Why Sunday Matters, Union With Christ in the Wilderness, and Baking The World Better

I’m home again this Sunday. More sickness. Which means I’m writing down everything on my mind. Forgive the disparate nature of it all.

I’ve been trying to get to the nub of why missing church hurts so badly. Is it because I don’t get to hear the sermon? Or the Sunday school teaching? Well, yes. But no, because I can listen to those later in the week when the recordings become available. Is it because I feel cooped up and want to see people and have some social time? Well, yes. But no, because I get to see people and get out other days of the week.

What I miss most is hearing, receiving, and singing together. When we hear the Word preached together, it’s different than me downloading some killer sermon to listen to by myself. When we sing songs together, it’s different than when I find the latest or best hymn album to listen to in my kitchen. It’s valuable to do those things at home, but it’s not the same as being with God’s people on Sunday.

When we gather as God’s people and sing a song to the Lord and about the Lord from our heart, with other Christians singing the same song, and the same words, from their hearts, we are being united. Every Sunday morning God is answering Jesus’ prayer that we would be one as he and the Father are one. When we submit ourselves fully to the faithfully preached Word of God we are being made one as shoulder to shoulder our brothers and sisters put themselves under that same Word. That’s what I miss so much.

I’m never quite as aware of my frailty as on a Sunday when I’m engulfed in the singing of his people. My faith won’t survive without the faithful saints singing next to me. It’s true that “you can have all this world, give me Jesus..” as long as when we say “Jesus” we mean his body, too. I can’t live without his people. Sundays at home with sick kids are God’s good plan to remind me of this even more.

I’ve spent the better part of the past year thinking about our union with Christ. It has become to me the sweetest of all truth in the universe. I was reading through the sermon text for today, while at home, wanting to keep on the same page as everyone. I couldn’t get past the first two verses.

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” Mark 1:12-13 (ESV)

So much to take it. But I was strengthened by remembering that it’s God’s Spirit that puts Jesus (and us) in the wilderness, and that we can be in the wilderness and not fear, because Jesus already did it for us. He did it perfectly. He made a path through. The Israelites couldn’t do it, I can’t do it on my own. But because of him, we can walk through the wilderness and resist temptation. He did it for me and he leads me in paths of goodness and faithfulness right through the desert and dry land.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what goodness looks like. Is it a good attitude? Is it doing good things? Can the world engage in goodness? What is Christian goodness? If I get the laundry done, how is it distinctly Christian goodness–doesn’t everybody have to do that? This is another area where thinking about my union with Christ has made life all the sweeter.

There is a Christian way to do the laundry, and make supper, and tend the garden, and go to work, and clean the house. And that is to do them all in Christ and for Christ, with his garments of holiness round about us. It’s so easy to think that our Christian selves are the selves that do “ministry.” The Christian part of us is the part that goes to church, or does Bible study, or disciples a younger person, or helps in Sunday school, or has a quiet time. But because of Christ everything we do is a Christian thing. And I’ve been reveling in baking bread while united to Christ and seated in the heavenly places.

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There’s this cute hashtag: #baketheworldabetterplace. I love it. I love it because, in Christ, it can be true. In Christ, we can bake the world better. In Christ, baking really can be a way to befriend faithfulness. I can love my children with the love of Christ by baking. I can put my hands to do good works in and for Christ by baking. I can teach about him through baking; I can love Christ with baking; I can enjoy Christ in baking.

Baking in and of itself is a common good–it provides food, it is enjoyable. But baking while belonging to Christ is something else entirely. The metaphor (bread is food that sustains) and reality (Christ is the bread of life that sustains) meet spectacularly when baking as a Christian. Doing good works in Jesus’ name is transformative, both to the “good work” and to the person doing them and the person receiving them.

I mention all this baking hubbub, not to get you to start baking, which is completely unnecessary to your life as a Christian. But to ask you, what are you doing everyday that you can see in a new light because of your union with Christ. The laundry (making dirty things clean)? Making supper? Reading books? Accounting? Science experiments? You are doing those things in Christ. They belong to him and are for him. What metaphors are brought to fullness in your doing them?

