Blueberry pie time

Greg_pieSometimes, you just have to take a break from theology. Blueberry pie is as good (and delicious) an excuse as any!

Baking is relaxing and scratches my creativity itch. I used to be totally nervous that I would add a little bit too much of an ingredient and ruin the whole thing. Now, I’m much more go-with-the-flow. It’s tough to mess things up irretrievably.

Maybe there’s a spiritual application there…

We come to God all nervous, thinking we’ve totally messed things up, and God says: “It’s not so bad.” Then he adds the right proportion of ingredients we needed to balance things out. The end result? Delicious.

To my regular readers…

Sorry things have been a bit quiet here at “Theology in Overalls” lately. Amy and I are only one week away from the movers coming, boxing up our belongings and shipping them to Africa Nazarene University in Nairobi. We arrive there in early August to begin our new teaching (Greg) and editing (Amy) assignments. These have been chocked-full days, especially since we also have a region-wide conference for our Nazarene educators sandwiched in-between, plus two months in the U.S. on home assignment (deputation) during June and July…good but hectic times.

On the other hand, I have been writing. Just 2 weeks ago, I sent off a short manuscript to a publisher, and should know within a few weeks whether it will be green-lighted. Topic? Ecclesiology. We’ll see…

Thanks for reading TIO. May Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shower you and yours today with the divine presence.

Pumpkin and sugar bean curry

Pumpkin and sugar bean curry

I’m not a vegetarian but this vegetarian dish was tasty!

Here’s the recipe as given on the side of the box of Rajah mild & spicy curry powder:

  1. Sort and clean 2 cups of dry sugar beans and soak in water overnight. (I used red beans instead).
  2. Boil in clean water for 60 minutes or until soft, then drain.
  3. Heat some vegetable oil (2-3 tablespoons should do) in pot and fry 1 sliced onion and 1 chopped green pepper until soft.
  4. Add 2 tbs. of Rajah Mild and Spicy curry powder and 2 chopped tomatoes and fry for about 2 minutes. (Note: I’m sure other brands would work fine, too).
  5. Add 2 cups peeled and cubed pumpkin (or butternut squash), 2 cups of water and beef stock cube, then bring to boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on frying pan.
  6. Add the cooked beans and allow to simmer for 10 minutes more.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper
  8. Serve with rice. MAKES ENOUGH FOR 4-6.

Jamaican banana bread

cookbookThis holiday season is strange. My travel schedule will take me away on Thanksgiving, then over Christmas we’ll be in South Korea. So, even though it breaks my rule of “No Christmas music until after the Thanksgiving meal,” I’m listening to Josh Groban’s “Noel” and the Carpenter’s “Christmas Portrait.” Now that I’m in holiday mood, time for some baking!

There’s a first for everything, and this is the first time I’ve attempted banana bread. With a bunch of overripe bananas on the counter, it’s the perfect time to try my hand.

The recipe comes from Extending the Table (Herald Press, 1991), an old Mennonite cookbook that we acquired when we lived in West Africa (see cover in photo).

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bananabread2JAMAICAN BANANA BREAD

Makes 1 loaf

350 F / 180 C

55 min

Cream together: 1/2 c. margarine (125 ml), 1/2 c. sugar (125 ml), 1 t. vanilla (5 ml), and 1 egg, well beaten

Sift together: 2 c. flour (500 ml), 1 T. baking powder (15 ml), 1/2 t. ground nutmeg (2 ml), and a pinch of salt

Add to creamed mixture alternately, with: 3 ripe medium bananas, mashed (about 1 c./250 ml)

Add: 1/4 c. nuts, chopped (50 ml), and 1/4 c. raisins (ml)

Turn into greased 9 inch loaf pan (2 L). Bake 55 min. in preheated oven at 350 F (180 C) until golden brown.

ENJOY!

On sugar maples, Southern red bishops, and theology

Southern_red_bishop
A Southern Red Bishop rests after feeding on tender grain at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort, outside Johannesburg, RSA

This week, Amy, Brad and I are exploring Capetown for the first time. While we’re away getting acquainted with another beautiful part of South Africa, it seemed timely to re-publish these nature reflections from near Johannesburg.

I’ll be back next Saturday with a new “Theology in Overalls” blog post.

