My Perfect Night: 15 Ideas for the Table (Plus a 15 Bean Soup Recipe)

My Perfect Night: 15 Ideas for the Table (Plus a 15 Bean Soup Recipe)

If I could distill my perfect night, it would include being around the dinner table with family and friends, eating something homemade. In homage to a hearty winter 15 Bean Soup that my mom recently served me, here’s 15 things I’ve learned about life around the table. (Recipe provided at the bottom of this post.)

#1 You don’t have to be fancy to have people over. Cook and they will come.

#2 Cook seasonally when you can. Fruits and vegetables that are in season will taste better, potentially provide more nutrition, and disappear more quickly from your guests’ plates. For instance, no one wants 15 Bean Soup in July (except me, maybe). But in sub-freezing temperatures, it hits the mark.

#3 Your house doesn’t have to be perfect. I try to have my house mostly in order when I invite people over so they can unwind in a clear and uncluttered space. But I fight the temptation to have everything perfect. Otherwise, I’d hardly ever entertain.

 #4 You don’t have to spend a lot of money. I love soups specifically for this reason. You can feed a lot of people for a minimal investment. Recipes based on basic staples like pastas, grains, beans, and vegetables can go a long way for a little amount.

#5 Cook what you know. Bring your signature dish or your mom’s specialty from your childhood. People love consuming the food that’s part of your story and tradition.

#6 Invest in a collection of bowls, dishes, and platters (over time). This doesn’t mean you have to collect expensive or fancy items. Just go with a theme you love and build on it. For instance, a few years ago I found some clearance Williams & Sonoma napkins. I use them when I’m serving my nieces and nephews frozen pizzas or setting the table for a fancy dinner party with adult guests. When people see those napkins, they know they’re at my house.

#7 Ask people to bring stuff! People are almost always happy to help. Tell them what you need to take the pressure off… cheese, crackers, drinks, a salad, dessert. Eliminating an item or two will make all the difference for you as the host.

#8 Be intentional. I can’t tell you how many times in a week I have the thought, I really need to have him/her/them over. And then 8 months go by. Put a night on your calendar and make it happen. Even if you have to schedule it 2 months out, it will be here before you know it.

 #9 But know you can be last minute, too. The other day a friend of mine told me I needed to create an app that alerts my community whenever I’ve made a soup so they know to head over. Too bad I have zero tech skills. The point is, you don’t always have to plan a dinner party days out. A last minute invitation can be just the cure for friends experiencing a lonely or quiet night in.

#10 For fancier dinners, decorate classy but inexpensive. A few good Ball Jars filled with fresh cut flowers still does the trick—especially if one of your friends has an eye for arranging. My sister in-law is the best at this, so I always tap her to put the table together for fancier get-togethers. And on my own, even I can’t mess up a fresh flower.

#11 Takeout is allowed (just not all the time). A few weeks ago, I asked my brother’s family over for dinner. I had sublime intentions of making it to the grocery store and spending a couple leisurely hours chopping, sautéing and listening to Frank Sinatra. And then life happened. So I ordered burgers and fries for everyone. And it was altogether lovely.

#12. Cook what’s already in your fridge and pantry. You’d be surprised at what you can put together with that frozen pound of meat in the fridge, half package of pasta with a rubber band around it in the pantry, and that 28 oz. can of tomato sauce in your Lazy Susan. Jump online and Google recipes with the ingredients you already have.

#13. Keep good coffee and tea on hand. Whether someone’s just stopping by or I need something for after dinner, I always keep coffee and tea on hand. I have a tea and sugar set I love, along with an assortment of mugs and stirring spoons I’ve collected over the years. Presentation goes a long way with guests, and it’s easy to execute with a few economical pieces.

#14. Reserve a treat drawer for kids. Okay, I’m stretching here near the end. Right now I’m wishing my mom had made 7 Bean Soup instead of 15. At any rate, I actually do have a little wicker basket that I keep treats, snacks, and candies in for when little ones come to my house. They know right where it is. I keep it at their level. They love me for it.

