LOOK HERE for recipes, quotes, music, books, environmental stewardship, faith, etc

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Worthless, Foolish Talk

(Though I wrote this right after the election in early November, it just got posted today on CalledtoYouthMinistry.com. It seemed appropriate to share in light of heading into holidays with family and friends, and sadly, because of the heated rhetoric emerging out of the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary. Thanks for reading.)

Lessons from the Election
I think all of us would agree that we are glad that this election has passed. I saw in the news that it is estimated that $6 billion was spent! That explains why I felt so exhausted by the barrage of negative TV commercials and flyers in my mailbox.

However, this is the first major election that I recall where the dialogue was just as ugly on social media. Sure, we had Facebook and Twitter in 2008, but they were not operating at the intense levels they are now. I am more bothered by the posts I saw from my Facebook “friends” than by anything I saw from the candidates!

Other than unsubscribing the worst offenders from your Facebook feed, what is a Christian to do? I take counsel from Paul’s wise words to Timothy in what most scholars consider his last epistle from jail, written nearly two thousands years ago.

In 2Timothy 2, especially starting in verse 14, here are some of Paul’s words that we can take to heart and apply in very real ways in 2012:

Stop fighting. Period. There is not much to add to Paul’s words in verse 14: “Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.” May we never put more emphasis on where we disagree than on what we have in common.

Never attack other people, regardless of how strongly you feel about a given topic. I cannot deny that some of the issues at stake in this election will have massive consequences on the world stage. Nevertheless, we are called as believers to be respectful and kind. Hear Paul’s counsel again from verses 16-17: “Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus.”

Pray for God to change hearts. Rather than debate and argue and post yet another toxic article on your Facebook, listen to these words: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (verses 24-25).

Don’t get me wrong – I really cared about this election. In fact, I voted early through my absentee ballot. But at the end of the day, I want to live out these words that John Wesley frequently quoted from Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Horror, Hype and Handel

Like many people, I woke up thinking about the massacre in Newtown. I sat glued to the TV yesterday, watching the horrors unfold in waves, wanting to tear away from it all and pretend it wasn't happening, but at the same time needing to watch.

I am disappointed (actually, infuriated) by some of the insensitive things said by Christian leaders about this. Can we please just sit with these poor people in their grief and SHUT UP!?!?! The friends of Job are often made fun of (justifiably so) for their bad advice to Job in his abject suffering, but for the first seven days, they got it right:

When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. (Job 2:12-13). 

To do anything else -- say, use this as an opportunity to talk about prayer in the schools or how we are all murderers smacks of insensitive and opportunistic hype to me.

I'm grateful for my own pastor's words this morning... as always, they are gentle, knowing and subdued. Take 2 minutes to read them.

Newtown and Bethlehem

I woke early with the sorrow of Newtown.  The grief is overwhelming.  The loss is beyond any words or consolation.

I know that you have already joined the thousands who filled the churches of Newtown to pray.  We naturally turn to God in such moments not only in seeking comfort but also with our outrage that such innocent lives would be allowed to be taken.  What kind of world do we live in?  When will all this killing end?  How long will our Lord wait until making all things new - and giving us "right minds" where we truly do have a "Newtown" with a new Jerusalem and true peace on earth?  This juxtaposition of evil with the message of Christmas is not lost on any of us.

I've always been bothered by the Christmas story told in Matthew where Herod's angry insanity caused him to order the death of the baby boys in Bethlehem so he could end the life of the young rival king the Wisemen came to worship.  The grief of those parents undoubtedly mirrored the ones of today.  The juxtaposition of evil with God's gift of His own Son is not lost on any of us as well.

Evil in all its various forms is most obvious when it is the innocent who suffer and often die.  That is why the birth and death of the innocent child of Bethlehem speaks deeper than the words any of us can say.  That is why comfort is found only in God.  God is with us.  That is why the churches of Newtown are filled.

My thoughts take me to Handel's music and the words of Isaiah 40. 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned:  for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low;  and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain;

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together;  for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

When Handel wrote the music to communicate God's word his servants described him:  "He was praying...he was weeping...he was staring into eternity." 

That is what we are all doing.


Per Denny's advice, I am listening to Handel's Messiah this morning as I write this. May we continue to pray for those in Newtown, and pray that as believers we can offer persistent love, a listening ear and compassion to others in their loss and fear. There will be time in the future to take the conversation to bigger and more personal levels. Be patient. Here's an article I wrote this fall on comforting others in grief.

Meanwhile, I yearn for the "new town" of eternity to come quickly:

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent 2012: The Now and Not Yet

I am late to the party when it comes to celebrating and enjoying Advent. Not having grown up with religious practice around Christmastime, I did not know about lighting candles and the Advent wreath and all that till much later...

Not only have I learned to extend Christmas joy into an entire month by practicing Advent, but even better, I have grown in learning how to anticipate the Second Advent by recalling the First Advent.

A friend in Bible study got all of us turned on to Advent readings provided by Creighton University, a Catholic school in Omaha. The readings for this first week have been a lovely way to start this year's Advent celebrations and reflections.

