Cooking with Paul: Sprouting Prayers

Cooking with Paul: Sprouting Prayers

Brussel Sprouts

  • 15 Brussel Sprouts, cleaned and halved
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ c. bacon bits
  • ½ large Vidalia Onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Parmesan Cheese, Grated

Place olive oil, butter, garlic, bacon bits, and onion in sauté pan on medium heat. Add Brussel Sprouts cut side down in the pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and steam until fork tender. Do not flip sprouts, but occasionally move them in the pan to prevent sticking. Top with fresh parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. This was a testimony that was given at the right time. I was appointed to be a preacher and apostle of this testimony—I’m telling the truth and I’m not lying! I’m a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. – Making Prayer the Priority, 1 Timothy 2. 1-7

Every good recipe has a beginning! Cooking requires some well thought out planning. In this text Paul has a beginning he desires for his people to follow almost like a recipe. He instructs the people to begin with prayer. If you ever wondered if prayer was important to the early church note that Paul says, “First of all…” The beginning point of our relationships with God and neighbor always begins with prayer. So we begin with making our requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings for all people.

Paul insists that Jesus desires for all people to be saved. Jesus is our one and only Mediator, our supernatural satellite for communication between us and God himself. Imagine that Jesus just paid your wireless and land-line internet and phone services for the rest of your life with unlimited texting and data streaming. No passwords to remember! He’s better than a video call on Skype, ooVoo, or Zoom. And, you won’t have to get HandBrake to upload your video on Vimeo to communicate your requests. Imagine sending an email to God and it is so long that you needed DropBox to download it. Google Docs couldn’t handle it! No need to worry if you are longing for encouragement because you don’t have to wait on Spotify or Pandora to load up your favorite encouragement. Even if you can read the word at your fingertips on bible apps like You Verse, Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible, God has quicker access! I bet that would get a lot of likes on FaceBook, a quick Tweet, and even a photo-bomb on Instagram or SnapChat. 

Come on, Folks! With all the technological advances there’s never going to be any experience like a prayer meeting or a meditative moment alone with God. If you find the electronic devices more exciting than time with God, you really have not experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Ask! You will receive! That’s the promise. There is no substitutes for God’s prayer plan for us.

Paul is exhorting (Smart Lookup: strongly encourage) the church to make prayer a priority especially for people in authority, even kings. And, Paul closes his comments by pointing out that he is an appointed preacher, teacher, and apostle to the Gentile people. Paul declares that he is a messenger representing the original message of the One who has sent him: Salvation for all people. Paul longs to ensure the inward and outward holiness of heart and lives. To be sure holiness begins with an authentic prayer life. We should be in prayer for all people. 

Father God, open my heart in prayer to the advances of the Kingdom of God. I long to speak the prayers you desire for me to pray for all people, not simply the struggles within my own life. Save the broken minds of people who are struggling with addictions to electronic devices. Transform my understanding of what it means to be in a prayerful relationship with you. As I walk this world may my every adventure bring the manifest presence of the Almighty into every waiting heart. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Hashing it Out

Cooking with Paul: Hashing it Out

Hash Brown Potato Casserole

  • 32 ounces country style hash brown potatoes, frozen – thawed overnight
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 c. chicken, cooked and shredded (optional)
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • ¼ c. bacon
  • ½ c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • ½ c. Mexican Blend cheese, shredded
  • 1 large Vidalia Onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • 1 Sleeve Ritz Crackers, crumbled
  • ½ c. Butter, melted

Mix together soup, chicken (optional), milk, sour cream, bacon, cheese, onion, and garlic. Fold in potatoes that have been thawed overnight in the refrigerator. Don’t forget to leave your potatoes in the refrigerator overnight or they will not cook properly in the casserole. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour mixture in 13×9 baking dish sprayed with Pam Original. Smother with crumbled crackers. (Try using a zip lock baggie to reduce mess.) Drench with melted butter. Bake at 400 for about an hour or until the mixture is hot and bubbly.

Timothy, my child, I’m giving you these instructions based on the prophecies that were once made about you. So if you follow them, you can wage a good war because you have faith and a good conscience. Some people have ruined their faith because they refused to listen to their conscience, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander. I’ve handed them over to Satan so that they can be taught not to speak against God. – Godly Reasoning, 1 Timothy 1.18-20 CEB

One of my favorite places to vacation is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There along the 200 miles of coastal barrier islands runs the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Just off the coast of these narrow islands lies a ghost yard of marooned ships. Today there are numerous lighthouses that dot the landscape of these islands warning ships to beware of the sandbars just under the surface of the ocean. This graveyard for ships is not unlike these two people who serve for us as a warning that our faith may become shipwrecked if we refuse to listen to a good conscience and speak abusively about God.

Paul advises Timothy to fight as a military soldier with a strategy to win a victory. There are two men who have rejected the faith and are speaking against God. The concept “refused to listen” is an understatement in this translation because it fails to capture the fullness of what Paul implies: their faith has been vehemently and intentionally shipwrecked. Paul is very clear about the outcome – ruined faith. They have been handed over to the adversary of their soul to be taught not to speak against God. Just like the bones of lost ships remind us not to trend in dangerous waters so these two men remind us not to go against our good conscious and speak abusively about God.

