The rich, chocolate goodness melts in your mouth. The brown sugar batter dances around on the tip of your tongue. And as you bite into each cookie, the buttery flavor swirls around and you can feel each morsel of chocolate explode. Overall, it’s a dynamite cookie! Kind of like a brownie (or a blondie if you’re familiar with those) it has a more pillow-like feel and is much thicker and softer than the average chocolate chip cookie. This was another favorite from my days as a child. My mom introduced me to this heaven-sent bite and since then I’ve worked on adding my own little touches to it. I’ve also included a gluten-free version which tastes great. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have!
Ingredients – as always, what you put into it usually determines what you get out.
Flour – If you’re making this gluten-free, there is no better flour than Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour. It’s literally 1-to-1 unlike some substitute flours. And it tastes really good. It comes out slightly drier than regular all-purpose flour, but still darn good! I’ve tried other gluten-free flours and they just don’t come out as tasty or as simple.
Sugar – For sugar, you can use regular granulated sugar, but I’ve found that C&H Baker’s Sugar is the best! Now, I don’t use it for everything, but for baking it’s great because of how tiny the sugar crystals are. When cooking, they dissolve so easily it has a more even flavor. I don’t know if scientifically that’s true, but I do know it tastes better.
Chocolate Chips – And of course, it matters which chocolate chips you use is of VITAL importance. While you can’t go wrong with the original – Nestle’s – the best for our family is a local baker, Guittard’s Extra Dark Chocolate Chips. These 63% dark chocolate morsels are SO heavenly. I believe Nestle’s Semi-Sweet is 57%, but the extra dark adds more depth of flavor and a better contrast to the lovely brown sugar.
That’s pretty much it. When you bake it, just make sure the dough springs back before you take it out to cool. Once you start the cooling process that’s pretty much it. By “spring back” if you touch it and there’s no resistance at all, it’s too mushy beneath and you need to let it cook some more. I know the edges will look more cooked than the middle – because it is. But there’s only so much you can do. If you want to double the recipe, just bake it in a 9″ x 12″ glass casserole pan. Oh, and “softened” butter really does work better than “melted” butter – believe me I’ve done that before. I usually put the butter in a microwave safe bowl for about 30-45 seconds and once the middle starts caving in, that’s soft enough. If it’s all liquid, it loses something in the mix and doesn’t quite hold up as well. Plus, the chocolate chips seem to collapse to the bottom of the pan. You will love this cookie no matter what, though. I hope it puts a smile on your face like it does for mine every time!
Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite!
All of that to say that life is far more complex than the narrow window we view it through.
To describe a chocolate chip cookie I only expanded upon three of the ingredients and already had to credit five completely different civilizations across history. Who knows who else we would include if we traced the history of flour or baking powder or brown sugar? I can generally give credit to God and the chicken for eggs, but who first thought to combine it with flour to make dough? In our attempt to simplify the world into manageable nuggets of information that we can remember, we often forget the complexity that makes up God’s brilliant design. We forget about the diverse nature of the world and how each part was created by God and contributes in its own way to a far more complex world than we can understand.
Our passage from the Bible today illustrates the rich diversity of God’s creation.
As you probably know, Genesis is about the beginning of all creation and the writer gives us a glimpse into the work God has done. Prior to our selection, God has already been creating tons of different stuff. He’s created the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, and the water and the sky. The basics. Then God creates gets into even more complex stuff – land, vegetation, and time. Think about that. God CREATED time. Next, he created the stars and the sun and the moon, but so far, no other life on the Earth other than plants. And then this is where we come in.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
We sort of take creation for granted don’t we?
I mean we have birds and fish and whales and if you believe in evolution dinosaurs which are very cool and lions and cows and all of these other kinds of animals. Just tons of different animals populating the Earth, and this is BEFORE human beings even come into the picture. But have you ever asked yourself why? Not why did God create these things before humans although that’s a great question, but why did God create them at all? Why did God create waters teeming with living creatures? For me, I would have been happy with just the fish pretty much. Really, why create jellyfish? Whales are fun to watch, but what purpose do they serve? And sharks. God could have left out sharks. Other than making for good documentaries and a couple of mediocre movies of people who didn’t think to get out of the water, do sharks serve a purpose? And yet God created all of them. “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ …God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” Do you ever think that maybe, just maybe, God created this vast abundance not just so we can have a great variety of menu choices at our favorite restaurant, but because they serve a purpose on this planet of ours?
Take for example the jellyfish.
