking pans to a minimum.  When I do this, I bake for another 5 – 10 minutes.  It turns out fine using this method, but the chicken is not quite as moist.

I serve this with sour cream as a garnish.

Also from the  Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas cookbook is the recipe that my 13-year-old son made for me for my birthday dinner.  It is really yummy.  Since Nevin made it, I found a variation of it for the crockpot on line, so I am sharing that version here.  I haven’t tried it in the crockpot yet, but I am sure it will be as good as it was baked in the oven.

Chicken a la Soda

3 skinless boneless chicken breasts (or eqiuvalent of boneless tenders)
1 can orange soda
1/4 cup of water
1 cup diced celery
1 can of sliced mushrooms
3 cups cooked instant brown rice

Directions
place chicken in crock pot
pour soda over chicken
add 1/4 cup of water
add veggies
cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or HIGH for 4-6 hours. (check internal temp of chicken to make sure done)
Cook rice in microwave or stovetop.
When done, place .5 cup of rice on plate. Place chicken (4 oz) on rice and spoon juices w/veggies on top of chicken and rice.

(The recipe Nevin used was practically identical to this.  If you want to cook it in the oven, place in a covered 3qt casserole, and bake it for 35 – 35 minutes.)

Reflecting on all these tried and true recipes may have motivated me enough to have a plan for meals for the next few days.  Maybe they’ve inspired you, too.

About a Boy

about a boy

“A person’s life is like a TV show.  I’m the star of The Will Show, and the Will Show is not an ensemble drama.”  — Quote from Will, one of the main characters in About a Boy

This post is loosely related to the last one.  Have you ever seen the movie, About a Boy?  It is one of my favorites.  The story is about, well, a boy, named Marcus.  He is nerdy and “poor” and lives with his single mom in a suburban environment in England.  He finds himself wishing for friends, and through an unlikely connection, he meets and becomes friends with an adult man, Will, who is single and lives by the philosophy that all men are islands.  By the end of the movie, both Will and Marcus both discover that life is better when lived in community.  As Marcus comments, “Couples need back-up.”

I am thinking a lot about what living in community means.  The fact is, with 4 kids in a city with no family, community is very important to us.  We count on the help of others every week to make our lives work.  That being said, it isn’t easy to do this.  Sometimes it feels like we are needy–like we are the only ones who have to make that phone call to ask someone to pick up one of the kids because we can’t get across town in time.  I would like to feel more like we can live in community where there is give and take, where people feel comfortable calling me to ask for help more often.  Sometimes I think people don’t call us because we are known to be busy, but I also want to be known to be generous and accommodating and helpful when it is within my power to do so.

I started this post on Saturday of last weekend, and interestingly, our pastor preached a sermon on Sunday about the community of believers in the Book of Acts.  My husband also preached a sermon where he talked about community.  Hmmm . . . coincidence?  I don’t think so.  I think we all long for more relational lives of meaningful interaction with others. But in our society, it is difficult to bring about.

In About a Boy, Marcus sensed what he wanted/needed, and he started to pursue it until his life looked more like what he longed for.  Real life, unfortunately, is not as neatly constructed as movies or over in a couple short hours.  So we have to work at things for the long haul.  Now I am challenged as to how best to pursue community in my own life without turning others off in the process.

Musings and contemplations about trying to live a full and meaningful life