Bachelor Food: Saturday Morning Coconut Pancakes

coconut pancakes syrupIt’s hard to write when you’re full. And that’s one thing these coconut pancakes do: fill you up. It’s all the fiber in them, I think. But they’re tasty, easy to make — and grain-free.

So here’s how this little adventure started out.

I love my carbs. Pastas, pancakes, pastries, crusty French bread… They’re the stuff of life. They’re also not great for someone keeping an eye on their blood sugars and lipids.

So I’ve been deliberately cutting out foods with added sugars, and consciously adding more fiber to my diet. (I quietly mutter “Sugar equals death” under my breath when I’m tempted by my favorite pastries, but you know, it kinda spooks the other customers in line, so I just wander away sad and unsatisfied, but feeling just a little bit superior.)

Anyway. I’ve made the switch to whole-grain everything as part of a lifestyle change. Breads with multi-whole grains, whole wheat flour for cooking, whole wheat spaghetti and pastas, and swapping out quinoa and farro (it’s kinda like corn) instead of rice as a side dish staple. All in all, a healthier exchange, since it upped my protein and fiber intake and reduced my net carbs.

But sometimes you just want a stack of pancakes for breakfast Saturday morning.

There are some cool recipes out there using buckwheat and barley, some using almond flour, stuff with a lower glycemic index and higher fiber to make you feel full and keep you from that post-sugar-high crash. Some of them seem a bit exotic (and pricey!), with ingredients I’m not likely to use for much else, so they didn’t seem worth the purchase. But, we’re easily influenced by media (at least I am), and I’ve seen a couple of really enticing photos of “paleo-pancakes” on Facebook recently, so I caved. (Not that I can even imagine a caveman whipping up a batch of pancakes, but hey …)

coconut flourHere’s the killer ingredient: coconut flour. Those crazy Americans. My bud, who lives in Malaysia where coconut is an everyday part of life, never heard of such a thing. Somebody over here, probably with too much time on their hands, thought it might be interesting to grind up coconut flesh and see if bread could be made from it, I guess. And, voila. A flour substance that’s high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats, and lower in carbs than regular wheat flour.

Well, sign me up. So I ran out to my grocery store and picked a 2 pound container. Yes, you can even find it at WallyWorld. I figured if I liked it, I’d try it in other things (imagine making chocolate chip cookies!), so it wouldn’t just sit in my cupboard waiting for the occasional Saturday morning breakfast. And my conscience would be lulled back to sleep when indulging: “don’t worry about it; it’s healthy.”

I did do a bit of background reading, first, before I plunged into experimenting. Turns out, coconut flour is much more absorbant than traditional wheat flour, so it sucks up your recipe liquids (milk, water) leaving your batter a bit thicker. That’s okay. Don’t try to compensate by adding more liquid; your batter will just end up runny. And because it’s gluten-free, you gotta use more eggs as a binder. (Gluten, although it’s gotten a bad rap lately, is the go-to ingredient in wheat that holds all the stuff together when cooking.)* So, you can’t just substitute coconut flour for wheat four 1 for 1. Turns out, it’s more like 1/4 to 1. So, where I used to just whip up pancakes with 1 cup of flour and 1 egg, this time I had to use 1/4 cup coconut flour and 3 eggs.

They taste a bit like coconut, as you might expect, so they have a naturally sweet flavor. Several recipes I compared online added 1-2 tablespoons of sugar (or honey, to stay paleo), but I didn’t think they needed it. Especially if you’re about to pour 1/2 cup of maple syrup over them. One friend recommended adding ground crickets, which would double the protein (he was serious), but I’m not that extreme. Thanks, maybe next time, Shane.

This recipe makes a deceptively small amount of batter. But remember, it’s heavier, so a little bit goes a long way. It’ll make the same number of pancakes as a proportional wheat flour recipe will; the pancakes will just be a bit smaller. But, believe me, they will fill you up.

coconut pancake ingrs

Here’s what you need

1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 – 1/3 cup milk. (Use coconut milk if you want to stay purely “paleo” and avoid dairy; but I just used my regular 1% cow’s milk)
3 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (Or use coconut oil if you’ve got it)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking powder (This is the stuff that makes the cakes rise — and no, it’s not the same thing as baking soda)
dash of salt (Adds to the chemical reaction to help them rise, plus balances out the flavor a little)

And that’s it. See how easy that is? You’ve probably got all that stuff already in your cupboards — except for the coconut flour, which I’m sure you ran out and picked up, like I did, just to try this out.

Here’s what you do

Basically, you want to mix your wet ingredients first, then add in your dry ones.

So, crack your 3 eggs into a bowl, add the milk, oil, and vanilla extract, and beat with a fork or wisk to combine.
Next, dump in your coconut flour, and add the baking powder and salt.
. It doesn’t have to be perfect; some small lumps are fine.
Heat up a little vegetable or coconut oil, about a tablespoon, in your frying pan or griddle.  I’d avoid the “HI” setting if you don’t want to smoke up the whole kitchen. Just sayin’.
Pour about a 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake (I used the same measuring cup as a ladle). This batter is heavier than normal pancake batter, so it won’t bubble when it’s ready to be flipped like you’re probably used to. You’ll just have to peek at the underside using a spatula/turner and flip when the pancake is a golden brown. I had to flip mine twice to make sure they were cooked through, but you don’t want to overcook them. Nobody likes maple syrup covered hockey pucks.
coconut pancakes teaThis batch makes about 6 pancakes, 3-4 inches wide — enough for two people if you’ve got other side dishes, and definitely enough for one, with or without extras.

Depending on how much syrup you pour on, these puppies have a much lower carb/sugar count than traditional pancakes. And with just 1/4 cup of coconut flour and the 3 eggs, I estimated about 24g of protein and about 10g fiber.

Not a bad way to start an indulgent weekend. Enjoy!


P.S.  About using more eggs as a binder, if you have an egg-sensitivity, my friend Rita offered a solution.  You can substitute milled flax seed as the binder. For 1 egg substitute 1 T of milled flax seed and put it into 1 T warm water. Let it sit several minutes until it becomes stretchy. Then add that to the recipe.  I’ll try that out next time I make these …

photo credit: Stephen Schmidt

Bachelor Food: Spaghetti Puttanesca

pasta_puttanesca_ala_stefanoIt’s been a while since we’ve run a foodie post, but the other day when I posted a photo of my dinner on Facebook (yeah, I’m one of those people), a bachelor friend commented that he doesn’t know how to cook and wished I’d posted the recipe along with the photo. So, for you, Jay, here it is.

I’ve been a spaghetti fan since I was a kid. And it’s one of the handful of foods that almost every guy knows how to cook. No big recipe needed, no elaborate culinary planning or advanced shopping needed. Most of us have boxes of spaghetti and jars of sauce in our cupboards, and it’s not much more complicated than boiling water and dumping the pasta in. But after a while, that can get pretty monotonous. I’d begun mixing it up, swapping out tomato sauce for olive oil, using stir-fried vegetables instead of hamburger, and the evolution began. Lots of combinations. I eventually got it down to a savory concoction that I really liked, and made it almost every week for myself.