Like I said before, you might wonder why God would create jellyfish? They have a sting that at its most severe can cause death to humans and other wildlife and they have also been known to cause other kinds of problems as well. Did you know back in 1999, they were responsible for a cascading blackout in the Philippines? And back in 2008 they caused the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo to shut down for two days? But jellyfish have their upside as well. They are considered a culinary delicacy in many Asian countries. More than just a food source, jellyfish are also harvested for their collagen, which is used to help treat rheumatoid arthritis. On the surface, jellyfish seem pretty useless or even deadly, but they have other purposes as well. Some of which we know about and probably some of which we don’t. Which is to say God creates this huge diversity of beings for a reason and that given the chance to learn about them and learn FROM them we can discover some amazing things. But we have to open to the possibility that 1.) we don’t know everything and 2.) sometimes the value in one of God’s creations, while not apparent at first, may yield amazing results.
A recent study on church congregations revealed how important diversity is to God’s purpose.
Baylor University just released its findings after doing research on churches over a twenty-year period and came to the conclusion that racially diverse churches had higher attendance on average than their largely all-white counterparts. These findings contradict some long-held beliefs in what has been referred to as “the homogenous unit principle” – “the idea that churches flourish if they stick to people of the same race and class.” Believe it or not, this isn’t just a theory held onto by scholars and scientists but by many folks sitting in the pews. The number of times I’ve heard people saying the same exact thing – that our best outreach strategy is to reach out to “people like us” – would probably surprise you. Most of these people would never think of this as being racist, but being practical. But consider this. That kind of thinking is what justified holding women back from positions in leadership. Claiming to “hire the best person regardless of gender” was often an excuse for not including women in leadership, but as studies have shown, companies with more women on their board of directors tend to be more successful and profitable than their counterparts. We have to overcome our fears and our prejudices to embrace the rich diversity of God’s creation. It’s not only the right thing to do (which should be enough) but is also the route that will lead us to helping others come to faith in Christ.
Diversity is something God is great at.
Look at our earlier reading today. I love the image Paul uses in this passage from 1 Corinthians that we are all parts of one body and no matter how we behave or what we think about one another, it doesn’t take away from the fact we really are connected in God’s great creation. He writes in verse 15, “Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body….But in fact (verse 18) God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” We are all different. We all come from different backgrounds with different life experiences, but instead of generalizing or discounting them, we should embrace those differences. I said “embrace” not whole-heartedly love, because the truth is sometimes we won’t even like the differences. But we CAN learn from them. We can learn more about others and more about ourselves and when we do that we can better understand why God saw it was good when he created us and this world we live in. We can realize even if we are a hand and the other person is a foot, they may have something to contribute even if we don’t understand what that contribution is. Are there some people who contribute nothing to the world? I don’t know. Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. It’s easy to think of the extremes when contemplating these types of philosophical questions – Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan. We may not know the answer to that, but we do know God loves us all and we have inherent value in God’s eyes. Let us embrace the ways God made us different, and realize we are still one in Christ. Let us love the uniqueness of each person for God created you and loves you and sees in you what nobody else can see – all the potential of your full self. None of us are “normal.” We’re all weird in our own, wonderful way. And that’s the way God made us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Research for this section was done by referencing Wikipedia for “sugar,” “vanilla,” and “chocolate chip.”
That’s what donuts are like for me. If they are done right, they are soft, not greasy, with just the right amount of icing / frosting, and if they have filling, it is enough for you to have some in every bite, but not so much that it stains your shirt or clouds the rest of the doughnut flavor. The perfect donut would have all of those qualities and leave you wanting more at the end.
I think I love donuts because of my dad. My earliest doughnut memories were the Sunday morning doughnuts. Dad would go out to this local doughnut place – a hole in the wall, family-owned shop – and would buy us each a Tiger Tail (chocolate and vanilla twist). It was so good. Not too much icing, but enough that every bite was a little sugary heaven. And the mix of chocolate and vanilla was terrific. Each one was cooked so there was a tiny crunch feel in your mouth as you bit into it, but so pillowy soft. It was a simple doughnut but delicious. While I love the new concoctions, at its heart it still has to be a GOOD DOUGHNUT!
I don’t know if that doughnut place is still there. I haven’t had one in AGES! But I think the reason I love doughnuts so much is because it takes me back to those happy memories. I mean there are a million great desserts out there, yet I gravitate to ones that link me back to my childhood – chocolate chip cookies, ice cream sundaes, and doughnuts (although pie is up there…I’ll have to think about that one). Plus, I love doughnuts. They are SO good.
So here’s my current list of Top 5 Doughnut places. Yes, I know. I probably left your favorite off of the list. There are many quality doughnuts and I may not have tried your favorite yet. Those that came REALLY close: Top Pot – Seattle, WA; VooDoo Doughnuts – Portland, OR; Mr. T’s Donuts – Modesto, CA; King Pin Donuts – Berkeley, CA. Special mention shout out to Third Culture Bakery – Berkeley, CA for their gluten-free mochi doughnuts and Milkbomb Ice Cream – Berkeley, CA for their doughnut ice cream sandwich. If you have others, let me know so I can try them and see how they compare!
