April 3rd 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

As a kid I used to love to hear my grandparents tell stories.  The grandparents on my mom’s side of the family (my grandfather specifically) had some stories to tell.  I don’t how many of them were true, but they were all intriguing, at least the first time around.  He used to share about his time in war in the South Pacific where his boots would have been wet for months on end.  He loved to share about meeting my grandmother in his parents’ flower shop.  She walked in the door, at the ripe old age of 18, and they got married.  He told stories about working for an engineering firm that was instrumental in landing one of the first shuttles on the moon.  He claims that his name is on a plaque on the moon.  I haven’t been able to verify this, but we can only assume that it’s true.  My grandmother had some beautiful stories, too.  She told us…..Kelly and I were standing in her hallway one time looking at a picture of her passport when she came over from Germany as a grade-school girl.  She told us about fleeing Germany when Hitler was starting to rise to power and how her father had the intuition to see this coming.  He loaded his entire family on a boat, sailed across the Atlantic and got to the United States of America.  What my grandmother remembered about that event was that both literally and figuratively my great-grandfather refused to look back to Germany after he left.  On that boat, head straight forward, saying, “We are not looking back.  We are not going to be a part of that.”

I loved to hear the stories because, in many ways, the stories are what shape us as people.  The stories that we’re born into remind us that we’re part of something bigger going on.  That we’re part of something bigger than our own individualistic story.  We love individualism in America, but the reality is, friends, that all of us were born into a story far bigger than our own.  The more we remember that story, the more context we have for the life that God has not only planted us into, but calling us to live.

I wonder what it would have been like to be with Jacob and Esau around a fire to hear their grandfather Abraham tell a story.  I wonder what it might have been like for Father Abraham to sit down with his two grandkids.  He was 170 years old and they were 10 years old.  Who knows how much he remembered at that point in time, but you better believe all the stories were good and they were getting better.  I wondered if he talked about how God gave him a promise—that all the nations on earth would be blessed through him and that THEY would be blessed and they would be a blessing.  I wonder if he recounted that Genesis 12:1-3 covenant that God made with him.  I wonder if he took the boys and led them away from the fire where they could see the stars and I wonder if he said listen, God said to me, “Look up at me.”  (It’s a biblical term.)  And He said, “Look at the stars in the sky.  That’s as many as your descendants are going to be.”  I wonder if he recounted the fact that God promised him, at the age of 75, that he would become not just a father, but the father of many, many nations.  I wonder if he slipped in, “It took God 25 years to be good on that promise.  But He was.”  

We’re shaped by the stories that we’re born into.  Think about it for a second.  How much of your life did you have zero control over?  Think about it for a moment.  The place of birth….where you were born, when you were born.  You had zero control over that, right?   Your physical appearance….you had very little control over that.  How tall you were going to be, the color of your hair (some of you have taken control over THAT.  That’s all right, no judgment here.).  The color of your eyes, the color of your skin.  Nationality.  You had zero control over.  Your parents — you had no control over who your parents would be and even if you were adopted, you probably had very little control over that.  Even your personality — studies show that your personality, in many ways, is simply wired into you….from the very breath you take.  You have a certain personality, a certain disposition that shapes the way that you see the world.  We want to think that we’re the captain of our own ship, the master of our own domain, but so much of who we are was just given to us.  It simply was.  Who we are shapes us.  The story that we’re born into shapes us.  Here’s going to be the testimony from the Scriptures about the life of Jacob.  Jacob is dealt a certain hand in life.  He’s given a certain personality.  He’s given a certain disposition and it shapes him.  But the story of Jacob is the way that God takes everything that’s a part of our life — the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the upright and the disgraceful — He takes it all and in this masterful, beautiful, way-more-creative-than-I-could-ever-be way, He takes all that we are and when all that we are encounters all that HE is, He starts to transform us and shape us and release us into everything that He dreamed we would be.  It’s this beautiful picture, the life of Jacob, of the gospel at work. The story that you’re born into, the family that you were born into definitely shapes you, but it doesn’t have to make you.  Jacob’s story is a testimony to us that where we start is not where we have to stay.  God is gracious and good and we are not bound by what we are given upon birth, but we are not free to ignore it either.  It’s all part of this beautiful masterpiece that God is weaving together through the story of our lives for the glory of his name. 

