So [the king of Israel] prepared a great feast for the [Aramean soldiers], and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. 2 Kings 6:23 (NIV)
As Wendy and I sit each morning over breakfast and peruse the news of the day, we will often discuss different politicians or other individuals making headlines. Of course, there are always certain individuals for whom we have a certain affinity but we don’t always have the most glowing impressions of other individuals.
I’m not sure how and when this happened, but Wendy and I will commonly discuss the notion of having said individuals over for a meal. I think this idea began during a Presidential campaign years ago. A few months ahead of the Iowa Caucuses you can’t spit without hitting a visiting presidential candidate. One year when the number of candidates was off the charts, Wendy and I discussed the idea of how nice it would be to actually have each of the candidates (from any/all parties) over for dinner one at a time. It’s easier to really get to know a person over a good meal and good table conversation. Somehow, the idea stuck and now it comes up quite regularly in our conversations, what it would be like to have so-and-so over for dinner.
Today’s chapter is filled with extreme events from the miraculous to a horrific human tragedy. I have no recollection of this quiet little episode stuck in the middle. The kingdom of Aram shared a border with the kingdom of Israel, and bands of Aramean soldiers were constantly raiding the towns of Israel. Elisha miraculously blinds one of these raiding parties and leads them straight into Samaria, the capital city of Israel. When the king of Israel suggests killing them, Elisha instructs him to treat them to a feast instead.
So, the king of Israel treats the enemy soldiers as honored guests. They sat around the table and enjoyed a feast together. I imagine they swapped stories, laughed together, and got to know one another to a certain degree. The Arameans, knowing they could have been killed, were treated the way Jesus would later instruct His followers to treat our enemies, by blessing those who intend to persecute us. The result? The border raids stopped.
In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of the conference Wendy and I attended this past week that addressed some of the most controversial and divisive topics of our day. One of the most powerful things that the conference accomplished was to share the complex and intimate stories of individuals struggling at the heart of the issue. When issues are translated into human stories, it changes both my perceptions and understanding of the issues themselves. It’s the same principle that the king of Israel and the Aramean soldiers discovered. They came to bust heads and instead broke bread. It changed their attitudes and behavior toward their enemies.
(BTW: Another Presidential election cycle begins later this year. For any candidate who happens to read this, there’s an open dinner invitation here at Vander Well manor! 😉)
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
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. Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)
Back in the day, the age of thirteen meant you could bus tables in the restaurant industry. My buddy Doug talked me into applying to be a busboy at Campiano’s Italian Restaurant in Des Moines. I learned a ton of great life lessons doing that job.
It happened to be payday one evening as Doug and I worked together. I’m not sure who’s idea it was, but we were suddenly floating the idea of having dinner together after our shift. There was something in this idea that felt revolutionary; The invisible bus boys at the bottom of the employee food chain would be the honored customers. One of the waitresses, (I still remember her name was Karen) heard us talking about it and offered to serve us and take really good care of us. So, we did it. We spent our entire two-week paycheck on one meal.
On the surface, the decision seems kind of foolish. If one is merely talking about fiscal responsibility then I agree that it was a foolish choice. Looking back, however, I have never, ever forgotten that meal on that night. That meal was an investment in intangibles that I now look back on with honor.
That meal, and Karen’s humble generosity, taught me that I was just as valuable as any of the rich customers I cleaned up after each night. The true difference, that I so often felt, was not about age or economic status, but in attitude and perception. That meal taught me that sometimes an experience has a value that can’t be calculated by the prices on the menu. It was formative in teaching me the joy of being with good people around a table where good food and drink are gratefully savored as well as the company and the conversation. Things I highly value today.
Today’s chapter begins and ends with contrasting stories. As part of the cultural solidifying of Isaac assuming the position as Abraham’s sole heir, Abraham sends away potential rivals, including children that he’d fathered with concubines. Culturally, Abraham had no responsibility to these sons. They were merely servants in the social pecking order. Abraham, however, gives them gifts as he sends them on their way. In the culture of that day, this was an act of extraordinary and unexpected generosity. It spoke to me of Abraham’s heart and the things he valued.
