Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yes, You Can Make Yogurt In Your Crockpot!

I haven't been writing for a few months, and I've been trying to figure out what I could post to get myself going again. So, here it is: my new-found skill of making homemade  yougurt!  I say it's a skill, but really it's so simple, anyone with a crockpot who can follow directions can do it this way. I haven't taken any pictures to show the process, but I promise to update this with pictures next time I do it.

Here's what you'll need:
A crock pot (preferably one with a "warm" setting)

2 qts milk  - I use raw milk from organic, grass fed cows. If you can't or don't want to use raw milk, please still use organic milk. DO NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk.

Single serving container of plain yogurt - choose something that is *just* milk and yogurt culture (no weird chemicals or gelatin). I used Chobani.

Mesh strainer and coffee filters or cheesecloth if you want to strain your yogurt to make it thicker.

Here's what you do:

Put the milk in the crock pot and turn it on to low for 2 1/2 hours. Sometimes a skin will form on the top of the milk while heating. You can either skim this off or whisk it in. After that, turn the crock pot off and let the milk cool for 3 hours. After 3 hours, scoop out a couple cups of milk and mix in the plain yogurt. Then mix that into the main batch of milk.  At this point, if you have a crock pot with a warm setting, turn it on to warm for 30 min.  This will give the culture a little more warmth to get going. If you don't have a crock pot with a warm setting, skip to the next step. Wrap the crock pot in heavy towels and leave sit overnight. In the morning, you should have yogurt!

A couple of things:
If your kitchen is chilly, you may need to set the crock pot on a warming mat or put it in a warmer room in the house.

If the yogurt is not as thick as you would like, place your strainer over a bowl, line with coffee filter or cheesecloth and pour your yogurt in. The whey will drain out as it sits. When it is the thickness you like, just dump the yogurt into a container for storage. And don't throw out the whey - it is useful for so many things... but that's another blog post for another day! A word of caution - if you strain your yogurt too long, you will actually make real cream cheese! ... But maybe you want to make cream cheese one of these days - I just told you how to do it.

Let me know how your yogurt making goes. And I am currently too busy to edit this post, so please let me know if anything is unclear or misspelled. Happy yogurt making!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Shocking Admission

My last post was about how wonderful it would be to see Hitler in heaven. I thought it would probably offend some people. This post... I know is going to offend some people. I'm going to say something else shocking. I'm going to admit something that isn't popular in conservative Christian circles. Ok, deep breath, here it goes...

I don't care about fighting gay marriage.

You read it right. I have so little enthusiasm for the fight for traditional marriage. It makes less and less sense to me as the years march on, and society (including Christians) moves away from traditional Christian values. Fighting against abortion, I get. I believe that an unborn baby is a human being deserving of protection. For me, it's about saving lives, period. Fighting for conscience protection and against religious oppression... a no-brainer. But gay marriage...well, I just don't see why the issue is so important to us. And I know what many of you are thinking... "Gay marriage contributes to the breakdown of society."  That's the typical argument. Here's some examples from stuff I've read recently:

This article says,
Homosexuality and same-sex marriage contribute to the breakdown of the family unit and violate the natural structure of marriage established by God.
....An article in the Weekly Standard described how the advent of authorized gay unions in Scandinavian countries is destroying the institution of marriage, where half of today’s children are born out of wedlock.
It is impossible to deny that gay marriage causes the decay of families.

Social scientists have been warning that if this fractured family problem continues, there will be many kids with several “moms” and “dads,” six or eight “grandparents” and dozens of “half-siblings.” 
Is there a problem with the decay of families and a fractured family unit? Yes, psychologists contend that a union between a man and woman in which both spouses serve as good gender role models is the best environment in which to raise well-adjusted children.
Another article questions whether children can "be raised just as well by two members of the same sex as by a biological father and mother?" The conclusion by the author is no. She argues that "governments recognize the institution of marriage as the primary institution responsible for the creation and raising of its society’s members. If the family falters, the society as a whole falters. Governments depend on stable families for the health of the society they govern." 

I'm not going to argue that gay marriage doesn't contribute to the breakdown of society. The point I'd like to make  is that same-sex marriage  it is not unique in that. For some reason the fight against gay marriage has become the poster child for the overall fight against the degradation of God's intended order for families. I think that because the family is breaking down, Christians are clawing to control some societal aspect of that erosion. But many are also failing to recognize that in secular society, the traditional family model is already considered unimportant. Two examples of common modern family types: Women (and sometimes men) are choosing to have children without a second parent, and couples are living together and raising children together without getting married.

