Monday, April 25, 2011

A GIVEAWAY to Help Our Youth Group

Picture a place that is so hot you sweat immediately when you get out of the shower. The bathroom floor is cracked and you reach to grab a dirty, used towel to dry off. When you get the energy to step outside, you see a neighbor struggling to get his wheelchair up the destroyed pathway to the clinic and on either side of him are rows of decrepit, one bedroom cabins full of your neighbors who, like you, have been out casted because they have HIV/AIDS. This place exists, and this summer a team of students from our youth group accompanied by 2 leaders will join up with another area church to go there and help them rebuild.

On July 3, 2011 - these students will board a plane and head to Nassau, Bahamas for 6 days to team up with Next Step Ministries to help rebuild All Saints Camp. This is a former leper colony turned refuge for patients living with HIV/AIDS that are outcasts from their community. They will demolish the old and rebuild the new, building sidewalks, walls,houses, and engaging in general repair work to give the people of that community the quality of life that they need and deserve. Not only that, but they will get opportunity to get to know the residents of the Camp during down time and hear their stories. The experience of this week for our students is one that can leave them with changed hearts. The trip will change lives - not just those lives that they will touch in Nassau at All Saints Camp, but their own lives will be forever changed as well.

Needless to say, our students have worked their hearts out fundraising to be able to attend this trip. With a goal of paying for all 10 students in mind - the team set out in faith and prayer to raise $12,500. This would include their fees to Next Step Ministries for the trip as well as round-trip airfare from Boston, MA to Nassau, Bahamas. 

As of our last count - the students had raised $9,500. 

With 5 days left in online fundraising, I'm asking you dear reader to help our students reach their goal of $12,500 and am offering a 3-winner giveaway as an incentive for you to donate. 

First things first... the PRIZES!

One winner will receive a batch of Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies made by yours truly (20-24 homemade cookies):
Steve says these are the best cookies he's ever eaten. You should donate so you can win some!
A second winner will receive a batch of Homemade Marshmallows made by my dear friend over at Fleur de Lis Catering:
My friend's homemade marshmallows. Her cooking is amazing - donate so you can enter to win these fluffy treats!

And last but not least, a third winner will win a signed copy of the book "Can You Feel My Tears?" and the CD "Body and Soul" from Lauri Merrow. 

 Yes, I'm biased, but these are both great. If you don't believe me, click the links above to find out for yourself. Donate to win them both!!!

HOW TO ENTER AND WIN (Up to 3 entries per person):

Step One: Go to our team's fundraising website and make a donation of $10 or more. Please choose either Elyse Emery or John Emery when making your donation (you have to choose a team member - these are our team leaders, so they'll be able to keep track of who's donating). CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE FUNDRAISING PAGE

Step Two: Leave a comment letting me know that you donated to the team. All donations will be verified with Elyse & John prior to the drawing. YOU MUST ENTER IN THIS FASHION IN ORDER TO GAIN ADDITIONAL ENTRIES IN STEP THREE.

Step Three: To win up to 2 additional entries, tweet about this giveaway or share on Facebook  using the sharing buttons at the bottom of this post. Leave a comment letting me know that you shared the giveaway.

The giveaway will run until Midnight on April 30, 2011 which is when the donations will close on the site. Three winners will be drawn and notified and I will post the results no later than Midnight on May 2, 2011. 

Remember - even if you don't win a prize, you win anyways because you're helping a fantastic cause! Please consider donating to our team and helping them reach our goal - and if you can't donate, please share this page to get the word out! 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sin Hurts (from "Our Daily Bread")

Because today is Good Friday, I wanted to share with you a devotional that was passed around at work today. Try to imagine what happened to Jesus on the Cross as we take this weekend to celebrate the beautiful, amazing grace of God through the gift of His Son.

He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many. —Isaiah 53:12

Sooner or later we all feel the painful effects of sin. Sometimes it’s the weight of our own sin and the shame and embarrassment of having failed miserably. At other times, it’s the load of someone else’s sin that weighs us down—someone who betrayed, deceived, abandoned, ridiculed, cheated, or made a fool of us.

Think about a time when the weight of that guilt or pain was so heavy that you couldn’t pull yourself out of bed. Now try to imagine the heaviness of the combined grief that everyone’s sin has caused your family, your church, your neighborhood. Add to that all the suffering sin has caused everyone in your city, state, nation, and the world. Now try to imagine the accumulated grief that sin has caused throughout the centuries since creation.