I didn’t realize it was ridiculously close to a traditional favorite until one evening when I was watching an episode of “Queer as Folk” on Netflix, and Michael’s mom, Debbie Novotny, invited Michael’s chiropractor boyfriend to join them for dinner. “Sit down. I made Puttanesca.” Recognizing it as another spin on my favorite pasta, I decided to look it up on the interwebs. Basically, it’s spaghetti with kalamata olives and capers, mixed in a base of olive oil flavored with hot red peppers, garlic, and anchovies. It’s spicy and fragrant, and if you do it right, it should smell up your whole apartment.

In fact, that’s kinda how the pasta got it’s name. It literally means “pasta of the prostitutes” (we all know the word, puta, right? Well, the Italian version is puttana.) Urban legend has it that ladies of the evening in Naples would lure clients to their doors by sauteing the ingredients in olive oil. The pungent aroma would attract hungry men … and paying customers could satisfy their hunger in multiple ways.

The basic recipe calls for kalamata olives, capers, red pepper flakes, anchovies (or anchovy paste), a few chopped tomatoes, and served with Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese. I’m not a fan (at all) of anchovies, and most of us probably don’t keep capers in our fridge, so I made a few substitutions. Here’s my bachelor version …

puttanesca_ingredients

What you need

  • dried spaghetti (I use the whole-wheat variety cuz it’s got more fiber and protein, and makes me feel like I’m eating healthy)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic (you can use garlic powder if you like, but the taste will be slightly different)
  • red pepper flakes
  • dried oregano or Italian herb mix
  • 1/2 medium onion (any kind)
  • sliced red and green peppers (optional)
  • black olives (instead of kalamata olives; I just used the canned variety)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes — or some sliced cherry tomatoes if you’ve got ’em
  • grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)
  • sliced mushrooms (Portobellos have a rich, earthy flavor)
  • sliced pepperoni

Okay, these last two items are what I substitute for the anchovies and capers to give the pasta it’s “earthy” and salty kick.

Here’s what you do

1. Boil about 2 quarts of water in a saucepan. Add a little salt (which apparently is always the thing to do when cooking pasta) — say, about half a teaspoon. Throw in your dried spaghetti. The traditional standard for one serving of spaghetti is about the diameter of a U.S. quarter — just under an inch. So grab a bunch, and give it your best guess.

2. While your pasta is cooking, finely chop up your garlic, and slice your onions (and peppers).

3. Heat 4 or so tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. You don’t want the heat too high or you’ll smoke up the place.

4. Add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes to the olive oil (depending on how hot you like it), along with your dried oregano or herbs. Toss in your chopped garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes or until it’s slightly golden. The idea is to infuse the oil with the spicy heat from the pepper flakes, garlic and herbs.

5. Next, throw in your sliced onion, peppers, olives, mushrooms and pepperoni. (If you’ve got capers, you could add a teaspoon of them here.) They’ll saute in the flavored oil, about 5 minutes.

6. Once the vegs have cooked in the skillet, stir in the canned tomatoes, and bring to a low simmer.

7. By now, your spaghetti should be about cooked. You can test it by pulling out a few strands and chewing on them to see if they’re the firmness you prefer. Most recipes say till al dente — slightly firm — but I prefer it a bit softer. Umm, do I need to say NOT to use your fingers when fishing the pasta out of the boiling water?

QAF-213x3008. Using tongs or a pasta ladle, transfer the spaghetti from the water into the skillet. This will allow just a bit of the starchy cooking water to mix in with your sauce. Mix it all together until the pasta is well coated and your vegetables are evenly distributed. (I always end up adding more olive oil at this stage, but you may not like it as oily.)

9. Pile a generous amount on your plate, and top it off with some grated cheese.

Feel free to tweak the recipe to suit you. If you really like a salty tang, try adding a few finely chopped anchovy fillets (or 1-2 teaspoons of anchovy paste) as the original recipe calls for. Some of my friends swear by it — “It’s not puttanesca without the anchovies!” Me? I prefer the mushrooms. You be the judge.

Now, go dig up “Queer as Folk” on Netflix (the American version, not the British), and have yourself a relaxing evening. See you in Pittsburgh.


photo credit: Stephen Schmidt

Mr Right

Stop Looking for Mr Right

Mr Right 

Today a friend took the gutsy step of publicly posting that he was back in the dating game, and thought that with his large pool of friends on Facebook, he might have better luck making connections by announcing to a wider audience. Sure, why not? What are friends for if not setting you up on your next blind date?

But here’s the kicker, the thing that got me to write this. He added, “for those seriously interested only.” And there it is. I see it a lot in my Christian guy friends. The desire to skip right over the dating process, and go straight into betrothal and marriage. Some of my friends have even taken to the old term “courting”. As in, “I don’t want to date. I want to court someone and then marry.” But it’s the same idea: that dating, spending some time with someone new, drinking coffee, going to movies, having dinner … getting to know someone … is a waste of their time and energy unless there is a specific guarantee that it will result in rings being exchanged.

Put more bluntly (though I’m sure most of my friends would never consciously think this), “people are not worth my time unless I get exactly what I want from them.”

Don’t be so picky…

As the older guy friend, I want to smack them up side their heads (kindly of course), and tell them, “you’re missing the whole point!” I know because I’ve been there. It’s like walking into an upscale restaurant and refusing to look at the menu because you already know you want meatloaf.

Meatloaf is great. But have you tried the lobster? Or maybe the shrimp scampi with angel hair pasta? Or that wonderful Teriyaki steak, marinated in a ginger, soy and pineapple sauce?

That’s what dating is. It’s sampling the menu. Trying out new flavors, discovering things you never knew existed — things you might absolutely love. And yeah, along the way you’ll sample a few things you don’t like. But it opens you up to a world of new possibilities — ones that may never have even occurred to you. How will you know you’re not a fan of oysters if you’ve never tried them? Or think of all the wonderful evening meals you would have missed out on because you didn’t know you absolutely loved pasta puttanesca. So many guys have such a restrictive list of what they’re looking for in a mate, that they refuse to date anyone who doesn’t match perfectly. “Why should I? I know I won’t marry him.”

Meatloaf is great. But have you tried the lobster? … That’s what dating is. It’s sampling the menu. Trying out new flavors, discovering things you never knew existed — things you might absolutely love.

Because dating isn’t just about finding Mr Right. It’s about discovering more about yourself. It’s about broadening your view of the world around you. It’s about meeting different kinds of people, trying new experiences with them, exchanging ideas, learning something new about the world, about life. It’s exposure to the wide variety of humanity out there — the richness of God’s creation. Kinda like that prayer the Apostle Paul wrote for the Ephesians, “so that you might know the glorious richness of his inheritance in the saints” — so that you can experience the beautiful richness of variety in the types of people God created. People even of different faiths. See? If you know in advance that you probably won’t end up marrying this particular guy, you’re free to spend time with him even if he’s not a Christian. You might gain a whole new appreciation for faith and God because he’s Buddhist and explained how he meditates. Or he’s Muslim, or Jewish, or even an atheist.

Let me say it again. There is so much freedom in dating when you know that you’re not gonna marry this guy anyway, so you’re free to enjoy him for who he is rather than what you want him to be.

The encounter is meant to enrich you. You expand your mind, your heart, your portfolio of experience because he introduces you to things not a regular part of your world. He might take you to a late night jazz session, or to an art exhibit. He may play selections from his vintage rock collection, and open new musical doors for you. He might take you to his church or mosque, to some place you’d never have gone to by yourself. New food, new wines or beers, new music, new parts of town you’ve never seen. New perspectives on God. If you’re lucky, he’ll share a part of his soul with you. You become a better person by dating.