#15. Learn a new dish in the new year! I tend to fall back on my old standbys, but last year I made an Indian dish in my crockpot and tried it out on some family and friends. It was a hit! I learned how to use spices I don’t normally use like saffron, cardamom and garam masala, and I opened myself up to a host of other recipes I want to try.

15 Bean Soup Recipe

My mom always has something bubbling on the stove or baking in the oven. As a result, she has a lot of kids and grandkids who have become expert grazers. The basic problem for her is that she’s set the bar high and now we expect her to perform. Every. Year. She’s getting a little tired, and we don’t really care. We can’t help it—she’s created food dependents.

This year, she threw together a 15 Bean Soup that we downed like Winter Olympic champions. This soup is easy to make, nourishing, and hearty—if you’re going to serve a soup in the thick of winter, don’t ladle into people’s bowls anything less than hearty. Winter is not the time to go meager on people. Check out the ingredients and steps below.

15 Bean Soup Recipe

Download the recipe here.

As we go into a new year, I’m so thankful that we see calls to hospitality in some of the New Testament letters. I believe cooking, eating, and communing together is near to the heart of Christ. So let’s get cooking.

I believe cooking, eating, and communing together is near to the heart of Christ. So let’s get cooking.Click To Tweet


Waking Up To An Incoming Ballistic Missile Alert

Waking Up To An Incoming Ballistic Missile Alert

I had just woken up when the following alert came across my phone: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

It’s amazing what mental gymnastics one goes through when a message like this comes through. I processed the information at the speed of a sloth climbing a tree trunk. I just couldn’t quite get my head around what I was reading. My friends and I decided to head to the hotel lobby to find out what exactly the protocol is when a ballistic missile is about to blow the island you’re vacationing on off the planet. I hadn’t thought this through when packing for Maui.

The scene in the hotel lobby was something of a slow motion panic. Families were huddled together, guests were asking the hotel staff questions, crowds were hovered around the televisions at the bar, scraping for any bits of information. Everyone was on their phones. One woman passed me while FaceTiming with a loved one, cupping her hand over her mouth in disbelief.

I asked the first hotel employee I saw, “So, I’m thinking you’ve probably had something like this happen before, right?”

“Never,” she said. Not an ounce of reassuring comfort escaped her expression. “All I know is that if a missile’s been launched, we have 26 minutes to intercept it,” she said. “We’re telling people to go back to their rooms and close the shades.”

I decided in that moment that if a missile was really headed our way, I’d rather be looking out over the Pacific ocean than cooped up in my hotel room, curtains drawn. Three of us walked outside under the pristine blue sky and met our friend who’d run out to get us coffee before the threat. (Because, priorities.)

I learned several things in the ensuing moments leading up to the overwhelmingly good news that this was a false alarm—an alert that came exactly 38 minutes after the first devastating notice to take shelter.

If A Ballistic Missile Is Headed Your Way…

1. You Find Out Where Your Hope Really Is

The very first thing I did when I read the alert was to scan the internet. I wanted more information… Were other news outlets reporting this? Did anyone know if we could intercept this missile? How long until something like this would reach us? It wasn’t but a few seconds down this trail when it occurred to me, stop gathering information and START PRAYING! (I simply have to be the Lord’s most frustrating Christian alive.)

My first call was to my pastor who prayed over us from the snowy hills of Tennessee. Then my friends and I huddled together and called out to the Lord. In the middle of all the what-ifs, what felt remarkably solid was Jesus. Not that He would necessarily spare us, but my overall belief in Him, His goodness, His supremacy, and my eternal salvation through Him was sure. I can’t say that each of these thoughts was this clear or coherent, but when it came right down to it I had no doubt that all of these were true and Jesus was my only hope. There was absolutely no one else to turn to.

In the middle of all the what-ifs, what felt remarkably solid was Jesus.Click To Tweet

2. It Doesn’t Matter How Much Money You Have

As concerned couples were abandoning the immaculately kept golf course and pristine tennis courts, trying to make any kind of sense of things, no one had an advantage. No one had enough money to buy his or her way out of this. We were all in the same boat or, more accurately, on the same island at a most unfortunate time. A missile is not a respecter of wealth, education or social status. There was no upper or lower hand.

