Friday, January 31, 2014

Salsa Chicken---------------The Anticlimactic Life

You'll be using a frying pan and a baking dish. This chicken is excellent with tomato rice (just cook rice in tomato sauce instead of water and season how you like). In the image you'll notice there is a dense bread under the chicken, which is totally unnecessary, but I love carbs. Oven should be at 375!

-1 Chicken Breast
-1/4 cup tomato sauce
-Diced tomato
-Diced pepper (of your choosing, I just used red bell)
-Diced celery (just a little)
-Seasonings (paprika, chili powder, salt and pepper, whatever you like)
-A tiny bit of oil

1. Heat a tiny bit of oil in a skillet over medium. Feel free to just lightly spray cooking spray instead of oil.
2. Rub a chicken breast in dry seasonings, including a little sugar.
3. Place the chicken in the skillet. Flip after one minute or when browned on the bottom.
4. Allow the opposite side of the chicken to brown, likely two minutes or less.
5. Reduce heat to low, add tomato sauce and diced veggies to skillet with chicken.
6. Simmer over low for three to five minutes.
7. Transfer into a baking dish and place it in the heated oven for ten minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Note: For juicy chicken, cut tiny slits into the breast before adding the veggies and sauce to the skillet. Keep the sauce and veggies close to the chicken. Flip the breast part way through simmering to ensure that both sides are absorbing some moisture.


Thoughts on The Anticlimactic Life

In our modern western culture, we're all told we have a story. We hear many perspectives that rely on the assumption that every person has their own story, determines their own destiny, and can be anything they want to be. Everything comes down to the choices we make and all meaning in every one of our lives depends on what we gain -tangible and intangible.

Sadly, the church often promotes the same message, provoking and inspiring people, like us, to "do something" with our lives, to make a difference, to set goals and reach them and bring the Kingdom now and do what God made us to do. We're told to look for a calling, to find a purpose and meaning, to expect that God has something special for us.

And there is some of these notions. God has plans for us. God uses us for His purposes. He expects our faith to have fruit. The Lord promises His Kingdom and we're reminded that it is His Kingdom that our hope is in (1 Peter 1 has words about where our inheritance is, for example).

But I fear that this focus on "stories" and especially on the individual's own story, misleads us. Perhaps most of all, because our concept of a story involves a climax and a main character, a pinnacle at which everything is tied together because of a person that everything is centered on. And the idea of celebrating and focusing on our "stories" makes us the center and makes our goals the climax we have to reach.

We miss, in so upholding this concept of the individual story, that there is an author doing more than penning nice beginnings, platitudes, healthy plot twists, and a beautiful climax before the happy ending.

We miss that the author of the universe is a character in every individual story and is tying together a story that is much larger, grander, and more meaningful than we understand.

We miss that Christ is the main character in every subsection of history, including our own individual lives, and He has been in the role since the beginning of time.

 Throughout our little micro-stories, in our own little micro-worlds, we set things up as if they will be the pinnacle of our life: things like accomplishing particular goals.

Then, we are surprised when earning that promotion doesn't complete us. When we get married and have a family and something is still lacking. The times in which we reach the highest point we ever dreamed of...and there is yet something else we desire. We feel like life has stagnated, we start to see the brokenness in and around us as a new problem we have to fix, and we stop finding joy and peace...and hope.

And we desperately seek out that thrill in our own little ways. We look for that climactic moment in which everything makes sense and has purpose.

In the process, we utterly miss the truth that the climax of our lives is not in gaining anything but in losing ourselves -in losing the stories we treasure and navigate as if they were maps being designed after our wandering footsteps.

We miss, so sadly, that the point of the story, the climax that we all seek and yearn for, is just the opposite of what we expect. It isn't us. It isn't about us.

Truly the climax of our lives is to meet the main character and to allow our stories to be joined to His story. To the story. Whether we acknowledge it or not, ultimately this is all God's story. When it all comes to an end (that end being eternity...which never actually ends!) the only point that will have mattered is God's. The best that we have to hope for is that we lose ourselves in His story, in His purposes, in His character, and become one, as Jesus prayed:

"“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”" John 17:20-26

And there, in our lives becoming His life, is peace, joy, hope, assurance, and everything else we need and are made for. There is the climax: meaning in the glory of the only one who is worthy of it.

I think we miss out on that when we make God a supporting actor, a distant author, and a stepping stone to whatever climax we believe will make it all feel worthwhile.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Apple Pie Cookies---------After the Highs and the Lows

So, this recipe isn't exact. I made it up as a way of using up leftover pie and didn't measure, but I think the approximations should be helpful to anyone else feeling creative. And these cookies are yummy! They are similar to sugar drop cookies with the subtle flavor of apple pie. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and please note that these estimates are based around 1/6 of a traditional apple pie.