The question remains: What exactly were they speaking about that shipwrecked their faith? In this text the actual conflict is very vague. I wonder what Paul means by “good conscience.” Is Paul talking about a generic reasoning of the mind or the insights provided by the Holy Spirit? There are times in life when we fight against God because we have trouble discerning what God is asking of us. Our reasoning often fails to comprehend the supernatural reality of God in our midst. We often see this when we are facing debilitating illness when we ask the question, Why God? We cannot understand the ways of God. Job’s story proves our point. Bad things do happen to good people. Look at Jesus who died such a violent death. Our natural reasoning often fails to understand the greater purposes of God. When have you failed to comprehend God’s presence and purposes in your life? Have you blasphemed God?

Lord Jesus, you are my great intercessor. Stand in the gap of my lack of understanding of why bad things happen so that I might embrace the truth that your reasoning is not my reasoning. If I have ridiculed what you are doing in my life or the life of others, convict my heart to repent. Help me to follow the insights of the Holy Spirit and not my personal preferences. Like Job help me to wait for the abundant blessings that follows heart-felt obedience. Jesus, help me to remain silent before my adversaries, offering only forgiveness and not condemnation. May my thoughts be your thoughts. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Out of the Frying Pan

Cooking with Paul: Out of the Frying Pan

Pan-Seared Asparagus

  • Bundle of Fresh Asparagus
  • 2 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 T. Butter
  • ¼ c. Bacon Bits
  • ¼ large Vidalia Onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 t. Garlic, minced
  • ¼ c. Fresh Basil Flakes
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • ½ c. Fresh Parmesan Cheese, shredded

Clean and prep fresh bundle of asparagus by rinsing then snapping the roots off. Gently bend fresh asparagus which should easily snap at the place where the roots become tough. Discard roots. Place asparagus in a self-sealing skillet with the olive oil, butter, bacon, onion, and garlic. Sear the asparagus until tender on medium-low heat. Be intentional not to overcook asparagus or it will become tough and stringy. Season with basil, salt, and pepper. Top with cheese. Enjoy!

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all. But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen. – Paul’s Testimony, 1 Timothy 1.12-17 CEB

 My kids grew up watching Veggie Tales, and one of their favorite distinguished characters was Archibald Asparagus. They loved to imitate Archibald Asparagus with his Hogan’s Hero imitation of Colonel Wilhelm Klink and his monocle eyewear. If I could create a caricature of Paul from this passage, he might just have a little Archibald Asparagus and a little Colonel Klink included. To be sure Paul is a distinguished character with a remarkable testimony. He never shies away from using his testimony to get his point across to believers. It is undeniable that Paul knows the personal experience of the transforming power of grace and mercy.

Paul undergirds his letter to Timothy by using his own testimony as a foundation for teaching the right way to live. His arguments are often abrasive in the New Testament, getting his point across quickly while packing quite a punch which he does so here in this letter. He describes himself as a blasphemer, or someone who vilifies God. He hunted people down for the sole purpose of destroying the Christian faith. He became a sadist, a person known for his violent passion for destroying the fledgling Christian community. Paul was arrogant in his calculated work to physically harm, verbally insult, and publically humiliate believers. To be sure God took pity on his unbelieving heart and hateful disposition by lavishly pouring out mercy (forgiveness) and dispensing a torrent of grace (favor) (Rienecker & Rogers 617).

Paul intentionally shares his testimony over and over in Scripture as a means of evangelism and discipleship. As I read Paul’s writings I am convinced that his use of his personal testimony pointed out how important it is to know that nothing can keep us from God’s grace and mercy. Grace (χάρις) – translated favor – and mercy (ἠλεήθην) are key words in this text for up and coming believers to experience. Grace is the experience of God’s blessing or favor upon us even when we don’t deserve it. Mercy is the experience of God’s unforgettable forgiveness provided for us in the cross of Christ. Paul’s testimony points out that grace and mercy are not just concepts but lived experience of a supernatural reality that happens in the heart of every believer. If you have not experienced grace and mercy, ask God for a fresh infilling of his Holy Spirit to give you that blessed assurance of his presence in your life today.

O God, I am reminded from this text that my testimony should be used to build up the Kingdom of God, not tear it down, nor should I disregard the story of how I have been transformed by the experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul’s story illustrates how his misguided passion for his personal religious worldview missed the mark – even to the point of destroying the new fledgling community of faith. Lord Jesus, I ask that my testimony be beneficial in evangelism and discipleship of others. Show me how important it is to personally experience grace and mercy then share it with others just like Paul. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Clean Your Plate

Cooking with Paul: Clean Your Plate

Broccoli Casserole

  • 2 bags chopped broccoli, frozen
  • 1 c. cooked shredded chicken
  • ½ large Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • 1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
  • ½ c. mayonnaise
  • ½ c. cream/milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 c. grated Mexican Cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers, crumbled
  • ½ stick butter, melted