This was a significant reminder for me because it’s so easy to buy into the lie that if I have this amount of money, or that measure of success, or these certain resources, I’ll have everything I want and simultaneously be spared from what I don’t want. When I stood outside that hotel lobby I could see more clearly why Jesus taught us, not to put our hope in money! As the blood drained from people’s faces—some who had everything a person could want in life—Jesus’ piercing question sharpened to an even finer point, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but lose his soul?”

I’ve been reflecting on this over the past few days—for whom and what am I truly living. My increasing desire is to live for what Jesus says matters. In the end, nothing else will.

My increasing desire is to live for what Jesus says matters. In the end, nothing else will.Click To Tweet

3. You Realize How Short The Time Is

One of the most sobering lines of the emergency alert was “THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. It’s like the old adage, “Life is not a dress rehearsal”—we’re living the real thing, right now. There are no second lives to do this one over. However many years we have we’re to steward the grace of Jesus “making the most of every opportunity,” as Paul put it in Ephesians. We’re to ask God to “teach us to number our days” as the Psalmist says in Psalm 90, so we can live every day fully for Christ and His purposes.

I can’t say that my life flashed before my eyes or that I thought death was absolutely imminent. But I did ponder, what if this is the way it ends for me? There’s so much more I want to do. I thought about how much I still want to teach the Bible and minister to people, the missions I want to keep doing in the Amazon and Moldova, the influence I want to have on my nieces and nephews, more time with my parents and family and friends. I realized how short the time really is, even if a missile didn’t end up hitting and I were to get another 50 years. The book of James still calls this a vapor. It made me more intentionally ask myself, what am I doing with the amazing gift and grace of another day?

4. It’s Nice To Have A Clear Conscience

In that very short window of time one of the most surprising things I was thankful for was a clear conscience. I would have never thought this to be one of the big takeaways, but it was a significant realization for me. In that moment, I was so grateful there wasn’t anything I was covering up, running from, or regretting that the Lord and I hadn’t already dealt with. I can’t say that this has always been the case with me. There have been seasons in my life where if I’d found out that a ballistic missile was aimed my direction I would have thought, yep, that feels about right.

A clear conscience is not the same as perfection. I certainly don’t always get it right (not even close), but there was something peaceful and freeing about knowing that I wasn’t living in blatant sin. That I’m following the Lord with open-handed obedience. People have asked me over the years how I live in obedience to Jesus, sexually and otherwise. The first answer I give is that I’ve come to discover—sometimes the hard way—that absolutely no pleasure is worth sacrificing the peace I have with Jesus. When the threat of a missile came my way, the peace of a clear conscience was a surprising gift.

I've come to discover that absolutely no pleasure is worth sacrificing the peace I have with Jesus.Click To Tweet

5. It’s Good To Know Where You Stand With Jesus

Besides the words “BALLISTIC” AND “MISSILE”, I was most haunted by the word “INCOMING”. Because an outgoing missile is not a problem—it’s the incoming ones you have to worry about. And yet when I think about what Jesus tells me I have to worry about most, He turns this upside down. He says that it’s not what comes into a person that’s the problem, rather it’s what comes out of a person’s heart.

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth—this defiles a person… Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a person. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slander. These are the things that defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a person.” (CSB Mt 15:11, 17-19)

In other words, however bad all the INCOMING stuff is, it’s the outgoing stuff of our hearts that’s our far greatest problem. Both the Old and New Testaments refer to it as sin. The law exposes it. Religion tries to fix it but can’t. We try to polish it with good deeds, or escape it with pleasure or wealth or success, or decide we don’t believe in something so drab and dour and out of touch as sin. But we simply know it’s there, whatever we may try to do with it.

The stunning, absolutely exhilarating truth of the Christian faith is that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to save us from our guilt, our shame, our sin. To purify our hearts so that when the day of reckoning comes for each of us, we won’t have to fear the incoming arrows of the enemy nor the outgoing sin of our hearts. The only thing God will see in us is the righteousness of Jesus. This is what is referred to in Scripture as the incredibly good news of the Gospel.

In the face of what ended up being a false alarm, this Gospel rang ever true.