Open to Genesis 25 with me and we’re going to dive into this story of Jacob.  His grandfather is Father Abraham. His dad is Isaac and this is the story of his birth and even at birth, we start to see the way God is going to take these fractured pieces and weave them into a masterpiece.  Gen. 25:19-28 — These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.  And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren.  And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.  The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?”  {God, if you’re in this, why is it going the direction it’s going?}   So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”  When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.  The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.  Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.  Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.  When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.  Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  

It’s interesting, at the onset, that the narrator wants to invite you into the story in order to see all the things that Jacob doesn’t have.  Jacob isn’t the firstborn of the family; he’s the second born in a firstborn culture. Jacob doesn’t have the affection of his father in a patriarchal society.  Jacob doesn’t have the skill set that would help him be the most productive citizen in the community.   Jacob, at the onset, is dealt a hand that we would go man, I’m not sure I’d want that hand that Jacob was dealt.  And yet, how many of us can relate to Jacob?  All of us can!  We all look at our lives and go man, I wish I was…..I wish I was a little bit smarter or I wish I was a little bit more athletic or I wish I had a little bit more wisdom or I wish I had a little bit more…..you fill in the blank.  We can all relate to Jacob.  But we can also all relate to the reality that where we start isn’t where we have to stay.  In all that Jacob WASN’T given, look at the way that the story revolves around the one thing that he was given, verse 23:  And the Lord said to her, “Two nations {That’s key–if you have your own Bible, you can circle that because the story of Jacob and Esau is bigger than just their story.  It’s a story of nations, of Israel and Edom.}  ….are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, {speaking about Jacob} the older shall serve the younger.” Jacob, in the midst of all that you don’t have, here’s what you have — a promise.  You’ve got a promise from God.  How many of you know that regardless of how much you have standing against you, or who you have standing against you, if you have God in your corner, you have the majority!!  That’s what Jacob’s life is going to testify of.  It’s going to testify of the power of a promise.  The reality for you and I, friends, is the same as it was for Jacob — God’s promise for us is greater than any opposition that stands in front of us!  

A promise is an assurance of a future reality backed by a personal guarantee.  We are in the political season, so we hear people making promises all the time.  It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you fall on, there are candidates, there are people that want you to believe the things that they are saying and the words that come out of there mouth…..  Immediately, you go, “I’m not sure he can deliver on that.”  Right?  We live in culture, we live in a society of broken promises.  We read something like Genesis 25:23 and we lay it on — we’ve heard people give promises before.  We may have heard people give promises at an altar that weren’t kept.  We may have given promises that weren’t kept.  That’s the culture that we live in.  Promises aren’t usually all that good. {Look up at me for a second.}  When God makes a promise, He is good on keeping His word!  He is!  Every single time.  Jacob would have heard these stories….he would have heard Abraham tell the story about having his dad, Isaac, when he was 100 years old and Sarah, his wife, was 90!  Can you imagine having your grandfather tell THAT story?!  I wonder if he would have pulled him aside and said, “Yeah, God’s good on His promises, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.”  That may be where some of you are at this morning.  You’re going, Paulson, I want to believe you, but I feel like God’s given me a promise and it just doesn’t seem like He’s going to be good on that.  Well, let’s just look at the story of Abraham for a second.  Abraham got the promise when he was 75 and it took God 25 years to deliver on the promise.  And in between the promise and the provision was a whole lot of pain.  Was a whole lot of waiting.  Was a whole lot of wondering God, where are you in this?  The testimony of Scripture isn’t everything’s great if you trust Jesus and it’ll go exactly the way that you want it to. No.  The Scriptures would declare to you and to me that underneath all of the pain is a promise that God refuses to go back on.  And if you’re caught in the middle of the pain — in between the promise and the provision — if that’s where you’re at this morning…..maybe with a marriage, maybe with your kids, maybe in a job situation…..if you’re caught in the middle, what Jacob’s life declares is that God is always good on His promise.  The promise that God has for you is greater than any opposition that stands in front of you.