Unless, of course, you’re completely self-absorbed, and not really interested in the men you date at all except to see if their initials will look good on your monogrammed towels.

That sounds a bit harsh, but honestly, that’s how some of you sound. “I only want to date someone whom I could settle down with” comes across very much like “you’re not good enough for me, and I shouldn’t waste my time on you.” Of course you don’t mean it. But you’re robbing yourself. Hell, you’re robbing them, all those guys you refuse to date, of seeing the kind of person you are, of the chance to learn something from you, to realize that there are people of your caliber out there in the sea for them to find, that maybe they don’t need to settle for the first “suitable” guy who comes their way. And you too. You’ll meet a variety of guys who might fit your definition of “marriable”, but you’ll discover that you don’t need to commit to him just because he fits what you thought you wanted. By dating a variety of men, your checklist may expand. You’ll add new desirable traits to your dream — and likely add to your list of characteristics to avoid. All because you learned something new by meeting a variety of people.

Open yourself up to guys outside your normal “marriage criteria,” just for the sake of greater exposure and personal experience. You’ll grow in ways you never imagined.

Let your heart get broken once or twice

“But I don’t want my heart to get broken,” you may be saying.

And yes, that is a very real possibility. But here’s the thing. You should get your heart broken. Because that means you had a genuine connection with a real human being. It is part of the authentic human experience, and you cannot isolate yourself from that and expect to be a healthy person. Real people have hearts. Their hearts become engaged with people they spend time with, who they grow to care about. You will not go untouched. But you will be a better person because you were touched. Dating changes you. Dating deepens you.

Dating has gotten such a bad rap in some Christian circles, especially among faithful guys who are “waiting for marriage.” But cutting yourself off from the people around you, just because they don’t match your checklist, actually cheats you.

So stop looking for Mr Right. Stop being so picky, so restrictive. Be open to dating a variety of guys. You’ll have a lot of first (and only) dates. That’s fine. That’s part of the discovery process too. And when you do encounter that guy who really makes your head and heart sing, you’ll have a much broader basis of comparison to judge your suitability by. They say “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” But it’s because you kissed those frogs that you recognize who your prince is. And, realistically, you’ll get to kiss a lot of princes in the process too. You’ll just be better prepared to pick which one you finally settle down with.


photo credit: Fantasyland Station, cc.

An Introvert’s Guide to Following Your Peace

coffee_alone

Today, another moral dilemma for an introvert. One of the guys in the company I work for put in his notice, and the managers want to do a “going away lunch” for him — today. Short notice. And it kinda freaks me out. I really don’t want to go. I hardly know the guy, I hate work-related social events, and especially without adequate time to mentally prepare myself. So, should I go or not?  “Should I.” That’s the operative phrase.

When chewing on this … and getting texts from a friend who also happens to want to do lunch today … I asked myself an odd question (it just popped in my head, so I ran with it): Which brings you greater peace?

Well, that’s obvious. Not going makes me feel all warm and comfy inside. LOL. Like I said, I hardly know they guy. I interact with him maybe once or twice a week, and he’s decent enough. But I hate these big “to do’s”, these group activities with people who are not really my friends. They’re just work-acquaintances — people I see almost daily but have little quality interaction with.  And at these lunches when we go out, we end up sitting at a group of tables, and really only the people sitting closest to guy will chat with him over their gourmet burgers and sweet-potato jalapeño fries.  So my being there would just be as another warm body filling a seat, a body count.  And frankly, I’ve got a long history here of not going to these things — company picnics, corporate junkets to Las Vegas and Disney World … and the office birthday gatherings in the breakroom, where I make an appearance, give my best wishes, and then make a quiet escape. Nobody is surprised that I’m not a company partier. And luckily for me, I’m not the only one. My officemate is the same way. So when the boss walks in and asks, “You guys coming?”, he already knows the answer.  “Just thought I’d ask,” he says as he walks towards the door.

Don’t think I don’t know how lame that sounds. You extroverts won’t get it at all. You’ll think I’m being antisocial, or worse, a snob. That I somehow think people aren’t good enough for me, not worth my time. But introverts get it. It’s not about me being better or worse than anyone else. It’s a lot of energy to expend with people I have little invested in. Is it worth the “cost” to me? Usually the answer is no.

So, if I “go with my peace,” the answer is clear. Works for me. And (hopefully) since my absence won’t be blatantly conspicuous — not likely to hurt the guy’s feelings — I’m okay with that.

But it also made me think of times when “going with my peace” can leads to the wrong decision — especially because I’m an introvert.

What about those times when other people are counting on me, or where it’s important to them? Yesterday, for example, I was all comfy at home, wearing sweats, ready to make dinner, and I get a call from my boyfriend. He’s on the other side of town doing his thing, and he’s gotta come back to the city center for a show he’s doing. But he left part of his costume at home. Could I bring it to him? Of course, I will. It’ll be a 40 minute round-trip for me, but I love him. I’m invested. Doing something for him is like doing it for myself. BUT, my “peace” would have preferred staying home, settling in. (Having people in your life can really mess with your peace sometimes. Just sayin’. 🙂 )

Okay, that one was obvious. We all do stuff like that, we all make little sacrifices for the ones we love. (And if you’re not, you might want to reconsider that. As God once whispered to me, “it’s the little acts of selfishness that destroy a relationship.”)

On a different level, when we run across someone in need — whether financial or emotional or … just needs help with something. Our first reaction — our “peace” — might be to decline.  It’ll be inconvenient. It’ll put us out a little. And human nature doesn’t like to be put out.  But, if we’re decent people, we override our “peace” and just do it. That’s called being a decent human being. That’s called “good”. That’s part of “love” in the broadest sense. So when my long-time bud is moving out of his house into another place and asks if I’ll help him move the big stuff … yeah, sure. That’s what friends do, right? — even if I may be groaning on the inside.

A friend of mine told me about something that happened to him when we were back in seminary. While I was immersed in my books and study groups and small circle of seminary friends, he was out doing speaking engagements. He even had an agent booking him at events. He was out “doing things.”  This one particular time, he was doing a week-long seminar/revival at a church in another state, and he was staying with a family from the church (a horrifying situation for an introvert; but in his case, no big deal. He’s a classic extrovert.) This family had agreed to host him, drive him around, feed him, and then get him back to the airport when the week’s services ended. On that last day, the man of the house suddenly “didn’t feel a peace” about driving him the hour to the airport, and my friend had to scramble to get a taxi to drive him. The guy disguised his own laziness in spiritual language — and armed with sloppy religious teaching that we should always “follow our peace,” he found a ready excuse. And my friend was left out in the cold to fend for himself. Nice.

To everybody except himself, that man’s behavior was reprehensible. Totally unchristian. Lacking common decency. But he followed his “peace” and I’m sure he had a comfortable Saturday morning. Maybe even managed to squeeze in 9 holes of golf.

When someone is counting on you, when it’s your time to step up, following your peace may not be the best option. That is, unless you know for absolute certain that God is leading you in a different direction. As people of faith, we must learn to be sensitive to our gut, to the promptings of the Spirit. Lives can depend on it. But that also means we have to be able to discern the difference between a “spiritual peace” — one guided by the Spirit’s leading — and a “selfish peace” — rooted only in our carnal laziness.