An Ode to Doughnuts Long Gone: One of our all-time favorites which would have been number 1 or 2 was Crumbs Donuts in Fullerton, CA. Specializing in gourmet croissant doughnuts, they were masters of balancing all the different elements of a donut – taste, flavor, mouth-feel, texture, grease-level, and creativity. For some CRAZY reason, the owners decided to change directions completely and go the boba route and quickly closed down. It was delicious though. A nod to their S’mores Doughnut with a real toasted marshmallow in the middle.
What is “the Cloud?”
Most of us have things stored in “the Cloud.” We have pictures and email and documents floating around in the Cloud. We’re able to stream Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime because of the Cloud. And today “the Cloud” touches almost every aspect of our lives. But what is it? If you’re not a very technical person, “the Cloud” might seem almost like magic, this wonderous place where memories live. But “the Cloud” is just a cute term for the storage of materials remotely instead of locally. Back in the old days, like in the 1980’s and 90’s, if you didn’t have your data downloaded to your computer or stored on a floppy disc, it didn’t exist. Remember floppy discs? Computer games, photos, and documents all had to be stored literally somewhere in your home. And you could almost forget about video. The amount of data it took to transmit video was enormous by those standards. But with advances made in communications and technology, we can now store and transmit all of that material to and from different places nearly instantaneously. We call that accumulation of material, “the Cloud.” As Obi-Wan Kenobi might describe it, “It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” We imagine that “the Cloud” is all around us and in a way it is.
The Bible talks about us being surrounded by a cloud, too.
And it too is all around us. This passage is part of the famous “faith” narrative in the letter to the Hebrew people living in Jerusalem. The writer of the letter gives many examples of what it means to live by faith using people the Hebrews would be familiar with. People like Abel and Noah and Abraham. People like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He talks about all the trials and tribulations they dealt with and about the trials and tribulations of the Israelites in general – the crossing of the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho falling. And then the writer adds this.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
Kind of intimidating actually. There are some places I don’t want a “cloud of witnesses” to be watching. But that’s not what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote this passage. He was instead telling us our belief in God is not empty. Faith isn’t just some pipe dream created by people clinging on to hope. It is real, built upon the experiences of our forefathers in faith. People like Noah and Joseph and Moses help us to understand God in a better way and to know who he is. Because of the disciples like Peter, John, and James, we know the person of Christ and have come to trust in his promises. Our “cloud of witnesses” are all those people who have come before and whose stories form the foundation of what we believe. As it says in John 20, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” We tell the stories of those who have passed to give us strength and inspiration in tough times and to help us have confidence in what we believe.
It gives me hope to read that first line.
“None of them received what had been promised.” Sometimes we get trapped into thinking in the ways of the world. That when we act as expected or better than expected, we should be rewarded as expected. Whether that’s in money or prestige or power, when we do a job well done, we expect what we believe we deserve. But that doesn’t always happen. And it can be disappointing. It can weaken our faith and trust in the system. The same is true with our faith in Christ. Sometimes things don’t work out as expected and we become disappointed in God. We think somehow God has reneged on his end of the deal. But this passage reminds us that is not the case. Those who act in faith, even if they didn’t get the reward they expected, it’s only because God had something better planned. That “something better” may not always seem obvious to us because we see through a much different lens than God does. God can see the whole picture while we can only see our piece of it. But the writer of Hebrews here is trying to encourage us to keep our trust in God and shares this “cloud of witnesses” as testimony to God’s faithfulness so that we can remain strong, even in difficult times. This passage is meant to encourage us to throw off our fears and trust in God. To continue to live a life of faith, to act and behave in a way that is consistent with a person who believes in the living Christ.
Reflect on your own “cloud of witnesses.”
Who are those people in your life who have impacted your faith? Who is it who was there for you and showed you love and support when you needed it most? Whether they are living or have passed, all of these comprise our personal cloud. And it’s one we take with us wherever we go. Be sure to take a moment and give thanks for these people who God put in our path to help us when life gets tough. If they are still with you, make sure to take the time to show them how much they mean to you. If they have gone on, honor their legacy by being that kind of person to someone else. And so the cloud grows.
Seems weird to have fried wontons be a New Year’s family favorite in a family of Japanese heritage, but it’s been a staple in our home since I was a little kid. You know how at family get-togethers you have that dish your family seems to be known for? That was this dish for us. I don’t remember exactly when my mom started making it, but we made it every New Year’s Day and we still do. All of us have lent a hand at one time or another in the wonton production line. The more hands the merrier!
It can be quite labor intensive. The process of putting together each pocket of pillowy goodness is one that simply takes time. But oh, is it worth it! When you bite into that first one and hear the crunch of the wonton skin and then it pours into your mouth that nugget of juicy goodness from the middle – yum! The savory pork filling dripping down your throat, the crunch of the water chestnut tantalizing the feel of your mouth, and the rich umami from the blend of flavors in the middle is enough to make you grab for another.