Abraham was a child of promise.  Isaac was a child of promise.  Jacob is a child of promise and YOU are a child of promise.  This is the way it says it in the book of Galatians:  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin… {This is Paul writing to the church at Galatia saying everything was broken and everything was bound under sin and evil.}  …so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ {That’s how you step into the promise of God, friends.  That’s how you become a part of the promise.  That’s how you take hold of the promise…by faith in Jesus.} …..might be given to those who believe.  (Gal. 3:22)  The book of Galatians 4:28 would say that we ‘are children of promise.’  What does that mean?  That means that our lives have been redeemed by the grace and mercy of God.  That means that if God is for us, nothing can stand against us.  That means that NOTHING, not height, nor depth, nor angels, nor principalities or anything else in all of creation could ever separate us from the love of God.  That’s a promise!  It means He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.  It means that redemption is purchased, the grave is conquered, sin is destroyed and victory is yours!!  Welcome to the family!  You’re a part of this beautiful promise from the King of kings and the Lord of lords. WOW!!! 

I don’t know about you, but I have such an easier time seeing the opposition in front of me than I do the promise given to me.  If I’m Jacob, I have so much an easier time seeing I’m the second born….I don’t hunt…I don’t fish….I don’t do this….and my dad doesn’t love me.  But, man, what Jacob’s life testifies of and what God’s grace drenches us in is the reality that regardless of what stands in front of you, God’s promise for you is greater, it’s stronger, it’s bigger and whatever gets your focus will determine your foundation.  I want to point our gaze to that this morning.  I want to build on that.  On Christ, the solid rock, I want to stand.  He is the promise that we step into by faith and it shapes our lives, friends.  It’s that same promise that Jacob had, where God took all the different pieces, all the disconnected dots, all the shady dealings and the squanderings and the cheating and the failure and He wove it into this story that in the end declared His glory.

I want to show you how he starts as a hope that it’ll be an encouragement for us today.  The narrative energy of the entire story of Jacob revolves around this one thing:  will God be good on Genesis 25:23?  Will He be good on his promise?  In the midst of all Jacob’s failings, in the midst of the things he does wrong, will God be good on his word?  A lot of us ask the same question, which is why this story speaks so beautifully to the place we find ourselves in as human beings.  Here’s the way that the story goes…he gets the promise in verse 24, Jacob is born.  When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.  The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.  {Quick time out.  Usually, we just fly by things in the Scriptures.  Just pause for a second and could we just picture this child.  This is ginger Chewbaca!!  Red, hairy.  If you’re Rebekah, are you not going, “Sweet Lord, what is that thing?!” And his brother, Jacob, comes out afterwards holding probably the hair of his heel, right?!}  Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.  Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.    Now, this is a firstborn society.  Everything in this culture is shaped around this.  The parents would give their estate to their firstborn.  He carries on the family name.  He gets everything and Jacob is the second born.  Which means that really, he’s born with nothing to his name.  I’m a firstborn; I love this.  I think we should go back!

Second thing about Jacob you need to know is his name Jacob.  It’s a great name, but back in this day names really meant something.  Jacob’s name meant ‘grabber of the heal,’ which he literally did.  It also meant I’m going to be on your heels and I am a scoundrel and if I’m in the same vicinity as you, you’d better clutch your purse a little bit tighter and if I try to sell you a used car, you probably don’t want to buy it.  That’s what it meant.  He was a shady character and he lives up to everything his name suggests and says he would be.  And this is the carrier of the promise of God.

