When my copy of Steeped arrived in the mail, I sat and turned through the pages, salivating at all the delicious foods pictured there.  The pictures and layouts had me dreaming of hosting tea parties and warm summer soirees.


Life happened and I only ended up having time to make three of the recipes in the book.  They were each from a different section of the book and each called for a different kind of tea.  I live in a small, rural town so I decided to make recipes with ingredients I knew I could find here.  I ended up choosing Mint Pea Soup, Smoky Tomato Soup with Parmesan Thyme Crisps, and Blueberry Scones with Rooibos Honey Butter.


Overall, the recipes were easy to follow.  I really liked the creamy tomato soup and the crisps added crunch and flavor that paired wonderfully with the soup.  The blueberry scones were easy to make and the honey butter made them extra decadent.  The mint pea soup ended up tasting mostly just of blended peas and wasn’t a favorite at my house.


While each of the recipes called for a different tea, none of the teas ended up being a dominant flavor in the end.  I kept searching for their flavor in each of the dishes but never found I could distinguish them.  I was hoping for more distinct tea flavors in the dishes.


I am looking forward to trying more and more of the dishes in Steeped.  Maybe one day I’ll actually get to host a tea party and serve one of the whole menus found in the book.  Until then, I have a beautiful book full of gorgeous food pictures and great recipes to add to my recipe book collection.

You can learn more about the book here: http://anneliesz.com/steeped-book/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

This I believe…

A man came into my office this week to ask me about my column, my work as a pastor, and my identity as a Christian. He asked me about a particular belief that is held by many in the Christian tradition but certainly not all. It is not a particular belief that I have and I do not believe it to be foundational for following of Jesus as the Christ.

It got me to thinking. A heard about a pastor that would write down a statement of faith every January and if his faith had not shifted, opened, grown, or changed he knew that the coming year would involve some serious spiritual work. You see we are not designed to remain stagnant. Our faith is to be a living faith, not one set in stone; it is to be rooted in Christ (if you are a Christian) not sealed in monuments. We can never fully know God, yet we can always seek God, and seek to know God more. In John Calvin’s systematic theological treatise called The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 1 says, “Without knowledge of self there is not knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”

From what I know about myself and from what I know about God, from the authoritative witness of Scripture and prayer, is that actions are more important than words. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the prophets are decrying the worthless festivals, the books of Amos Chapter 5 and Isaiah Chapter 1 come to mind. In our study at First Presbyterian Church this season as we move through the Gospel of Mark, we find that Jesus has an immediacy about him. He wastes no time with long-winded rants, fancy robes, or state of the art worship centers. Christ comes to preach the Good News, and the Good News is not in words but in his actions, his healing, his forgiveness of sins, his breaking of bread with all comers, his seeking out those who are outcast and bringing them in.

All of this is about action. I’ve been to glorious worship services that felt and sounded like rock concerts in which I knew I was in the presence of God, I’ve been to mighty cathedrals all across the world, and stood in awe of the craftsmanship and sheer majesty of place. I’ve worshipped in tin roof steel buildings in the woods of Nicaragua. All of these mean nothing if they do not inspire me to action, if they do not call me to “repent (turn), and believe in the good news.” (as Jesus says in Mark 1: 15) then they are like a clanging cymbal.

If they don’t push me, drag me, coerce me into loving my neighbor more deeply, to blessing those that curse me, (both behind my back and to my face), to breaking bread with the outcast (you know, “those people”), to feeding the hungry (the physically and spiritually hungry in Nebraska City), clothing the naked (those without cover from family and friends and those without proper clothing for the weather), forgiving more (even though I really like holding grudges), listening more to those whom I have hurt (even when I think they are wrong), speaking up and speaking out in the name of justice (even when it isn’t politically or socially popular), and being open to conversation (with those I disagree and with those I agree because the Spirit works through all of us). If my faith in Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, only calls me to go to church on Sunday morning or Bible study on Wednesday night, to feel good about myself, or to ensure my ticket to Heaven, then I believe I have missed the point, I have not heard the Good News.

This is but a piece of what I believe but it is foundational to my understanding of the God and myself. My parents taught it to me, I will teach it to my kids, and I will proclaim it to all who will listen or see. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”

I hope that my actions reveal my faith; I hope that I live up to the standards that God sets for me and I set for myself. I know I will stumble, I know I will fall down. I share this with you to ask for your help. I’m asking for you to hold me accountable. I’m asking for a relationship with you so we can work together to bring about the kingdom of God. If you think I’m not living into the faith articulated here, if you’d like to hear more about my faith, or what’s in the Bible come talk to me, I’d love to share a cup of coffee or a meal with you. Better yet, come to our Wednesday Night Bible Study at 6:00 PM, Sunday School at 9:15, or worship at 10:30.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: By the time you read this, I should be landing in Maui with my family for a weeklong family vacation with my in-laws. I’m really excited.

Not Favorite: I think my son is getting cabin fever or something. He is bouncing off the walls at home and at school. I’m hoping the sun and being outside will calm him down a little.