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When we’re in Christ, nothing happens apart from him. Not our relationships with other Christians, or our relationships with non-Christians, or our interactions with the stuff in the world (like flour, clothing, tools, tv). We don’t invite Christ into those things. If we’re in him and he’s in us, it’s a reality that he’s there. But our awareness of him is what needs heightened. Which is part of why we need each other, Christ’s body. To keep each other remembering and reminded.

If you were at church today, I hope you know the gift you were given. And if you were at home or the hospital or somewhere else, I hope you know Christ as the one who blazed a trail through the wilderness for us.

Spreading Some Manure Around

Well, that’s gross, but yes.

Over the past year or so my fledgling enjoyment of taking pictures has conspired with my fledgling enjoyment of cooking and baking to produce a mom who can go through the 10 lb. flour bag in no time at all, with a grimy camera and lots of seemingly useless pics clogging up my computer to prove it.

I’d like to put those pics to use and spread the manure of thankfulness and joy around. Gratitude is such a powerful fertilizer. It’s hard to grow bitterness in a garden of grateful. We ought to be thankful for our food, even though we’ve twisted up our relationship with food pretty much since the beginning. And we keep on getting ourselves in knots over it, hoping it will save us, cure us, satisfy us, and right all the wrongs.

It won’t do that. But it can point us to what will satisfy. If a perfect pot roast on a cool fall eve satisfies and delights for a few hours, could it be that there’s something like that warm comfort.. forever? Food also shows us our creaturely nature. We need it or we die. We are as dependent as the baby that I nurse every few hours. So I’m being fed by our Father daily.

Food shows us the deeper food. It points to the Food of Jesus, the Bread, the Word.

With this in mind, I’m cheerfully spreading the manure of merriment with pics of food and recipes. My hope is that they’ll kindle a robust hearty thankfulness for food ad the God who gives it and encourage a wholesome attitude toward it. One that isn’t gluttonous or ascetic or idolatrous. So with that lengthy preface behind me, here’s a taste of what we’ve been thankful for lately.

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Crusty Bread. I’ve mentioned this bread before and seriously couldn’t imagine a more delightful and easy bread to make. If you’ve never made bread (as I hadn’t just a year or so ago), start here. End here. It’s a winner.

fresh peaches
fresh peaches
buttermilk mixture
buttermilk mixture
caramel sauce
caramel sauce
finished product
finished product

Peach Buttermilk Bread Pudding with Homemade Caramel Sauce. Yes, it’s as good as you hope. Especially with a dollop of ice cream. We were out of bread, so I made a couple loaves of the crusty bread above and used one for this bread pudding. Way too much fun.

serious helpers
serious helpers

I’d be majorly remiss if I didn’t mention the important part helpers play in food gratitude and bonding and serving and general excitement and joy. Sometimes I’m stingy with helpers–saving all the best jobs for myself (who doesn’t love cracking an egg and whisking away?!). But I’m slowly learning that it not only robs them of joy, but me as well. Sharing happy work multiplies happiness (and messes). I’m letting the happiness overrule the messes, some of the time anyway.

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choco zuke banana bread

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Banana Bread.  A friend brought over a zucchini the size of Rhode Island for us as she was going out of town and 8 loaves of this zucchini bread later I wish we had another one! I modified the recipe I linked to by adding a banana that was going bad and using a little less zucchini.

pumpkin streusel bread
pumpkin streusel bread

Pumpkin Bread. In college, the DC (dining center) would serve pumpkin bread in the fall. Massive, hot loaves, sliced an inch and a half thick that were inhaled by whoever could get to the front of the line. I remember being pushed and squeezed as everyone eagerly crowded in to get some. I’m sure elbows were thrown. I set out to make something comparable and judging by the kids crowding and snitching, we’re on the right track. I added a streusel on top for kicks. It’s not in the recipe I linked to, but is just melted butter, sugar of any kind, and flour. You can’t lose.