Equipment: You must have a wonton press! I know you can probably do it all by hand, but it would take even longer and unless you are someone used to making dumplings, would also be so labor intensive to get it right you’d never do it again. The press helps in creating a uniform seal without bunching up the wonton skin (a bunched up skin means you could have a lot of dough – some of it not quite fried – and it could pop in the oil when frying). You can get it online from places like Amazon or at your local Asian market. They come in all sorts of styles, but the best one for me is the one with straight handles. Makes it easier to grip closed.
Don’t wait for it to look completely done because the carry over heat will darken the wontons more and could burn it! It might take a little bit of practice but you can do it. Also, be aware that the heat of the oil will continue to rise over the time it takes to cook so the first wontons will likely take longer to fry up than the later ones. Just keep an eye on the temperature of the oil. You don’t want it so hot that it burns it as soon as it gets in the oil. I usually cook five at a time and by the time I put in the fifth one, I start to flip the first one until all five are flipped and then can usually remove them. The first few batches, like I said, will take a little longer but you can just keep flipping them until they are done to your liking.
I love to eat these plain, but they taste great with some sweet and sour sauce. Our family favorite is La Choy Sweet and Sour. It has a great blend of sweetness with the thickness a sauce like this should have. Kikkoman Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce is also good for the same reasons. I would say La Choy is a bit sweeter so it just depends what you enjoy, but either way, it should have that thicker consistency both of these have. No matter which one you use or if you don’t use any, I’m sure you’ll love to eat these pillow pockets of goodness.
What if God were black?
That’s a question posed by Robert F. Kennedy back in 1966. What if God were black? We tend to see the world from our point of view and as you can imagine, there are as many points of view as there are people who have them. And since our point of view is formed and shaped by our lives, it’s hard for us to imagine how other people look at the world. But what if our assumptions of the world were turned upside down? What if the things we thought made us superior or better or right were…wrong? What if God were black?
Saddleback Church ordained its first three female pastors a couple of weeks ago.
This was an historic occasion. Not because they were female. The United Methodist Church has been ordaining women as pastors for over 50 years. But because Saddleback Church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention which expressly forbids women from preaching. By the way, in case you think this was an outdated policy that simply hadn’t been overturned, the SBC wrote this into their Baptist Faith and Message statement in the year 2000. Prior to that there had been rare exceptions where a woman was ordained in the Baptist tradition. But that changed at the turn of the century. Owen Strachan, a faculty member at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote this: “There is no exception to 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Not Mother’s Day, not when a woman has real gifting, not when the elders endorse women preaching. Based on his creation order, God only calls men to lead, preach, teach, & shepherd the flock…” If you’re confused by this, Strachan is basically saying that because God created men first, they get all the prime jobs while women are left to pick up the scraps. They don’t make an argument based on talent or gifts or experience. It’s based on the “created order.” And that’s the official stance of the Southern Baptist Convention. So, what if God was a woman? If it’s all about the “created order” what if God were a woman? Would the men of the SBC willingly give up all their positions of power and take up housekeeping as a profession? Because God could be a woman. Or asexual. Or gender-fluid. While it’s true the Bible often refers to God using male pronouns, no one has ever seen God to know what God looks like. God could BE anything.
But the SBC isn’t the only group of people with a distorted view on reality.
Before we pile on too deeply on the SBC, and believe me there’s a lot we could say about their beliefs, we need to realize this inability to live in reality isn’t limited to far right evangelical groups. It’s something that is a danger to us all. Just take a look at the news on any given day and you’ll find stories of people with a distorted view of reality. People who believe the coronavirus vaccine is a plot by Bill Gates to microchip the world, people who believe Democrats stole the election from Donald Trump, and Marjorie Taylor Greene – she deserves a category all of her own. Each of these groups of people believe whole-heartedly in their twisted views of reality because of the lens through which they see the world. The question we need to ask ourselves is: How is our world view shaped by our beliefs and, more importantly, are we open to the idea we need to be receptive to new ways of thinking? The challenge for us constantly is to make sure we are not seeing life with blinders on, but are receptive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and consider the ways we are limiting our own worldview. Jesus challenges us to be receptive, to open our hearts to where God is leading in this passage we’re about to share.
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
What kind of soil are you?
Usually, we picture ourselves in this story as being the farmer. When read that way, this is a story to encourage us to keep sharing God’s love regardless of where our efforts land. Some will be receptive to it and some won’t but for us to be diligent in continuing forward. But I read a reflection by Rick Warren of all people who looked at this parable in a new light. What if WE are the SOIL? What if God is constantly trying to share his love for us and WE are the rocky ground or the thorny ground or the hard ground where the birds ate it all up? Perhaps this story is trying to share with us our need to be like the good soil, fertile and ripe for planting. We need to constantly keep the soil of our hearts tilled and rich and overturned so we are receptive to where God is leading us. We can’t afford to have our hearts become hardened or rocky or riddled with thorns. When that happens we become unyielding to the work of God.