By the end of the chapter, we’ve quickly been introduced to Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first, and so he is the heir apparent to succeed his father as sole heir and the paterfamilias. Esau arrives at camp after a long hunt and he’s really hungry. He’s so hungry he makes an exaggerated statement about starving to death. His younger twin brother, Jacob, offers to serve his twin brother some food in exchange for Esau’s birthright as the firstborn. It strikes me as Shakespearean, selling your birthright for a bowl of soup. It says something about what Esau valued, and didn’t value.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over my choice to spend an entire two-week paycheck on that steak dinner. In the grand scheme of things, it was of little financial consequence in comparison to the value I found in the experience and the character lessons it afforded me. Esau’s decision, on the other hand, was of great consequence. A life-changing (history-changing) decision was made in a momentary desire to appease a daily appetite.
I make value judgments every day. What do my decisions and choices reveal about what I value, and what I don’t?
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
This month marks our sixth anniversary here at “Vander Well Manor,” the house Wendy and I built here in the most awesome little town in America. Wendy, working alongside our contractor, did a lot of the designing of our house and she did an amazing job.
One of the rooms that got special attention in the design of our home was the dining room. In fact, the original designs had the dining room that you usually see in homes today. It was a tight little space large enough to comfortably fit a standard table for six. We quickly decided that this just wouldn’t do. We ended up creating an entire addition to the house just for our dining room in which we placed a table that comfortably seats eight (but we’ve squeezed 10-12 people around it).
One of our good friends once commented, “You’re the only people I know who actually use your dining room on a regular basis.” Meals are an important piece of life to Wendy and me. It’s where we gather with family and friends. It’s where conversation flows like wine and where community is formed. Even when our girls were teenagers and lives were hectic, we attempted to have at least one evening meal per week in which we were sitting together at the table and engaged one another. Now, the nest is empty, but even Wendy and I frequent the dining room, just the two of us.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 128, is akin to yesterday’s. It’s hard not to understand why the editors who compiled this collection of ancient Hebrew song lyrics put the two side-by-side in the compilation. They are both celebrations of hearth, home, and family.
The words “your children will be like olive shoots around your table” leaped off the page when I read it. Olive shoots were a common metaphor to the ancient Hebrews. An olive shoot is young, green, full of life and possibility. Olive trees have amazingly long and productive lives. One olive tree in Portugal is estimated to be 3,350 years old. That means it was already over 1,000 years old when the writer of Psalm 128 penned the lyrics of today’s chapter. When I visited the olive “garden” outside of Jerusalem where tradition says Jesus went to pray the night of His arrest, I learned that there were trees in that garden today that were alive and present that fateful night.
Wendy and I were so blessed this past Christmas to have the kids and Milo home. As always, meals were an important part of the family agenda from cocktails through dessert. Christmas Day began with a brunch feast and continued in the afternoon with the most amazing charcuterie spread that Wendy and the girls worked together to create. I cherish the experience, and the Life present and celebrated around the table. As the Hebrews say as a toast, “L’chaim!” (“to life!”).
In the quiet this morning, I remember a former colleague who told me that their family ate the entire traditional Thanksgiving feast in ten minutes. She then swore that she wasn’t exaggerating. The family gathered, ate, and were done at the table in ten minutes. I’m not criticizing. That might just be how they roll, and that’s cool for them. As for me, and my house, we’re going to be at the table a little longer than that, enjoying good food, good drink, good conversations, and the good company of one another which happens far too seldom.
Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord… Psalm 102:18 (NIV)
One of the silver linings of our family’s COVID plague has been the extended amount of time we’ve had with our grandson. This includes both moments of three-year-old hilarity and DEFCON FIVE toddler tantrums.
One of the more endearing developments has been Milo’s insistence on praying for our meal every night. Some nights he insists that we hold hands and pray two or three random times during the meal as he prays:
“God is grape. God is good. And we thank Him for the food.”
The sweetness melts this grandparent’s heart, of course. But for me it’s also witnessing the innocent openness and sensitivity of Spirit in the wee one.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 102, is another ancient Hebrew song lyric that was written during a time of intense illness. In fact, the songwriter was not sure that he was going to make it. The song begins with the writer calling out to God to hear and quickly respond, then he pours out the angst-filled description of his medical and emotional symptoms.
As the song proceeds, the tone of the lyric makes an abrupt switch. The writer stops focusing on his momentary circumstance and, instead, focuses on God’s eternal nature and the perpetuity of life. It’s as though the writer is saying “Even if this is it for me, and my number is up, life will go on. That which is eternal perseveres. The universe continues to expand. The next generation will emerge, then the next, and then the next.”
One of the oft-forgotten themes of the Great Story is that of descendence.