mozzarella cheese sticks
mozzarella cheese sticks

Mozzarella Cheese Sticks. The MN State Fair is a big deal ’round here. We missed it with Titus being born. So I was hankering for the infamous cheese curds and this is what resulted. They actually are nothing like cheese curds. They’re like Italian mozzarella sticks. I cut up string cheese in half, then dipped in egg, then panko mixture (bread crumbs, olive oil, herbs, salt, pepper), then was going to fry them up when I realized I didn’t have enough oil. So I baked them for about 5 min and quickly pulled them out so they didn’t melt all over. They managed to hold together and my son and I gobbled them up. Not cheese curds, but still good.

peasant bread
peasant bread
pleasant bread
pleasant bread

Peasant Bread. Which I would like to rename to Pleasant Bread. Or Pleasant Peasant Bread. If you decide to keep on going with the bread making, this is a great second bread to learn. Very simple and easy and it bakes the same day, no overnight rising. Which could be a plus or a minus depending on your needs and schedule. Also, it bakes in pyrex bowls, which is great! This bread should be eaten the day it’s made. It’s wonderful that way. Subsequent days we use it for toast.

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fall mix, candy corn pumpkin
fall mix, candy corn pumpkin

Last but not least, fall mix. Which is simply equal parts peanuts, candy corn and m&m’s, mixed up and set out for everyone to enjoy.

That’s all the manure I’ve got to spread at the blog today. Still have a few piles to go here at home.

“And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15b

 

 

Manna, Funnel Cakes, and Thankfulness

We had funnel cakes on Good Friday.

They made me think of manna. Then I thought of the state fair and how much I enjoy the taste of funnel cakes and all the other foods to be had there and I wondered what manna tasted like. “Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” Exodus 16:31

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Psalm 78 describes manna as the “grain of heaven” and in Numbers we’re told that they would grind it up and make cakes out of it.

And I thought of the mass complaining/justifying/scorning/indulging that goes along with something as silly as fair food. Manna would never pass muster among today’s diet gurus, it would take its place among the naughty fair food. A single grain? Made into a cake? With sugar on top? No way, no how. It didn’t pass muster for the Israelites either. They were so over this “grain from heaven.”

“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6, ESV)

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The Egyptian diet–now there’s a diet conscientious Christians of the 21st century could get behind: fish for free, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic! Sounds like something from the food network in Greece! Let me at those omega 3 fats! And I’m guessing it all came with non-GMO labels to boot.

The Israelites grumbled so much that God finally gave them some meat to eat. Finally some protein. But it didn’t work out quite how they’d hoped. “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?” (Numbers 11:18-20, ESV)

When I think of the forceful health movements out there today–the ones that reject a large portion of the food sold at the nearest supermarket as “poison”, I think of the Israelites scorning the manna. Here, in our supermarket, is a place filled to the brim with the answered prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread..” and it isn’t good enough. Here are our “vats bursting with wine..” and we just want to lament over the nutrition label. Gratitude is about as far from our lips as it was the Israelites. Instead we relish our scorn and discontentedness and superiority over all the ignorant ones actually buying the funnel cake mix from aisle 7.

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Now I can hear someone objecting saying, “Well, any food that came straight from heaven would have been nutritionally perfect, so there’s no way I would have rejected that. It would have miraculously had every component necessary for healthful eating, because God is perfect.” I wouldn’t argue with that necessarily, although I don’t think it’s a given.

And here’s something I know for sure, straight from Jesus’ mouth, “Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died.” Wait, what? They ate a nutritionally perfect food from heaven and still died? Yep. Well, I’m sure they didn’t die from cancer at least. It was probably just from natural old age. Some maybe, but not all. A whole bunch of them died from God’s wrath being kindled against their ungratefulness and he sent a plague and they died.