Which takes us back to our question, “What if God were Black?”
Robert Kennedy wrote about his experience in South Africa when that country was still practicing apartheid – a system of racial segregation which classified white citizens higher than anyone else in society. In part, the white population justified their treatment of Coloured and Black people based on the Bible, saying this was part of God’s plan. When Robert Kennedy went to visit, the government didn’t want to approve his visa, but most people thought he could be the next President of the United States and the South African government didn’t want to have bad relations with the next leader of America so they reluctantly let him in. This is a part of what he wrote about his experience: “During five days this summer, my wife Ethel and I visited South Africa, talking to all kinds of people representing all viewpoints. Wherever we went-Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg – apartheid was at the heart of the discussion and debate. Our aim was not simply to criticize but to engage in a dialogue to see if, together, we could elevate reason above prejudice and myth. At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. ‘But suppose God is black,’ I replied. ‘What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?’ There was no answer. Only silence.”
What preconceptions and maybe misconceptions are you holding onto?
What are some ways you might be limiting the work of the Holy Spirit in your soul because you are not open to new or different ways of thinking? Our own denomination is struggling with this right now. We are not immune from this struggle to be the good soil. Right now, we are asking ourselves the question, “Do people who identify as LGBTQ+ qualify to serve in pastoral leadership?” It seems to be a ridiculous question, especially in the Bay Area. Of course, they’re qualified. But you’d be surprised at how many people would agree the question is ridiculous and have a completely opposite opinion. Most of us in the Western Jurisdiction (but not all – by no means not all) believe God calls on people of all different sexual and gender identities to become pastors and to lead God’s people. But just as the SBC takes a narrow interpretation of the Bible to hold back women, there is a large group within the United Methodist Church who take an equally narrow interpretation of the Bible to hold back those in the who identify as LGBTQ+ and say with equal vigor they are not fit to lead God’s people. And it is splitting us apart. One day, I am convinced we will look back at this time in our history and say, “How could so many people have gotten it wrong?” One day, we won’t discriminate on a person’s ability to lead people to Christ based on their gender or sexual identity. But for now, that day is still off in the distance and we must strive to reach it.
We are our own worst enemy.
We hold ourselves back from all God has to offer because we don’t spend enough time being open to the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to challenge you this week to test your soil, to be open to different perspectives. Many of us have a tendency to immediately push back on new ideas, to dismiss them out of hand before even considering it. Instead, be intentional. Hold back from your gut instinct. Promise yourself you’ll give every idea at least ten seconds of time to ponder the possibilities no matter how outlandish they appear to be on the surface. That doesn’t mean they AREN’T outlandish, but I think you’ll be surprised at how often you are resistant to new things and how just taking a deep breath can give you the chance to be inspired by something different. Just like a farmer working the land, we need to till the soil once in a while to keep it fertile and prosperous. So, too, do we need to till the soil of our minds and challenge our preconceptions of the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tagliarini is the name for “egg noodles cut in long, flat, slender pieces, narrower than tagliatelle.” That’s the definition I found online at Dictionary.com. I had to look it up because I wondered where the name for this dish came from, and lo and behold it came from the type of pasta that at one time was used in this recipe. But no more. The version I’m sharing with you today is the one made famous by my mom. It was so good, I would ask her to make it for me at least once a year for my birthday. When others would go out for their birthday, I would ask mom to make this dish for me. Seriously still one of my favorites.
It’s pretty simple and straight-forward, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t come out perfect. It took me years to get it right and many times I overcooked or burnt it. But now, I’ve got it down to a science – a tasty science, but a science nonetheless. I’ve substituted different items to see if I could improve the flavor, but the simplest is the best. I love the contrast in textures between the savory ground beef and the crunchy corn niblets and the squishy whole tomatoes. And make sure you use plenty of sharp cheddar cheese. It’s a cacophony of flavors, but it tastes so good.
I love the mix of flavors in this dish! I’ve tried using other pasta, but the shell pasta holds on to the juice from the ground beef and the tomato sauce better than other types. I’ve also tried sausage rather than ground beef, but like the ground beef flavor better. It’s a better balance. I’ve used 90/10 and 80/20 ground beef but 85/15 has the right blend of fattiness without being too fatty. Have fun and enjoy this Craig favorite!
Who knew that impending doom had four wheels and a canopy?