So where are the protests, petitions, and calls for laws against these non-traditional heterosexual families? Should the government also step in and decide if spouses are serving as good gender role models? It could be argued that government has sufficient interest in stable families that it should decide who can and can't have children. Anybody want to petition for that legislation?

We talk about gay marriage undermining traditional marriage, all the while doing a great job of undermining traditional marriage all by our heterosexual selves. Over 50% of marriages end in divorce. This statistic is virtually the same in the Christian community. We have broken families all over the place. And in reality, gay marriage has absolutely nothing to do with the health of my marriage, or the stability of my family. Christians have the responsibility to protect their own families, and, within the obligations of the church, teach and sanction the biblical model of marriage.

Our government is not Christian - according to our Constitution, it may not be Christian. Even if we know for a fact that the traditional Christian model of family is the absolute best for society, we can't demand that the government enforce that. Just like we believe that confining sex to marriage is the best for society, but we can't (and don't) fight for the government to pass laws against sex outside of marriage.

I also don't agree that redefining the word marriage undermines what marriage actually is. Christian marriage is a sacrament, ordained by God, and blessed by God, being sacred in nature. Elementally, it is what it is regardless of what it's called. Calling a same-sex union marriage is not anymore undermining of the true meaning of marriage than using the term for the union of two atheists. I'll use a garden analogy here. I have lots of daylilies in my yard. My neighbor grows tulips. If one day my neighbor decided to call her tulips daylilies, it would not change the fact that her tulips are not actually daylilies, nor would it make my daylilies any less daylilies. Even if botanists decided to rename tulips daylilies, that does not change the innate characteristics that make the daylily what it is. The tulip can never be what a daylily is, regardless of the names we choose to call them.

So I don't care about actively fighting gay  marriage because I don't think it is any more responsible for the breakdown of society than a whole bunch of other things that go against God's order for families. And I don't think that redefining marriage will undermine what marriage actually is. But I have another point to make...

This article in Christiany Today says,
We are a culture of radical individualists, and gay marriage does nothing but put an exclamation point on that fact. We should fight it, because it will only make a bad situation worse.
Reality check... the passage of time is going to make the world worse until Christ returns. And in that reality is the most important point. The world is slipping into darkness. Is fighting same-sex marriage the highest calling of your faith? Is it something you will do, at the risk of alienating homosexuals that need to - and have every right to - hear the gospel of Truth and feel the love of Christ? The New Testament is full of instructions for believers. Chief among them: Love the Lord. Love your neighbor. Go and make disciples. We have to be careful that activism does not get in the way of our carrying out these commands. From what I've seen, Christians aren't doing a very good job of that.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Walking In Heaven With Hitler

Recently I read this blog post by a woman who calls herself a "different kind of Christian." She shares her thoughts on who/what God is. I disagree with most of what she said. In fact, most of what she said will make committed evangelical and orthodox Christians scrunch their faces, shake their heads, and lament over her lack of knowledge. Thousands of years of Christian theology says she's wrong on so many points.

But in the midst of all of the wrongness, there is this incredible piece of truth:

"I think Grace is scandalous beyond our wildest imaginations"

Yes! Yes, it is! The bible tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness, an offense, and a stumbling block. It is shocking. The pharisees were scandalized on a regular basis by Christ, as he ate with tax collectors, allowed his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath, and said the Law was not what would save them. The message of grace through faith in the work of Jesus Christ is scandalous. To the point that if we believe it, we have to admit to shocking things. We have to be willing to say scandalous things, like this:

I would love to walk in heaven with Hitler.

Wait...what?? Are you scrunching your face and shaking your head? Are you offended? If you are a Christian professing to believe in the grace God gave us freely by the blood of His son, you shouldn't be. Because if that grace isn't big enough to forgive evil the likes of Hitler, then what is so great about it? What is so fantastic, amazing, awesome, unbelievably thrilling about grace that is limited? About grace that will reach over and cover the not-so-horrible offenders, but leave Hitler without a chance? It's too small for Christ's sacrifice (not to mention boring).

I'd like to have a conversation with a forgiven Hitler, remade in the image of Christ. I'd love to hear how he felt  when the truth of grace touched him. When he found out that love covers even his multitude of sins. Wow, what joy!