Here’s what Genesis 25 would have us think about, have us dwell on, is that in the midst of what stands against Jacob, God’s promise still stands for him.  That’s the way God’s always worked. It hasn’t been about pedigree; it’s been about God’s providence.  Jacob’s the second born.  Jacob’s named Jacob. Jacob has the deck stacked against him from the get-go and he has only one thing going for him — God’s made him a promise.  And God is good on his word.  Here’s what Genesis 25 wants us to feel the weight of — God doesn’t operate in the way that human wisdom and ingenuity says he should.  Why does he choose Jacob instead of Esau?  WHY?  Because he wants you to know…I’m not operating in the way the world thinks that I should.  I’m not just going along with it.  I’m going to choose Moses, a guy with a stutter, to be my mouthpiece for an entire nation.  I’m going to dwindle Gideon’s army down to 300 before I go in and exact my victory.  I’m going to do things in a way that you would never have guessed, never have thought of, never of dreamed up…..I’m way more creative than you are. We look at the things that we lack in our life and God looks at the promise He’s put over our life.Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 — But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  {I’m going yes and amen!}  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.  God’s redemptive plan has always been about grace, not race.  It’s always been about the promise He speaks over a life, not the family that someone was born into.  Did you know you cannot be BORN a Christian?  You can be born into a family that follows Jesus and believe me, that gives you a great head start in worldview shaping.  You can be REborn a Christian, but you can’t be born a Christian.  Because God’s promise does not translate by flesh, it translates by the promise that we step into through the working of Jesus the Messiah.  God’s call on a person’s life has little to do with a pedigree and everything to do with promise.  

Here’s the way the story continues.  Verse 27: When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field {Can’t you just see the picture of him?  All his fur is just blowing in the wind; he’s like muscles rippling. He’s manly.  Jacob is in the shadows.}  ….while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.   The picture is Esau is riding bareback on horses, taking animals down and bringing them back to his father, while Jacob is crocheting a sweater in the tent with mom!  Actually, what ‘dwelling in tents’ means is he’s a person who needs to stay connected to the community in order to sustain his life.  It means he needs other people in order to continue to be alive and Esau, on the other hand, with all his ginger fur flowing in the wind, is independent.  If he needs to live on his own, he can, he doesn’t need anybody else.  As you look at their lives, you go man, Esau has a lot going for him.  He can provide for himself, he can do what he needs to do, he can get the job done. He’s this picture of masculinity, in many ways, in this passage.  Jacob, on the other hand, is compared to him. Jacob doesn’t have a whole lot going as far as the narrator/author of Genesis wants us to believe, except that undergirding even his dwelling in tents is a promise that he holds.  And while he might not be the most productive, he is the one that carries the promise.  Friends, God’s mercy has always been greater than our merit.  God’s never chosen people based on what they can produce for him.  He has always been a God who exacts his grace and his mercy and his goodness over people who just simply don’t deserve it.  That’s great news!  That’s the gospel!  He’s not the best, he’s not the most manly, he’s not the most productive, but as Paul echoes in the book of Romans: For God has consigned all to disobedience…   {Friends, we are all in the same boat this morning.  Either God comes through for us or we sink.  That’s the boat.} …that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)  Jews and Gentiles alike.  That’s how He’s redeeming, that’s how he’s saving.