What about when we need to stretch for our own good? Back to my boyfriend. He’s an extrovert, and he’s heavily involved in social activities, for his job, for his vocation … for his quality of life. My default tendency (my “peace”) is to let him do his thing while I stay home doing my thing. But if I’m not careful, I could easily slip into the life of a recluse. I need sometimes to break out of my comfort zone and do things with him. It’s important to him, for me to share in his life, and it’s important for me, to be a part of his life as well as to broaden my exposure to new activities, new experiences, new people. Sometimes I need to say yes — because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s a good thing all around.

In those cases, my “peace” has to take the back seat. It’s uncomfortable for me to do those things — something Jake doesn’t really understand, but makes an effort to accept about me anyway. They take a real toll on me, and I often need time afterwards to recover, re-energize, find my balance again.  But almost always, afterwards, I’m glad I did them. They enriched me. They added to my life. And that’s worth a little discomfort and inconvenience now and then.

It’s all a matter of discerning the difference, knowing when your peace is spiritually guided and when it’s just based in physical or emotional comfort. We gotta know the difference: Is this God telling me not to do that, or is it just me?  And if it isn’t God, then it becomes about priorities. Is helping someone out worth losing a little “peace” over? Is doing good, doing the right thing, acting in love, worth the sacrifice of a little comfort? Most times, yes.

I’m an introvert. And I have shy tendencies on top of that. It’s a horrible combination sometimes. But most times, I can tell when it’s just me not wanting to be stretched or inconvenienced, and when that lack of peace is legitimate divine guidance. You know what I mean: like when you’re thinking about buying a new car, and you’re wrestling inside about it. Tapping into which answer gives you peace can be a good indicator of what’s right for you. Or if you’re choosing between jobs (as I did), that sense of peace showed me which one. Or when we’re considering whether we should date someone, or get into a relationship with them. Your spiritual sensitivity can be crucial.  But honestly, in most everyday cases, that “sense of peace” for me is more often just my own personal preference: Do I want to do this or not?

I admit, I do tend to “follow my peace” in most things. When the outcome isn’t important. When people aren’t relying on me. When it’s not a matter of love or simple goodness. And when it isn’t a potential growth opportunity.  That’s how I stay balanced, now I stay sane.  But I also know that if I give in to my natural tendency toward “peacefulness” too often, I’ll miss out. Life will pass me by while I’m comfy on my couch watching Netflix.  Cuz life and personal growth happen mostly outside our comfort zones.

For me, barring a sense of input from the Spirit, when I recognize that the “peace” is more about my own natural inclinations, I have to weigh the cost versus the benefit. And as a general rule, if it involves helping someone, the expenditure of energy is worthwhile. Other times … ya know, God gave us wide latitude in deciding things for ourselves.

And this company farewell lunch … yeah, I think I’ll pass. This time. I’ve got a lot going on right now and really don’t need that extra stress this afternoon. Would Jesus go? Sure. But then, Jesus loved parties. Me? I get more restorative peace from a quiet cup of tea — with or without friends.

 

photo credit: Kristel Jax via Flickr, cc.

 

The Sacrament of Cooking Bacon

frying_bacon

 

Growing up as a Protestant, I had an inherent distaste for ritual. Liturgy, routines and orders of worship (even though every church has one) … were all equated with “religion,” the imitation of true relationship with God. “Religion = Death” was a mental slogan, even if the words never quite formed that way in our minds.  Even habits. You hardly ever heard about “good habits.” Mostly, habits were referenced in the context of sinful things we did, that our “flesh” compelled us to do. Habits that needed to be broken. The genuinely spiritual person was free — free from form, free from ritual, free from habits.

And surely, those poor Catholics who “mindlessly” recited the rosary were missing out on a real connection with God. And all that incense waving and candle lighting … all imitations of spirit. Cheap substitutes that were empty of meaning and devoid of power.

Of course that’s not true. It was just the fuzzy logic floating through my head as a Protestant kid who probably thought too much about incidental things. I had no appreciation for the sacramental, no understanding of the connectedness between things of the world and things of the spirit, how one can help enrich the other.

Now, witnessing the “multi-tasking,” “spontaneous” activity of so many of my friends — myself included — as we flip between phone apps, texting, snap-chatting, tweeting, clicking photos to share on Instagram … all that freedom. And is it really freeing us, or just making us prisoners of the immediate? With our 1500 friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, do we even know who we are anymore? Are we even in touch with ourselves?

mind full - mindfulYears ago, when we thought about our elders growing senile, we used to say that they’re reliving fond memories, that it’s okay that they don’t remember our names or faces: they’re in happier times.  Recently the thought occurred to me: am I even making memories to relive? I’m so busy jumping between projects, between shows on Netflix, between apps and games and programs. What would I be “reliving” when I’m 85 and have lost my mind? “Oh yes, those golden days. I remember this one tweet …”

This struck me more powerfully the other day when I was frying up some bacon. I’d finally learned how to do it right, without smoking up the whole house or covering the stove top (or the inside of the oven) with bacon grease. It’s a bit of a slow process, frying up 2 pounds of bacon (I cook up a batch and store it in the freezer for quick snacking), and I caught myself going from stovetop to laptop: flip the bacon, check Facebook. Add another slice to the skillet, post another comment online. And I stopped myself.

I was missing out on something. The simple joy of the experience. The sensuous sizzle of the bacon in the pan. The smell of the smoked meat as it crisped up, filling my nose with that hardwood saltiness that makes the mouth water. The heat from the rapidly accumulating grease as I added more slices to the pan. The changing color of the meat as it cooked. The popping of randomly splattering grease. Sights. Sounds. Smells. Sensations. And I forced myself to stand there and just take it all in. Facebook can wait. This is living in the now.

This! This is wonderful. Bacon is wonderful. It’s a gift from God (apologies to my Jewish and Muslim friends). Let me just enjoy the full experience, this moment of grace that is doing something unexplainable to my soul.  I’m smiling. I feel good. I’m looking forward to munching on ALL these delectable slices of heaven piling up on the plate next to the stove. This is a memory I might enjoy reliving in my twilight years. Even if not, it’s doing something to me now.

It was an exercise in “mindfulness,” of being present. Of dismissing the distractions, and the A.D.D.-driven activities. It was a sacrament, an instrument of receiving divine grace.

Over-stimulation is killing our souls.

There is a place for ritual in our lives. There’s a need for it. Familiar routines fire “comfort” sensations in our brain. Our thinking slows. Our nerves unravel. We become calm, peaceful. And in those moments, more receptive to the world around us. More in tune. Whether it’s a morning run outdoors, a late-night workout, or quiet times of prayer and meditation, routine grounds us, makes us stable. It makes us happy.

We need to slow down a bit. Maybe buy a French press, and make your morning coffee a drawn-out ritual. Even if just on the weekends. Make tea, in a pot. Let it steep a few minutes before your drink it. Sip it with both hands. Taste it. Really taste it. Experience it.  Cook more; eat out less. Allow yourself the luxury of chopping vegetables, of making a salad with multiple ingredients, of grilling a steak. Bumping into your partner as you both maneuver the kitchen. I even started making a cake on Friday evening, just to help slow down, as I mix the ingredients and wait for the oven to preheat. Doing something with my hands since I work all week with my brain. And a Sabbath! We should all get back to the habit of taking one day a week where we just relax, where we hang out at home or do simple errands… to unwind. Refresh. Or just sit on the patio for an hour with a book.