The point of all this is not a new diet fad. I’m not advocating a diet of manna-like food over and above any other food. I’m not telling you to eat a funnel cake. (Although they are wonderful and my heart rejoiced at the good God who provided it!)

My point is a caution against complaining and ungratefulness. I’ve heard Christians talk about how the food of decades gone by was so much better for us than the food we have available to us now. How the food we have is bad for us–the food other generations had is what we need to get back to. I myself have wondered if this is could be true and fretted ungratefully at the thought. It sounds so much like the Israelites wishing to go back to Egypt and the food of Egypt. God has provided us food. Today. In greater quantities and qualities than many of the past centuries.  Yet, we spend our time grumbling under the guise of responsible eating, posting articles on how horrible and poisonous our food is, how evil the people who’ve provided it are, and lamenting for a by-gone era.

The Right Food has become a savior. The paleo diet is what will now save us from disease. And let’s not forget that just 20 years ago it was the no-fat diet that was going to save us. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, thyroid problems, migraines, infertility are all just a result of our poisonous food. Our sin against God has little to do with it. Sometimes I get the feeling that for the die-hard health-foodies, Sin= bad food. Bad food is sin. It is the cause of all our problems. Oh, and all the behavior and learning problems your kid is having? That’s because of the sin-food you’ve been feeding him since he was in the womb. There’s a recipe for either crushing guilt on the one hand or insufferable self-congratulations on the other.

The cure for sickness is some sort of “pre-fall” diet. Yet, we will all die. Even more, this attitude is slap in the face to the real Savior. “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” (Matthew 4:23 ESV) How do we overcome disease? By dying and being raised with him on the last day. How do we endure behavioral problems and fatigue and the stomach flu, again? By his death for our death, His life for our life. We live in the already-not-yet kingdom. All things will be made new and the heart where His Spirit reigns is patient heart, eagerly awaiting this conquering and overcoming newness, not demanding disease-free living now.

I have been preached to and evangelized for the cause of healthful, disease-free eating by Christian women as frequently as I’ve been encouraged and admonished in the Lord. This should not be so.

Listen to the Real Savior:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51, ESV)

“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:26-29, ESV)

The antidote to ungrateful, savior-seeking health obsessions is Jesus, the living bread that has come down from heaven. My encouragement to my own heart and hopefully to yours, is this: The LORD has numbered our days. They are written in his book. We cannot, by our striving, add one healthful day to our lives or our children’s lives. Instead we must “believe in him whom he has sent.”
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You might think this attitude fatalistic and irresponsible, as though I’m taking all human responsibility out of the equation. Yet, the Lord holds us responsible for our sin. I understand what sin is by looking to the Word, not listening to what the culture tells me is good and bad about food. Not giving thanks to God for His gifts? Definitely a sin. Eating with thanksgiving, whether it’s a funnel cake or gluten-free-flax seed muffin? Not a sin, rather, a requirement.

The kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink. We may place perfectly healthy food in our mouth and then out of that same mouth spew hateful talk to our children, our husband, our God. We may spend hours sweating at the gym so that we can be as healthy as can be, then let the poison of sin reign and rule as we secretly view porn or watch smutty TV. This, my friends, is NOT healthy living.

And I ask this: what delights God more? A grateful heart enjoying a funnel cake every single night or a superior, self-justified, heart strictly adhering to man-made rules. And maybe you’re in the category of the grateful and happy, no-axe-to-grind, yet-strictly-following-a-paticular-diet-kind-of-heart. And to that I say, Amen. Praise God!
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Let’s agree to this diet-lovers and free-wheelers like myself: let’s give thanks to God for all his good gifts. Even for funnel cakes. Let’s praise him that there is food on the table–whether it’s GMO or not. Let’s honor Him for answering our prayers and giving us this day our daily bread. Let’s tell the world about this lavish and generous God who showers us with The Living Bread from heaven– His Son, Jesus.

P.S. As I was writing this I came across two great articles on this topic: here and here.