Elements of Encounter

IMG_1939This is the sermon, as written, I preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on October 4, 2015. The sermon text was Exodus 1:8-2:10; 3:1-10.

You can click on the audio here.

This week as I was preparing the sermon I came across these thoughts from a group of pastors in Scotland that call themselves “Spill the Beans”. In their most recent publication they say,

“Who are we in this story? Are we the Israelites, held captive to outside manipulating forces, or are we the Egyptians who wittingly or unwittingly are the cause of oppression?

So much in the words and images of our narrative today resonate with the circumstances and emotions within our own society in our current time.

We might reflect on the fact that the Egyptian perspective, metaphorically speaking, mimics our own outlook on life and our actions more than we think. In the first section of today’s narrative we are told that the basis of the Egyptian’s actions stemmed from ‘fear’ of being overrun and the coming together of a strong army who could attack them. It was not out of hatred, loathing, the need for revenge, or desire for more that the Egyptians decided on a strong response. It was more to do with the fact that they were scared that their liberty, within their own land, would be threatened by these foreigners who would come and take their top jobs, reduce their available wealth, clog up institutional welfare provisions, limit the opportunities for their own young, and ultimately threaten their own precious values.”

This story has echoes of the way the Nazis treated the Jews, this story has echoes of the way the slaves were treated in our country, this story has echoes in the current refugee crisis in Europe, this story has echoes of the way any powerful minority treats a powerless majority. Whether it’s in Apartheid South Africa, it’s the 1% treating of the 99% in the US, it’s the echoes that give rise to movements like the Civil Rights movement, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and on and on.

When those in power encounter fear they often seek to deal with the issues “shrewdly” but that quickly gets out of hand and becomes ruthless. When those in power encounter the injustice of the powerful they are often called to speak out, speak up, and take action.

Like midwives to the Hebrews, Shiprah and Puah, in our story. The midwives who refused to follow the orders of Pharaoh to kill all the male Hebrew children. Sometimes we are called to stand in the face of ruthless oppression even if it means severe consequences. Shiprah and Puah encountered Pharoah, a man who had the power to take their life, but they feared God and chose to follow God rather than Pharaoh.

There are many times in our lives when we have encounters that challenge us, that test our faith, that cause us to change our hearts, that push us to think differently, to respond in love rather than fear.

Whether it’s standing up to a friend who uses racial, homophobic, or insulting slurs. Whether it’s standing up for a friend who is being bullied. Whether it’s fighting unjust laws or demanding justice for others. We will have the opportunity to respond faithfully in all of these encounters.

This week, we got the news of another mass shooting at a school in Roseburg, Oregon. It was the 45th school shooting in 2015 and the 142nd since the tragedy of Sandy Hook. In the midst of this horrific tragedy came the story of Chris Mintz. Mintz is a 30-year-old, Army veteran who is a student at Umpqua Community College. While the shooter was still firing, he charged him. He was at least 5 times. A nurse, also a student, on the scene, who performed CPR on several victims, sat with Chris as he repeated, “This is my son’s birthday.” Thursday was Chris’s 6-year-old son’s birthday. The day that a man armed to the teeth walked in to his classroom and opened fire. Chris knew that he could be hurt or even killed but he allowed the love for his son and his commitment to others to overcome his fear and respond even if it meant his life.

Like Shiprah and Puah before him he used what little power he had to try and save as many lives as he could.

All of us have encounters in our life that call us to use what power we have to try and save as many lives as possible.

Too often when we are faced with these encounters we shrink from our responsibility because we are overcome by fear and, certainly in our world today, we are shown a lot to be fearful of. Economic collapses, drug addiction, the next generation, gun violence, ISIS, Iran, gluten are just a few of the things that we are told to fear on a daily basis.

We know something is wrong, we know something needs to change; we are lost and scared. We no longer know how to deal shrewdly with the problems of our world. We too often like Moses, respond rashly to injustice. Then we run saving ourselves but turning our backs on our neighbors.

As the psalmist says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.“

Even though Moses fled to Midian, God had a plan for him, God saved him from death as a child, he was raised in the house of Pharaoh to learn what it meant to be a leader, he was cast out to know what it felt like to be oppressed and lost. Then God found him, searching for his lost sheep. Moses encountered God in the form of a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, challenging him to speak for God’s people. Calling him to return to the place of his birth and free the Hebrews who had been enslaved for over 400 years. God persuaded him to speak truth to the God of Egypt, to give voice to the powerless by confronting the powerful.

We know the end of the story, so we know that eventually Pharaoh let God’s people go. But in this moment, in this encounter Moses did his best to avoid the challenge, the call from God. The great I AM spoke to Moses and Moses was scared. In the midst of his fear God said, “I will be with you.”

So often we get so wrapped in reasons why we can’t do something that we can’t hear the voice of God speaking words of peace to us.

Today is World Communion Sunday. Today we share the Lord’s Supper not only with those here in this room but with Christians around the globe. Christians who come to this table, this holy place and give action to the words of God, I will be with you.