Combine chicken, soup, mayonnaise, cream, egg, and cheese until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fold in broccoli then pour into a 13×9” baking dish sprayed with Pam Original. Top with crumbled crackers and melted butter. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Because they missed this goal, some people have been distracted by talk that doesn’t mean anything. They want to be teachers of Law without understanding either what they are saying or what they are talking about with such confidence. Now we know that the Law is good if used appropriately. We understand this: the Law isn’t established for a righteous person but for people who live without laws and without obeying any authority. They are the ungodly and the sinners. They are people who are not spiritual, and nothing is sacred to them. They kill their fathers and mothers, and murder others. They are people who are sexually unfaithful, and people who have intercourse with the same sex. They are kidnappers, liars, individuals who give false testimonies in court, and those who do anything else that is opposed to sound teaching. Sound teaching agrees with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that has been trusted to me. Timothy’s purpose in Ephesus, 1 Timothy 1.3-11 CEB

Timothy has been tendered a difficult task of amending those who are spreading wrong teaching by their words and actions. Paul quickly hands Timothy a list of corrections for the wordsmiths including abandoning their prattle of myths, genealogies, guessing games, and meaningless talk. And, he completes the opening paragraph with ungodly sinful illustrations that cannot be misunderstood as anything less than opposition to the Gospel message. The misguided behaviors are disobedient, unspiritual, and sacrilegious. Timothy is given the charge to redirect those who are involved in misguided sexuality, human trafficking, deceitful talk, and offering false evidence in court. Basically, Paul implies that these folks are smooth-talkers who create their own version of truth. Paul advises that the goal of the faith is a heart full of uncorrupted “agape” love, honest integrity, and unchanging beliefs.

The truth here may read differently across the various bible translations. You might have noticed that this version of the Bible reads differently from yours. I began reading the Common English Bible a few years ago, and I find its translation easy to understand even when the corrective measures are counter-cultural. The NRSV translates misguided sexuality as “fornicators, sodomites, and slave traders.” That’s pretty descriptive language. If we read other texts that reference Ephesus in the New Testament, we might be able to gather a broader picture of what young Timothy is dealing with here at Ephesus including sections of Acts 18-20, 1 Corinthians 16, 1 & 2 Timothy, the Letter to the Ephesians, and Revelation 1 & 2.

Timothy has a lot on his plate that the believers will find hard to swallow. The Gospel is so counter-cultural it’s like eating something strange. Maybe you remember your parents inviting you to clean your plate when you were a child, especially when you had to eat vegetables like broccoli. We often resist the very things that are good for us in light of things that what we prefer to view as social norms in our culture. However, in light of this text we ought to clean our plate with all the vegetables we don’t particularly like.

O Lord, you call me out of wrong thinking and bad behavior but often I refuse the warning. There are leaders in the church that are given the task of leading believers into Biblical orthodoxy. Here your word advises me that agape love does not overlook the cultural norms, but guides believers into the transforming process of sanctification. But living counter-cultural is not always easy. Give me the courage to speak correctly and live right. Amen.

Cooking with Paul: Eat Your Spinach

Cooking with Paul: Eat Your Spinach

Creamy Spinach Dip

  • 8 ounces cream cheese          ½ c. mayonnaise
  • ½ stick butter                           ½ c. cream or milk
  • 1 t. minced garlic                     ¼ c. parmesan cheese, shredded
  • ¼ c. bacon bits                          salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bag chopped frozen spinach, slightly thawed
  • 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers
  • 1 t. sage
  • ½ stick butter, melted

Blend together in a microwave safe bowl cream cheese, butter, garlic, and bacon by microwaving for 60 seconds on high. Stir in mayonnaise, cream, and parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the slightly thawed frozen spinach. Top with crumbled Ritz crackers and sage mixture. A small ziplock baggie works great for crumbling crackers. Top with melted butter. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Enjoy with Scoops Tortilla Chips or as a side to any meal.

From Paul, who is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the command of God our savior and of Christ Jesus our hope. To Timothy, my true child in the faith. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord. – Greeting from 1 Timothy 1.1-2 CEB

Moms are known for their encouraging words to their children – eat your veggies! Some of those veggies are not favorite foods much like creamy spinach. In my childhood I would never have considered eating spinach, but now it is a favorite. Oh how we are given the opportunity to mature with age! Here Paul is owning his right to encourage his protégé in the faith to part-take of good spiritual nutrients. 

There are times in our lives that we find ourselves communicating truths to those we mentor and guide into maturity in Christ Jesus. In this letter Paul is writing to Timothy, someone he considers to be his spiritual child. There is no doubt how much Paul took ownership and responsibility for Timothy’s personal spiritual growth. In my own journey there are three kinds of people that I invest in – colleagues, friends, and protégés. There are people who have become lifelong ministry colleagues, and we share knowledge about ministry. There are those whom I have developed friendships with whom I share deeply out my personal struggles in my prayer life. And, there are those whom I have chosen to join my life to theirs and invest in their spiritual growth and development. 

Sometimes whether we are colleagues, friends, or protégés, there are things we find hard to swallow like a food we dislike. (Go ahead and make a bad food face!) Teachings we might not be so eager to learn such as the value of young people emerging as leaders. When was the last time you chose to disciple someone that was young in their faith? How important is it for those maturing in the faith to reach behind them to raise up the next generation for service? What are you going to do about it?