We need to build moments back into our lives where we can receive grace. That life-restoring energy, reconnecting us here and now.

cafe_au_laitWe need to cultivate rituals — things to make us pause for a moment and just appreciate what is right in front of us. Even if it’s the simple delight of pouring real cream into your French-roast coffee and watching the color change. Or holding your favorite mug in your hands. Buy yourself some wind chimes, and occasionally turn off the TV just to listen to them for a few moments.

Like God on the first day of creation, impose some order and peace on the chaos that our lives have become.

We Protestants have missed out on this aspect of worship, of reverent living. We don’t do rosaries. We don’t recite prayers. We haven’t built mechanisms into our lives that allow us to slow down, to relax the brain and the rampant rapids of our thoughts. To find stillness. Even our Sabbaths are hectic. Maybe the simple act of lighting a candle can help reconnect our faith that our prayers are ever-ascending before the Throne of God. We are human, and we need tangible objects, simple acts, to help focus our thoughts, our prayers, and our lives.

I’m not about to sell my 50″ flatscreen. I’m not going to cancel my subscription to Netflix. But I’m enjoying the tactile sensations of cooking again, the simple pleasure of my favorite red coffee cups, the random music of the chimes outside my living room doors. I jealously guard my Saturdays, when I (mostly) ignore my phone, and take my dogs to the park. Or my Sunday afternoons, after the hub-bub of church, when I can grab some quiet time on my patio with a book. I need those slow-down moments. You do too. Being quiet. Being present. Being in the moment, in the now. And receiving a touch of grace. Even when it’s just cooking up some bacon.

 

photo credit: I Believe I Can Fry, via Flickr, cc.
“Cafe au lait,” NukelarBurrito, via Flickr, cc

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Now is the Time of Your Breakthrough. Or Maybe Not.

 

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“God has a plan. God is working his plan. God’s plan includes you.”  Those were words printed in bold letters on a sign hung above the pulpit in a church I used to go to in Tulsa. The pastor wanted her people to know that their lives were not just stuck in the mud, that God was doing something in them and through them. God was working.

We all need that hope. We all need that reassurance that we’re part of something bigger, that our lives have significance and purpose. Or at least, many of us do. I do. And every once in a while we need someone to remind us that we’re on track.  That’s where encouragers come into play – I mean legitimate encouragers, those sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings who can offer words directly from God to those of us going through moments of self-doubt. I do not mean those false “prophets” who post memes on social media about “Now is the time of your breakthrough …” or “This is your year. This year God will bring all your dreams and plans to success.”

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general words of encouragement are great …

God does have a plan, and God does want your dreams to come true. He planted them in you, in your DNA, even before you were born. They are woven into the fabric of who you are. They’re not selfish, they’re part of the bigger picture, a piece in the cosmic puzzle, and without you fulfilling those dreams, that larger picture will never be complete.

But that does not at all mean that “now” is the time.

And while we all need general words of encouragement to “press on” from time to time, other well-meaning but misguided words claiming divine authority can do more damage than if they were never spoken at all. False prophets are dangerous. They can lead you down the wrong path or prompt you to do something way before the right time. And a good thing or even a well-meaning act at the wrong time can become a very, very wrong thing.

A couple examples …

Let me throw a couple of bible examples at you.

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… specific “prophetic” words broadcast to the public, not so much …

Anybody hanging out in a Word-based church in past few decades has probably heard sermons on Abraham “Ishmael-ing it”.  God tells old Abe that he will have a son, and makes some stunning promises about how his descendants would affect the course of history. Abe is thrilled, of course, but he is also 75 years old. He waits for it to happen, but after a number of years of waiting for his wife to become pregnant, he thinks “now is the time” and gets the bright idea to have a child with his wife’s slave instead. Ishmael is born. There are some family complications, and Abe finally has to send Ishmael and his mother away. He missed it. And the son he was promised finally came when he was 99 years old – almost 25 years after the promise.

Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph has a divine dream, two of them in fact, that he would be a great leader of his people. He’s a hot-headed, spoiled little punk, and rubs his brothers’ noses in it. They end up selling him into slavery, and he ends up in an Egyptian prison for several years. Ultimately, all that works out to make him a well-equipped leader when he finally is appointed Prime Minister of Egypt … about 15 years after the inspired dreams.

And we all know the story of “The Ten Commandments.” Who hasn’t seen the movie? Moses is the chosen deliverer of the Israelites suffering in slavery in Egypt. At the age of 40 he decides “now is the time,” and ends up murdering an Egyptian man who was abusing a fellow Israelite. And then has to flee Egypt to escape justice. He ends up tending goats and sheep for the next 40 years before God finally calls him through a burning bush.

The New Testament opens with stories about this exotic character, John the Baptist. He has a miraculous birth, born to elderly, barren parents, complete with angelic visitations and prophesy. He was called and destined to be the forerunner of the great Deliverer of Israel, yet he ends up living in the wilderness, wearing shabby clothes eating bugs. Then one day, “the word of God came to him while he was in the wilderness.” “Now is the time,” and he began his famous preaching.  But he had to wait, to live his life, until that time came. He had to wait until the authentic “word from God” said “go.”

Even Jesus – now there was some miraculous birth scenes. Immaculate conception, Holy Spirit impregnation, angelic proclamations – that whole scene from “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” where Linus quotes from the gospel of Luke: “… and there in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid …”  Yet even Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was baptized by John and the Spirit descended upon him, empowering and affirming him: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased…” Only then does Jesus’ miraculous ministry begin.

The bottom line

The button line is that just because God has a plan, just because he’s given you dreams, does not mean that those dreams start now. You may not be ready yet. In each of the biblical examples just mentioned, there was a time of preparation.  The gospel writers say of both John and Jesus that they “grew in wisdom and in stature, in favor with God and with men.”  That is, they had some growing up to do. They weren’t ready to launch out into God’s promised plan or into their dream vocation right way. It took years before they were ready. And they had to wait for the divine green light: “now is the time.”  But that green light was legitimately divine, not just some positive word spoken by a feel-good, encouraging “prophet.”

God made some astounding promises to Abraham about his descendants, the nations of Israel and Ishmael. But they didn’t happen overnight. In fact, at one point, the nation was conquered by the Babylonians, and many of the people were yanked out of their homeland and taken into captivity to Babylon. They had their prophets claiming that God was about to rescue them and restore everything to its proper place.  But they lied. They were well-meaning, but they were wrong. And Jeremiah, a legit prophet of God, had this to say to them: “Settle in. Increase, grow. It’s gonna be a while, but I have plans for you …”

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

This is what the LORD says: “When 70 years are completed in Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise … For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…”  (Jeremiah 29:4-12)

We all love to quote that last verse: “I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD…” But we almost always quote it out of context. The verse right before it says “When 70 years in Babylon are completed …”  There is a necessary period of development, of preparation and growth. There is a timetable for your dream, for God’s plan.  But “Now” may not be that time.

now3So when you hear the so-called prophets and diviners making these warm and happy claims that “this is the year of God’s favor for you, now is the time for you to step into your call and to fulfill your dream…,” take note. Listen inside yourself for the genuine voice of God. Is now really the time, or are you still in the prep stages – like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus?

