Autumn in the Roanoke Valley

Exfoliate Ourselves

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.37-40: Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals.

 Mediation: After Laban agreed to Jacob’s proposal to grow his personal flock by Jacob keeping only spotted or striped sheep and goats, Laban moved animals with these characteristics three days away from Jacob’s location.  That left Jacob with only solid-colored animals. Laban believed that no or few future offspring in Jacob’s flock would be spotted or multi-colored. Laban believed that once again he outsmarted Jacob.

Normally, the oriental plane tree that Jacob used to influence the color of his flocks doesn’t grow in the United States. Jacob used it in Paddan Aram that is now in Syria. The tree’s bark exfoliates naturally giving the tree a spotted black-white appearance.

Exfoliate means to cast off in scales of thin layers. Plane trees cast off pieces of bark, so the trunk and branches look spotted.

Most of us wish we could exfoliate, cast off some of our foibles and quirks like the plane tree sheds its bark; however, just the opposite occurs. The parts of our character and personality that we want to get rid of, are those parts that seem to cling. I’ve concluded that  trying to get rid of the un-beautiful parts of my being is part of Christian maturity, i.e., becoming progressively more like Christ.

Some days we want to rush forward toward Christ likeness so we can become pure and clean. But total purity and cleanliness aren’t going to happen on earth no matter how much we shed old behaviors and put on new ones. We’re human, which means that we will never reach perfection in this life no matter how smooth our skin appears.

God expects us to struggle as we move forward, as we move nearer to Christ. Do you ever become impatient with yourself and ask, “Why don’t you just make me righteous, God? I’m willing. Just do it, God, so I don’t have to expend all this effort.”

Reflection: Ponder why God doesn’t make us, force us, take all actions necessary to achieve the character of Christ here on earth.

Copyright 10/15/2020; Carolyn Roth 

It’s about Pumpkins

Confession

Eternal God, you do not change. You have revealed yourself to me in your Word. You call me to worship you in spirit and in truth. But I confess that I often worship not your true self but who I wish you to be. I too often ask you to bless what I do rather than seeking to do what you bless. Forgive me for seeking concessions when I should be seeking guidance. Forgive me when my worship shapes you into what I want instead of shaping myself into what you want. Help me to meet you here, that I might bow before your unspeakable majesty and so live for you now and ever, in Christ. Amen.

Do you love Autumn?

Front of St. John Lutheran Church in Roanoke.

What Motivates You?

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.35-40: That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.

Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink.

When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals.

Meditation: After Rachel gave birth to her first son, Jacob told Laban, he wanted to go back to Canaan; but, he didn’t want to go back empty handed. Jacob wanted wealth in  flocks to accompany his wealth in sons. By this time, Jacob had 11 sons, two wives,  two concubines, and servants. He needed possessions to feed and clothe them.

Jacob was motivated to return to Canaan to see his father and live in the land of his birth. At the same time, Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law was motivated to keep Jacob with him. Laban believed that God blessed Jacob; thus, contributed to Laban’s prosperity.  Both men wanted tangible wealth.  Because Jacob was an Israelite patriarch and because Laban was presented in the Bible as manipulative, most readers support Jacob’s motives and reject Laban’s. In reality, nowhere do we read that either Jacob nor Laban made any, or much, effort to ascertain God’s will.

Jacob knew about God from stories and discussions from his father (Isaac) and possibly his grandfather (Abraham). Yet, despite all of Jacob’s foolish decisions earlier in his life and experiencing Laban’s manipulations, Jacob didn’t turn to God for help. Instead, Jacob attempted to influence the color of sheep and goat using tree branches, to include the popular tree. Jacob’s flock of spotted and striped goats and sheep increased. Most twenty-first century Christians don’t believe that spotted and stripped branches impacted the color of sheep and goats.

Ponder: Ponder your actions when you aren’t sure how to proceed.  Do you pray and ask God to intervene in the situation? Alternatively, are you more prone to attempt to solve the situation on your own? If you pray, are you willing to take the same petition to God more than once? A much-quoted American proverb is “God helps those who help themselves.” That proverb isn’t in the Bible. Instead, the Bible tells us to cast your cares on God because God care for you (1 Peter 5.7).

Action: If you aren’t sure whether or not to pray, or if  persistence in prayer is valuable, read Jesus’ parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18.1-8).

Copyright 9/29/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

Superstition! Are You?

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.14-17: Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”

So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob another son.

Meditation: The patriarch Jacob married two sisters: Leah and Rachel. Leah birthed four sons, then stopped conceiving children. Rachel had no children even though Jacob spent his nights with her.

When Leah’s son brought mandrakes to his mother, Rachel proposed a trade to Leah: Jacob will spend the night with Leah in return for Leah giving Rachel the mandrakes. Leah agreed and gave the mandrakes to Rachel. Leah informed Jacob that per the agreement with Rachel, Jacob would spend the night with her.

Jacob appeared powerless in this Bible story. No questions or push-back from Jacob were recorded in the Bible. His wives dictated Jacob’s actions, at least in this episode.

Leah conceived another child as a result of Jacob spending the night with her. Acquiring and somehow using mandrakes didn’t result in Rachel conceiving.

The long mandrake root is shaped like two legs descending from a trunk. The root is most often associated with fertility and conception.

