Tag Archives: God as a Gardener

Thanksgiving Confession

God of all bounty, you have lavished us with good things richly and freely to enjoy. Yet, we have failed to honor you as the source of all these blessings. We speak and act as though our blessings were rooted in our own wise efforts. In mercy, forgive our shameful pride and ingratitude. Fill us with the Spirit of thanksgiving that all we do and say would demonstrate our full and glad acknowledgement that our abundance comes fully from you. Quicken us to give to others freely and gladly, even as you have given to us so plentifully, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

From First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Roanoke, VA. November 2020

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

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 

Renewal

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 22.9-14: And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!

“Here I am,” he replied. Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Meditation: Normally, Mount Moriah was covered with trees and excluded thickets. Thickets are present only where tall trees have been burnt or otherwise destroyed. The destruction of trees that resulted in growth of the thicket on Mount Moriah most likely occurred because of a natural disaster. Whatever occurred, when Abraham reached Mount Moriah, a thicket was adjacent to where Abraham built a stone altar to God.

An evergreen shrub common to the dry, sandy soil on Mount Moriah is the broom tree. The broom tree symbolizes renewal. With renewal comes a restoration of vigor and freshness; what was faded or disintegrated is made whole.

If anyone needed renewal, it was Abraham. Think about what Abraham endured. When Abraham arrived on Mount Moriah he was exhausted and depressed. By this time, Abraham was 120-130 years-of-age. Some of his stamina was lost. Abraham was heart sick: God wanted him to sacrifice his only heir. Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah’s old age. Isaac was supposed to be their reward for following God from Haran to Canaan.

Most of us want so badly to have the kind of faith that Abraham had – faith that God will keep his promises when logic tells us something can’t or won’t happen. Most of us want to be renewed, to be changed from the inside out, i.e., in our heart, mind, and spirit. We want to be different from the society we live in. We want to exhibit Christ in our lives.

One of my firmly held beliefs is that God is aware of my every deep-seated desire. He is pleased when I yearn to be renewed and when you yearn to be renewed. Further, God rewards our yearnings to be renewed in his image.

Reflection: Spend the day pondering ways you need to be renewed. List actions you can take to be renewed in the image of God.

Copyright 9/10/2020, Carolyn Roth Ministry

Rooted in God

Are you Committed to God?

 

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 21.32-34: After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

Meditation

Abraham was living near Beersheba in Canaan. By this time, he had a son, Isaac, dug a well, found water, and negotiated peace with neighbors. Then, Abraham planted a grove of trees and called on El Ôlām, naming God “the Eternal God.” This site near Beersheba is the only place Abraham planted trees. Trees that Abraham planted were tamarisk.  

Tamarisk trees make the desert heat more bearable. At night, moisture increases in the cool air and water adheres to salt particles excreted from branches of this salt cedar. In the morning tiny water droplets appear on branches. As morning sun warms the air, water droplets evaporate, cooling both trees and the shade below trees.

These tamarisk trees were a memorial to Abraham’s commitment to God. God welcomes all individuals to turn to Him. God said, “If a wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him” (Ezekiel  18.21-22).

I’m so happy that God forgave all the sins that I committed as a college student and young woman. This forgiveness means that I’m not going to live my immortal life without God because of my lack of commitment to God in my early years.

God also said, “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16.9). God’s roaming eyes see us. God wants to see a fully committed person.

Reflection: Do you think that you need to be more fully committed to God or are you doing okay at your current level? How can you demonstrate a fuller commitment to him?

Copyright 6/21/2020

Entangled

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 22.2-14: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! “Here I am,” he replied.

Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 Meditation

 Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham and Sarah, the son through whom the Messiah would come. When Isaac was about 16 years-old, God commanded Abraham to take him to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham didn’t hesitate or question God’s command.

On Mount Moriah, Abraham built an altar, arranged wood on it, and tied Isaac on the top of the altar. Abraham picked up his knife. Abraham was fully prepared to sacrifice his heir as God directed him. At the last minute, an angel told Abraham not to kill Isaac. The angel commended Abraham for being willing to obey God.

Abraham saw a ram caught by the horns in a nearby thicket. The thicket held the ram in place in much the same way that Isaac’s bindings held him in place on the altar. Abraham killed the ram and substituted the ram for Isaac as a burnt offering to God.

Thickets are entangled branches, i.e., branches twisted together.  Often entanglements cause confusion. Imagine the confusing thoughts that Satan brought to Abraham’s mind during the three-day walk to Mount Moriah.

Abraham didn’t become entangled in Satan’s lies or become confused by his limited understanding of God or God’s instructions to him. Abraham focused on obeying God.

Most of us have been in situations when our minds are entangled with a problem. We worry the problem as a dog gnaws at a bone. Our minds go around and around trying to focus on every possible solution. Perhaps, we need to focus on how Abraham solved the problem. To him, the solution was simple—obey God.

In this episode, God communicated with Abraham directly, perhaps by voice, in a dream, or in Abraham’s mind. Generally, God doesn’t communicate with us in one of these three ways. Instead, God communicates with us through the Bible. To get his communications, we must read the Bible.

Reflection: Did you ever become entangled in Satan’s lies? Looking back, what did you learn? Was there a better way to proceed through the situation than the one you opted for?

Copyright 6/22/2020