Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

Homemade soups and stews—I revel in ‘em. They’re hearty, healthy, and happy-making. And you only have to wash one pot when it’s all over.

I kind of fancy myself a Renaissance man when it comes to cooking these scrumptious olios, sort of the Sultan of Soup, the Star of Stew, the Bon Vivant of Broth, and the Leading Man of the Liquid Lunch.

In short, I can throw down on some homemade soups and stews.

So when I went home to see my parents a couple Christmases ago, I decided to make one of my favorites: “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew.” Not only does it have those three oh-so-tasty title ingredients in it, it also has tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, green chilies, Cajun seasoning, and the pièce de résistance: peanut butter.

Peanut butter—for real. (Don’t be all “eww…” until you try it. It’s magical.)

In our house growing up, my mother did all the cooking. I could heat a chicken pot pie or toast Pop Tarts, but nothing more involved than that. So it was quite a turn of the tables to be cooking in my mother’s kitchen. But she loved it.

We both went to the Kroger and stocked up on everything I would need that she didn’t already have in the pantry. We bought chicken breasts, a pound of dried red beans, a big old honking sweet potato, fresh garlic (she never cooks with garlic; I never cook without it), canned chilies, and a bell pepper. (She doesn’t like bell pepper, but I figured that once it was enveloped in a sweet and savory, peanut-y, chicken and herb-infused broth, she would never know it was in there.) The tomatoes and peanut butter she had and I had brought my own homemade Cajun seasoning. (What? You can’t trust that stuff from the store.)

I soaked the red beans overnight and got up early Monday morning to start stewing. I poached the chicken while the red beans were cooking, peeled and cubed the sweet potato, smashed and minced the garlic, and cut up the “you’ll never know it’s in there” bell pepper. By the time all those flavors were simmering and melding in the pot and I was adding in the soupçon of peanut butter at the end to give it that certain je ne sais quoi, mama, daddy and my sister were gathered in the kitchen, bowls and spoons in hand, like some scene from Oliver (“Please sir—I want some more.”), waiting for me to ladle out the source of that intoxicating aroma.

So I did. And as the Lord said when He created the heavens and earth…

…it was good.

Oh, my goodness, was it ever. (You’ll find a link at the end to the recipe so you can see for yourself. Not now, though.) It makes a lot, so we noshed on it the rest of the week. Everyone loved it, but mama especially enjoyed it. In fact, every time I saw her she had a bowl of it in her hand. She could have all she wanted; after all, I made it for her. (Plus, she bought the groceries.)

At her request, before I left to come back home I wrote the recipe down. All the ingredients, instructions—everything, just as I had made it. I was imagining mama cooking my “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew” exactly as I did and remembering how much she loves her favorite son. (The dog doesn’t count.)

However, when we were having one of our bi-weekly Sunday night conversations a couple of weeks or so later, I had to face the fact that she doesn’t always mind very well. Best I remember, it went something like this…

“Kroger had sweet potatoes on sale, so I got some and made your ‘Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew,’” she said.

“Oh, cool! Did it turn out good?”

“Oh, yeah—it was delicious.” (Of course it was!) “I didn’t make it exactly like you did, though.”

Wha…? “No? Umm… How, um, how did you make it?” I said, in my best nonchalant tone of voice.

“I didn’t poach the chicken—I had a rotisserie chicken from Kroger’s and used that.”

Oh, OK—whew! No biggie. “That’s a great little shortcut,” I said.

“I didn’t have any red beans, so I used some pinto beans.”

Really? “Pinto beans?” Call me a legalist, but one would be really hard-pressed to call it “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew” without the first of the three key ingredients. This was not going as I had imagined.

“Of course, I didn’t put any bell pepper in it, because you know I don’t like bell pepper.”

The room was starting to spin.

“And I didn’t have any garlic. Or any Cajun seasoning.”

I had to lie down on the sofa.

“I meant to get some green chilies when I went to the store, but I forgot. I had some pickled jalapeños, though, so I substituted those instead.”

By this time, I was curled up in the fetal position. I took a deep breath—I had to ask. “Did you…um, did you…put peanut butter in it?”

“Well of course! The peanut butter is what makes it good!”