Is it any wonder that the weight of all this sin began squeezing the life out of Jesus on the night He was called to bear it? (Matt. 26:36-44). The next day, even His beloved Father would forsake Him. No other suffering can compare.

Sin put Jesus to the ultimate test. But His love endured it, His strength bore it, and His power overcame it. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we know beyond a doubt that sin will not and cannot win. 

— by Julie Ackerman Link

Is God aloof from human pain
That ravages our mortal frame?
Oh, no, Christ felt our agony
When sin and death He overcame! —D. De Haan

Source: Our Daily Bread

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Pilate's Shoes (Continued)

So... a few additional thoughts to my below post about being in Pilate's shoes.

I want to kind of clarify my thought process a bit. I think that thanking Pilate was absolutely hasty and a gut reaction to a thought process that for the first time I had actually processed verbally on... paper? Sort of? Anyways... as a commenter noted, if we thank Pilate we have to thank Judas - which is a totally fair argument. An offline discussion on the topic has helped me to further see that clearly and I appreciate that conversation. Pilate & Judas were tools and - to the commenter Jeff's point - were corrupt people whose heart conditions were made apparent by how they took part in delivering Jesus to his ultimate fate.

In fact - I love these words that the person in my offline conversation used to sum everything up: "What I'm saying is that the horror of what Pilate did does not in any way deserve gratitude, REGARDLESS of what God did with it. That's the miracle of Jesus. He can take EVIL and CORRUPTION and turn it into peace and justice."

So I retract my gratitude towards Pilate in this instance, but - I still wonder every time I read the passages below what it must have been like to be Pilate. I don't know how much he knew about Jesus to that point, but the text makes it seem like not much. The crowds tell him "This man claims he's the Son of God!" - and that makes him PAUSE. Then he asks Jesus "Who ARE you?"... THIS is the part I always get hung up on. This part of the story ALWAYS makes me pause and think - wait... he didn't know who he was sentencing?

I see in this moment, in this text, the same person I was in the infancy of my faith. Only... I didn't have Jesus right in front of me. Trying to decide if He should live or die. Knowing in my gut that He was innocent but the "proof" that the crowd showing me otherwise... I do NOT envy that. Here is Pilate, the seed of his faith being planted by being faced with an innocent Jesus... and feeling pressure to make a decision that he knows is wrong. KNOWS.

Or maybe I did have Jesus right in front of me the whole time. Maybe we all do... and then at that moment when we're faced with Him we say "Wait... Who ARE you??". Just like Pilate did. What decision we make from there - that's up to us. Pilate's choice... right, wrong, or indifferent... it was the choice he made.

So I don't know... but what I do know is that like I said - I retract my thank-you. Why?

Because I shouldn't be thanking Pilate. I should be thanking God for it being His will that Jesus die on the cross - PERIOD. 
No one else. Just God.

Dear God... I thank you for your Son. I thank you for giving us scripture that we can discuss to help us find You and help us to build our faith and see our own flaws. I pray that I can continue to dive into Your word and see how you tie everything together from our broken selves to make amazing things. I thank you for the people you've surrounded me with who are there to help me talk and think through things. I pray that never stops - I never want to stop seeking your truth. I pray these things in Jesus' name... AMEN.

In Pilate's Shoes

Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” “Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.' Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement. It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.

Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.
- John 19:1-16 (NLT)

Whenever I've read or heard these verses, I have wondered what it must have been like to be Pilate. To see before him this man who claimed to be the Son of God. To feel that pull to believe Him. To look into the face of Jesus and know that it would be your hand to seal His fate.

Somewhere, deep down, a sinking feeling in his stomach. His position meant that he needed to remain loyal to Caesar and to release Jesus would have compromised his authority and loyalty. To know that he had no choice - that Jesus, this beaten, worn man at his feet who seemed resigned to his fate - had to be crucified.

I imagine what it must have been like to be Pilate. In that sort of conflicted place - knowing in his soul that Jesus was without guilt. Never had a more innocent, clean man been at his feet to have their sentence determined. That He had done nothing wrong, yet was about to be condemned to the worst possible death in the history of human existence. And knowing deep down there was little he could do about it... the laws of the day had bound him to his decision.

Not wanting to do it himself, he released Jesus to the crowd that surrounded him and allowed them to make the final call. I just picture Pilate collapsing in his chair, defeated, deflated, a feeling of guilt on his shoulders that he condemned an innocent man. I picture him not sleeping for days.