 Lord Jesus, help me to learn to swallow what I don’t want to hear. Show me a person who I can mentor in the faith and allow me to be a good leader to them. Help me to both teach and learn, to be both teacher and student, so that I may discover my place in your kingdom. Amen.

New Beginnings: Jacob “Israel” & Family

New Beginnings: Jacob “Israel” & Family

Gen 25-49

Story is a major style of communicating God’s relationship with humanity. Across the pages of Scripture, we can read story after story of how God encountered a person’s life, and deep change followed. Some of the stories demonstrate a positive outcome and other stories illustrate judgement. In fact the whole Bible is framed within the context of lineage, a family tree, beginning with Abraham (Mt 1) or Adam (Luke 3) depending on which composition you read. Matthew’s Gospel points out that it is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob formed the roots of the family tree. And, it is Luke’s Gospel that help us to see how Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not the beginning of the covenant, but the covenant stretched all the way back to Adam. Luke sees Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as just one of the family stories in the global picture of God’s original design. To be sure the original intent hinges on these family stories of a God who sees his people and desires for their faithfulness to be rewarded with more family

First born sons in the ANE were valuable in sustaining the family tree. With the level of difficulty in living everyday life choices were made to ensure that the family lineage would survive. One way to ensure the continuation of the family was the dispersion of resources. The first born would receive a double portion, or twice the inheritance, as an investment for the longevity of the family name. The first born were indebted to their father, and were expected to sustain the family compound.

Some people understand these stories as the Old and New Testaments, but perhaps the best translation is “covenant.” The whole concept of “covenant” has gotten lost with our culture. But the original composers understood the concept of “covenant” as an abiding relationship. The Hebrew word is berit (covenant). Covenant is much like a contract or treaty. We witness Abraham walking the promised land seeking to wheel-and-deal with his neighbors to secure his safety in their relationships. These negotiations invited the neighboring people to become like family with a level of responsibility and privilege that came with being considered a part of the family. In a sense, the covenant agreement created what we understand as a platform for adoption.

In our video clip Sandi Richter points out the essential details of our relationship with God is founded in the Old Testament understanding of cutting a covenant. Where two parties are investing in a lifetime relationship with one another. This covenant is an everlasting covenant (oath, command, statute, and a sworn promise). The covenant helps the people of God to remember the promise made of the suzerain/vassal relationship, and the purpose of that promise. Politics and military alignments went hand-and-hand with ANE covenant agreements. When a stronger community group was dominant in the area, they would operate in a “lord/suzerain” and “servant/vassal” manner. In many ways the relationship is not unlike what we would understand as tenant farming in America where the tenant act as a caretaker. The “servant/vassal” would make an allegiance to serve only one “lord/suzerain.”

The word for this in Hebrew is called hesed (love, mercy, loving kindness, faithfulness, loyalty, and goodness). Perhaps a New Testament way of understanding the hesed is the fruit of God’s Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5.22-23). This kind of relationship is worth singing about! Hesed is both eternal and temporal, and is based in the dependent relationship of those who cry out to God himself when they are in trouble. By contrast those who do not cry out to God – those who are wicked and those who are strong – do not seek dependency upon God. God will support those who know themselves as sinner, helpless, troubled, hungry, and thirsty. Those who know they need a deeper prayer life are those who are in position to receive God’s hesed.

The covenant inspires the people to seek the presence of God and the power promised from the commitment. This covenant has become the identity of God’s people on earth as provided by the ruach (breath of God). The ruach brings new life.  This covenant is not simply with words, but implies action and behavioral modifications. The steadfast rule of the Lord God reaches into both heaven and earth with boundless sovereignty. His rule is profoundly merciful and compassionate to those who cry for his help. He is gracious and slow to anger. Let us further consider the hesed of the Lord. The acts of hesed by God’s people toward their opposition is based in covenant relationship. God’s people should not expect hesed from others but they will receive restitution from God himself. Forgiveness is extended to those who will humble themselves, and return to the covenant lifestyle. To live in hesed toward God and neighbor implies that the vassal perform at their very best in the relationship.

I quote one of my favorite characters from the motion picture Star Wars, “Do or do not; there is not try!” says Yoda. The bible teaches us that we are to be whole-hearted followers of God. I like the way the Facing the Giants coach inspires his less than inspiring football team, “Do your best…your very best! Then… leave the results up to God.” In John’s Revelation we learn that God wants us hot, not luke-warm in our commitment to the covenant. God calls his people to live in full-commitment to the covenant even into the next generation. If you want to study and understand hesed, the best place to look is in the Book of Psalms. Throughout the psalms, the concept of God’s love toward his people is spelled out in vivid details. One main ingredient in the covenant is the repetitive nature of God’s commissioned people to carry this covenant forward to the next generation.