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28 “God said to Noah and his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants.’” Genesis 9:8-9 To Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.” Genesis 12:2 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)
The Great Story is a story because it continues, it goes on even when my role is over and I make my final exit. Even in the most tragic and bleak dystopian imaginings, the premise is that Life endures and the story continues.
In the quiet this morning I feel the lingering effects of the virus on my body and realize that at this point in this life journey I don’t bounce back the way I once did. I listen to the unbridled energy of my grandson whose body felt none of the viral effects and who will live his earthly journey without remembering these weeks shut-in with Papa and Yaya.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, for him or for me. No matter the narrative of my story, life will continue in his story. Life gets handed off, a little bit each day, as we sit around the dinner table, holding hands and listening to that little voice say “God is grape.”
Our children posted a rather hilarious video of Milo over the weekend. At first, we couldn’t figure out what he was doing shaking his bum towards daddy’s legs. As we listened to the audio it became more clear that Milo was making like the Stegosaurus on his shirt and shaking his spiky “tail” to protect himself from the predator, played by daddy, whom I presume was cast in the role of a T-Rex. Yesterday, on our Father’s Day FaceTime, we got to witness Milo reprise his role for us a shake his little dino-booty for Papa and Yaya’s enjoyment.
It’s a very natural thing for us to make word pictures and games for our children and grandchildren to introduce them to concepts, thoughts, and ideas that are still a little beyond their cognitive reach. Even with spiritual things we do this. Advent calendars with numbered doors help children mark the anticipation of celebrating Jesus’ birth. Christmas gifts remind us of the gifts the Magi brought the Christ child. Wendy often recalls the Nativity play she and her cousins and siblings performed each year with bathrobes and hastily collected props which helped to teach the story behind the season.
In leaving Egypt and striking out for the Promised Land, Moses and the twelve Hebrew tribes are a fledgling nation. Yahweh was introduced to Moses in the burning bush. Moses introduced the Tribes to Yahweh through interceding with Pharaoh on their behalf and delivering them from Egyptian slavery. Yahweh has already provided food in the form of Manna and led them to the mountain. In today’s chapter, God begins the process of providing a system of worship that will continue to develop a relationship of knowing and being known.
As I described in my podcast, Time (Part 1), we are still at the toddler stage of human history and development. The Ark of the Covenant (yes, the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the plan for a giant traveling Tent to house God’s presence, are all tangible word pictures that their cognitive human brains could fathom revealing and expressing intangible spiritual truths about God.
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that as humanity has matured so has God’s relationship with us. Jesus pushed our spiritual understanding of God. “You have heard it said,” he would begin before adding, “but I say….” I have come to believe that Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection were like the “age of accountability” in which we talk about when children become responsible adults. Jesus came to grow us up spiritually and to mature our understanding of what it means to become participants in the divine dance within the circle of love with Father, Son, and Spirit. On a grand scale, God is doing with humanity what Paul experienced in the microcosm of his own life:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
1 Corinthians 13:11
I have also observed, however, that human beings have a way of getting stuck in our development. Many adults I know are living life mired in adolescent patterns of thought and behavior. Many church institutions are, likewise, mired in childish religious practices designed to control human social behavior, but they do very little to fulfill Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. Again, Paul was dealing with this same thing when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Corinth:
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3a
There is a great example of this from today’s chapter. God provided the Ark of the Covenant, and a traveling tent called the Tabernacle, as a word picture of His presence and dwelling with the wandering Hebrew people. It was a physical sign that God was with them. Once settled in the Promised land, the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem became the central physical location of God’s presence. When Jesus came, however, He blew up the childish notion of the God of Creation residing in one place. Jesus matured our understanding of God’s very nature and the nature of God’s presence. With the pouring out of God’s Spirit to indwell every believer, Jesus transformed our understanding of God’s dwelling and presence. “Wherever two or three are gathered,” Jesus said, “I am among them.” The place of worship transitioned from the Temple to the dining room table. After the resurrection, Jesus was revealed during dinner in Emmaus, making shore-lunch for the disciples along the Sea of Galilee, and at the dinner table behind locked doors where the disciples were hiding.
Wendy and I have this quote from Brian Zahnd hanging on the fridge in our kitchen:
“The risen Christ did not appear at the temple but at meal tables. The center of God’s activity had shifted – it was no longer the temple but the table that was the holiest of all. The church would do well to think of itself, not so much as a kind of temple, but as a kind of table. This represents a fundamental shift. Consider the difference between the temple and the table. Temple is exclusive; Table is inclusive. Temple is hierarchical; Table is egalitarian. Temple is authoritarian; Table is affirming. Temple is uptight and status conscious; Table is relaxed and ‘family-style.’ Temple is rigorous enforcement of purity codes that prohibit the unclean; Table is a welcome home party celebrating the return of sinners. The temple was temporal. The table is eternal. We thought God was a diety in a temple. It turns out God is a father at a table.”