We live in a culture and a world where our value is based on what we produce.  If you work in a company, your value is based on how you contribute to the bottom line.  Typically, this happens in homes, unfortunately, it happens in marriages….value is tied to production.  What God wants you to hear this morning above anything else is you are loved simply because you ARE!  Not because you’ve earned anything.  Not because you’ve done enough good.  Not because of all the works that you have and the badges that you’ve earned.  None of that matters.  It’s simply by his mercy that He calls people to be his children.  That’s it!  Jacob’s life is a testimony of that.  Romans 9:10-12 is sort of a sister-passage to Genesis 25 and Paul the apostle, writing to the church at Rome, picks up this story and wants to make the same point:  And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue… {God had a mission.  His mission had a name.  His name is Jesus and Jesus is the promise of God.  What Paul is saying is that He was weaving together this grand story that would eventually culminate in Jesus.  He chose Jacob based on NOTHING that Jacob had done.} ….not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”    So, friends, as we sit here this morning, this should speak life into our souls!  Nothing that we’ve done has made us lovable in the eyes of God, which is beautiful news.  He loves you, not because of what’s in you, but because of the promise that you’re IN Him!!  In Jesus.  It’s Jesus’ perfection and Jesus’ work and Jesus’ goodness and Jesus’ name that purchases for you the affection of a holy God, a Father.  Jacob is called so that God’s purpose and election might stand so that he might say, “This is the way I work–not through merit but through mercy.”  He’s called because God wanted to call him.  All praise, glory and honor be to Him. God’s redemptive plan has always been concerned with grace, not pace.  Not how much you can do for God, but what Jesus has done for you.  For those of us who are imperfect this morning, that should be the best news we’ve heard all day, all week, all year, all of life.  Thank you, Lord, that it’s not based on what we do.  But it’s based on who Jesus is.  

I heard this story awhile back of Warren Buffet, who at the time was the second-richest man in the world.  He had $44 billion and pledged to give 85% of it away to these five charities that he chose.  At the end of the interview, he’s quoted as saying, “There’s more than one way to get into heaven, but this is a great way.”  After I judged him a little bit, I thought man, how many of us do the exact same thing.  We just don’t have $44 billion, but we do the same thing.  God, if I do this for you, will you do that for me?  When I start feeling deserving, I know I’m operating based on merit.  When I start comparing myself, I know I’m operating based on merit.  When I get angry with God, I know I’m operating based on merit — God, you owe me something.  No, he doesn’t, but he’s graciously given you mercy.  That is the story of Jacob.  It echoes what Paul would say to the church at Ephesus: For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)  

Verse 28:  Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  This is one of the saddest verses in all of Scripture as far as I’m concerned.  It’s this picture of parents playing favorites and it shapes the way that these two lives go and it shapes the conflict that really evolves into the story of Jacob and Esau.  Dad loves him some venison!!!  And Jacob can’t provide it.  So he (Isaac) chooses to give his affection, he chooses to place his love on Esau rather than on Jacob.  Is this the way our Father works?  That he withholds love from some?  Well, John 3:16 would say that He loved the entire world.  He loved the world so much that He gave His son.  We live in a world where not only is value based on production, but where love is given then taken away. Love is earned then it’s not reciprocated.  Here’s what you see in the story of Jacob: God’s covenantal faithfulness, or love that is over his life, is greater than and not contingent on the character flaws, the defects, the things in Jacob’s life that are just shady and downright wrong. God loves him because He chooses to love him.  If you’re a person of the promise, you know that God loves you, too!  Jacob’s life consistently displays that God’s sovereignty, not Jacob’s excellency, is what holds him and what keeps him; in the ups and downs and in the peaks and valleys of life, it is God’s grace not Jacob’s goodness that is the foundation that sustains him. Here’s why I think that’s great news for you — if indeed, God has chosen through Jesus to call you into the promise that He’s giving — and His promise is greater than any opposition that’s stands in front of us — if He’s chosen to call you into the promise of God, your failure will not extinguish his faithfulness.  You see it throughout Jacob’s life that Jacob makes some terrible decisions (horrible decisions, worse probably than you’ve made) and God sticks with him.  God is faithful to him.  God continues to say, “Jacob, you are my guy.”  It’s not because of race, it’s not because of pace, it’s simply because of grace…..my goodness is over you.  The faithfulness of God will not be thwarted by the futility of humanity.  It will not!  So if you feel like a screw-up this morning and that’s what’s biggest in your mind, that’s what’s going to shape your life, but I can promise you His promise for you is greater than any failure you’ve stepped into.  This is the beauty of the gospel, friends. When it’s by providence not pedigree, when it’s by mercy and not by merit, when it’s His covenantal faithfulness not me being a good boy or you being a good girl, we can rejoice in the fact that God holds us even as we fail Him.

