A camping trip.

It was a rough evening for Jacob. He was on the road from his home in Beersheba to the town where his mom grew up, to see family he had never known. He was about 80 miles into a 600-mile journey.  And though he was in his forties, my guess is that he was telling himself, “am I there yet?”

It wasn’t just a family reunion trip, though. He was leaving home because half of his family was mad at him.

His brother Esau was the impulsive brother. He was the adventurer brother. He was the “out in the wilds hunting” brother. He was the brother his dad liked best.

And a couple times Jacob took advantage of his brother.

The last time, he put on clothes that would smell like his brother, he fixed food that would taste like his brother’s, so that his dad, Isaac, would give him the blessing, would make him number one in the will.

Blessings mattered. It was a time when words carried weight, where the things you said to a person gave that person an identity that affected their relations with themselves and with others.

It was a time not completely different than ours.

Isaac prayed that God would make Jacob, pretending to be Esau, productive, that God would give Jacob, pretending to be Esau, influence and reputation, that the brothers of Jacob, pretending to be Esau, would bow down to Jacob pretending to be Esau. In other words, Esau would be subject to Jacob.

When Esau found out, he was furious.

And Esau was desperate.

“Don’t you have another blessing for me?” he asked Isaac.

Their mother, Rebekah, suggested that Jacob should leave town. Go to her family. Wait for Esau to calm down.

So Jacob left.

stoneAnd on this night, alone, not far from a small town but not able to go in, Jacob lays down, positions a rock to hold his head, and falls asleep.

As he begins to sleep, I want to stop and think for a moment. We all want to know that someone knows us. And we want to know that we are loved. But we are afraid that if someone really knows us, we won’t be loved. That’s why we hide.

It’s true in relationships with other people. Because it’s true in relationships with God.

Deep down, we’re made for relationship with God and others. But we want to have relationship on our terms. We want to make the arrangements, to disclose only what we want to disclose. We don’t want to lay out our fears and failures and doubts and insecurities because we don’t think that we’ll be loved.

And so like Jacob, we live in between home and somewhere else, a little afraid of revealing our hearts. Afraid of what God might do.

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This is part one of a reflection from Genesis 27-28. Part two tomorrow.

Hope and blueberry-peach pie.

We have a daughter. Her name is Hope. But I can’t remember whether or not she likes blueberry-peach pie. So this isn’t about her.

It is about expectation and anticipation and confidence. And uncertainty. And blueberry-peach pie.

Sunday was a very long day at work for me, which means that it was a hard day for several families. In the middle of the afternoon, Nancy texted me that she was making blueberry-peach pie.

I know Nancy’s pies. They are consistently good. I know Nancy’s texting. When she says she’s making something, she is making something.

PieWhen I got the text about the pie, I knew without a doubt that when I got home, I would find pie. It didn’t take away the hurt that I felt for families. It didn’t remove any of the hours between the text and the taste. But it did give me a sense of expectation, if I chose to remember the pie and its maker.

That last part is important. As heavenly as the pie tastes, served by anyone else, eaten alone rather than together, something of deep significance would be lost.

And through the afternoon, as the workday got longer, there was no condemnation, only words of encouragement and identification.

And a reminder of pie together.

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We talk often about heaven. About someday arriving at our relief and reward. And I accept that the streets of gold may be as attractive as pie of peach (and blueberry). But I think that we often miss that the best part is the “with” part. A “with” that begins now, that reads, “And I am with you always.”

When I face temptations and accusations, both internal and external, I forget the with part. I find it easy to think that the orientation of Jesus swings from condemning us to commanding us. But what he says is that he’s accompanying us.

As we anticipate the pie. On the counter. After work.

A memory walk.

I was talking to a group recently and mentioned setting a record in a high school golf tournament. As a sophomore, I earned a score of 100 on nine holes.

If you don’t play golf, you need to know that the lowest score wins. And that professional golfers routinely score between 65 and 70 for eighteen holes.

