First Fruits

Today, I harvested my first mint crop. I’ve never had great success with herbs, and my current garden is my first vegetable garden. And, well, I’ve never had much of a green thumb.WP_20160511_18_23_28_Moment

But today, today I got my first mint for the perfect first iced tea of the season. It is my first fruit.

The Bible talks a lot about our first fruits, primarily in commands to return these to God through sacrifices (eg Exodus 23:19). He has always demanded our best (Cain brought a sacrifice, but Abel brought the best portions of his flock’s firstborn in Genesis 4), blessing those who follow his commands.

So, why is it that we are to give our first fruits (or really, any fruits) in sacrifice? Why does God want that from us, especially as he doesn’t need it?

There are many reasons, reasons I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of times in the obligatory stewardship sermons that every pastor has to give from time to time. A few of those reasons are:

  • we are commanded to
  • it provides for others, both in the church and outside the church
  • it teaches us responsibility and stewardship
  • it puts our priorities in order
  • it turns our attention to Christ

So what is the significance of my mint tea today? This was my first harvest, so it belongs to Christ. This drink is an offering to the one that grew the mint. I don’t believe that all offerings must be something that you give away, like a tithe, but instead that some offerings are something you still might consume yourself (most sacrifices in Scripture were consumed by the priests, at least). This is an offering of my thoughts. With this first harvest, I sit reminded of the goodness of our creator, without whom nothing would grow for me to harvest.

I sit with my mint iced tea rearranging my priorities, using this an opportunity to contemplate the humbleness of my heart and to bring myself more closely in line with God’s desires for my time, my life and my path as I walk with him.

How will God use your first fruits?

 

 

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The Best Burger in Town

“You’ve got to go to ______; they make the best burger in town! It’s incredible!”

“Oh, you got the ____? Yeah, you should have gotten the ______, that’s awesome. You didn’t get the real ______ experience, so it makes sense you weren’t that impressed.”

Don't trust the Zagat Guide...

Trust me, it isn’t at the Corner Bistro

You’ve had this conversation. We all have. And because I’ve had this conversation so many times (and have eaten so many burgers in so many restaurants in so many cities in so many states), I’m a bit of a Doubting Thomas when it comes to food recommendations. It’s not that I don’t believe it it’s a good burger, I just highly doubt it’s really /that/ special. I’ve been underwhelmed by too many oversold burgers that are perfectly good burgers.

This is a consequence of many things:

  • Our culture’s affinity for superlatives, which largely arises due to our belief that nothing is good enough unless it is better than everything else
  • Our obsession with having an opinion (this is practically a religion– unless you have a favorite, a stance, a strong opinion, you must not care, and apathy is always the enemy)
  • Our desire to “win” (I’m a better friend/person because I introduced you to_____)
  • Our inexplicable need to rank /everything/

Because I generally despise superlatives (it is very rare to hear me say anything is the best, favorite, etc), I have learned to pretty much doubt and ignore. I’ll still go to the restaurant if I don’t have somewhere else I want to go, but I’ll have no expectations whatsoever relating to the quality of the burger. I tend to have the I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mentality (clearly I spent too long in Missouri); my expectations are mediocre.

But I don’t think I’m alone in this, though. While we as a culture may not be openly antagonistic towards the opinions and recommendations of others, we tend to discount them as perspective and opinion alone.

And we don’t just do this with food. We do it with movies (you aren’t going to believe that Jurassic World stands up in quality to a true Crichton classic just on /my/ say-so, you’ll wait to see it yourself–which you totally should, by the way). We do this with TV shows and books. We do this with sales (“Is it really /that/ good of a deal? Let me look at it”) and sports events and YouTube videos of Keyboard Cat. It’s more than just wanting to experience it for ourselves; it’s more often a desire to /prove it/ to ourselves, and we believe we are the most capable person to make that distinction between what is true and what is untrue.

It’s in our human nature to question and doubt. Faith does not come easily to us. Even young children do not trust freely. Fortunately, our Heavenly Father loves freely and is willing to prove himself to us. Over and over again.

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Spiritual Spoon-Feeding

Thanks to the military, my husband’s schedule is never a sure thing. Aside from long nights and phone calls at 4 am to confirm the paperwork he signed or to call him in to evacuate planes, there’s the constant change in shifts. After nearly a year on the midnight shift (similar to the traditional third shift), he spent about six weeks on days (the traditional first shift) and was recently moved to swing shift (basically second shift) for a few weeks. Once those weeks end, he will be some sporadic days of work and appointments, then some leave and then off to deployment in the desert for four months. Life married to the Air Force, even in our ‘easy’ corner of the world, stateside with minimal danger and longer station assignments, is hardly predictable or consistent.

All that is to say that the last few weeks while he has been on swing shift have been challenging. Our time together is minimal because I’m usually in bed by the time he gets home and he is still asleep when I get up in the morning. We usually have about half an hour together before I go to work. And then he is gone when I get home. It should be no surprise that I highly value the time spent around a dinner table and this schedule makes this impossible. It has put quite the damper on my cooking spirit! When I was single, I still cooked for myself quite a bit, but now that I’ve got someone that I get to cook for, lacking that is such a bummer!