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the ancient Hebrew people struggling to mature their understanding from a polytheistic society with over 1500 dieties to the one God who is trying to introduce Himself to them in ways they can understand. I am reminded of the ways Jesus tried to mature our understanding of God even further. I find myself confessing all of the ways through all of the years of my spiritual journey that I have refused to mature in some of the most basic things Jesus was teaching.
As Wendy and I sit down together to share a meal together this week, my desire is to acknowledge Jesus’ presence. To make our time of conversation, laughter, and daily bread a time of communion with God’s Spirit. I think that’s a good spiritual action step.
Bon a petite, my friend. May you find God’s Spirit at your table this week.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
I said to them, “You as well as these articles are consecrated to the Lord.” Ezra 8:28 (NIV)
Growing up in my mother’s house, there was a set of decorative, fine china and silverware that was reserved for the most special of occasions. Typically it was a holiday feast or special event with extended family that brought out the precious place settings on the table.
Perhaps the notion of fine china still exists in homes today, though my personal experience is that society, in general, has become much more functional with our tableware. That’s the way it is in our house. Everyday china is used every day but it is embellished with special decoration or accessories for special occasions. Still, there is a small set of wine glasses handed down to Wendy from her family that I almost always use whenever we happen to celebrate the Lord’s Supper around our table. It just feels right to use a glass that is connected to family, history, and generations for such a purpose.
Consecration is a word we don’t use very often anymore. It means to be set apart or dedicated for special purpose. It’s like fine china reserved for the most special of occasions or a wine glass that’s only used for the purpose of Communion.
In today’s chapter, Ezra and the Hebrew exiles are preparing for their journey from captivity back to their home in Jerusalem. They are bringing with them special items that had been consecrated for use in the religious system of sacrifices and offerings in the Temple. These items were plundered by the Babylonians when Jerusalem was besieged and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and plundered. These consecrated items along with gold and silver dedicated to the restoration of the Temple were carefully accounted for and given to individuals who were responsible for their safekeeping and protection during the journey.
Ezra makes an interesting statement to these individuals who were given responsibility for guarding the consecrated items. He tells them they are each consecrated just like the item in their possession.
Peter, writing to Jesus’ followers spread out through the Roman Empire, says something similar:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9
Just as Ezra’s exiles were themselves consecrated for carrying special items of worship in the Temple, followers of Jesus are consecrated, “holy” and “special possessions.” Indwelled by God’s Spirit, we carry in and with us the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found that believers are slow to accept or embrace this spiritual reality. Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to embrace the responsibility of it. Peter, in the very next paragraph of his letter, goes on to admonish the exiled believers to conduct themselves accordingly with their consecration:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:11-12
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about special meals. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful, formal meals with the works: full place settings, fine china, special silver, and cloth napkins. I enjoy those special occasions. I’ve also, however, experienced some special meals that were just as special and meaningful in which the table setting and bill of fare was nothing extraordinary. It was the “consecrated” individuals sitting around that table that made all the difference.
I head into a new work week and a new month this morning reminded that Jesus Himself acknowledged that God had “set Him apart” and “sent into the world.” Jesus was consecrated for God’s purpose, and He knew it. It motivated what He did and said. I confess that I often lose sight of the reality that God has said He “consecrated” me. I forget that Jesus said “As the Father sent me (consecrated, with purpose), so I am sending you (consecrated, with purpose).” I wonder how different this week and month will go if I embrace and embody this reality?
Wendy and I enjoyed an extended Valentine’s Day celebration this year. This past Saturday our friends Matthew and Sarah invited us to join them and two other couples for a Valentine’s dinner of special magnificence. I don’t want to know how much time, effort, and resources went into the five-course meal they prepared for us.
The table was beautifully set and there were four different wine glasses at each table setting. Even before we sat down we enjoyed drinks with an appetizer of various kinds of cheese. The first course was a cream of leek soup paired with a Cabernet. Next came a luscious salad that blended a host of flavors and was accompanied by a wonderful white Riesling. We finished the white wine with a baked salmon filet. As if we weren’t already stuffed, the main course of Beef Wellington was served with an exquisite French red. We enjoyed conversation and let things settle while the chocolate soufflé was baking. Dessert was paired with a sweet dessert red. After dinner the men excused themselves to the deck for Cuban cigars and a sip of single-malt Scotch while the ladies continued to chat around the dinner table. It was a six-hour, five-course love feast.