When we signed up for the Disneyland 5K, I did not know there was a limited amount of time to finish the race. I probably should have guessed it since obviously they weren’t going to let it go on forever. But in order to ensure the race finished in a certain amount of time and they could open the park to guests, there was a pick-up cart that trailed behind all the runners. Like a snail, it kept a slow and steady pace, ever creeping forward. And if you we’re not quite fast enough, it would carry you the rest of the way to the finish line. Now, overall that sounds great! Regardless of what happened, you wouldn’t be abandoned in the middle of nowhere. But it also meant you didn’t finish. And to me it was really important to finish the race. This was my first official 5K and I wanted to make it count. I didn’t want the pick-up cart to finish the race for me. You can guess with my body type and super flat feet, it was a challenge, but I was determined to make it across that line. So even though it was difficult, I trudged on as best as I could. Ultimately running and walking with a lot more walking than running. But when I got to the end I was able to say I made it! The pick-up cart was not going to get me.
When it comes to the COVID pandemic, we need to get to the end.
We can almost see the end in sight, a day when our lives can return to something like normal. I don’t think things will ever be truly the way they were prior to last March, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve grown in our abilities and in our faith. And we’ve seen both horrific stories of people dying of loneliness that motivates us to never go there again, and stories of hope and innovation that gives us confidence we can overcome these obstacles no matter how dangerous or deadly. But we’re not there yet. And to think we are is to let up right before the goal. Speaking of “Lett”-ing up right before the goal, I can still remember Leon Lett’s failed run for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. Lett played for the dominating Dallas Cowboys who had a “commanding 52-17 lead” in the 4th quarter. He had recovered a fumble on the 35-yard line and ran it back toward the goal. He was ALMOST there when he decided to let up and prance around in celebration, showing off to the crowd. And he was stripped of the ball, turning it back over to the Buffalo Bills. While it didn’t stop them from winning the game, it was certainly a lesson for those of us who want to celebrate before crossing the goal line. Literally.
The CDC’s recommendations for the fully vaccinated are a huge step toward the goal.
But they don’t tell the whole story. While it might be safe for MOST people who are fully vaccinated to interact like normal, what we don’t realize is only about 1/3rd of Americans meet that criteria. Less than half have received one dose. Children under the age of 12 still can’t get vaccinated, and while it’s true most of them will not get seriously ill from the virus, the long-term effects of COVID are still unknown and don’t look promising. There are about 50 million children under the age of 12 who are vulnerable. 50 million. While we can’t do much for those adults who refuse to take the vaccine despite all the evidence and encouragement in the world, we must do something for those who haven’t yet been able to or cannot get it. And at least by data provided by the CDC, that’s still over 50% of the population. Then there’s the case of the New York Yankees. Eight members of the team tested positive for COVID despite all of them being vaccinated. The team’s star shortstop, Gleyber Torres not only received the vaccine, but had also already had COVID last December and STILL got infected. Even though none of them have any severe symptoms, it begs the question, “Is now the time to let down our guard?”
We all miss aspects of a pre-pandemic life.
For some of us, we miss being in large gatherings like church or concerts or massive theme parks. For some, we miss giving hugs to our parents and grandparents, our nieces and nephews, our grandkids and even great-grandkids. For some, we miss traveling and the experiences that come with it. And after a year, we’re pretty tired of it all. But there’s something bigger at stake. The costs are higher if we falter. We’ve already seen what happens when we let up too early. Last summer we thought we had turned a corner controlling the infection rate, only to watch it explode and multiply like never before. The United States, even with all of its technological advances, its wide-spread access to the vaccine, and scientific breakthroughs still has by far the largest number of people who have died due to COVID – over 580,000 people and growing. It’s estimated we are still losing about 600 people a day due to COVID and while that’s the lowest number since last April, it’s a reminder we aren’t out of the woods just yet.
Paul’s perseverance is a lesson for us all during the pandemic.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your computer and would like to follow along, please got to Acts 20:17. His circumstances were certainly different, but his life was in danger every day like us. Unlike us, his perseverance meant he was putting himself MORE at risk instead of less. He wasn’t wearing a mask or staying socially distant, he had to deal with getting thrown in prison or possibly death for sharing the good news of Jesus. But Paul felt so compelled by the love of Christ, he ignored what would have been easier for him to do and did what he knew would help others. Hear now the Word of God.
17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace…”
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.”
Paul could easily have called it a day.
By the time we get to this story in Paul’s life, he’s already gone to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus creating new believers in each place. He’s already done a stint in prison, been threatened with his life in numerous places, and started a bunch of new churches, so if Paul wanted to hang up his hat, even at that point people would have looked at his ministry as a huge success. But now he felt like God was calling him back to Jerusalem where he was sure to face more opposition by the Jewish leaders who were already plotting against him. Still he wanted to see it through. He wanted to as he put it “finish the race.”
Paul is an inspiration to us to persevere.