Godspeed,

Greg

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My father-in-law, John, is amazing. When I was dating his daughter, Amy (now my wife), I would sometimes visit their home near Auburn, New York. Usually at some point, her dad would proudly take me on a stroll in their park-like back yard, pointing out the many species of trees, some of which he had planted himself. Looking at the trees, I could identify oaks, elms, and maples. For John, that was child’s play. In his youth, he had studied to be a forest ranger and had spent several years surveying in the Northeast. He knew not only the English names for all the trees, but the Latin ones, too, terms like acer saccharum (sugar maple) and ulmus americana (American elm).

I wish he could travel to South Africa. His health now would never allow the trip. If he came, I’d show him the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens where not only are there many varieties of trees, but also birds. When it comes to birds, I’ll admit that I’m still weak in identifying different species, but little by little, I’m learning. And my favorite so far at Sisulu is the Southern Red Bishop. Riding my bike in our neighborhood the other day, I saw many birds, but instead of thinking “Look at that bird!,” I mused: “I hope that sacred ibis doesn’t decide to dive-bomb me!” My two-wheeled approach startled a pair of laughing doves, chasing them upward. To my right on the freshly mowed grass, a black-masked weaver pecked at a worm.

What applies to species of trees and birds applies to God. There was a time when I was content to just say “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But with time, I don’t just want to know that I am saved. I want to know how salvation works. So we learn of soteriology, Christology, hamartiology, and the Christus Victor. Some think theologians needlessly complicate things. I beg to differ. The same God who made salvation simple enough for a child to understand made study of Scripture and theology profound enough for minds far greater than my own to spend a lifetime contemplating the mystery of redemption.

So let’s have at it. Let’s unabashedly dive in deep to all areas of knowledge and master each discipline’s vocabulary as an act of worship to our Creator God. And I’ll make you a deal: If you are interested in knowing more about tertium quid, conditional immortality, and the eschaton, I’ll keep plugging away in areas that hold less fascination for me, but where my interest can still be sparked. One day, I hope to shake my head in disbelief that I used to be satisfied with merely saying “tree” and “bird.”

On Houston airports and Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown, a well-loved cartoon character created by Charles Schulz
Charlie Brown, a well-loved cartoon character created by Charles Schulz

We theologize a lot about prayer. It touches so many aspects of who God is and God’s interaction in the world.

Sometimes we say that God responds “yes, no, or wait.” But have you ever had a moment where “no” or “wait” simply weren’t going to cut it? You had to have “yes” or else something irretrievable would be lost?

Times like that are faith building.

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus made it simple:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”(NASB).

What prayers have you whispered – or shouted – in desperate moments, and God replied with a resounding and timely “YES!”?

Here’s my story. Share yours in the comment thread.

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In March 2009, Amy and I were about to move to Kenya following a 3 year hiatus in our missionary service. I was asked to come to Nairobi for the Africa Regional Leadership Conference. At the same time, our younger son, Brad, was in his senior year of high school in Bethany, Oklahoma. He had already participated in several school plays, but this time was different. The play was “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” and he had the lead role. He was Charlie Brown.

Thankfully, I was able to book my return plane flight to be back home in Oklahoma City just in-time for the final performance. Little did I know that the airline had other ideas. At London Heathrow, the plane was delayed for almost 2 hours. What was to be an easy connection in Houston, to catch my final plane back to OKC, now would be hopelessly tight.

Many hours later, we landed in Houston and pulled up to the jetway. I looked at my watch. I had exactly 30 minutes until the connecting flight to OKC took off. Waiting nervously for the carousel at the baggage claim to start moving, almost in a panic – How could I miss his last performance? This was my son! – I prayed a hurried prayer:

“God, you know that I NEED to be at that performance. Smooth the way in this airport. Help me to make that plane!”

No sooner had I prayed when the belt started moving, and the very first suitcase that came out? It was mine,  unheard of on a crowded international flight. Score one for God.

Excusing myself profusely, and explaining that I had to make my son’s final high school play performance, I elbowed my way to the front of the long line in the passport control area as people gladly let me pass. They seemed to understand. I told the immigration officer why I was in such a desperate hurry and to what terminal I was headed. He glanced at his watch, stamped my passport, and handed it back to me with these words:

“You’ll never make it.”

That only motivated me more. Pulling my two bags, I ran all out-of-breath to the train that connects the international to the domestic terminal. After only 1 minute, the train pulled up and I climbed on. Exiting the train, I dashed to the escalator to the lower level, realizing I had a mere 6 minutes before the plane off. They were announcing the final call for my flight.