Jesus, Bread and Easter: Give the Children Something GOOD to Taste

This has been a crazy Easter season. The day we found out we were having a little boy, we also signed an agreement to sell our house. After devoting my life to a “show-ready” house and battling with the trials of pregnancy, there is nothing I’d love more than a laid back, contemplative Easter season.

Alas, the Lord has other ways to reveal His glory than in stillness alone. He also shows up when we’re doing our jobs, cleaning, schooling, working hard, feeding mouths.

Thursday was just such a day. We had to be out of the house for hours for an inspection. My folks are so gracious and let us come hang out at their place whenever we have to be gone for a showing etc. The night before I’d made dough for bread that has to rise overnight. So, I baked it just before we left and brought it along with us for lunch.

On the way over to my folks, I thought that the crusty bread would be a perfect way to illustrate the whole Easter story and we could still eat it for lunch.

Here’s what we did. We cut the loaf about 1/3 of the way in, then we tore out all the hot delicious innards and ate them.

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My kids like it plain, with occasional dips of nutella. I like mine with PB and honey.

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While we were doing this we talked about the Last Supper and how Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. How he said things like, “This is my body, broken for you.” The bread tasted wonderfully, as warm bread tends to do. This is an essential part of teaching my kids. If it tastes bad, how can they have a foundation to understand, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…”?

The big part of the bread crust becomes the tomb, the smaller portion becomes the stone that covers the tomb.

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We saved a chunk of bread and Eliza fashioned a little man out of it.

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When we got home that evening, the kids found sticks from the dead flower bed remnants and we made crosses, tied up with yarn.

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It sat on the counter Thursday night, as I pondered how to set it up properly. Today the kids enacted Jesus on the cross and put him in the tomb. Then tonight, I pulled out some river rocks and serving tray and arranged it so that the crosses would stand up. The bread tomb is on a green towel, to look like a small hill.

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This is the little “project” that isn’t. It isn’t anything at all, but real life. Real bread that we were making, a real meal that we were eating, to remind us of our real Savior. This isn’t a show put on for kids. This isn’t different from the truth that we live in every single day. This is His body, broken for us.

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This is our table where we gather to enjoy gifts from His hand. Won’t you taste and see this Easter? He is GOOD.

The Minnesota Taco

I’m excited to introduce you to… THE Minnesota Taco!

Original ideas are few and far between in my brain. Pretty much never happen. But, this taco happened upon me out of hunger and necessity. The fridge offered these: leftover roast, some extra sharp cheese that I wanted eat before it went bad, and corn tortillas. My first Minnesota Taco!

Since then I’ve upgraded it a bit. Here’s how it goes:

Pot Roast. 5 lb. boneless chuck roast, to be exact. Rubbed and rested with a Southwest dry rub and onion powder, dredged in flour, browned in olive oil, kept company with a red onion, celery and a 2 cups of water and put in the oven, lid on, at 325 for 5 hours until it’s falling apart. Your typical roast.

Then I got out my trusty corn tortillas. Because that’s how I do.

I put on some of the juicy meat. Lots of juices.

Then some onions. I like the red and I like that there’s no spiciness left in them. Just plain cooked out with only sweetness left.

Next the mashed potatoes. These are a vital element of making these a Minnesota Taco. Not too much! Just the right amount.

Then, the cheese. I used extra sharp white vermont cheddar. I’ve also used yellow cheddar. Both are good. The white is my fave. Whatever color, the extra sharp is key. That’s what makes these tacos sing. They sing Children of the Heavenly Father, in case you were wondering, like all good Minnesotan Swedes.

Here’s Tom enjoying his first Minnesota Taco. In a flour tortilla, cause that’s how he does.

Whelp, that’s it. Very simple, very tasty. Great for winter and therefore, great for Minnesota. Now don’t go and break it to me that this is in no way original and that so-and-so has made these forever. There’s nothing new under the sun, I suppose. But originality is ignorance is bliss.

Eat Minnesota Tacos! Skol Vikings!