If he can keep going under his extraordinary circumstances, surely we can see this pandemic through to the end (or as close to “the end” as we can ever get). We can stay vigilant in wearing our masks where we are supposed to, in respecting other people’s space, and allowing people time to adjust to yet another change in our culture as we shift back toward a vaccinated life. And if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please do so. It’s free. And what it can do for you and your life far outweighs any side effects from getting the vaccine. Plus, if you consider yourself a Christian, it’s the neighborly thing to do. Christ calls on us to love our neighbor and this is certainly one way for us to live out that calling. We didn’t start wearing masks to prevent us from getting COVID. We did it for other people. We did it out of concern for our neighbor – literally – to prevent the spread of the virus. At the time, no one knew for sure if it helped us at all. But we did know it could stop the disease from spreading. Getting a vaccine is the same. Yes, it definitely protects you. But studies have shown it also helps stop the disease from spreading and that is really important. It protects our elderly. It protects those who are immunocompromised. It protects our children. The more of us that are vaccinated, the better it is for everyone.
It would be so easy to relax.
After all, the CDC says fully vaccinated people can pretty much do anything. Sure they still have to wear masks while taking public transportation or in hospitals, but short of that there’s nothing we can’t do! But as Paul wrote in another letter, just because we have the freedom to do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do it. He wrote to the church in Corinth, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Corinthians 9:19).” There are still 16 states with mask mandates including California (at least for now). There are still major retailers and national companies like Target, Starbucks, and Home Depot asking you to keep those masks on in their stores. And there’s no way to verify if the company you keep has had their vaccine. In the near future, as we continue to find ways to live with this new reality, more restrictions will be lifted, and life will seem much more like it was a little over a year ago. But until then, practice patience for those who may not be ready to abandon all precaution. Show love for one another by encouraging those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to get it done. And be in prayer for how we can finish together. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Chicken nuggets to be precise. Japanese chicken nuggets. I loved these savory bites of goodness for a long time but never knew how to make them until I started to serve at United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis, CA. This historically Japanese church had some of the best lunches anywhere and they did it virtually every week. They also served the homebound once a month with free homemade bento box lunches. They were delicious. What these church chefs could cook up was astounding and it was these ladies that taught me the technique for making these scrumptious Japanese nuggets. I looked up different recipes online and most are similar, but with slight tweaks. Mine is the same. I tweaked it for our taste and added some instructions to help you understand the choices I made.
The nuggets have this lightly sweet, umami-laden juiciness with enough of a crunch to give it just the right texture in your mouth. Just thinking about it makes my mouth start to water! Pairs great with some Japanese sticky rice and the cool thing is you can use the fried crumbs from the batter to flavor your rice (kind of like furikake). The key to the flavor is in the ingredients. While chicken thighs are vastly superior to chicken breast for this recipe (I’ve tried both), it’s the soy sauce that is the star. The right soy sauce will heighten that umami flavor and give it that “umph” you need.
When prepping the chicken the ladies at UJCC taught me to use a small knife and whittle away the fat. You don’t have to be perfect at it, but cutting the stringy fat especially makes it more meaty and flavorful. Make sure to flip over thigh as you can find fat everywhere. Take note of any pockets of fat too. They like to hide sometimes. While cooking, I like to skim the top of the oil for all those flavorful crumbs to put on my rice afterward. The onions do double duty here – both as part of the flavor in the marinade AND as a rice topping. When all is said and done though, you’ll have a very flavorful and tasty main dish to serve friends and family! Enjoy!
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Moms are people, too.
That might seem obvious but take a moment to think about when you finally realized that simple fact. Moms are people, too. When we’re kids, we don’t often see our moms as being like other people. We don’t imagine them with vulnerabilities or feelings like the rest of us. They’re more like SUPERMOM! Able to leap large stacks of toys in a single bound! Then at some point in our lives, our moms seem out of touch. They just don’t understand. Suddenly they transform from knowing pretty much everything to knowing nothing at all. But eventually as we grow and mature, we come to realize mom had a pretty good head on her shoulders the whole time. At least that’s how it was for me. Looking back, I don’t know how much I appreciated my mom until I became a parent myself and all of a sudden that veil over my eyes was lifted and I could empathize with her in a whole new way. I also realized how tough it must have been at times to put up with me.
“Honor your father and mother.”
We all know that commandment, whether you’re religious or not. But how well do you do it? How well do you honor your mother? And not just your biological mom, but the parent figures in your life who acted as a mother to you? Because if you think about it, this mandate to honor your father and mother isn’t exclusive to biology and isn’t just talking about your own mother. It includes the mother of our children, too. Paul writes in Ephesians husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the church – and since Christ was willing to sacrifice everything including his life for the church, it seems we owe our wives and parenting partners an awful lot.
But what does it mean to honor your mother?
If you read the Bible with this lens in place, different things are revealed under the spotlight, especially when we look to Jesus for a model of what it means to do this. When reading the Bible, we tend to focus on Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. But what if we were to also look at Jesus as the Son of Man and specifically the son of Mary and Joseph. We don’t read much about Joseph outside of Jesus’ birth, but with Mary we have a lot more to pull from. There were three distinct incidents of Jesus throughout his life that made me realize what it meant to honor your mother. Each one took place at a different moment – when Jesus was a child, when he first began his ministry, and on the cross before he died.