World Communion Sunday started on the east side of Pittsburgh, PA at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in 1933.

In an article by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles published in the October 2, 2002 edition of the Presbyterian Outlook. Rev. Dalles relates that this initiative was, the pastor, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr’s attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.

Rev. Dalles also asks the question, “What was the world like, in the autumn of 1933—that first World Communion Sunday?” Surprisingly, not much different from the world this autumn of 2015. 1933 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. The storm clouds of Nazism and Fascism hovered all over Europe and threatened the entire world. The prevailing mood was anxiety—fear about economics, fear about politics and fear about the future.

As a faith response to the fears of three generations ago, in 1933, a group of leaders at Shadyside Presbyterian Church sought to do something both real and symbolic, to proclaim that God is God indeed, in spite of politics, economics and future shock. How, they wondered, might one church counteract the pessimism of the larger society? How might they succeed in eliminating the walls of separation between Christians?

So here we are, with what often feels like the walls closing in around us. Even in our own sleepy little town we have stories that feel like we are losing our grip on our safety, but still we encounter God. We encounter God through this meal; we encounter God through our interactions with our friends, family, and neighbors. We encounter God throughout our lives. Oftentimes that is scary, almost always it’s uncomfortable, and every time it causes us to risk something, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of God and our neighbor. So like the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, like Moses’ response to the burning bush, like the 30 year old Army vet, Chris Mintz in Roseburg let us use these encounters to respond to God’s call with the sure and certain knowledge that God is whispering to us, “I will be with you.”

May it be so.


Prayer is like learning styles. Every person has their own and what works for one person doesn’t work for another. Pray like a Gourmet offers up suggestions for prayer that are varied and appeal to lots of different personalities and styles. David Brazzeal’s writing style is relaxed and conversational. The way he offers up the different prayer practices invites the reader to try them without pressure of “getting it right”. He makes it less intimidating to try new types of prayer.

With the title of Pray like a Gourmet, I was hoping for more prayer practices that incorporated food but the title is simply a metaphor for prayer used throughout the book and doesn’t translate to actual food prayer. Also, the layout of the book and style of the pages sometimes makes the print hard to read because there are dark and light colored type.

Overall, I am glad to have this book as a resource for my own prayer life and for helping to teach my children about prayer and also to use some of the prayer practices in the church that I lead. If you are looking for a nice entry into prayer that is easy to understand and simple to read, this book would be a great choice.

Learn more about the book and author here:  http://davidbrazzeal.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

This is why Rocky and I get along. We have similar philosophies of ministry.


I have a nagging critique that dogs a lot of my ministry work, especially work with youth: not Christian enough.

That our relationships with youth must issue in distinctively Christian expressions, like prayer or devotional lessons–and that interactions with youth that lack those expressions are fine but not really “ministry”–is a weight that I think a lot of us are bearing for no good reason. It’s the “They could get ‘relationships’ anywhere” dig.

The problem with that thinking is that trusting and reciprocal relationships with adults who aren’t their parents and aren’t paid to spend time with them can’t, for most youth, be had anywhere. We have multiplied the number of adults in relationship with teenagers to include coaches, teachers, tutors, scout leaders, college advisers, and so on. Yet all of those adults, in addition to being paid for their time with youth, have an agenda for them. It’s a good agenda…

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I think this articulates what I try to say about this particular platitude far better than I could.

john pavlovitz


That phrase.

We’ve all received it personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones, and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions; a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.

It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail:

Everything happens for a reason.

I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in. In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of The Greater Plan that this suffering all fits into.

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and…

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gift-coverSummer is upon us and we will be exploring the gift of imperfection in our lives using a book entitled “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by, author and researcher, Brené Brown.

Here’s a description of the book from Amazon.com:

“Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we’d no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, What if I can’t keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn’t everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, PhD, a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she’s learned from a decade of research on the power of Wholehearted Living–a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.

In her ten guideposts, Brown engages our minds, hearts, and spirits as she explores how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough, and to go to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And, yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.”

Together we will talk about how through the power of God in Christ we can live Wholeheartedly and find worth and belonging.

Below is a tentative schedule for the series, we hope that you will be able to join us along this journey and to help us find our place of belonging.

June 7, 2015-          
Authenticity and Self Compassion 

(Letting Go of What People Think and Letting Go of Perfectionism)

June 14, 2015-
Resilient Spirit
(Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness)

June 21, 2015-
Gratitude and Joy
(Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark)

June 28, 2015-
Intuition, Trusting Faith, and Calm and Stillness 
(Letting Go of the Need for Certainty and Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle)

July 5, 2015-
(Letting Go of Comparison)

July 12, 2015-
Meaningful Work
(Letting Go of Self Doubt and Supposed To)

July 19, 2015-
Play and Rest and Laughter Dance and Song
(Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self Worth and Letting Go of Being Cool and Always in Control)

If you would like to purchase the book you can find it following this link at Amazon.com


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