We understand the whole of the bible is based in family systems, and that anyone who wants to join the covenant may do so by choosing a different lifestyle. The lifestyle is one of covenant with God. The covenant is passed on by remembering together the mighty acts of God for God’s people. Those stories are handed down from generation to generation. God has ordained every generation to instruct the young to not wander in the wilderness or be like their ancestors. This generational blessing is to be shared with the retelling of family stories about God. Our personal stories also need to be remember and told. Our testimonies aid us in overcoming temptations and strife in our battle against the enemy of our soul (Rev. 12.11). Judas was in Jesus’ inner circle of the covenant life, but he broke covenant with God by betraying him and aligning himself with another suzerain/vassal relationship.

The key to a covenant relationship is surrounded by obedience because we have been loved, loved with a kind of love that is deeply merciful, completely faithful, and tremendously loyal. Covenant is bound with blessings and curses (Deut 28.1-14, 15-68). To be sure both heaven and earth have been called to witness to our covenant keeping agreement (Deut 30.19-20). The ten commandments were cut in two pieces of stone (earth) and written with the finger of God (heaven).

According to Sandra Richter in her book The Epic of Eden, covenant requires the vassal to pay tribute, offer sacrifice, fight wars, obey laws, and remain faithful to the suzerain who is God himself (90)! God desires for his people to understand their role in creation as tenant and stewards of created ordered, and to recognize his authority over all of creation. This is the kind of relationship that Abraham sough from God himself when he cut-covenant in Genesis 15. In essence when God promised Abraham the land and decedents as numerous as the stars, sand, and soil, God was saying, “May what has happened to these animals (which were cut in half) happen to me if I fail to keep my oath” (Jeremiah 34.18-22). We are given a hint at the personalities of the boys already at odds with each other in the womb. One will be stronger, the older will serve the younger. Their appearance is completely different as well as their interests. They were different in their intellect and spirituality.

To be sure Esau was disinterested in the covenant relationship that came with the birthright. Perhaps he assumed that his father’s love for him over his brother would circumvent any disregard for the birthright. The right of the firstborn is to receive a double portion of the inheritance (Deut 21.15-17). Esau did not forfeit his position in the family, but his behavior was reckless. Isaac intended to leave everything to the oldest son and leave nothing for the younger twin. Traditionally, both boys were to be present at the blessing and share in it. Jacob received a four-part blessing: provisions of the land, negotiations with the nations, leadership in the family, and covenant promise from God. There was nothing left to pronounce for Esau except the opposite of the blessing! Jacob was responsible now to find a suitable wife to ensure the family tree would continue. Jacob has been sent away without the family fortune to pay for a bride.

What secures Jacob’s future at the heir to the covenant promise to Abraham is the Lord’s appearance to him personally. The other component that brings assurance that God intends to bless Jacob is the promise, “I will be with you.” Divine Encounter becomes a place of worship. Dreams and night visions are common experiences in the bible. Fresh understanding of God’s name, character and nature are common to those who carry God’s promise. God is not deterred by Jacob’s behavior of making a deal for a birthright, or masquerading as his brother to gain favor with his father. And, now Jacob is marking a place with a boundary stone that this is God’s place. This journey that Jacob is on will soon be defined by his self-development.

The very bait-and-switch technique that won Jacob a birthright has now been used against Jacob. Life lessons! Favoritism continues to plague the family relationships. And, in our next sermon we will see how favoritism will send Joseph to Egypt as a slave. Barrenness continues in the storyline from Sarah to Rebekah and now beloved Rachel. Jacob begins his life in a struggle. There are three notes in the text of the struggle (Gen 25.22, 23, 24). The “boys pushed against each other inside of her,” “two nations…two different people…one people will be stronger than the other,” and “his brother came out gripping Esau’s heel.” Jacob continues to struggle as he invites Esau to sell him his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25.31).  Even Jacob’s mother and father get involved in the wrestle between the boys by taking favorites (Gen. 25.27-28). To be sure Isaac was planning to bless his favorite son to the exclusion of the other, Jacob. It is Rebekah who intervenes on Jacob’s behalf (Gen. 27.1-17, 42-46).

Esau will weep loudly, pleading for a blessing from his father’s hand, which he will not receive. Isaac had no intention of leaving anything to Jacob. At the root of this family dysfunction is favoritism between children, as well as a lack of parenting on Isaac’s part regarding marriage choices. Esau apparently did not understand that Isaac was displeased with his choice to marry the local ladies. Esau has an ah! Moment as he recognized his father’s displeasure and realized his wives were unaccepted in the family (Gen 28.6, 8).

After many years of servitude to his father-in-law, Jacob is called to return home (Gen. 31.13). God had been watching over Jacob all along, and now God is calling Jacob to keep his “solemn promise” to fulfill the covenant (Gen. 28.10-22). When Jacob follows God home, Jacob discover a pacified Esau. When 400 men approach you, expect trouble. But Jacob had sent a procession ahead of him, surely Esau was intimidated. Jacob uses the word chen (favor, goodwill, grace) as he seeks reconciliation with his brother that he might reenter the land of promise (Gen. 8, 10, 15).  In the New Testament we witness a son who has left his home, and finds his way back. It seems that a greeting of rejoicing is met with running, hugs, kisses, & crying (Gen. 33.4). Jacob is bowing himself before Esau as a vassal to the suzerain, submitting to his brother’s lordship in covenant.