After the meeting, someone asked about it. I said I hit 25 strokes on the first hole alone. And then I described the beginning of the hole, and my first six strokes (into water from the tee twice). I also remember the next three, and the last four. The other twelve are lost at the moment.

And then I realized that I was remembering details from one game of golf in 1973. Forty-four years ago.

At the time no one shamed me. No one mocked me. They may have pitied me a bit. But I didn’t need their help. I’ve been laughing and cringing about it for decades.

I remember several other moments from my golfing life. Almost all of them are memories of mistakes, frustration, anger, and struggle. Almost none of them are about walking with my dad on a beautiful course in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

DadAnd yet now, as I am writing this, I smell the course and hear the screendoor on the clubhouse. And the “good shot” from my dad. And the time quietly walking.

I think that God invites us out of remembering the frustration of our failures. Like when Jesus invites his disciples to rest in him. And when Paul invites us to forget what is behind.

And I think that God may invite us to stop and remember the moments that we were walking on the golf course or down the hospital corridor with him.

It’s easier, I admit, to remember the details of my horrible round. But at the moment, I think I want to spend time remembering the walking with.

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I’m working on a hospital journal idea.

The soil.

Now that we’ve thought about seed, Jesus says to understand the growth of belief or the absence of growth, pay attention to the soil.

Some people live with arms already crossed and ears covered. If they were face-to-face with Jesus, they would turn the other way. Sometimes, perhaps, they have good reason. Their capacity to hear has been trampled by life. Other times they just refuse to listen. Whatever the case, the words of another kingdom do not take root.

WheatOther people respond quickly. They hear that the kingdom of God is a happy place, and they are happy. But they missed the part where Jesus said that there would be persecution, that people who know God still get sick, still face death. When that happens, as it always will, they feel betrayed. They give up hope.

Other people respond and start growing. But they get distracted. Jesus talks about the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Keeping up with other people’s expectations can take all of our energy and we don’t have time to converse with God. Wealth can tell us that the way to happiness is more wealth. And soon, we can’t even hear the good news of the kingdom that we don’t have to live to keep up.

But, Jesus talks about a fourth group of people, who hear the news and receive the news and respond to the news. They expect resistance because Jesus said it would happen. They know that it takes work and trust. They grow.

And then those people start to break up the soil. They offer people new chances to survive the challenges of life. They call people back from their distraction.

If you are a farmer, plant seed. All the time. Prepare the soil, whenever you can. And know that the harvest isn’t up to you.

Because it’s not our kingdom, it’s God’s.

Thinking about seeds.

Yesterday, we walked through the farming story that Jesus told. It’s a story that makes sense just as a story. But then Jesus starts to explain it.

The seed, Jesus says, is the news about the kingdom of God.

He talked about it all the time. He taught us to pray often that God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

FieldAs Jesus talked and lived it, it is a place of community for the lonely, welcome for the rejected, healing for the sick, rest for the weary. Yet it’s not a place, as in a building. It’s not a mindset or an attitude. It’s wherever and whenever people orient their lives toward the king.

And a tiny understanding of that message is like a seed, that starts tiny and grows in our lives.

But nothing grows if you don’t plant seeds. The soils can’t respond if there is nothing to respond to.  And so the farmer spreads seed. Generously. Abundantly. Everywhere.

The farmer, who at that moment and in that story was Jesus, was tossing out words of the kingdom of God all the time. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” That’s what he said. “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s what he said.

And then, what he did said even more. He talked to children. He talked to women. He talked to Samaritans. He touched people who were sick without flinching. He spent patient time with people who asked the same questions over and over. He lived and died and rose again.

He was planting seeds about the kingdom all the time with every word and every act. Which is the invitation and command to those who follow up. Plant seed, all the time. Speak of forgiveness, and then live it. Touch without flinching. Share without judging.

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Tomorrow, the soil.