The first was when Jesus was in the temple.
By the way, this is the only incident we read about Jesus’ life as a kid. The only one. His family traveled from his home in Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival and after it was over, the whole family was headed home, a journey of about 75 miles. After the first full day of travel, Joseph and Mary realize Jesus isn’t with them and immediately head back to Jerusalem to find him. You might wonder why his parents didn’t notice before, but at his age it was just as likely he was walking with some of his other relatives instead of his parents. Any of you with pre-teens or teenagers can probably empathize with that. I imagine they assumed he was with his cousin John or someone else in the family because the Bible tells us they were all traveling together. But at the end of that first day when they are setting up camp for the night, they can’t find him and immediately Joseph and Mary head back to Jerusalem.
I can’t imagine how worried Mary must have been.
I still have nightmares about the time Emma was trapped on the school bus headed to Visalia and I had to drive after it like a mad man. The bus driver forgot to let Emma off the bus at her usual spot and just started heading out of town. We drove after her, finally catching up to the bus, frantically honking and waving to try and get him to pull over. Finally some kids noticed us and the driver stopped and we got Emma out safely. The next day we bought her a phone – and she stopped taking the bus. We were only missing Emma for a few minutes and that shook us to the core. Imagine how worried Mary must have been to leave her 12-year old all alone in another city overnight, not knowing what was happening to him or if he was even alright. When Joseph and Mary made it back to Jerusalem, Jesus was like a rock star in the temple, dazzling people with his wisdom and insight. But Mary didn’t care about that. She was probably panicked and relieved at the same time. She went up to him and said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus was bewildered and said, ‘“Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Of course, they didn’t understand at that time what he meant, but then Luke writes what happens next, “…he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:51-52).” The only passage we have about Jesus’ childhood is one where we focus on Mary and how proud she was of her son.
Then there was that time at the wedding.
It’s the first recorded public miracle in the Bible and it happens because of his mom. Jesus and Mary were at a wedding and the family runs out of wine. Mary turns to Jesus and simply says, “They have no more wine.” Now, I don’t know if Jesus has done this sort of thing before, but I imagine he must have because that’s all she has to say to him and he knows what she expects. Jesus responds with “…why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” I guess that’s the 1st century version of “Ah, gee, mom. Do I have to?” But Mary knows Jesus will do it, despite his remark and he tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” And they do. Even though Jesus knows it isn’t time for him to reveal himself openly to the world, he does what his mother asks and he turns water into wine. The first recorded miracle happens because of his mother. He honors her by being dutiful.
And then there’s the moment of his death.
As he hangs on the cross, about to die, his mother, along with John the disciple and some of the other women who were close to Christ come to stand with him and give him their support. And right before he dies, he tells John to take care of his mother and asks his mother to adopt John as her own. Why Mary didn’t go to stay with one of her other children or what happened to Joseph, the Bible isn’t clear. But Jesus wanted to make sure before he died that his mother would be taken care of. In those days, a woman without a husband wouldn’t have the means to take care of herself and would end up destitute and alone so Jesus before he dies asks John to take care of her and he does. Only then does Jesus allow himself to die.
In each stage of his life, Jesus honors his mother.
It’s funny because we have no other story about Jesus’ childhood except this moment in the temple. And while most people remark on Jesus’ wit and wisdom, the bulk of the story is about Mary and Jesus. Not about Jesus’ time in the temple but about the relationship between mother and son. And we read that Mary’s heart becomes full watching her son. Then we see Jesus honoring his mother by doing as she asks despite the fact that it wasn’t time for him to reveal himself. Still, he does what she wants and Mary doesn’t have to say any more. And even at the moment of his death, Jesus makes sure that his mother is taken care of. He doesn’t die before he knows she will be alright. Throughout his life, Jesus never disrespected her, always cared for her, and lived a life that brought her honor. Jesus is the very model for how we should treat the moms in our lives.
I hope the life I have lived fills my mother’s heart.
I know my mom’s proud of me, but I hope I have honored the many sacrifices she has made for me in my life. I hope I properly show my appreciation and love because I know it’s so easy not to. Not on purpose. Not because I mean to disrespect her. But because as a human being, I’m bound to make mistakes. The same is true for my love and appreciation for Cassie. I hope I am the husband she needs me to be, to show her honor and respect for what she does for our family. I hope she knows that even when we disagree, I still love her and am proud she is Emma’s mom. And although I can’t possibly expect to be like Jesus, I can try. Jesus is the model for our lives. He exemplifies for us what we should strive for. On this day, most of all, we should honor the women in our lives who have given so much of themselves to us. And hopefully, we will fill their hearts as they have filled ours.