There are difficult seasons in our lives when we seek God’s will. We yearn for God to be our suzerain, the one who holds us in the palm of his hands and cares for us. We fight our own flesh as we surrender to his Lordship as we become his vassal, the one who submits. Our responsibility is to remain in that covenant relationship so that God watches over us. And, it is in the midst of our chaotic family system that God will care for us if we but only surrender to his covenant.

Everyday discipleship requires our full attention. Wesley’s 22 Holiness Questions are a great way to reflect on whether you are remaining in God’s grace. Take time with God this week in meditative reflection. When we search ourselves, we find our relationship with God is strengthened.  Click here to read the questions!

New Beginnings: Isaac & His Family

New Beginnings: Isaac & His Family

Gen 21 – 35

“A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” – Habakkuk 3.2

The Bible is a scrapbook! So much of Scripture is storytelling, isn’t it? I like to describe the stories with scrapbook images. Because the stories are so vivid I can just imagine the snapshots of family history taped into binders that hold all the memories of glory sightings. Glory sightings might not be a phrase you are familiar with. It generally means the places in your everyday walking around life where you see God at work. There are a lot of glory sightings in the story of Isaac & his family. But every good historical account of a family begins with the patriarch, Abraham. God made a promise to Father Abraham years ago that he would have a family tree as indescribable as dust in the wind and sand on the seashore. That’s pretty significant! Yet, it all started with one son, Abraham’s only son with his wife Sarah. God’s Covenant with Abraham was a promise that he would have descendants across the many generations to follow (Gen. 12.1-4, 13.14-16, 15.4-5, 17, 18.17-19, 22.15-18). And, so the story begins with a promise of a son, an heir – Isaac.

Time lapsed photography would should definite changes to both Abraham and Sarah as they waited for the promise of a family tree the size of the cosmos. It seems that Abraham was on a very lengthy journey prior to his having his son. And, during that time Abraham wandered the land in which his child would one day inherit. Abraham was preparing for the next generation to inhabit the land of promise with wells for watering flocks and family in addition to altars for worship. Abraham was learning people skills, and how to negotiate with others who were living in the land of promise. Abraham was discovering how to run his household by faith instead of fear by sending people away like his nephew Lot and his concubine Hagar who were not a part of the core family nucleus. God had his eye of Abraham and Sarah for 25 years prior to the conception and birth of their only son, Isaac. That’s a long time to wait for a child… 25 years! In fact they had grown old in the season of waiting. So much so that laughter became the conduit of the mystery of their faith.

Laughter is the sound of a new beginning! Our scrapbooking story begins with the announcement of a beloved son, Isaac, by none less than angels (Gen. 18.1-15). From conception to birth to circumcision to the weaning celebration all the details along the way were filled with laughter. From the promise of a son Abraham fell face down and lay on the ground with what I can only imagine is heart-warming belly laughter. I can only imagine Sarah feeling the rush of embarrassment with girly giggles when she hears the news of a soon coming child. Sarah had been barren for 90 years before she conceived (Gen. 21.2). She was certainly past the age of childbearing, and anything that smacked of youthful behavior. Yet, we hear the announcement and birth of Isaac is shrouded in laughter (Gen. 21.1-5). Sarah declares, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Gen. 21.6). In fact Isaac’s name means “he laughs” (Gen. 21.6-7). His father laughed at the impossibility of his wife conceiving in her old age. His mother laughed at the possibility of she and Abraham becoming parents middle age. Then Ismael laughed at his brother (Gen. 21.8-13) mocking his young life at the weaning festivities. So much laughter with so many different nuances to it… When was the last time you had a hearty laugh? Laughter is the biblical way of expressing a newness that cannot be explained. The newness is a gift from God that is unmerited. The sound of joyous laughter brings grief and sorrow to an end (Mt 5.4, Lk 6.21, Jn 16.20-24).  Laughter speaks to barrenness, hopelessness, and death and says “beat it.” Laughter is the sound of surprise when the impossible becomes possible. But laughter can also be the sound of mocking when someone experiences fearfulness of their future much like young Ishmael. Laughter can turn our mourning into dancing, or set our hearts in fear and embarrassment.

Our laughter can turn quickly to disbelief when our faith in God is challenged. A significant challenge happens when God asks us point blank to give up our choices, our preferences on how our life stories will turn out. Have you been asked to surrender your most valuable possession? Has God invited you to live differently than you ever imagined? Just as Isaac approaches adulthood when he too will take the role of the head of the household, God asks Abraham to submit to the same cultural behavior as the Canaanite worshipers. At that time in history many communities in the Fertile Crescent worshiped child sacrifice. In the midst of a promise fulfilled God requires Abraham to let go of the fulfillment. Abraham take your hands off the wheel! Put your hands up and back away!

Arresting our fears and exercising our faith is key to walking with God. When we enter the second part of our story – the sacrifice of Isaac, our initial expectation would be that Abraham would negotiate with God. Based on Abraham’s cross-country record, having wondered across the promise land and settling conflict in very peculiar ways, one would assume that being tested by God would end miserably in failure. He is a smooth operator with skills at negotiating with kings and kinsmen. We might give him the very generous title of peacemaker or diplomat.