God is clear that His forgiveness and grace are freely given to us, but that we cannot have fellowship with Him without repentance. Did Hitler repent and accept God's grace? I don't know. But I imagine there will be a lot of people in heaven that us "good" Christians wouldn't expect to see. Because God is that good. His grace is that sufficient.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. And praise the Lord, there is no one too lost!

Are you feeling God's grace today?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Giving Things Up, 365

It's five days into Lent - a 40 day (not including Sundays) period of time involving prayer, fasting, repentance, and penance leading up to the celebration of Easter. Lent is observed by many Christians, most notably those in the Roman Catholic church and other orthodox churches. One common aspect of the observance of Lent is the practice of giving something up as a penitential act of self-denial. In Catholicism, abstaining from meat on Fridays is also a Lenten requirement, and further fasting is encouraged. I grew up in a Catholic household that took these aspects of the preparation for Easter seriously, so I am familiar with the concept of giving things up for spiritual reasons. As a Christian adult, my perspective has changed. I am no longer Catholic, and for me the weeks leading up to Easter do not involve the same ritual observances as they did when I was growing up. But I still believe that the act of denying our flesh has great spiritual significance.

Consider the example of Christ. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Christ, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross." What could be a greater example of self-denial? God giving up his right to act as God.

Before he went to the cross, Jesus told his disciples that anyone wishing to follow him would have to deny himself and take up his cross daily. Each day Christians have to make the decision to ignore the sinful desires of our flesh. The whole Christian experience involves a continual giving up of our flesh to the Holy Spirit's work to make us more like Christ.


Here's the truth: The things that are most important for us to give up must be given up 365 days a year, not just the weeks before Easter. But there are times that God will call us to give up something else. Something that may hold more sway in our life than is spiritually healthy. For instance, that morning coffee that we depend on to silence our demon of crankiness. Sometimes God will ask us to give something up to teach us a spiritual lesson. Other times he will ask us to make a sacrifice for no reason except that our obedience glorifies him. The sacrifice is in itself an act of worship.

I've had two occasions recently where I gave something up and received great spiritual blessing as a result. The first was last April when I did a 6 day milk fast, consuming only raw milk and water. Fasting has been used for thousands of years to bring about heightened spiritual awareness and focus on the Lord (for a specific need or just spiritual renewal) by denying one of our most basic needs. In contrast, my reason for this fast was primarily physical, not spiritual. But, through it God showed me some sinful aspects of my relationship with food that I wasn't truly aware of before. And I learned that the Lord can take any act of self-denial and use it to grow us - if we're open to it.

The other occasion was this past December. I can't remember the trigger moment - the thing that I thought, said, or did that made the Holy Spirit put up a big light in my path.

Flashing neon words: self-reflection detour.

I realized that I had a strong tendency to be critical. Not always in a judgmental way, but that line is hard to distinguish when one is not taking the time to look carefully for it. Immediately I knew I had to give up being critical for the remainder of the month. Even if my criticisms were valid. Even if they really weren't hurting anyone. If it was still important to say in January, then I could say it. I plan to write a blog post sometime soon about that experience. For now, I'll just say that this unexpected call from the Lord to hold my tongue (and fingers) from expressing any criticism for a time was a tremendous blessing.

That was April and December of last year. Random.

The point is that the right time to sacrifice is the time when God asks you to. If you are a Catholic and faithfully follow your religion in giving something up for Lent, God will bless you in that. But you must also be open to the Lord leading you to a period of self-denial at other times of the year. 

For Christians who do not feel obligated to give things up based on dates on the calendar or a religious season - understand that denying oneself can bring great spiritual blessing. Perhaps preparation for Easter is the right time for you. You won't know unless you go before God and ask. And always be ready to respond when he calls you to it.

So whether it's the daily taking up of your cross, or giving up something for a time, denying oneself is an essential component of the Christian life, whether you observe Lent or not. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Raw Milk Fast, Take 2

I'm about to start another raw milk fast - for 10 days this time. Here are the links to the blog posts from when I did this the first time.  This go around I will be having one kefir smoothie (homemade kefir, raw honey, organic fruit) per day.