Here is a portion of today's scripture reading, from Isaiah 29. Take a moment to envision this prophecy for the future:

17 Soon—and it will not be very long
    the forests of Lebanon will become a fertile field,
    and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops.
18 In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book,
    and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness.
19 The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.
    The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
20 The scoffer will be gone,
    the arrogant will disappear,
    and those who plot evil will be killed.
21 Those who convict the innocent
    by their false testimony will disappear.
A similar fate awaits those who use trickery to pervert justice
    and who tell lies to destroy the innocent.

22 That is why the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the people of Israel,

“My people will no longer be ashamed
    or turn pale with fear.
23 For when they see their many children
    and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Israel.
    They will stand in awe of the God of Jacob.
24 Then the wayward will gain understanding,
    and complainers will accept instruction.

The Advent writer for today's passage says this about these words:

Isaiah is a prophet, one who sees reality as God inspires him to and who then speaks of that reality as God impels him to.  Here Isaiah speaks of the changes that God will operate, and he describes those changes in three seamless stages.

At first Isaiah speaks of very clear changes in Lebanon and then gradually eases into smaller and less visible alterations: the deaf shall hear, etc.  In the third stage he proclaims the end of evil: the tyrant, the arrogant, those alert to do evil, etc. shall disappear.  Isaiah makes it clear that the Lord is actually working these positive transformations, right now; he announces and proclaims it in the very face of all the contrary evidence...

The last verses of this passage point to the result of God's work: the house of Jacob shall have all sorts of reasons to be healthy and fearless and to know and serve the Lord.  This is something yet to come for his hearers, and it is still today only a hope (and I mean that in the theological sense, not as just a vague wish).

As Christians of today we find ourselves in much the same position.  In terms of Isaiah's words, our world is becoming visibly less clean and fresh, and it needs renewal or recreation (cf. Wordsworth, "The world is too much with us").  We have all sorts of people wounded and broken in body and spirit, and not just "naturally" so, and can we say that evil men and women do not have a major hand in running our world?  Jesus has come and changed everything by His living, dying, and rising, but we still wait in hope to see the fullness of His salvation.

So do Isaiah's words bring us to hope, to trusting the Lord even in our darkness and frustration?  Are we willing to live the life of the beatitudes as we await the revelation of the Lord in our world? 

If not, can we experience the coming feast of the Birth of Christ in any authentic way? 

I am greatly challenged by his last questions, especially the last one I bolded in bright blue. I want to say a vigorous YES! to that... may we each live "the life of the beatitudes" in this waiting time between the First and Second Advents of our Savior.

Yesterday I finished up my class at Westmont and left them with these words...

"Heaven is not a far-away place to which we hope to go; it is the presence of God in which we ought to live." William R. Inge (1860-1954)

This was a class on how to integrate theology, doctrine and practice for ministry. Before we get too lost in all the implications of that, I wanted them to remember that it is really quite simple: ministry is giving people a taste of heaven. In the NOW, we get a tiny glimpse of the NOT YET. That alone is more compelling than any words we could possibly come up with.

As you practice Advent, I pray that we will all taste of heaven, and be reminded of the many beautiful promises that the Lord is bringing to bear -- slowly, steadily, surely. Hallelujah!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Four Days of Rain + Many Vegetables = Delicious Soup!

I posted this soup on the second day of January in 2011 and it merits recycling because my house smells SO GOOD right now as I await the finishing touches on a batch of this. I have a crisper full of celery, kale, mushrooms, leeks and brussels sprouts, plus a couple of garlic cloves on the counter, so here goes.

Asian Mushroom Soup

When it is raining really hard, it's chilly, and you're in denial over the end of vacation, here's a good solution... a veryflavorful soup, full of vegetables, chicken and rice noodles.

I had some chicken broth I made after having an amazing roast chicken on New Year's Eve. But you could just use canned broth or bouillon cubes if you had to. The flavor comes from the garlic, ginger, soy sauce and mirin. If you don't currently have that in your pantry, you should... it's a great ingredient for salad dressings or just to add some tang to stir fry.

My roommate is fighting a cold, so I'm hoping the combo of ginger and garlic can do some chicken soup magic -- with a little Asian flair.

Happy New Year people. Don't be in denial -- it's gonna be a great year!


  • 4 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce (or tamari if you're gluten-free like me)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 cups assorted mushrooms, sliced -- white buttons, oyster, shitake, portobello and crimini; if using shitake, discard stems 
  • 3 cups white cabbage, cut in wedges (I didn't have cabbage, but had a stalk of brussels sprouts. Yummy!)
  • 2 cups fresh udon noodles or cooked linguine (I used a package of pho noodles -- PERFECT)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions, with some of the green tops
  • 2 cups shredded raw spinach or whole baby spinach leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (sweetened rice wine) (optional)


In a large pot, combine broth, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, mushrooms, cabbage, carrots and chicken. Cover. Bring to a boil; simmer until mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in noodles, green onions and spinach; simmer until greens are wilted, about 2 minutes. Season.