The story of Jacob’s wives and  mandrakes showed that both Leah and Rachel were superstitious. Before we are too critical of these two women, think about individuals today who read their horoscope daily. Believing that mandrakes promoted conception and that a horoscope foretells type of day are   attempts to circumvent God’s will. Both actions reflect a dependence on something other than the God of the universe.

Christians don’t believe in superstition or search for omens in the sky as with a horoscope. Christians have the Holy Spirit to instruct and guide them. God’s Word itself, the Bible, is our source of spiritual insight.

Reflection: Have you ever used superstitious behavior to achieve something you wanted? Why don’t you turn your problems over to God and allow him to handle them?

Copyright: 9/28/2020: Carolyn A. Roth

I’m not good enough

 The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.14: During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah.

Meditation: At this time, Jacob and Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, would have been 8-10 years old. He was old enough to assist the reapers in cutting wheat in the fields. He was old enough to realize that his father, Jacob, didn’t love his mother, Leah. Perhaps, Reuben sensed that Jacob resented that Leah was his wife and he had to provide for her.  Reuben may have doubted his father’s love for him because Jacob made it obvious that he wanted sons with Rachel, his preferred wife.

Reuben wanted to help his mother, Leah, when she stopped conceiving children. When Reuben found mandrakes in the wheat field, he brought them to her. Apparently, Reuben, like Leah and Rachel, believed that mandrakes caused conception in a woman. Reuben wanted his mother to continue having children and being valued by Jacob, if not as a beloved wife at least the mother of additional children.

My concern with this Bible story is that Leah transmitted her anxiety at no longer conceiving children to her son. Equally true, Jacob made his ongoing disregard for Leah and concomitant preference for Rachel obvious to the entire family.

As a child, Reuben may have thought he did something wrong because his father wanted children through Rachel.  Even though he was Jacob’s first-born son, Reuben wasn’t enough to make Jacob happy. Likely, this 10-year-old was distressed by how Jacob discounted his mother. Reuben believed it was his responsibility to make this situation better.

Through the lens of 21st century child psychology, we view this situation as a “no-win” for Reuben. Probably, we would suggest that Leah get him counseling; yet, two centuries before the birth of Christ, there weren’t child psychologists. Like Reuben, children had to weather mal-adaptive family dynamics that from the perspective of the twenty-first century are appalling.

Reflection: What do you do when you feel inadequate in situations, or when you feel discounted by others? God never discounts our feelings. If you aren’t sure about God’s acceptance of you and how you feel, read how King David pour his heart out to God in the Psalms.

Copyright 9/18/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

I’m Famished, Are You?

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So, Esau despised his birthright.

Meditation: Isaac married Rebecca who gave birth to twin boys. Esau was the firstborn and Jacob was born second. In ancient near east cultures, the law of primogeniture (first-born son) prevailed.  As the first-born son and legitimate heir to Isaac, Esau would have been the ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah. But, the line of succession changed.

One day, Esau returned to camp after a time away in the open fields, probably hunting. Esau saw Jacob cooking red lentil stew. Identifying that he was famished, Esau asked Jacob for stew. Jacob’s response was that he would give Esau the stew if Esau swore an oath to give Jacob his birthright. Esau swore the oath in exchange for lentil stew.

Someone in the camp may have heard Esau’s oath to transfer his birthright to Jacob. Despite the tumultuous relationship between the two brothers, Esau never denied that he traded his birthright to Jacob.

Consider the difference in value between a bowl of lentil soup versus being the heir to a wealthy father. Obviously, Esau cheapened his birthright. It wasn’t valuable to him.

Men and women today are famished for someone to believe in, someone to trust. Jesus’ behavior to his human brothers and sisters is diametrically opposite from the behavior of Jacob. Jesus invites each of us to come to him and live with him. We don’t have to barter for Jesus’ blessing.  Freely, he nourishes us with himself and his words, i.e., “the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6.57).

Reflection: You don’t have to barter for salvation, for immortal life with Christ. He gives it to you free-of-charge.

Copyright 9/1/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth 

Straw in the Bible, How Uninteresting

 

 The Word of the Lord: Genesis 24.22-27: When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

Meditation: In this Bible story, an aged Abraham gives a senior servant the task of traveling to Abraham’s hometown, Nahor in Aram, and obtaining a wife for his son, Isaac.

Traveling by camel, the servant arrived at a Nahor well. There, the servant met Rebekah. Rebekah drew water for the camels. The servant gave her valuable jewelry. After seeing the jewelry, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, invited the servant to the family home and offered straw and fodder for the traveler’s camels.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Rebekah is the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. Subsequently, Rebekah travels to Canaan and becomes Isaac’s wife.

Straw: “Fodder” is food (mostly plants) given to animals rather than food which animals forage (graze the land) for themselves. Fodder includes hay, straw, and grasses.

Why the Genesis recorder included that fodder and straw were given to the servant’s camels puzzles me. It seemed unnecessarily  detailed in a book that emphasizes spiritual life. As I thought more about camel and camels’ intake I remembered Christ’s words that individuals can’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth (Matthew 4.4).

Although camels can live on straw and fodder, you and I must have more than physical food. Physical food doesn’t nourish our spirits. To be completely nourished, daily we need to take in God words just as we consume physical food.

Reflection: How are you daily taking in the Word of God so you can be well-fed? Alternatively, are you so occupied with your physical, emotional, and social life that you neglect your  spiritual life?

9/15/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth