Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hot Wings

Spicy rules.

In just a little over a week, the nation will be tuning in to one of the most watched events in network television: The Super Bowl. You might be a Giants fan, pulling for Eli Manning. You might be hoping to see the Pats pull off a completely "perfect season." (Should I add an asterisk next to that statement, in light of their "spygate" incident?) You might be mourning Brett Favre's lost opportunity. You might even still be blaming Jessica Simpson on behalf of the Cowboys.

Or, like many people, your love of the Super Bowl might be primarily and intrinsically tied to your love of the food that comes with it. If you fall into this category, don't worry- you have a lot of company. I mean, places like Buffalo Wild Wings shape their whole business around the reality that almost all of us connect professional sports and T.V. with food.

Whatever category you might be in, I am hoping to make your big day a little brighter (and spicier) with what I am about to share.

Here for you my friends, is my recipe for hot wings. This offering has made me a welcome guest at almost a decade of Super Bowl parties. If you decide to write this down, remember this rule above all others: The way you prepare this recipe is just as important as the ingredients.

Okay, here we go. You will need:

1 Large bag of wings/drummies (about 30-50 count)

1 Stick of butter or margarine

1 Gallon of Louisiana hot sauce (yes- a gallon- don't skimp on me)

A medium to large slow-cooker.

Your grill.

"That's it," you say? That's it. It's all about the preparation.

Start by melting the whole stick of butter/margarine in the slow cooker. (Don't be worried about the calories- you're diluting it into a gallon of hot sauce.) Now add about 80% of that Louisiana hot sauce and set the temperature to low. Let the sauce cook for about 2 hours. Around the second hour, it should be simmering, and you will notice that it is beginning to change colors slightly. If it's not yet simmering, increase your temp a little to get it going. (NOTE: Try not to let this stuff boil, or you may be left with something that can only be used in stripping your garage floor, or perhaps as an anti-terrorism device.) Now, on to the chicken.

Thaw the wings and then grill them until the chicken is almost cooked through.

Yes, grill them. I know. "But we're putting them in the slow cooker." Take the time to crisp up the outer skin and add some of that wonderful "off the grill" flavor. Trust me, this is not a wasted step. Combining your grill with your slow cooker is the culinary version of an unstoppable force of nature.

Once the chicken is nearly cooked through with some nice charring on the outside, add it to your sauce. This is also the time where you can feel free to add some or all of the remaining sauce from your original gallon. Be sure to taste-test the sauce first, because as it simmers with the butter, it will be getting hotter. My suggestion would be to add enough of the uncooked sauce to cover the wings (or to bring the spice level back down to a place where someone won't take a bite and then run screaming from the room).

Let the wings cook in the sauce for another 1-2 hours. You're in the flavor zone now. The combination of all these steps produces a result that will make you very popular with just about anyone who likes hot wings. But remember, it's all about the way you approach the preparation. You might be thinking, "that sounds like a hefty time commitment for a hot wing." You're right, it is. But then again, it's not your ordinary hot wing.

Extraordinary things can come from simple ingredients. But short-change the preparation, and you'll short-change the result.

This is the way it is with our life in Christ. If we skimp on our time cultivating our relationship with our Savior, we end up in a world of bland Christianity. Christ is inviting us to join Him on an adventure into a world of extraordinary life in Him, but we have to continue to choose to come along. One of my friends recently shared this very same idea in an email saying, "Years ago, I began praying for God to draw closer to me. Then… somewhere along the way I heard a TV evangelist (don't recall the man's name) comment that WE should focus on drawing nearer to Him. Well… "duh…" It's like a light bulb went off over my coconut and I finally got it! I guess I was expecting God to do all the work…".

"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:4)."

It isn't overly complicated. An extraordinary life in Christ is waiting for anyone who will choose to love God in worship, share their life in community with others and grow as disciples, and reach out to the world as a servant.

Love. Live. Serve.

Now that's a truly unstoppable force.

In Him We Live,


p.s.- If you end up with leftover wings, be careful. Their much hotter the next day!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


You just never know what God will use to teach you something.

It was May in Virginia, and the weather was getting hot. We had just moved, and were still unpacking boxes when an old Dodge Diplomat pulled down our gravel drive and parked in the front yard. From within the car emerged a hulk of guy wearing bib overalls and no shirt, with a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek that was so big it made him look like he was eating a jawbreaker. He lumbered onto the front porch and knocked.

As I opened the screen door, he extended his hand to me and said, "Hi. I'm Landon. Welcome to the South." Actually, the chew was contorting his right cheek so much that the last word sounded more like, "Sowf." Landon went on. "I'm glad you all are here at the church. I work at the dairy down the road."

Although true, this last statement was unnecessary. Since we didn't have air conditioning, all the windows were open to allow the breeze to blow through. We knew Landon worked at the dairy from the moment he drove up. Both his car and his clothes exuded that aroma that is unmistakably, "all things cow." After a short conversation, Landon went on his way- probably back to the dairy. The aroma of "all things cow," went with him.

About a year later, I was driving back to the church building after lunch. As I approached the dairy, I noticed that they were watering a field near the road. Just about the time I drove past, the wind really kicked up and my little green car was coated on one side with a mixture of something that resembled watery pudding. I immediately realized that "watering" had not been the right term. When the milking stalls were cleaned, all the waste and runoff was washed into a nearby lagoon. That lagoon was now being pumped to fertilize the field. At the corner stop sign, I turned right instead of left and headed straight to the car wash. By the time I had driven the remaining four miles to town, "all things cow" was my overpowering companion.