-1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
-1/2 cup sugar
-3 eggs
-1/6 of a traditional apple pie, fulled cooked
-2 cups flour
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp baking soda
-Pinch of cinnamon

1. Cream together butter and sugar, forming a stiff mixture.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, while beating.
3. Smash up the large slice of pie (crust and all!) and add to the mixture, beating it in.
4. Sift together dry ingredients.
5. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture, a little at a time, thoroughly combining.
    -The dough should be quite stiff. If it seems runny, continue to add small amounts of flour until the texture is hearty and, when scooped with a spoon, doesn't slip off-
6. Refrigerate 20 minutes or until dough is slightly chilled.
7. Drop by the spoonful onto lightly greased baking sheets.
8. Bake for 12 minutes or until you can press on the cookie gently without leaving an indent.
9. Allow to sit on baking sheet for two minutes before removing. Sprinkle with sugar.
10. Once cooled, enjoy! : )

Thoughts on the Spiritual Life After Highs and Lows

Life is full of highs and lows. There are those times of elation and joy, when everything seems to just be "right" by our standards. Then, there are those times of tragedy, trial, and suffering. We all have them.

Spiritually, it's pretty common to talk about how "close" God feels in those high and low times. What a blessing that His presence can be so apparent to us. 

We talk about how God, in the most exciting seasons of our life, works so obviously. All things are easily attributed to Him, gratitude becomes easy, praise an attainable standard. He is worthy, almighty, and so good. 

In the same way, when we are experiencing very painful things, we often talk about how God steps in to give us peace and hope. He is our great comforter and healer. The One who knows our sufferings and helps to carry the burdens of this life.

These extreme feelings infiltrate our command centers. When everything is good, stepping in a puddle is silly and fun. When everything stinks, stepping in a puddle is just one more thing to add to the list of ugh. 

And then we live a few ordinary days. We have ordinary tasks, troubles, and joys. There is no infiltrating emotion, just simple reactions to whatever happens. And God feels...absent. Irrelevant. As if He's said "yeah, the boring drudge. You've got this. I'll be back when you need me to save the day". 

Our God certainly doesn't do this. But we feel that way. And it's hard when it seems that the God who has been so active in us has stopped responding. It's the "after" season, when life is just ticking along without major tremor and we're quaking inside because we don't feel like we're really living, at least not fully because the Lord doesn't seem to be there. 

I've noticed in my own life that when the "after" times really shake me up, it's because I've put too much stock in the highs and lows, and given too much power to how I feel. 

My mind is not so much dwelling on living for the Lord when I am caught up in what God does for me in this life. Whether I am suffering or rejoicing, I tend to think more about getting the most out of all this...before it ends. It's an awful thought to consider dying without having felt deeply, because we understand meaning to be tied to emotions. 

And then, these verses, after a chapter proclaiming the Gospel and the risen Lord:

" 'Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?'

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

-1 Corinthians 15: 55-58

To remember our place in His kingdom, the presence of our Lord when we feel Him and when we don't; to remember our death in Christ on the cross, the hope of a savior when we realize that we are supposed to give up; to remember our lot in this life, the fears of this world overcome with the promise of the His glory, is to ride out the tides of ordinary life with Christ as the true prize. 

He is always present and in faith we are to remain in Him when we cannot feel Him, despite the whispers of our human emotions, fears, and desires. 

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." 
-Hebrews 11:1

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Handmade Pasta!-------In Very Little Things

Confession. This is not a recipe. Rather, I'm encouraging you...try making handmade pasta! It is truly not that difficult but it is so fun and delicious. 

For Christmas I was given a few beautiful kitchen tools, like a pasta roller and drying rack, that make the process even simpler. But, you can make pasta from scratch without the machine too!

Making pasta doesn't take long, and it doesn't take much! A few eggs, a little flour, a bit of tap water, and a couple of hands....that's everything required to make enough pasta for five servings. 

Aliza Green's Making Artisan Pasta was very helpful to me, along with this link:

Take the time to read and research a little, the pasta is worth it!

Thoughts on Being Faithful in Very Little Things

The classic:

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." Luke 16:10

Followed by:

" 'I have the right to do anything,' you say--but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'--but not everything is constructive." -1 Corinthians 10:23

Tied to:

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."-1 Cor 10:31

And from these verses we have (or at least I have!) a compelling reminder that some things we commonly treat casually ought to be carefully considered in light of the Lord.

A few years ago, around the time that I came to know the Lord, I had developed quite the potty mouth. As long as I was around people that I didn't think would be offended, I used all sorts of curse words. And in my opinion, that was fine as long as I never specifically cursed another person. It was so fine to me, in fact, that I extensively argued with a friend because I was defending the use of swear words. I even led a "Bible study" discussion group all about swearing and how it can be okay and even good for us when necessary.

Then, the Lord stopped me using the last verse I cited, 1 Corinthians 10:31. This guy I later married asked me, pointedly, how I thought swearing glorified God. Not how it made me feel better, not how particular words seemed apt in certain situations, not even how it might be a minor, easily forgive-able sin, but how it glorified God.

He graciously never pressed for an answer. And I'm grateful the Lord prepared my heart for the question and then quickly, largely worked those words out of my vocabulary. 

Swearing always seemed like a little thing. And something I had a right to do. But it doesn't glorify God.