Don’t get frustrated. Don’t become impatient. Don’t lose hope.

There will be a time when you get the green light from God, when the “word from God” will come to you in your wilderness. That will be the time to launch.  God does have a plan. God is working his plan. And God’s plan does include you. Your job in the meantime is to prepare, to learn, to grow in wisdom and in stature, in favor with God and men – to get ready for the right time. To wait for the appointed time.

“Now” may – or may not – be the time.  Discern for yourself. Wait for your own specific word. Don’t jump the gun – or you might just end up wandering around a mountain tending goats for 40 years.

photo credit: “High Fly,” Abhinay Omkar via Flickr, cc.

This post originally appeared in IMPACT Magazine.

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Dear Church Leaders: Get Real or Go Home

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If I have to see one more article on “why millennials are leaving the church,” I think I might scream. Well, not really. Those dramatic days are (mostly) behind me. But really. The younger generation has always been leaving the church … I remember hearing the same lament back in the 70s when I was just a kid.

The thing is, as much as I grow weary of seeing post after post, blog after blog, on the topic, there’s always a bit of truth to them. The church NEEDS to grow, needs to change with each generation. It’s not a matter of staying “relevant,” like some kind of marketing gimmick to attract the newest set of consumers. It’s real life. Society changes. Culture changes. The needs and demands and focus of each generation will be different from the last, and if the church doesn’t address those changes, if God isn’t presented as having answers to those changes — or even being at work IN those changes — then why should anyone bother to listen to what is coming out of the pulpit?

For me, it’s not just the sermon topics — as if pastors and preachers needed to act like John Stewart engaging hot topics in the news. And it’s not the liturgy or worship style — whether we’re singing 200 year old hymns or the latest repetitive ditty from the latest pop Worship CD. For me, it’s about substance. Real, spiritual substance. And all the questionnaires and “10 Reasons Why” articles seem to indicate that too. People want the real thing. We’re tired of talk. We’re tired of show. We’re tired of what passes for “faith” these days.

Give us the real thing, or please, Please!, shut up and go home.

What that “real thing” is could be parsed out in several components: from genuine worship, genuine prophetic messages from the pulpit, to genuine love expressed in the pew and outside the walls of the church.  But the foundation of them all is genuine spiritual reality — power — behind our religious experience. And it begins with our church leaders. So let me start there.

The church is anemic because of anemic church leaders.

Leaders more focused on numbers and popularity than on maturing in their “call” and fulfilling that call. Leaders addicted to power and titles rather than actual ministry. We have become imitations, fakes, charlatans, stepping into the shoes of the original apostles who moved with genuine authority because they were in touch with the reality of their call. As a result, the church is sick. Sick because we feed it junk food, full of artificial ingredients that can never replace what it was designed to operate on: authentic spiritual ability.

So, as a fellow member of the Church, sick from the “form of godliness without power,” let me challenge you. If you’re genuinely called by God to serve his people, then …

 

Dear Apostles:
If you wear this label, you don’t need to hear that your role did not cease to exist after the first century. God has placed you in the church (Eph 4) to be a pillar. But here’s the thing: an apostle is an emissary, a messenger. An ambassador. Empowered with full authority of the Crown to deliver messages and revelations from the Royal Throne. And it is accompanied with full spiritual power. Look at your forbearers, Peter, John, James, Paul. They spoke the living words of God, they plowed hard ground and produced a crop, they not only planted churches and birthed new congregations, but they fathered and mothered those congregations. They had an encounter with the risen Christ, and their inspired words changed the direction of the church forever. You, when you speak, do your words carry divine power? When was the last time you brought forth new revelation from God for the people he entrusted to you? Are you delivering canned sermon after sermon, spouting recycled messages you heard growing up in church? Have you seen the risen Christ — has Christ appeared to you and delivered this charge to you personally? Has he given you a commission and a message to shape his people for this generation, for this time and place?  If not, then please go back to him who sent you and get a fresh assignment from the King, … or just quit and go home.

Dear Prophets:
I see so many of you on Facebook and social media. You wear the title like a prize and seek special pulpit time at conferences. Yet what do you deliver except sound bites and feel-good pabulum that do nothing for the people. If all you are saying over and over again is “This is the year of your break-through” or “your time of waiting is over” or some other quotable nugget that might be found in a Stephen Covey book, then … please go back to the Throne and get a real message. People are hurting. People are seeking guidance in this hectic world. People need to hear from God, and that is your job. Generic positive, encouraging words are nice. There’s even a place for them in the church. But they are not prophesy. Get a specific word from God for the specific situation, be able to assert “For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” … or sit down and shut up.

Dear Evangelists:
Your job no longer exists in tent crusades or hopping from church to church, collecting your love offerings. Your job is in the streets — and not shouting into a bullhorn on the corner. Your job is in the housing projects or in corporate board rooms. To the individuals hungry, seeking something beyond this physical existence. Your job is to help them answer the longing of their hearts for connection to the Living God. You don’t need a business card for that. You just need a heart.

Dear Pastors:
You have the hardest work of all. Tending the sheep is the highest calling. But are you more concerned with what suit you will wear next Sunday, or if your bling will reflect in the light, than you are with going after that stray parishioner who’s having a hard time right now? Do you answer your phone at 3:00 in the morning when one of your flock just lost a loved one in a car accident, or is in the hospital for emergency surgery? Do you make time in your busy schedule to have coffee with the lonely guy who just needs to talk with someone? Are you too busy to actually love on — to physically touch — the people God has put in your care? If so, then maybe you are not really called to be a pastor. Maybe you are a teacher, or just a preacher, or (God forbid) just an entertainer putting on a show.  Please, if you believe God has called you to pastor his people, then go back to the Throne and ask for a heart that loves the people. Be there for them. Like Jesus said to Peter, “if you love me, tend my lambs.”  Or, please … stop talking and go home.

Dear Teachers:
You are entrusted with the words of God. You are entrusted with life-changing truth. You cannot afford to just wing it Sunday morning or Wednesday evening with a lesson out of the denominational quarterly. Your life will probably be filled with drama and all kinds of real-life experience. You will undergo tragedy, and you will have questions, many of which you won’t find ready answers for. You will spend much time seeking God, reaching out, exploring the heavens, asking for light. Why? Because how can you teach what you do not know? How can you lead people into deeper understanding of who God is and how they connect with him, if all you know are the clichés and bible stories from Sunday School? Like the prophet, you need fresh revelation from the Throne, to “bring out new treasure as well as old” (Mt 13:52). Don’t be complacent. Don’t get lazy. A vast treasury is yours to plunder — for the benefit of those who sit at your feet.

Dear Bishops:
You are a pastor to pastors. You have been entrusted with over-seeing, super-vising, the flocks and those who lead them. Red robes and collars are yours if you want them. Honor will not be denied you. But your work is not done. It is not time to simply sit at the head of the table or on the platform. You too must answer the 3:00 am phone call. You too must be in the dirt with the shepherds under your care. Who can they talk to but you? And you too must invade the Throne Room for daily wisdom, fresh guidance and instruction from the Chief Shepherd so that you can administer God’s people according to God’s current plan and wishes. Do not get soft. Do not get comfortable. A life on the road may be your inheritance. But “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life” (Lk 18:30). Your inheritance includes the riches of relationships with an unimagined number of children who will love and honor you.  If you stay faithful.