When we read about Abraham’s son Isaac, we really have to take in account the whole family system. We must wrestle with his parents -Abraham and Sarah- with their personality quarks and misbehaviors. What strikes me about Abraham is his ability to manage his life situations. Abraham knew how to handle strife in his life situations then making every effort to strategize to save his future. He was quick to eliminate conflict around him. To be sure Abraham’s personality was centered around manipulating his circumstances to avoid conflicts. As we observe the other leaders around Abraham, we could deduce that the Abraham was faced with domineering communities such as Egypt (Gen. 12.10-20). They were conquerors. And, it stands to reason why Abraham would want to avoid conflict with those kinds of people for fear of being enslaved by them. Abraham was also faced with leaders who seemed to intimidate him like Abimelek, and we see the embarrassed reaction of Abimelek when he returns Abraham’s wife (Gen. 20.8-18).

To illustrate the various kinds of personality quarks, we are going to play a game together. It’s called “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” We are going to do this together… Ready. Set. Go. What did you choose? For the sake of this sermon you are now going to reflect on which game piece you chose. Rock dominates (rules with an iron fist). Paper manipulates (triangulates others). Scissors intimidate (cut-people down).  Ouch!  It is amazing how we can take a simple children’s game and make it applicable to our adult relationships. Pastor Craig Green defines this analogy of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” in his book entitled “Conquering the Game of Control: Nurturing the Nature of God.” Just when we think our faith is stronger than our fears, this game reminds us that we still may be struggling with our own insecurities in life.

When you think about leadership, are you most familiar with throwing rocks at others, cutting people down, or smoothing relationship issues with negativity. Each style of leadership is reactionary based in our fears. As we assess these behaviors in Isaac’s family tree, we can better assess ourselves. At any given moment, we might be tempted to manipulate, intimidate, or dominate others to get what we want all in the context of fear. However, we must also remember that there are times we might attempt those same behaviors of manipulation, intimidation, and domination with God himself. As we read the story of how God required Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, can you imagine how Abraham’s behaviors might have been different if he had walked in fear instead of faith?

I have often wondered when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his child, the only son who could be eligible to fulfill the promise of God, if God wasn’t after something deep in Abraham’s heart. Perhaps he was testing Abraham to see whether his fear would conquer his faith. It is our good fortune that Abraham is able to conquer his personal preferences for his faithful commitment. Again, I can really identify with this situation. If I were asked to relinquish my children after having been given them as a gift from God, it would be devastating. To imagine God having given a gift only to take it away is a challenge for all of us. It makes us question: God are you just going to snatch my life away without reason or cause? It causes me to pay attention to my fears and my faithfulness.

Faith leads God’s people to acts of prayer, meditation, and blessing. Isaac found himself in the shadow of his father, the man we revere as the Father of our Faith. Being raised as the heir to his father’s household, Isaac would have observed and practiced the faith of his father. Isaac grows into a man who will grieved deeply at his mother’s death (Gen. 24.67). His father took time in his old age after Sarah’s death to arrange a marriage for Isaac. Abraham was very intentional about what kind of marriage was suitable for Isaac (Gen. 24.1-4). There would be no Canaanite women in the lineage.

Prayer will guide and guard Abraham’s servant as he seeks a wife for Isaac. The marriage to Rebekah was swathed in prayer (Gen. 24.12, 15, 45) and wrapped in blessing (Gen. 24.60). If there is included in this story a sworn oath, three recorded prayers, and a blessing how much more praying must have been done in the heart of those involved! It was while Isaac is meditating that his bride-to-be Rebekah would dismount and cover herself with a veil (Gen. 24.62-67). Moments of waiting on God would reveal the future and often leads to times of deep pondering and meditation.

Abraham died and bequeathed all his belongings to Isaac as the head of the household who would continue the lineage (Gen. 25). In the Hebrew tradition the head of the household was bequeathed a double blessing to ensure that the family name would continue. Abraham cared for the other children, but he paid special attention to Isaac as the one who would secure the family tree and the promise from God. As Isaac and Rebekah formed their family bond, Rebekah would be childless. It was through Isaac’s prayer that Rebekah would conceive and bear twins: Esau and Jacob.

After Isaac’s sons were born, the Lord revealed to Isaac the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham through his children (Gen. 26.2-6). God spoke the same commitment, “I will make you descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 26.4).  Isaac followed in Abraham’s footsteps. Where he dug a well for fresh water in the land, Isaac would experience God. Where Isaac experienced God, there he would establish an altar to worship the Lord and pitch his tent (Gen. 26.15, 22, 25). Isaac experienced God; he was called by God to continue the covenant promise given to Abraham (Gen. 26.18, 25, 32-33). After a long life, Rebekah and Isaac would die and be buried (Gen. 35.29). Yet, the promise remains for us today!