Of course, I’m taking a little creative license here (very little) for humor’s sake. My mother is an excellent cook. If she chose to make “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew” without red beans (!) or half the other ingredients (!!) I’m certain it was great. (At least it had peanut butter in it…)

Maybe it’s a Baptist thing. Now that I think about it, my former pastor’s wife used to make banana pudding without bananas. That’s like “Thelma & Louise” without Thelma. In the end, it’s just Susan Sarandon driving over a cliff in that convertible all by herself—no girl-on-girl kiss, no holding hands in solidarity. Kind of lonesome and a little bit weird.

I’m sure you, as do I, know people who can free-style on a recipe—making all sorts of omissions and substitutions—and come up with a gourmet meal. I had a friend who, it was said, could take a jar of mayonnaise and a can of chili and make something akin to beef bourguignon. I was never on the receiving end of that particular culinary feat, so I suspect it was more of an urban legend, but I will attest to the fact that he could make a pan of chicken scaloppini that would make Mario Batali kick off his Crocs and cry.

Unless you’re Mario or Ming or Martha, though, if you want to get it right, you don’t need to leave anything out or pick and choose which instructions to follow just to suit your personality.

In truth, the practice of monkeying with recipes is the least of our problems (other than that banana-less banana pudding; that’s just wrong). We the “I trust myself and know my inner wisdom is my best guide” generation (Thank you, Marianne Williamson…) pick and choose which rules we’re going to follow and which ones we’re not on just about everything, including doctor’s orders, car maintenance, and wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

But these are small potatoes (which I also have a good recipe for) compared to picking and choosing which Biblical teachings we’re going to follow and which we’re not. And to be clear, when we do that we’re not just poo-pooing some old rule book: we’re flashing the big “whatever” sign at the one who wrote those rules—every last “thou shalt not” of them.

“I don’t like bell pepper”

Whether we like it or not, the Lord’s Word isn’t an editable document—no deleting or backspacing over the parts we don’t like. The Bible is the unapologetic, error-free, divine word of Almighty God. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he validated that by saying…

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness… 2 Timothy 3:16 NIV

All scripture—not a word of it is up for debate. The New Testament authors referenced the Old Testament authors, predictions by Old Testament authors were fulfilled and reported on by New Testament authors, Paul quoted from Luke’s gospel (1 Timothy 5:8), and Peter the Apostle, in his own writing, recognized Paul’s teaching as authoritative and God-breathed (2 Peter 3:15).

So if Peter and Paul understood and accepted the importance of God’s inspired Word, who am I to ignore what God said and trust my own “inner wisdom.” (I mean, c’mon—Peter and Paul!)

So what are some of those undebatables? Glad you asked—here’s a tiny sampling from the Book itself…

We all know these:

No other gods, only me. No carved gods of any size, shape, or form… No using the name of God in curses… Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… Honor your father and mother… No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No lies about your neighbor… Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.  Exodus 20:3-17 MSG (excerpts)

Some of those got repeated by Jesus when He was making His own list of the evil in our hearts, obviously implying that we need to stay away from these. Highlights include…

“…sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, …lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance…” Mark 7:21-22 NIV

His expansion of the definition of adultery was pretty no-nonsense:

“Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 NIV


Paul summed up all the “do these” commandments by saying:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 13:9 NIV

The author of the book of Hebrews was pretty unwavering on attending church:

Let us not give up meeting together. Hebrews 10:25 NIV

Peter spoke on taking the high road:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. 1 Peter 3:9 NIV

More from Paul:

If you owe taxes, pay taxes… Romans 13:7 NIV

…and on giving to support the mission of the church…

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV

…and on charitable giving…

Share with God’s people who are in need. Romans 12:13 NIV

And lest someone counter with the fact that the Bible is an old, outdated book, only meant to reflect the culture of and be pertinent to the original B.C. and 1st century audience with no relevance to the 21st century A.D. reader, let me just say “not so” ‘cause, as the children’s song goes, ♫ the Bible tells me so ♫. Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus said, speaking of God’s Word…

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:18 NIV

And since neither of those things has happened yet—heaven and earth are still here—and, of course, when Jesus says “I tell you the truth” He means it, the Bible is still relevant and applicable.

So let’s look at a couple of those previous verses again through a 21st century lens, starting with Jesus’ list of heart-dwelling evil:

“…sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, …lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance…” Mark 7:21-22 NIV

Do we even need to debate this one? I think I saw a few of those during this year’s Super Bowl halftime show (*cough* lewdness) and some others during a couple of the presidential debates. (*cough* slander and arrogance)

And this one…

“Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 NIV

…could have easily been preached at a modern-day men’s conference during the break-out session led by Jesus on the rampant problem of pornography. (And women, you’re not exempt from this. Googling “chris hemsworth shirtless” or reading “50 Shades of Gray” is no different.)