Dear Deacons:
You were not called simply to sit on committees and to vote. You were called to serve. You are the arms and legs of the pastor, the extended strength of your congregation. You are the table-servers, the ones who clean up the mess. You tend the physical needs of the community. You feed them, you clothe them, you are God’s answer when they cry out to him to meet their needs. Make sure your heart is in the job or do not accept the title. It is dirty work. It takes tough hands and small egos. And you too must be “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” honorable, and able to fulfill your responsibility (Acts 6). People are counting on you … and so is their God. But what reward awaits you when you see the King! “I was hungry, and you fed me! I was naked, and you clothed me!” And that’s better than any title in this life.

 

There is no such thing as a pew-sitter in God’s Kingdom. Everyone has a role, everyone has gifts to use for the benefit of others. But those called to specific functions in God’s family have a divine obligation and duty which cannot be fulfilled without authentic spiritual empowerment. And if the church has become stale, artificial, having only the appearance of ritual and religion without moving in the Divine Flow, if people are leaving because all they see is empty words without action, without heart, and without power, then the fault lies first and foremost in church leadership. We either need to get real, or shut up and go home.

photo credit: “The Apostles preaching the Gospel, ” Fr Lawrence Lew, OP via Flickr, cc.

This post originally appeared in IMPACT Magazine.

Naan Pizza for One (or Two): Bachelor Style

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Naan Pizza Supreme. Looks like a mess, but man, is it good!

“I love it that you have all these random jars of interesting things in your refrigerator.”

That was Jake. We were making dinner together one night last week, and I pulled out a jar of Giardiniera. It’s basically just pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery and peppers; you know, stuff to munch on while you’re watching TV, when you want something but don’t know exactly what. I suppose it goes well on the side with a sandwich too, but … you know, if you’re a foodie, you just gotta have all kinds of stuff handy.

That explains the jar of marinated artichoke hearts I had sitting in the bottom shelf, way in the back.

So I’m staring into the fridge again, wondering what to make for dinner. It’s a weeknight, and it’s been a long day at work. My brain is fried, so I’m not really in the mood to cook anything elaborate. I’d eaten out a lot recently too, and my wallet was feeling the pressure, so a quick run out for fast food didn’t seem like a good idea. And besides, aside from the predictably bloated feeling I always get after pounding down a burger and fries, I always feel like I just paid someone to poison me. (You’ve seen those YouTube videos on the meat slurry that goes into beef patties, right? Yeah, not fit for human consumption.)

naanAnd salad? I’m a huge fan, but please, not every night. Then I caught sight of the package of naan bread I’d bought from Wallyworld. Naan is an oven-baked flatbread, famous in Indian food, and it makes a great ready-made dough for personal-sized pizza. Just pile whatever you like on top, throw it in the oven, and voila! Instant dinner.

You can find all kinds of recipes for naan pizza on the web. Me? I’m not too selective. I just start pulling some of those “random jars of interesting things” out of the fridge, along with some fresh salad-fixin’s from the crisper, and start chopping. You know what you like (it’s the stuff you probably already have on hand), so use what you’ve got.

A few quick taps on my stove to get the oven preheating to 350°, and I grab a cookie sheet from the bottom cupboard. You can bake the naan right on the rack if you like, but my pizzas tend to be piled high and overflowing, and that can leave a big mess on the bottom of your oven  — and fill your house with smoke next time you try to use it — so the cookie sheet is my safety net.

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What? You don’t keep pepperoni in your fridge?

Brush a little olive oil on the flatbread, and start building.

• Some sliced onions,
• chopped red and yellow mini-peppers (gotta get your vitamins, right?),
• a handful of cherry tomatos, cut in half,
• sliced mushrooms (I am a mushroom fiend. It’s not pizza without mushrooms.) Canned mushrooms will work fine, if you’ve got ’em. I like to keep a ziplock baggie of fresh ones in the freezer cuz I think they have a better taste and texture.
• that jar of marinated artichoke hearts,
• a small can of sliced black olives,
• oh, and don’t forget the pepperoni. (That’s the protein — at least that’s what I tell myself.)
• Finally, sprinkle on the shredded mozzerella cheese. As it melts, it’ll hold all the stuff together on top.

I love me some oregano, too. Love the way it smells when it’s roasting. So I sprinkle some dried Italian herbs on top, a little garlic powder (you know that smells great when it’s cooking in the oven!), and we’re set to go.

10-15 minutes in the oven. Let the cheese melt and get all gooey. You can leave it in a bit longer if you like a crispier crust, but don’t let it brown too much.

And that’s it. Cut it in four pieces, and you’ve got manageable slices that won’t drop toppings all over your carpet while you’re clicking through movie selections with the remote.

NetflixTonight, for me: rewatching episodes from “House of Cards.” (When does Season 4 come out?) Enjoy your night in!

 

And then God struck …. Not.

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Minutes after the US Supreme Court handed down their ruling overturning bans on same-sex marriage, posts were already going up on Facebook and across the blogosphere about “Spitting in the face of God” and “God’s impending wrath on America.

*Sigh* Really? Of course, this kind of reaction is not surprising. There are a surprising number of people who are invested in preserving tradition and a strict moral code that does not allow for love between two people of the same gender. It’s a religious thing, not a rational one. Not a civil one. Not a constitutional one. And frankly, not a godly one either.

But there it is.  Wrath. Christians who on most days of the week boast about living in God’s grace, now suddenly focused on the doom about to be unleashed on this now pagan America.

But let’s forget about the bantering back and forth about “WWJD?” or what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about homosexuality. We’ll never agree on that anyway. We will always read and interpret the Bible in ways that agree with what we already want to believe. Let’s just look at our own history in Europe and America, and judge whether God is still in the wrath-inflicting business.

When Europe was filled with terror over religious wars in the previous centuries, with people being brutally tortured (Spanish Inquisitions, Holy Wars, Crusades, etc), did God hurl lightning bolts at Rome or London or Castile? Did comets plummet to the earth, wiping out vile Europeans? Or during the Holocaust in the 1930s and -40s, with millions of Jews (“God’s chosen people”), Gypsies, gay people, and others were exterminated, and their ashes literally rose to heaven as their bodies were incinerated — did God inflict his wrath?

In our own illustrious American history, with the genocide of Native Americans, with centuries of slavery, with witch hunts and burning people at the stake, oppression of women and racial minorities, of anti-Semitism, of Islamophobia and homophobia, of lynchings, of gay-bashing and public violence… What about our neglected poor, and those who fought so hard to make sure the poor among us would NOT have food or shelter or medical treatment? Yeah, Social Security is part of our national existence now, but it was strongly resisted when FDR tried to bring it about. Same with Medicare and Medicaid. Just look at the fight over Obamacare, or the hostility directed at “illegal aliens”.

The Bible is full of examples (and commands!) concerning treatment of the weak, the helpless, the widows, orphans, the poor, the aliens in the land. The prophet Ezekiel even declared that that was the reason for God’s punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah — for the citizens of those cities’ lack of concern for the vulnerable among them, while they fattened their own purses and stomachs. Greed, gluttony, selfishness, and turning a blind eye to the needs of others is what irks God. (Ezek 16:49)

Jesus came along and turned a spotlight on these concerns close to God’s heart. Love for our neighbor became a motto. “What you do unto the least of these …” was a standard against which we would ultimately be judged in the next life.