Pilate - please know that you did the right thing. You followed the will of God. Had you saved Jesus, the rest of us would not be saved. I thank you... I do not envy the position that you had, but I thank you. I hope that you were privy to the events of the days after Jesus' death... I hope you heard of His Resurrection, the days that he walked alongside his disciples after that, and His Ascension to the throne.

I hope, Pilate, that the sinking feeling you had in that moment as the crowds chanted for Jesus' condemnation... I hope that in the days that followed it dissipated. I hope that you were able to feel what countless others have felt since - the freedom of the cross that Jesus' sacrifice has afforded us. It was for you too. You, too, Pilate, were forgiven.

Note: Upon further thought and discussion, I flushed this thought process out a bit more and retracted my thank-you to Pilate. See that entry here:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bite-Sized Snackers

A few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at making a savory mini-muffin. I have no idea what inspired me to do this, maybe it was the half of a red-bell pepper that was leftover in the vegetable drawer and maybe it was a craving for a snack. Either way, I whipped up a quick snack for Steve & I that was pretty good and easy to make.

Savory 2-Bite Snackers
(Makes 1 dozen mini-muffins)

- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
- 1 tsp minced garlic (from a jar - I'm really high-class)
- 1/8 tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup shredded asiago OR shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (AKA "Shaky Cheese" that you put on pasta)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp water
- 1/2 tsp dried basil

Batter never looks appetizing, does it? At least not unless it's cookies. Or brownies.

- Preheat oven to 350 and coat a mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.
- Combine first 8 ingredients in a medium mixing bowl (flour through salt).
- Add the egg and fold into dry ingredients until combined.
- Add the cheese and combine into mixture.
- Add EVOO, water, and basil and combine into batter.
- Distribute batter evenly in the 12 "cups" of the mini-muffin pan.
- Cook in 350 degree oven until toothpick comes out clean (about 9-12 minutes).
- Serve with warm spaghetti sauce for dipping.

Warm from the oven.

These are really tasty and can be addicting (there, I warned you). When I made them, the first thing that Steve noticed about them is that they almost taste like they have cornmeal in them. I think that's a combination of the whole wheat flour and the grated parmesan cheese, but it's a really cool texture.

Ready to eat!

Dipping them in the warm spaghetti sauce (we use Trader Joe's Tomato Basil marinara) adds a great extra flavor to the snack. Give these a try - if you don't have a mini-muffin pan, you might be able to make a dozen "cookies" out of them as well. I haven't tried that yet, but if you do - let me know how it works out!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And the Wind Blows...

When it begins to get warm outside, one of the things that Steve and I love to do is open the windows and begin to let that air work the winter stale out of the house. Steve opened the window in our bedroom last night before bed because it was still relatively warm and we needed to release the humidity from the bath I had taken anyways. As we lay in bed getting ready to drift to sleep, one of the last things Steve said to me was "Wow... it's really quiet outside". There was no wind, no rain, only the sound of crickets came drifting up to our ears through the window. Stillness, quiet. It was relaxing and a soothing sound to fall asleep to; it was almost like a natural lullaby.

A few hours passed, and I was woken by the sound of a howling, whipping wind. I listened as the wind shook the gutters outside my window, listened as the leaves that never fell from the trees last fall hung on for dear life, and every so often the wind chimes on my neighbor's front porch would clang together and send their notes into the night. It was enough of a difference to wake me up from a relatively sound sleep and hold me captive.

I could have gotten up and shut the window. I could have blocked out the noise and gone right back to sleep. Steve continued in his restful slumber, unmindful of the cacophony that was happening right outside and coming in through the open window. So I continued to lay there, listening. I felt compelled to. As I was listening, I felt these words upon my heart:

"Be still and know that I am God."

I lay there listening to the wind knowing that there was no risk of danger of trees falling. The window screen was not going to suddenly fall into the middle of the bedroom and nothing was going to be knocked over by a strong gust coming in and blowing over our stuff. Steve continued to lay there not knowing the show that God was putting on right outside our window. I listened further to the gusty air blowing around, listened as the wind chimes sounded again.

"Be still and know that I am God."