At the bottom of the escalator, one of those motorized cars for the elderly and disabled was waiting. Though I’m neither elderly nor disabled, I explained that I was on the OKC flight. The driver threw my suitcases on board, and told me: “Hop on!” Horn blaring and red beacon flashing, we hurried to the gate. Thanking the driver, I handed the agent my boarding pass and rushed down the jetway. Stepping onto the plane, there was only one seat left empty, my own. As I collapsed exhausted into my seat,  the plane door closed and we began to taxi. I  made it! A sincere “Thank you, Jesus” quietly escaped my lips.

Any one of those quickly executed steps along the way in that busy Houston airport that March day would have been surprising enough, but only a loving and powerful God could have orchestrated them together, and all so that a proud Dad could make the final play performance of his amazing son.

German Apple Pancake

pancakeAmy and I tried out a recipe for German Apple Pancake, taken from Allrecipes.com. You can read the recipe over at this link.

My family likes to rib me about “German heritage days,” when I’m especially vocal about how I think things should be done. A positive part of that German heritage (through my mother, whose maiden name was Schwinge) is a knack for making delicious dishes and confections. (I’m not there yet, but I’m learning!) Amy and I had fun making this one together.

This recipe tasted pretty eggy (is that a word?) since it uses 4 eggs. Also, it uses surprisingly little sugar for such a large pancake. We didn’t have an ovenproof skillet, so we just folded everything into a glass pie shell. That worked just fine. The two of us polished it off, no problem.

The German Apple Pancake is not likely something you’ll make on a regular basis. We hope to have it each New Year’s Eve, as our tradition.

5 things I learned by reading the entire Bible in 2014

??????????This is the time for making New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I made two that I’m glad to say – by the grace of God – I accomplished:

1) Read through the Common English Bible in 2014 (see the plan here);

2) Wrote a daily devotional guide, Trente Minutes Avec Dieu, for speakers of French, available here. This was based on what I read in the reading plan outlined in # 1.

As I look back on the experience of reading through the Bible, at least five observations come to mind:

1. This Book contains some practical things!

It’s a tribute to a collection of 66 ancient writings that even in the year 2014 it contains what I would call  “Golden Passages” that speak to my own journey. So many could be cited, but here are just two:

“In your struggle against sin, you haven’t resisted yet to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:4).

How deadly must sin be if the writer to the Hebrews says we should resist it to the point of shedding our blood? We take sin far too lightly.

“I sought the LORD and he answered me. He delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

I’m reminded due to stormy weather of a very turbulent landing in Johannesburg in late November, following a trip to Mozambique. It’s good to know verses like Psalm 34:4 in times like that!

2. This Book is filled with anger and blood.

There’s no avoiding the issue: the Bible is a violent book, especially large swaths of the Old Testament. The fictional character, President Jeb Barlett, admits in one episode of The West Wing: “I’m a New Testament man, myself.” Wycliffe Bible translators start by translating the New Testament for a good reason. Though there are passages in the Old Testament that present a softer, more loving God, they can be obscured by the horror of other sections. Don’t tell my Old Testament profs, but there’s a reason many preachers prefer the last 27 books to the first 39.

3. This Book is amazingly simple.

Vacation Bible School teaches young children verses like John 3:16 and 1 John 1:9. As they memorize those Scripture portions, their young minds comprehend some basic truths: God is my Creator, God loves me, God wants to forgive me, and God  wants to be part of my life. That’s the simple genius of the Bible.

4. This Book is amazingly complex.

On the other hand, men and women study for years to receive doctoral degrees in biblical literature. There is a constant stream of new commentaries being released to take into account recent findings about a myriad of questions related to the Bible and its background. (Check out the New Beacon Bible Commentary which is an excellent resource, available through the Nazarene Publishing House).

5. This Book will make you hungry for God.

Just when you’re ready to give up because of the complexity and tedious character of some parts of the Bible, all of the sudden there’s a passage that makes you want God more than anything:

“I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV).

And then you realize: This Book really needs to be read through a Jesus lens. He is what makes it all come together.

If you want to read the Bible through in 2015, I’d encourage you to do so. Was it an easy year? No. Was it a worthwhile thing to do? Absolutely. Go for it!

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Image credit: Bibledrills.com