A Newer You in the New Year

A Newer You in the New Year

Happy New Year, friends. If you’re anything like me, every last Christmas tree needle has been swept from the house, the gnarls of Christmas lights are tucked away in boxes, and you just found a stray ornament that didn’t make it into those boxes—one that will possibly sit on your dresser until next year, because you’re just not walking that thing down into your unfinished basement when it’s 6 degrees outside. Or maybe no one is like me. At any rate, here we sit at the top of a new year. A fresh slate prime for dreams and ambitions to be etched into its stone. Another chance to strive for what might not have been accomplished last year. A new beginning.

In the midst of the excitement and zeal for the months ahead, a stark reality exists—a change from one year to the next doesn’t mean we’ve changed. But you knew that. Whatever we hope will be different about ourselves in 2018 will only be so if we do something different than we did last year. If we make changes. Thus, the ever-popular New Year’s Resolution.

But I don’t want to talk to you about resolutions today. Rather, I want to talk about milk versus meat. I want to talk to you about being spiritual people instead of worldly people, or merely human people. This is actually really thrilling and may be our answer to not only a new year but also a newer us. Follow me for a moment into Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church—a letter particularly applicable to our day and culture.

Paul wrote that he was speaking to the church in words “taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.” (1 Cor 2:13.) As I sometimes struggle to understand the things I read in the Bible, or even the deeper Christian writings, my first thought when reading this passage this morning was, Lord, if the Spirit teaches spiritual things to spiritual people—and often I don’t hear you in the way I long to—am I not as spiritual as I need to be? Have I let the pleasures and comforts and selfish desires of this world overtake me?

 I know what you’re thinking— “Don’t be too hard on yourself or so legalistic, especially at the top of a happy New Year.” But it felt like a good and liberating question to ask the Lord. I continued reading…

“For my part, brothers and sisters, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, since you were not yet ready for it…because you are still worldly. For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not worldly and behaving like mere humans?” (1 Cor 3:1-4.)

Again, HAPPY NEW YEAR FRIENDS! Isn’t this encouraging?

The freeing truth is encouraging, yes: when we evaluate the selfishness and envying and strife we often foster in our relationships, we begin to see how these get in the way of hearing the voice of the Spirit in our lives. When we’re competitive or unkind, or worldly in our thinking and passions, it reveals a spiritual immaturity we want to grow out of in 2018, not simply for better behavior’s sake, but so we can grow into being spiritual people who understand spiritual things…so the Lord doesn’t have to hold back a feast for mere formula.

One of the crucial processes to growing into spiritual maturity is through studying the Bible. The reason this is true is because both the Old and New Testaments testify of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, the One whose grace forms us into His likeness so we can further grasp the way the Spirit would have us to live. The Bible reveals Jesus to us. So if we’re going to be different in 2018, we have to commit to studying His Word.

If we're going to be different in 2018, we have to commit to studying God's Word.Click To Tweet

The most spiritually transformative period of my life took place over a decade ago when I realized that so much of my depression, anxiety, unrest, general stuckness, and perpetual unhappiness had to do with having placed my hope and affections on the stuff and the people of this world—some of which was inherently really good. These people and things had become harmful because they had become all-consuming idols. The Lord, in His kindness, stripped me of these false gods that weren’t bringing me lasting joy anyhow, turning my attention and affections to Himself. My whole life changed. Not simply because of a new year but a whole new way to live.

If you’re looking for joy, hope, or healing in the New Year—if you’re desiring not just a new year but a newer you—studying the Bible reveals where we find that joy, hope, and healing. It tells us how to be spiritual people who understand the secret of spiritual knowledge. It’s all found in Jesus Christ, and no other god rivals Him.

The Bible tells us how to be spiritual people who understand the secret of spiritual knowledge.Click To Tweet

How will you be different in 2018? What steps will you take? What will you do differently? Whatever you do, make studying the Bible a top priority starting in January.

If any of my story resonates with you, you might consider beginning your year with No Other Gods: The Unrivaled Pursuit of Christ, a Bible study based on the passages of Scripture that have so changed my life. I recently re-wrote that study and added teaching videos to it. You can find the DVD leader kit and member book in my store.