Second, we can trust that my imperfection will not drown out his perfection.  He’s a good, good Father and you are loved by Him.  It’s who you are.  It’s who you are.  It’s who you are.  Friends, we are people of promise not people of perfection.  You’re a person of promise not a person of perfection and if we don’t get that, just like Jacob we’re going to be fighting to be loved our entire life, instead of resting in the reality that we are.  So we sing songs like — “Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer.  But this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom!”  It’s His covenantal faithfulness, not me being good.  “And can it be that I should gain, An interest in the Savior’s blood?  Died He for me, who caused His pain — For me, who Him to death pursued?  Amazing love!  How can it be, that Thou, my God, should die for me?”  It’s providence.  It’s mercy.  It’s his faithfulness to every generation.  Friends, when you and I are able to live in and to trust the promise of God, it frees us to walk in the power of God.  Sometimes Jacob’s life is going to display this beautifully and sometimes his life is going to be a train wreck, but at every part of his life and every twist and every turn, God’s promise will remain secure.  His promise will be good.

The story revolves around this question: God, even in the failings and even in the shortcomings and even when I don’t live up to what I’ve promised you, are You going to still be good on the promise you’ve made to me? Friends, here’s the answer…spoiler alert!  Jacob’s name is mentioned throughout the Psalms and the prophets and it’s said like this — the God of Jacob!  God is good on His promises.  He keeps what we entrust to him.  It’s about Jesus and His work, not about the family you were born into or the pedigree that you have.  Not about the merit that you’ve acquired and not about how good or bad you have been….it’s simply by His grace not your race; it’s by His grace not your pace; it’s by His grace not your goodness, so that all glory and all honor and all praise might be to Him!!  That’s the story we live in!!!!  As followers of Jesus, you were born into a story and your story matters, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you are part of the family of promise!

For 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been reminding themselves that although they were born into a family and they were born into a story, they were also reborn into a promise.  That God’s grace was sufficient for every single one of their needs.  As they came to the table, they remembered that they were invited to be part of the family of God not because of their merit, but because of God’s mercy.  They were reminded as they partook, as we will be reminded of today, that although we may fail — slash “WILL” fail — and come up short, Jesus’ love, provision and faithfulness to us is not contingent on us being good.  It’s contingent on Jesus being supreme.  We celebrate the cross this morning.  We celebrate the grace and mercy of our God.  As we come and take today, would you remember that you are part of a beautiful lineage, a family, that finds its sustenance and identity in the promise of God.  Let’s pray.

If you’re here this morning and you’re a follower of Christ, the table’s open to you.  If you’re not, I’d just invite you, as you’ve heard this morning, God doesn’t love you because you’re amazing and you’re awesome.  He loves you because Jesus has made a way.  He loves you because His mercy is over you, so the invitation this morning, regardless of how we walk in these doors, is that we would turn and that we would find life in the promise that He’s given in the blood of His Son.  If that’s you and you want to put your faith in Jesus today, I’d invite you to just turn to Him, run to Him, confess Him as Lord.  Father, we gather together to celebrate today.  To remind ourselves that it’s not based on what we’ve done, it’s simply based on who You are.  That regardless of what stands in front of us…..in this room we have so many things that we feel are insurmountable….but Lord, would you remind us today that your promise is bigger than any opposition that stands in front of us.  Father, as we come we do so as a family of promise, family under the grace and mercy that’s found only in Jesus.  So help us receive it and then, in turn, help us live it.  It’s in your name that we pray.  Amen.