Raw Milk Fast, Day 1
Raw Milk Fast, Day 2
Raw Milk Fast, Day 3
Raw Milk Fast, Day 4
Raw Milk Fast, Days 5 & 6
It's All About the Food

Monday, February 20, 2012

Birth Control Modes of Action 101

For people who believe life begins at conception.

I'm realizing that a lot of women do not understand how hormonal birth control actually works to prevent pregnancy, and doctors are not helping the situation. When a woman who believes life begins at conception goes to the doctor for contraception, the doctor will tell her that a combined pill works to prevent ovulation. No ovulation = no pregnancy = no abortion. There is a pill which contains only progesterone (the "mini pill"), which prevents the endometrium from building up to support a fertilized egg. Of course, that is the one you want to avoid. So these women, none the wiser, start taking the combined pill without realizing they are actually taking an abortifacient. For those women, and anyone else who doesn't know, here's a short lesson on how hormonal birth control actually works. 

Each method has a primary mode of action. That's the main way it works. But all of them also have one or more secondary modes of action, because progesterone and estrogen (the hormones used in birth control) each affect several parts of the reproductive cycle.

The primary mode of action of the mini pill is to change the lining of the uterus to make it incapable of supporting a fertilized egg. This is the abortifacient action of the progesterone-only pill. It also changes cervical mucus, possibly making it more difficult for sperm to penetrate. In rare instances, ovulation may be suppressed. The primary mode of action of a combined estrogen & progesterone pill is to suppress ovulation. But, because of the progesterone, it also changes the lining of the uterus and the cervical mucus. Therefore, if the primary mode of action fails and conception occurs, it would be unlikely that the fertilized egg could implant. This is the abortifacient action of the combined pill.

All other hormonal birth control methods have the same modes of action depending on the hormones used - including implants and the hormone-releasing intra-uterine device (IUD). And what about the modes of action for an IUD that does not release hormones? Those IUDs are wrapped in copper wire, which is toxic and creates a hostile environment that can prevent ovulation, kill sperm, and reject a fertilized egg. In essence, a woman's body is reacting to a toxin in many ways that happen to prevent pregnancy and/or abort a pregnancy.

My friends, now you cannot say you didn't know. Even if you're not sure that what I'm saying is true, a commitment to life at conception means now you at least have to go find out. The information is out there.*

*In case you're wondering, I got my information from an obstetric text book.

Monday, January 16, 2012

IVF - Think About It

If you haven't read this about my "Think About It" posts, please read it before going on.

Thinking About: Christians and IVF.
As I begin, I am assuming 2 things about you, the reader.  Number one, that you believe that human life begins at conception, and number two, that all life is precious in the eyes of God and deserving of protection.  If you do not believe these two things, this post will mean nothing to you. And please don't post a comment arguing these points; I will just delete it. (But, you can email me privately and I'd be happy to discuss it with you.)

This post is many years in the making. Back in 2004, I read an article in Christianity Today called Frozen Out: what to do with those extra embryos.  The writer of the article - John Van Regenmorter - has a ministry to infertile Christian couples. He describes the issue of extra embryos as being a "modern moral dilemma," and offers up embryo adoption, through programs like the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program*, as a moral choice.  After all these years, Christianity Today still has the article available. And after all these years, I still wonder how it could have been written by a person who claims to know the God of Life that I know. 

Before reading Frozen Out, I had naively thought unwanted embryos were the result of living in a fallen world where people chose to do anything in their power to have children, no matter what the cost of life in the process.  Tiny human babies were in freezer-storage because people didn’t believe they were babies – and thus treated them as property, a commodity to be used in any way they saw fit. 

I was shocked to find out this is not the case.  The picture the article presented was that of loving, Christian couples who had “extra” embryos after IVF and were trying to decide the moral thing to do with them.  The article said that “a significant number of frozen embryos belong to believers.”  And “Embryo adoption can be the answer to prayer for those burdened with extra embryos and those struggling with unresolved infertility.” Notice the terms "burdened" and "extra embryos." I almost couldn't believe what I was reading.

After reading Frozen Out, I contacted Focus on the Family to find out what their view is. They said that their official position is that IVF is a choice that Christian couples can consider prayerfully, if they follow a few basic guidelines: That a married couple is using their own sperm and egg, that the number of eggs fertilized is not more than the number of children the couple is willing to parent, and that all embryos are implanted.  I've searched for a link to the FOTF's official position statement, but can't find it now.
Despite the approval of a well-respected Christian fertility counselor and the great James Dobson, I still have a huge problem with IVF (even following Dobson's guidelines). 