And those are just two examples. Going to church, giving to support the spread of the gospel, paying your taxes—those aren’t obsolete. (No excuses.)

“I substituted pickled jalapeños instead”

So why do more than a few citizens of the late, great planet Earth think the entire Bible doesn’t apply to us? Paul answered that shortly after his “All scripture is God-breathed” statement to Timothy:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 NIV

“The time,” ya’ll? It’s come; we’re livin’ in it. We want to hear what we want to hear, which is seldom what we need to hear—you hear? We substitute real Biblical truth for the touchy-feely, warm and fuzzy platitudes of our favorite ear-tickling celebrity preachers. I’m gonna refrain from calling any names, but if your favorite tele-preacher is preaching that God rewards faith with wealth or claims to have special revelation you won’t find in the Bible, then stop scratching your ears and turn the channel. It’s all a lie.

Oddly, itching ears weren’t even new during Paul’s time. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah, after listening to God’s chosen people, the Jews, declare they had everything under control and didn’t need God, summed their declaration up like this:

“Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things…and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” Isaiah 30:10-11 NIV

Sound familiar? They thought they were living their “best life now,” too…

We can’t pick and choose which of God’s commands we accept and which we don’t accept. If you profess to be a follower of Jesus, it’s got to be all or nothing. (Actually, you can’t be a Christian and choose “or nothing.”) Jesus’ brother James said of God’s law:

Whoever…stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10 NIV

And the outlook for the guilty isn’t good:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? 1 Corinthians 6:9 NIV

Those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. Romans 2:8 NIV

Not that God’s grace isn’t amazing or that Jesus’ blood isn’t powerful enough to cover all our sin from eternity past to eternity future—it is and it is. And God promises He will forgive us, even if we break all of it, if we just admit it and ask for His forgiveness:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins… 1 John 1:9 NIV

But grace isn’t a license to kill and Jesus’ blood wasn’t spilt so we could feel free to while away Sundays on the lake in our brand new party barge instead of attending church and tithing. So while none of us can ever do enough to merit God’s favor, as James goes on to say…

Faith without deeds is dead. James 2:26 NIV

…if you’ve placed your faith in Jesus, then you can’t not want to do whatever it takes to follow the teaching of God’s Word. And if you can not want to follow it, then it may be time to reexamine that faith.

Sorry…but it’s true. Jesus Himself said:

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” John 14:23-24 NIV

Jesus don’t mince words.

“The peanut butter is what makes it good”

I’m here to tell you, though, that serving the Lord and doing His will can result in such blessing that it can be an embarrassment of riches…

“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great…” Luke 6:35 NIV

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” Luke 6:38 NIV

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. Malachi 3:10 NIV

And even though we should be obeying God because we can’t help but do it, I will tell you from experience that those promises are so amazing they make it awfully hard to not do so just for the parting gifts.

Paul was right: all Scripture is God-breathed. If you leave out the bell pepper just ‘cause you don’t like it or try to follow your own wisdom (or that of a preacher with a perfect smile, pretty hair, and a private jet) and substitute pickled jalapeños for the chilies, you’ll either end up with stunted growth in your Christian walk or a really unpleasant surprise at the end…

…and just like banana pudding without the bananas, that’s just wrong.


So here’s my parting gift. Just like I promised, click the Facebook icon below for the recipe for “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew.” And for reading this far, here’s a bonus recipe for another of my favorites: Lentil Soup. It has an earthy, robust flavor and is so good for you, you can reward yourself with cheesecake afterward.

Lentil Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped carrots
2 stalks. finely chopped celery
2 teas. kosher salt
1 lb. lentils, picked and rinsed
1 large can diced tomatoes
2 qt. chicken or vegetable broth
½ tsp. freshly ground coriander
½ tsp. freshly ground toasted cumin
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. ground pepper

Heat the oil in a large 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and salt and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the lentils, tomatoes, broth, and the rest of the spices and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 35 to 40 minutes.


• • •

Click here or on the Facebook logo below for the recipe for “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew.” And while you’re there, you can follow my page.

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4 thoughts on “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

  1. Well said my friend. I believe these are trying times in this political year. Makes me sick to listen to the people that want to be our leaders. Love you muchly.

  2. Pingback: Walking on Bare Concrete | clay

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