How many other little things there are that I feel I have a right to. Yet they do not glorify God.

So many things are just snares at our feet. A few examples...

-Things like catchy, fun songs that are actually about hooking up or getting drunk. 
-TV moments that are a little too intimate.
-Gossip that isn't mean but is gossip nonetheless. 
-Lies that are so unimportant and small no one will ever realize they were told.
 -Exaggerations that make stories more fun but not exactly true.
-Silence when lies are honored and it's easier not to stir the pot.
-Lazy hours turned into days and weeks of excusing ourselves.
-Complaining and keeping lists of negatives because we've just been through so much.
-More. More, more, more.

Such things may not be the sorts of stumbling blocks we tend to think about. They aren't (often) huge walls we have to work around or deep trenches to wade through. But they cause us to stumble, just a little take our eyes off the Lord, just a little glorify things other than God, just a little bit.

And then we come to points in which we wonder how we got so far away from Him. Or can't understand why we feel so ashamed when we haven't "done anything wrong." That point where we look up and think to ourselves that it's awfully hard to please the Lord, but can't just excuse ourselves. 

Praise the Lord that just as He commands us to faithfulness, He is faithful to us.

 "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." -1 Cor 10:12-13. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chicken Cordon Bleu------On Being Profound

There is nothing unique about this recipe. It's just your basic, simple Chicken Cordon Bleu. For some reason, I had myself convinced this was a complex and challenging dish, but it's not. And, it's delicious. Set your oven to 400. Keep a toothpick on hand. Enjoy!

-One chicken breast.
-One thin slice of ham.
-Two slices of cheese, pick your poison.
-Butter, melted. Season if you like.
-Bread crumbs, seasoned are best.

1. Pound a chicken breast until it is thin. Half an inch thick is great.
2. Layer a slice of ham and cheese on the chicken.
3. Roll it all up, pinching it together with your fingers.
4. Dip into butter, still pinching it all together.
5. Roll around in bread crumbs. The chicken, not you. Keep pinching.
6. Poke a toothpick through it to replace your pinching fingers.
7. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

-Excellent served with a mild gravy or alfredo sauce!
-Yummy with pasta, potatoes, or rice.
-Deli ham works, but it's better to thinly slice a ham steak. More juice.

Thoughts on Being Profound

I've almost written this post three times. Ironically, I chicken out when I find that it just doesn't sound...sufficient, impressive, eloquent, or relevant. I even deleted my notes. But I think it is an important concept to consider in light of the truth of the Lord, so I'm going to try.

People don't seem to like to be considered shallow. We don't really enjoy thinking of ourselves as valuing unimportant things, or wasting our time on trivial tasks. Feelings of emptiness, of doubt, or of meaninglessness creep in enough as it is. We find we don't need to validate these feelings by doing things that seem mundane or sound. 

So, we push and dig to get to the very depths of our souls and burrow into the trenches of relationship with Christ. We push and dig through conversations trying to find purpose in them. In the things that we do, we seek out meaning and justification. And to make these things more secure in our souls, we seek recognition of our purposes and depth. Our lives, as we then live them, are made to be one of two things: meaningless or profound.

But we miss the point. To live meekly in Christ is incredibly difficult because we have to give up dreams and expectations of spiritual grandeur, like being known for how righteous we are. We have to live like Christ lived, with our eyes ever fixed on God and not on the steps we think we must take to "get to Him." 

As Oswald Chambers pointed out in his November 22nd "My Utmost for His Highest" devotion, Jesus came to us as a baby. A baby! He lived as a carpenter's son. He traveled and ate and drank with companions like other people did. The miracles and signs he performed he often followed with a request of secrecy ("go and tell no one" -Luke 8, Matthew 16, Mark 9, etc.) When he died, it was between two criminals who suffered crucifixion as well.  Then, when He rose again, Jesus didn't run around telling all the haters how wrong they were and striking them dead in vengeance. He went to those He loved and spent His days among them, teaching them truth.

Christ's life was not rich, it was not attractive, he was hated by many, and he had all the needs we did....that's how He was fully man and able to tempted as we are tempted. 

What was different, then? What made His life profound and eternally significant when he never made a big deal out of Himself? What kept Him from being shallow when He lived so simply?

That Jesus was the Lord. That Jesus humbly obeyed, even in what He ate and drank and who He spent time with. Nothing human about life on earth was below the Lord. And the only "thing" above Him was the Father.

Consider Matthew 6. Notice the number of instances in which Christ reminds us not to do things in the sight of this world for the rewards of this world. Being profound and earning a reputation of depth, when done to appease a sense of meaninglessness in ourselves -as is the case when we seek to find purpose in how others see us- is seeking wrongly. 

While usually the verse is quoted about worrying, I think perhaps Christ said it in relation to the rest of what He was saying, especially in Matthew 6, not just worrying....

"For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
-Matthew 6:32+33

It's a simple point. It isn't deep or incredibly shocking or profound or anything new and cool. We must fix our eyes on the Lord and seek Him only....and that includes not seeking meaning and purpose and depth to appease that which only He can fill.