So, here's the assertion I'd like you to consider: IVF is immoral. Period. 

Consider these facts:
  • The success rate for an IVF attempt is only 25-50%.   This means that there is a 50-75% chance that NO embryo will survive the process   

  • When three embryos are implanted, there is a 20% chance of twins and only a 5% chance of triplets.  This means that you have almost guaranteed that one and probably two of these embryos will die after implantation. 

  • Nobody knows how long frozen embryos remain viable.

  • It is extremely unlikely that all embryos created will survive.
Van Regenmorter puts it this way: 

      "Perhaps two of the embryos will be implanted in an initial attempt, and the remainder will be frozen for later use. It is extremely unlikely that all six embryos would become viable pregnancies. If such a "miracle" should happen, the couple has predetermined that they will give all six embryos a chance at life. None of their embryos will remain in limbo on a shelf.

That's the approach he calls life-affirming!
Now, just replace the word “embryo” in everything I've said so far with the word "baby" –which is what these tiny “blobs” of human cells are.  I ask you – is this moral?  Should we be so blasé about creating tiny babies that we know will almost certainly die?  God created the miracle of birth as one to be initiated out of an intimate love between spouses, guided by His loving hands to become the gift of a child.  How can Christians yawn at the idea of creating life in the sterile environment of a fertility clinic, divorced from any loving union of parents - life that can be used or put in the freezer for later, life that has only a small chance of survival?

Focus on the Family stated that, following the guidelines they mentioned, IVF probably does not violate any moral principle, even though there is a high risk of death for the embryo. Because, at that point the process is left in God’s hands, and He decides which ones live or die, just as He does when the embryo is conceived naturally.  But isn’t that a bit like putting your young kids out on the street and saying, “hey God, it’s up to you whether they live or die?” 

Christians supporting IVF have to make a distinction between born children and unborn children (in the form of embryos).  If I decided to play Russian roulette with the lives of my born children, no Christian would accept that it was okay because God would decide which ones lived or died.  If we had the technology for me to cryo-preserve my son so that I would have a back-up if something happened to my daughter, Christians would be appalled at the very thought of it.  But these are the exact things done in the IVF process.  And by not taking a firm stand against it, Christian leaders have silently given a nod to this distinction between a baby in the embryo stage and a born child.  And that is exactly what the pro-choice camp does.  Is it not hypocritical to support IVF but stand so strongly against issues such as early abortion and embryonic stem-cell research? 

To be truly Pro-life, we have to respect life at all stages.  IVF does not respect life.  By its very process, it treats human life as a commodity to be created, stored, traded, and disposed of as the "owners" see fit. 

We do not own our embryos. We are not the Author of Life. Think about it.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16

 *I believe that adopting an "unwanted" embryo can be a moral choice in line with Jesus' command to care for orphans. But, as with any adoption, it should be prayerfully considered, especially given the added medical issues surrounding embryo transfer and legal issues that arise because the embryo is considered property, not a person.

"Think About It" posts

I am an information junkie. I love to learn new things through reading and talking to other people, or listening to other people. When I approach a subject/new information I like to do research, think, read applicable scripture, think some more, pray, think more, seek council when necessary, and then form an opinion. Because of this process, my opinions are usually very passionate. That's not to say that I am opposed to hearing alternative ideas; I value them. God has used the contrary opinions of others to force me to reevaluate, and either to become more solidified in my view, or change it.

So let me go back to the part about passion. Because I am passionate, and because I express myself that way, I often offend people. A lot of the time that's not my fault - some people become defensive anytime someone else holds a strong view that doesn't align with theirs. But sometimes it is my fault, and that's something I'm trying to work on. So this post is a sort of disclaimer: I'm not judging you. I'm asking you to think about it. Examine the things that I'm saying with an open heart and spirit. Pray. Ask God to show you whether my words are applicable to you. And please feel free to make points of your own in the comments. God uses the members of his Body to teach and admonish one another.

If I do come across judgmental, a helpful comment would be, "When you said... it seemed judgmental." A non-helpful comment would be, "Who are you to judge what I do with my own family?" Ultimately, how you live your life is between you and the Lord. I love this thing my pastor says, "It's not my job to play Holy Spirit."  So, remember: I'm not trying to play Holy Spirit for you. And, I'm not judging you!

Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.