I rejoiced that it hadn't eaten off the paint. I also rejoiced that the passenger windows were shut during the wind-induced manure malaise. Washing a coat of dung-paste off your vehicle's shiny exterior is one thing. Trying to get it out of your upholstery is something else entirely. But here lies the difference between myself and Landon. (Well besides the fact that I don't wear bibs or chew Red Man.)

That smell was an immediate problem for me, and I wanted it off my car. I don't, however, think I've ever met a dairy farmer who complained about the odor. Actually, I've heard more than one say, "It just smells like money to me." The benefits they receive have altered their perspective. They have also accepted that when you spend a lot of your time milking, caring for, and cleaning up after cows, you are going to smell like them at the end of the day. After all, the closer you are to something, the better the chances are that you'll become saturated with it.

To be saturated is to be unable to hold or contain any more; it is to be completely full.

In Colossians 2:9, Paul says, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form...." In other words, there is no part of Him that is less than fully God- even as He walked in human form.

Now look at the rest of his statement: "...and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (Col. 2:10)." Do you realize that we can choose to be literally saturated with Christ? Each time an undesirable part of our old self is removed, we can cry out to Jesus to fill the void. Little by little, we decrease and He increases in us.

All this saturation seems to carry its own "smell"-both to God and to others. No kidding. Even more interesting, our smell to others ends up depending on their choices. Here's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16a:

"For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance or life."

Who knew we were all so smelly?

Be saturated.

In Him We Live,


Monday, January 7, 2008

Jumbo Shrimp

Today's entry is a rant. And it all goes back to jumbo shrimp.

My family and I were enjoying New Year's eve at a friend's house when we got a phone call. Just as I put it on speaker, we heard a cacophony of voices shouting greetings to us from Houston. As they passed the phone around, our friend Kara said, "Hey Jeff! We're all over at Shaun's house having a great time, and we've got jumbo shrimp. Isn't that enough to get ya'll down here?" I was immediately reminded of the line from the movie "Jerry McGuire," when she tells him, "You had me at 'hello'."

Now, you may not be as familiar as I am with jumbo shrimp from the gulf area. Let me just say that, if you've been eating shrimp anywhere else, you are missing out on how good it can really be. There's just something about that region and the freshness that takes tasty to a whole new level. (You may now insert any of "Bubba's" dialog from "Forrest Gump," i.e., "shrimp salad, shrimp kabobs, shrimp on a stick," etc.)

Now that I think about it, most of the places I've lived have had some kind of food that is a "specialty" for their particular area.

I was never a fan of mussels until I lived on Prince Edward Island, in eastern Canada.

When I ministered in Virginia, there were certain times when some of the ladies would come to the church kitchen and make homemade yeast roles. My office would be so flooded with that incredible smell, that I was hungry enough to eat my stapler by the end of the day.

You have never truly experienced baby Swiss cheese until you've had it from Amish country in Ohio.

For me, all thin crust pizza will forever be second place imitations of St. Louis style pizza. (Ahhh, Imo's...)

While I'm really not sure what makes those Virginia yeast roles so incredible, I suspect it's the same secret ingredient to enjoying cheese in Amish country, mussels on PEI, and shrimp on the gulf: it's local. You might even consider these foods to be expressions of the unique cultures that they come from.

Okay, so is there a point to all this- I mean, besides the confession of my love for all this food? I certainly hope so. If not, I've made you all hungry for nothing.

In my opinion (and that's all this is), it all goes back to the jumbo shrimp. I'm not heading to Amish country any time soon for a taste of the famous "Amish shrimp of Ohio." You get great shrimp in the gulf region because the gulf has great shrimp, and lots of them. Period. You get great cheese in Amish country because those farms aren't as concerned with mass production as they are with producing a great product. Each place has made the most of what it already has locally.

Churches sometimes become enamored by the growth or "success" of another congregation. In an effort to imitate the result, they imitate the outward, measurable actions of the "model" church. Interestingly enough, this second generation just doesn't reap the same results. So what happened? Again, in my opinion, it's the "local" factor. The second generation church has spent less time studying the principles and philosophies of the "model" church, and more time duplicating methods and actions that may be dependent on, or influenced by what God has naturally given the "model" church to use locally.

Here's what I mean: It would be helpful to examine the principles behind a church that has consistently drawn in great numbers of new visitors and helped them grow into Christ-followers.

It would be short-sighted, however, to simply copy a program, curriculum, or event that this same church has used, without considering
similarities and differences in culture and context.

This is not an attempt to get some kind of back-handed jab in at mega-churches. It is also not a commentary designed to warn people against using Willow Creek group studies, Saddleback "40 Days" campaigns, or any other widely marketed tools. No church needs to reinvent the wheel- if an established method or approach fits your church's unique community and personality, by all means consider using it; each can be beneficial under the right circumstances.

What I am saying, is that there is no "one size fits all" approach to church growth. Different people have different needs. Different communities can have many different local cultures and personalities. Our churches are comprised of those same unique cultures and personalities.

What we all share, is the need for a Savior. We all have sinned, and cannot be brought back into a right place with God unless we accept His grace through Christ. In John 17:18, part of Jesus' prayer for His disciples was, "In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world." (The Message trans.) What could be a more effective way to share this message than by embracing the ways that God has naturally given our churches their own unique "thumbprint" in our community?

So, pass the shrimp, bake the pizza or cut the cheese- but whatever you do, be what God intended you to be, not a copy.

In Him We Live,