And about “imminent judgment” for sins committed, Jesus pointed at examples in his own day, and said “NO! Those people hurt by disasters were no more sinners than you” (Lk 13:4). And when his own disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven upon those who rejected God’s Good News (listen up, Mike Huckabee!), Jesus smacked them in the face: “You don’t know what Spirit you belong to”  (Lk 9:54).

If America were to invoke the wrath of God — whether by drought or famine or hurricane, flood, earthquake or other natural disaster — it would not be over passing laws that allow people to love and celebrate each other. If anything, we’d fall under his curse for our neglect of the needy among us, the minorities, those illegal aliens who come here looking for a better life. He’d judge us for being the wealthiest nation in this history of this planet, yet 1 out of every 5 children in this country go to bed hungry. We drive our Lexuses, we buy bigger houses, we pad our 401K plans, and our neighbors can’t feed their children. Our grandparents can’t afford their medicines. Our youth are living on the streets, kicked out of their homes by angry parents.  Surely we deserve God’s wrath — but not for marriage equality.

Thankfully, God doesn’t seem to be in the wrath-hurling business. Grace is his trademark characteristic. Love extended to the unworthy, the undeserving. And judgment — by HIS standards, not ours — reserved for the Great White Throne in the next life.  And anyone who is predicting the coming wrath because their traditional moral values no longer hold force in this country, only proves that their traditions were built on sand. They don’t know the heart of God. The same words of Jesus apply today as well as then: “You know not what Spirit you are of.”

 

[box type=”bio”] STEVE SCHMIDT is the Teaching Pastor at Expressions in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook. [/box]

Faith, Anticipation and Expectation – When you don’t know how to pray or what to believe

anticipation, faith, expectation

We are a “Faith” generation. Many of us who surfed the wave of “Word-Faith” teaching that swept explosively through the Church in the 1980s and ’90s have since found our balance point in life. As with any fresh movement of the Spirit, there were excesses, misunderstandings, and actions out of spiritual immaturity unchecked by the wisdom and experience of older saints. But millions of believers around the world found a new vitality with God that had been absent so long in their traditional church upbringing. I was one of them.

Life teaches you — if you let it. If you have “eyes to see and ears to hear”. We grow; we learn. Part of my journey was learning a comfortable “fit” for faith in my life. I discovered over time that I couldn’t simply express a desire to God, flip the switch of faith on in my heart, speak the word, claim the promise, and watch the results roll in. It didn’t always work for me. And for someone who takes the Bible very seriously, that was a problem.

What do you do when you stand on a verse that reads “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it”, or “whatever you desire when you pray, believe that you have received it and you will have it” — and then it doesn’t occur? Any wise saint will tell you that you can’t pull verses out of context at will and make them work for you. Every verse has its place in the entirety of Scripture, and unless you’re reading it in that whole spectrum of light, you’re bound to go astray. Jesus said “if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what you will …” (John 15:7). And that about sums it up. Your prayers, your wishes, have to come from a position of being one with Jesus. They have to line up with his will. Isn’t that what “in Jesus’ name” really means? You can’t ask for something in his name if it’s not something he wants or approves of. Like when Peter healed the paralytic who had been bedridden for 8 years: “Jesus Christ heals you. Now, get up and make your bed” (Act 9:34). As a believer, you are entitled to use his name, but it’s Jesus’ power, his authority, so you gotta have his permission first.

With that nugget of truth in hand, it is difficult for me to ask for a specific thing in faith unless I know specifically that it is God’s will for me at that moment. Even with things that I know in general are his will. I know, for example, that it is God’s will that we be well, healed, strong and healthy. I can cite you a handful of Scripture passages to back up that assertion. But how many times on his way into the temple had Jesus passed by and not healed the same crippled man later healed by Peter and John in his name (Acts 3)? How many times have I prayed for healing (for myself and for others) and the healing did not manifest? There is a right time and place, a right state of heart and position in life — even for those things that line up with God’s general will. So, in my experience, I learned that simply “claiming a promise” was not always sufficient. I needed a direct word from God on the matter before that “claim” carried any weight.

Otherwise, expectation can get you in trouble sometimes.

That was the problem with my faith. I could define what I wanted — you know, go to God with a specific request for a specific outcome. Like going through that period of my life when I switched career paths and had to reinvent myself. I’d apply for jobs I wanted, and because I was confident of God’s blessing, I expected to get them. But many of them fell through, and I was left to deal with the bitter disappointment and the shaking of my faith.

Too specific an expectation without a direct leading can really mess you up.

But when I stopped trying to force specific outcomes, when I did the leg work but left the results in God’s hands, that allowed God to move me in directions he wanted me to go, and I would be excited and surprised by the unexpected places he took me. That slight difference in perspective made all the difference. When I did not have a definite word from Heaven, I switched from expectation to anticipation.

We used to sing this little ditty in church years ago, and I love it to this day. “I anticipate the inevitable, supernatural intervention of God, I expect a miracle. I expect a miracle. I expect a mir-a-cle.” (Yeah, it comes across better with music. 🙂 ) It always summons up images for me of the Israelites as they’re leaving Egypt, chased by the Egyptian army, and blocked by the Red Sea. They didn’t know what God was going to do; they didn’t know how he was going to save them. In fact, most of them were sure they were going to die. But a handful of brave souls had faith in the promises of God. They did not have faith for a specific result, but they waited eagerly (sweating profusely, I’m sure), anticipating SOMETHING supernatural.

And that’s the key. Without a definite leading from God, we shouldn’t “expect” definite things — but we should “anticipate” his inevitable intervention. We may not know what it is, but we know he’ll do something. “Holy Anticipation” is putting your faith in GOD, trusting in his love and faithfulness — not trying to dictate a desired outcome.

A “Facebook friend” of mine who pastors a large church in Washington, DC wrote today that the theaters they’ve been holding services in for 13 years are now being closed down. He wrote of his mixed emotions as one chapter of the church’s life closes and another is about to begin, not knowing yet what God is up to. He says, “Despite the sadness and craziness, I have a holy anticipation about what’s next. I’m [only] sure of two things. I’ll grow as a leader through this — and I embrace that challenge. And we’ll grow as a congregation. It’s not the way I would have written the script, but it’s good for us. We’re gonna follow the cloud and the cloud is moving!” As much as my limited spiritual experience tells me, he’s on the right track. He isn’t projecting the next step. He isn’t claiming a specific new site for his church — at least not yet. All he knows right now is that God is doing something — the cloud is moving — and he is anticipating a miracle.

Our faith can be expressed in both these ways. Expectation is appropriate when God has instructed us what his intentions are for us in a situation. But when we don’t know, when we are in a bind and just looking to God for a solution — like the Israelites, trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea — that’s the time for faithful anticipation.

For most of us, those are the moments we most often live in: uncertainty about the specifics yet. But those are perhaps the moments of our greatest faith, and we need to just hang in there, waiting with excitement and open eyes, so we can see the amazing thing God is about to do!

… And now, just because I’m feeling a bit musical this morning, here’s a bit that kinda sums it up …


photo credit: Joris Louwes via Flickr, cc

This piece originally appeared in Cafe Inspirado.
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STEVE SCHMIDT is the Teaching Pastor at Expressions in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.

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