The fulfillment of God’s promise is often scandalous. Having grown up in an environment of fear, I was very disappointed to discover infertility issues due to disease complications. I desired to have an emotionally healthy family. But not long after Doug and I were married, I discovered that I had a disease called endometriosis which caused severe pain as well as ruptured cysts in my abdomen cavity. At age 23 I would undergo my first surgery for ruptured cysts and the removal of scar tissue in my abdomen. At the age of 24, 10 months later, I would have the same surgery again to remove more ruptured cysts and scar tissue. At the age of 25, I began chemical therapy to undergo menopause for a year. During that time, I began a master of divinity at A.T.S., I initiated the process of prayer ministry focusing on my inner-healing and deliverance from sin issues in my family tree. Through the process of prayer counseling, I found deep healing from the abusive environment of my community setting. Through it all, Doug and I were seeking to have children with no success. I had tried surgeries, chemical therapies, and infertility specialists to assist our conception. Then initiated adoption services through Catholic Charities.

After many prayer counseling sessions, I was invited to attend a prayer retreat. Many of my friends were involved and knew the prayer team. That weekend I had the privilege of God’s people praying for me, and God spoke clearly that I would conceive a child. About 6 weeks later I had a planned meeting with my physician for a hysterectomy at the age of 27. At that appointment, which happened to be my husband’s birthday, I discovered that I was pregnant with our first child.

When Doug and I first married, we used to visit his grandmother in the nursing home. I remember the moment we shared the news of our delivery date with Doug’s grandmother at the nursing home. She was quick to inform me that she already knew I was pregnant. She had prayed for us to have a child, and God let her know that her prayer would be answered. My fondest memory in seminary is being in Dr. Mercer’s homiletics class – eight months pregnant – and preaching from Mary’s Song in Luke’s Gospel quite unexpectedly as the passages were chosen by alphabetical order. I have it video-taped, and watch it from time to time.

My daughter’s delivery was dramatic as we had our largest snow storm in 100 years with almost two-feet of snow on the ground in Lexington. The day of her delivery date was indeed the day of her arrival. The Sunday night before the Friday delivery date, I felt my water break and we went to the hospital. They would send me home not understanding that my water had been leaking for some time, and my daughter would have a dry birth.

That night I heard from the Lord in my prayers this text from Job, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of distress, For the day of war and battle?…” (Job 38.21-23). I had a vision of the storehouses and it began to snow on our way home from the hospital. It snowed off and on for a week until we reached the snowfall record. We were snowed in the morning that I went into labor. Doug couldn’t shovel our car out of the driveway. Our neighbor, whose name happened to be Angel, took us to the hospital. Because of the weather, only one doctor was able to make it into the hospital at the time of delivery. There was only one nurse who had to work two shifts to cover our delivery crisis. We were the only family in the hospital delivering that night!

Louisville Remembers 1998 Snow Storm:

Lexington Reports 1998 Snow Fall:

When I shared the due date with my aunt, she burst into tears. She had been praying for us to conceive, and my due date was her birthday! Our child’s birthday also coincides with the birthday of my prayer counselor, which makes her birth all the more special! My husband named her Skylar Renee which means “scholar, born again.” There’s just something special about how her name is exactly who she is!  

Then we were later surprised with another unexpected pregnancy, our son. I love that God cares so much for our family that both our children strongly favor each of us as an act of redemption to be sure. And, my husband happens to be the last male heir on both sides of his family tree. Grayson is the last male heir for the Johnson-Bailey family. 

The glorious stories of God hang in the balance relying on families with the birth of their children! God’s promises begin with children and end with children. Children carry the birthright and the blessing forward into the next generation. Childrearing and parenting skills are required in old-age, and it is all a part of God’s plan. The story of our inheritance is wrapped in both history and mystery. The problem we struggle with here in Isaac’s story is the way God’s promise is fulfilled. We are challenged with the problem of faith: believing the unbelievable. The difference between God’s plan and our plan is who is in charge of the fulfillment. We feel a sense of entitlement to plan our own destiny in life. God’s plan is a gift, our plans are plotted by our own wants and desires. God’s plan is unique, because it is not based in impure motives and unproductive power struggles. When we think about how God fulfills his promise through the family system and especially children, we are left with no other recourse that to follow what God has ordained through the word of Jesus. Jesus once said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt. 19.14).

This week I had the privilege of speaking to Maysville Police Chief. As we discussed the local community concerns, I asked him what was his biggest concern that our church might invest in for the sake of improving the community-at-large. His response was that we would have “more compassion” toward our neighbors. I also asked him what people group would he like for us to focus on to help bring about change in our community. His response was “the young children who are still impressionable, teachable, and desire to be in right relationship with authority in the community.” I added to his list my own response, and that is prayer for our community and her leaders. So in three words my focus for the next six months of ministry will be on Hospitality (Agape Love), Children (the least of these), and Prayer.

When we seek to understand the Old Testament stories, we can find the connecting answers in the New Testament. Paul explains that when we walk by faith like Abraham then we too are walking as heirs to the promise of God. “So Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you. So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.’ … He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3.5-14). Paul’s writing in Galatians teaches us that when we welcome Christ into our hearts, we accept the gift of the promise – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3.29).

God’s promise remains that Abraham will have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky, sand on the beach, and dust in the wind. May God bless our children who will one day follow in the shadow of Abraham and walk by faith and not in fear. May our children have a life devoted to God in prayer,  meditation and blessings. May laughter always be upon their lips in the face of their oppositions. Amen.