The words continued to be felt on my heart. I listened to that wind and the leaves and the wind chimes and the whistles of the air as it blew by the window and gutters and let it lull me back to sleep. God was there with each passing breeze, each gust that blew. He was in the soft undertones of the breath of my husband next to me and He was the one knocking the wind chimes together. The song was beautiful that had woken me from my sleep. I lay still and took comfort in the fact that God was there - God IS here. There will be winds, there will be storms... but God is my refuge and ever present strength.

I lay still, I felt His presence, I drifted back to sleep. When I woke, the wind had stopped - and the voice on the alarm clock radio advised that it would be back as the day went on. I looked outside and saw the leaves on our neighbor's willow tree shift... and smiled.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sloppy Wet Kiss? Really?

One of my favorite worship songs is "He Loves Us". The version I am most familiar with is the version that is performed by the David Crowder band. I love at the end when you just belt it out... "He loves us! Oh how he loves us!". It's a really powerful song, at least for me, and I really enjoy it when our worship team brings it to our services. One of the lines in that version of the song that really is a romantic metaphor that I can get into is the line "So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss...". Pretty metaphor, right?

Recently Jon Acuff - writer of "Stuff Christians Like" which is pretty darned amusing - had a guest poster who talked about the words "Sloppy Wet Kiss" in the song. Now, when I first read it I thought he was just being funny. I didn't realize (uncultured Christian that I am) that there actually is a version that talks about heaven meeting earth like a sloppy wet kiss. I heard it today, and it really just... hit me the wrong way.

Now... I don't care about the actual words "sloppy wet kiss" in a worship song. If that's how the writer of the song feels about heaven meeting earth - power to him. For me... I mean... sloppy wet kiss? That makes me think of an absolutely terrible kisser who slobbers all over your face or a dog that bounds across the room and licks your face everywhere. There's nothing at all romantic - to me - about a sloppy wet kiss. Nasty. When I think about how much God loves me, the last thing I want to think about is nasty, disgusting salive all over my face. I'd prefer God NOT love me like a sloppy wet kiss. Romantic, pretty, unforeseen kiss - sure. But not sloppy bad kisser dog slobber.

What are your thoughts? Here are both versions so that you can compare:

David Crowder Band version

John Mark McMillan version

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Thanks to the Anonymous Giver

Right around Christmastime, I started to receive monthly deliveries of Reader's Digest magazine. At first I tried to remember if I signed up or not, and after deciding that no - I did not sign myself up for this - I posted a "status" on Facebook to see if anyone would volunteer the information that they had signed me up for the subscription. Whoever this person was had definitely signed ME up - the magazines are coming addressed to me - and I'm assuming had some knowledge that Reader's Digest is one of my all-time favorite magazines. This letter is a response to that person's gift.

Dear Giver of the RD Subscription,

I would like to extend to you a sincere thank-you for the subscription you sent me for Reader's Digest. This is a magazine that I have enjoyed reading for at least 20 years but never brought myself to actually go out and get a subscription. My parents and grandparents were subscribers, so I was able to enjoy the articles, quips, tips, and humor through the copies that could be found most often in their bathrooms and living rooms.

2 of the issues I've gotten - I'm slow to read, but I do read them cover-to-cover. Love this magazine!

My favorite parts to read have always been the stories of how people's lives have been positively changed and impacted or how people from all walks of life have reached out to change the world. For example, in one of the issues this year (the one with the smiling bacon on the front) the woman behind the mosque/community faith center near Ground Zero was featured. Reading her story was amazing; hearing someone out there who just genuinely wants to bring God's love to the world no matter their faith was incredibly inspiring. I remember reading stories in RD growing up about people who have overcome amazing odds to do great things; RD has always brought stories like that to the forefront and I have always enjoyed them.

But you, gift giver, are also an inspiration. To send someone the gift of a magazine subscription that they genuinely enjoy and keeping yourself anonymous means that you really and truly just wanted to do something nice for someone. I have now gotten 3 or 4 issues delivered to my mailbox of this treasure-filled magazine and each time I am reminded that there is someone out there touching people's lives and looking for NO recognition for it. The subscription is a simple RAK - Random Act of Kindness. Imagine if we all operated like you - just doing random things to make people smile. Imagine if that became our modus operandi in each of our every day lives.

Forget the insurance - imagine if we all did small things to make a difference?

So to whoever you are, thank you for the gift. I truly appreciate it, and not just for the entertainment value. I appreciate the sentiment behind it, I appreciate the anonymity, and I hope that I (and anyone who reads this letter) are continually inspired to do random things to make people smile - without looking for a thank-you.