Of course, while the food and drink were excellent it was the love, laughter, and conversation among good company that made the meal.
Valentines Day itself was a low-key affair for Wendy and me, as it usually is. We decided to stay in to make and enjoy one of our favorite meals together. Wendy made homemade bread during the day which we used for garlic bread. I made Filet Mignon in a dark chocolate balsamic and red Zinfandel glaze and Wendy made some of her amazing sweet potato medallions. A little sea salt caramel gelato was our after dinner treat. A romantic meal for two right here at home.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. Isaiah 25:26 (NIV)
I love a great dinner party. We have become such a fast food, quick serve, grab-a-snack culture that it’s rare to really enjoy a feast any more. I had a friend tell me that she and her family finished Thanksgiving dinner in 10 minutes. There’s something wrong with this picture.
A great dinner party starts early with a drink and an appetizer. People mingle. There’s light conversation. Guests begin to unwind. It moves on to a table that’s prepared. Things are laid out. Everything you need for the evening is set before you. The plates, knives, forks, spoons, and glassware are a road map to the feast. There is salad and/or soup before the main course. The main course follows after and is perfectly proportioned with complementary dishes. There is an aperitif to cleanse the palate before moving on to dessert. And, there are wines served to compliment each course. By the time dessert is served you have been on a journey. A feast is to be savored, en-joy-ed along with the company and conversation around the table.
I love that God’s word picture of what’s-to-come is a feast. It’s the word picture He gave Abraham when first introducing Himself in Genesis 18. It’s the word picture Jesus gives in Revelation of the relationship He desires with every one. A dinner party. A leisurely meal with good food and good fellowship around the table.
I am struck this morning that Isaiah’s prophetic feast is for all people. So often the image of God we project to the world is that of a miserly monarch condemning the many to save the exclusive few. But Isaiah’s prophetic image is a feast of salvation for all people and all nations. When Jesus picked up and riffed on this word picture in his parable of the wedding feast he speaks of inviting those who you’d least expect to have a seat at the table, the master’s servants grabbing anyone and everyone off the street and ushering them to the table.
This morning I’m thinking about dinner parties, feasts, and a God who desires the communal oneness that is experienced with good food, good wine, and good relationship around a table well prepared.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Deuteronomy 8:10 (NIV)
The harvest here in Iowa is in full swing. Gorgeous, dry fall weather means that the corn and bean fields are full of combines and grain trucks bringing in the land’s bounty. When you live in Iowa, even if you have nothing to do with farming, you feel a keen connection to the land and the seasons of cultivating, planting, growing, and harvesting. It’s part of the fabric of daily life in the heartland.
Wendy and I love our meals with family and friends. We love setting the table, making a good meal, opening the wine, and sharing long hours of laughter and conversation over the food and drink. Especially during the harvest season there is a extra sense of gratitude I feel for God’s provision, the land which produces the abundance we enjoy, and those who labor to produce it.
The verse above is one that I have memorized and, quite regularly, at the end of a good meal it will come to mind as we sit in the contented afterglow of our feast. It is tradition at our table to say a prayer of blessing at the beginning of our meal, but this verse has taught me that it is every bit as appropriate to say a word of thanks and gratitude after “you have eaten and are satisfied.”
The meal is always accompanied with laughter and family stories.
Good time had by all!
I think most families have some kind of culinary traditions. For my branch of the Vander Well family, the number one foodie tradition is eireflensjes. Once a year or so, as I was growing up, my Grandpa Vander Well would mix up a huge batch of these Dutch treats. Last night at my folks house we upheld the family tradition, and both my taste buds and tummy were extremely happy!
Eireflensjes are basically the Dutch version of a crepe. The batter is made with a mixture of eggs, flour, milk and salt. Pour just enough batter to cover the bottom of a hot, buttered iron skillet and fry on both sides until golden brown. Stacks of of them are placed on the table with bowls of sugar. Sprinkle sugar over the top one, roll with a fork, then eat. Some have substituted the sprinkling of sugar with coating the eireflensje with jams/jellies, syrup, salsa, honey and peanut butter. Most of our family are purists, however, and stick with sugar.
Our family tradition has always held that the men of the family always make them, and everyone eats until the stacks are gone.