So tonight I insisted on cooking (a bit) and putting together some of my favorite flavors to make:

Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush

(fancy people call it polenta)Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush (Polenta)
Ingredients
1 c yellow cornmeal*
3 c beef or chicken broth (water also works)
2 c cooked, shredded chicken**
1/4 c barbeque sauce (recipe below, or your favorite bottled sauce)

Toppings of your choice, such as:
pickle slices
pickled jalapeños
sliced raw onions
cole slaw/raw cabbage

  1. Bring the broth or water to a boil in a shallow saucepan. Once at a boil, whisk in the cornmeal bit by bit, whisking rapidly until smooth. Stir quickly and regularly to avoid clumps. Allow to cook over medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes, depending how thick you’d like it. Add a dollop of butter or margarine, if you like it a bit creamier.
  2. Toss the chicken with the barbeque sauce (below) and spoon over the cornmeal mush. Allow each person to top with pickles, peppers, cole slaw, etc as they prefer their own barbeque. The cornmeal mush is like the cornbread!

Kansas City-style Barbeque Sauce (adapted from Food Network)
Yields 1 quart
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c ketchup
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs corn starch (+ 3 Tbs water, whisked into a cornstarch slurry)
2 tsp garlic powder
salt
2 tsp liquid smoke

  1. Bring the oil to temperature in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Before it bubbles, add the onions and garlic, cook until transparent.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients except for the cornstarch slurry and liquid smoke. Add a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the liquid smoke, then slowly incorporate the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Allow to cook for a few more minutes, longer if you like it thicker (it will thicken as it cools, as well).
  4. Strain, if desired.

*polenta works, too, but it is effectively the exact same thing, just a little more finely ground and about three or four times more expensive
**I use shredded chicken quarters that I boiled to make chicken stock a few days ago (quarters are pretty much the cheapest cut of chicken and have lots of dark meat flavor!)

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Input-Output

It has been a busy few weeks for me, between the new job, adjusting to the new schedule, tornado season beginning, mentally preparing for Ryan’s impending deployment and house hunting. Rolled into all of that, was wrapping up my training schedule, because two weeks ago, I successfully completed by second half-marathon. Over the last few years, I’ve run a number of ‘races’ of various lengths, mostly as a way to keep myself motivated when I head to the gym. Aside from ways to keep myself motivated and avoid injury (and recovery when they inevitably happen), running and training has taught me a lot about the importance of nutrition. Although I’ve never been one to shirk nutrition, its importance was never quite as apparent until I started pushing my body to new bounds. It’s really, really hard to run ten miles with a beef and bean burrito and a chocolate milkshake sloshing around in your stomach!

15th Annual OKC Memorial Half MarathonA well-balanced diet is crucial for decent performance, and the first time you try to train or race when dehydrated or without decent food in your system, you become (literally) painfully aware of your need for good fuel. I now carefully plan the meals surrounding longer training sessions and races: high carbs (but not refined sugars!) before, high protein and some fat afterwards. Don’t down a bottle of water right before, but give yourself time for your system to absorb and process it. Fuel throughout endurance runs with easily digestible sugars (and water), preferably with some vitamins and potassium to keep you going (I like using GU energy gels, especially the kind with caffeine!). Then, cool down with a cold light beer, because it genuinely helps control the lactic acid release and thus eases soreness the next day. Continue reading

Anxiety vs. The Leftovers

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, what between Easter, starting a new job and transitioning out of the old job, learning to drive a manual transmission, etc. As part of that transition, there has been a bit of a new budget to determine taking into account new factors such as a different income, a car payment and not having reimbursable meals through the week. All this together would reasonably precipitate a certain degree of anxiety. Thank the Lord, I do not struggle with anxiety, but that doesn’t mean that money and budgeting do not so very often enter my thought process (to be honest, usually multiple times a day), largely because I am still adjusting to marriage and a shared budget instead of my own little financial and budget world.

But thank the Lord for Easter.

WP_20150407_22_05Anxiety vs. The Leftovers | God's ProvisionOf course I mean that for all the wonderful, theological reasons (you know, that whole Jesus rises from the dead to give us an opportunity for reconciliation with God and an everlasting life part. That part’s pretty cool), and the fact it is my favorite holiday, but also because it left my fridge very, very full.

We were blessed to get to spend the holiday with three (and a half) good friends, enjoying a feast of wide variety and many leftovers. But leftovers and I have a mixed relationship.

Why I Like Leftovers:

  1. Pre-prepared lunches are way better than a cold cut sandwich
  2. Food my husband will eat instead of picking up fast food if he’s on his own
  3. There’s more! What’s not good about more of a good thing!

Why I Hate Leftovers:

  1. I don’t get to cook again for a while
  2. I run out of Tupperware
  3. Food might go bad before it gets eaten (it is easier for me to cook ingredients before they go bad than to make sure the last half-an-entree makes it into a lunchbox)

But last night I opened the fridge and was struck by something more than just how very full the fridge was and how I couldn’t find a place for my lunch bag: We have so much more than we need. Continue reading

Paying the Bill Twice

A little over a year ago, my now-husband and I went out to dinner. When we had finished our meal, we asked our waiter for the check and were shocked to learn that someone, a stranger, had picked up our tab. What a blessing! Stunned but feeling so blessed, we finished our drinks, put on our coats and left the restaurant. (Then we went back to his apartment and got engaged, but that’s beside the point :P) What we didn’t do was pay the check a second time.It only needs to be paid once

In this season of Lent, preparing for Easter, we focus on our need for God, our humanity and brokenness. We are reminded that “from dust you come, and to dust you will return.” We put ourselves into our own desert, committing to sacrificing something we enjoy (like meat, or fat, or Facebook or sweets). At my church, we are studying the Seven Deadly Sins. We spend the 40 days before Easter focusing on our own broken humanity. This prepares us for Easter by helping us recognize our need for the sacrifice He made on the cross, helping us to appreciate and internalize His salvation.

But what I’ve come to realize is that, for many, believers and non-believers alike, Lent lasts all year. Continue reading