ALL I AM: Going Back and Moving Forward   Genesis 35:1-15

Like many of you, we have two junk drawers in our kitchen.  Don’t lie and say you don’t have them!  We’ve got them and it’s the place where we put everything that doesn’t have a place.  It’s also the place where we put things that are on counter when we’re having people come over!  Oh crud, they’re knocking on the door right now! and we pull everything into the junk drawer and close it.  Inevitably, one of the things that always ends up in our junk drawer is my headphones/my earbuds.  I put my earbuds in that drawer; I coil them up nicely.  I put them in said junk drawer and close said junk drawer.  Regardless of whether or not anybody looks in that drawer, when I go back to get my headphones they are not neatly and nicely coiled.  They look like a rat’s nest!  Anytime you go to pick up your headphones, they don’t look like the way you left them.  They look like a rat’s nest.  They’re tangled, they’re disorganized.  I think you could do an experiment—-I think you could coil and roll them up nicely, put them down on a table, stare at them for five minutes and it would eventually look like (a mess) without anybody even touching them!!  Somehow it just happens.  I don’t get it.  

But I do know this—I know that’s really similar to the way life feels a lot of times.  You know this and I know this, that if we just sort of take our hands off of life, what ends up happening is NOT that we find ourselves in places of vitality and in places of life and in places of health and goodness.  When we take our hands off of our life, when we take our hands off of being intentional about the things that matter to us most, they don’t drift to this place of being way better and way more healthy and way more life-giving, they actually trend in the exact opposite way, don’t they?  This is true of marriages — all you have to do to make your marriage worse is nothing! Seems a little bit unfair, doesn’t it, but it’s true.  As a parent, as a father…..isn’t this true of fatherhood….when we do nothing it doesn’t stay the same as a father….when we do nothing things actually grow worse and we have less of the influence that we want to have.  Without an intentionality behind life, it tends to lead to this chaotic rat’s nest type of existence.  We call it drift.  It happens in marriages; it happens in jobs; it happens in friendships.  It happened in your backyard over winter when you didn’t do anything to your garden.  You walked out there this spring and went, “Oh, it looks wonderful!  Everything’s growing right in rows, praise be to God!”  None of you did that, right?  That’s not the way life works.  If we take our hands off of things, they don’t drift to a place of live and vitality and health.  They actually go in the exact opposite direction.  

One of the great philosophers/scholars/authors of our day and time, D.A. Carson, says this:  “People do not drift toward holiness.  Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith and delight in the Lord.  We drift towards compromise and call it tolerance; we drift towards disobedience and call it freedom; we drift towards superstition and call it faith.  We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation.  We slouch towards prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism.  We slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”  It’s true, isn’t it?  Here’s what he’s saying — when we’re not intentional about life, whether it’s marriage, parenting…..if you’re not a follower of Jesus today, that principle’s just as true for you as anybody else in the room, but if you ARE a follower of Christ, you know that if you’re not intentional about the way that you walk with Him, what ends up happening is not that you find yourself in these places of fullness, of joy, but actually tangled messes. 

The author of Hebrews writes to the early followers of Christ:  Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard….. {He’s saying, “Hey, guys, wake up! Wake up!  We’ve been given this great calling; we’ve been given this wonderful invitation, but we’ve got to pay attention to what we’ve heard.} ….lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)   As if to say that if you do nothing you will never find yourself in the place that you want to be.  If you just take your hands off of the wheel and just put it in cruise control and coast……hey, cruise control is a great way to travel across country, it’s a terrible way to live!  You know this and I know this—-drift is actually our default!  It’s what happens when we do nothing.  The things that we loved about our marriage or our job or our kids might have okay yesterday, but we know if we’re not intentionally cultivating the soil and the ground of those things that are most important to us in life, we will eventually get to a place that we never wanted to end up.  

The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Philippi and he has this lofty picture of who Jesus is and what it looks like to follow Him.  He says, “Listen, I consider everything rubbish/garbage/trash compared to the all- surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil. 3:8)  He follows that up with:  Come on, people, not that I’ve already obtained all this or that I’m made perfect….   He goes, “I haven’t arrived yet, so here’s what I do.  I drift forward.  I coast on.”  No, no!  The Apostle Paul goes, “With all of God’s energy and Spirit and grace and the life working in me, I PRESS on!”  He goes, “I’m in this! I’m invested because I know if I don’t press on I will drift to a place that I never wanted to end up.”

If you’re here this morning and walked in on fumes, this message is for you.  If you’re here this morning and there’s some areas of your life—-maybe it’s a friendship or relationship you’re in and things just aren’t going the way that you wanted them to go—-this message is for you.  If you’ve gotten to the place in life where you’ve pictured your life 20, 30, 40 years down the road, you never envisioned yourself standing where you’re at right now today…you drifted…this message is for you.  If you’re not a follower of Christ and you’re just sort of looking in the window going, “What do these weirdos believe? this message is for you.   

If you have a Bible, turn to Genesis 35.  Jacob is the person that we’ve been following over the last few months. He’s one of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew faith.  He is following God and we just got out of chapter 32 last week where Jacob had this wonderful encounter with God.  He received a new name from God; he’s no longer Jacob but he’s Israel now.  He had this wrestling encounter with God.  What we said last week was if you have doubts, if you have questions, if you have fears, God does not want you to ignore those and push those away.  In fact, the way that you grow as a follower of God is by embracing the questions not ignoring them; by facing the fears rather than turning your back on them; by pushing in rather than pushing away.  Jacob did that and wrestles with God.  Then in chapter 33 he meets his brother Esau.  He and his brother have this great reconciliation; his brother forgives him for wronging him egregiously when they were younger.  At the end of chapter 33:19, Jacob buys, for a hundred pieces of money, a plot of land.  It’s this symbolic picture of everything that Jacob has hoped for and wanted for the last 70 years of his life has finally come to fruition.  The land that was promised to him, back when he was a young boy because he was part of the promise of God, has been fulfilled.  So Jacob sets up his tent and pours himself some nice, frosty lemonade and he sits on his porch in his Lazy-boy chair or on his rocking chair and he just takes in the fact that he’s got the land, he’s got the family, he’s got the blessing, he’s got the promise, he’s got everything he ever dreamed of.  

How many of you know that not every story ends with “….and they lived happily ever after?”  It’s not too far after chapter 33 and Jacob buys this land that one of his daughters, whose name is Dinah, wanders into the town of Shechem which actually wasn’t where Jacob originally intended to end up.  Jacob, originally, was headed to Bethel.  That’s where he wanted to camp out, that’s where he wanted to live and he settles for Shechem, which is about 20+ miles away from where he was actually intending to go.  Maybe he just got too tired.  Maybe he got a great deal on the land.  All we know is that he didn’t end up where he set out to go.  He settled.  His daughter Dinah wanders into town—you can read it.  It’s PG-13/R rated material.  In chapter 34, she’s violated by the men in that city.  One of the men says he’s fallen in love with Dinah and wants to marry her.  Two of her brothers, Levi and Simeon, say, “You can marry her if and only if you’re circumcised like us. And not just you, but everybody in the whole town of Shechem.”  You’ve got to be a pretty good salesperson to get the rest of the men in town to go through this operation so you can marry this woman.  I use the term “operation” loosely.  We’re talking a flint knife in a tent!!  Somehow this guy talks them into it.  All the men in Shechem agree to be circumcised.  Day three after they are circumcised, they are recovering and are not exactly at their physical peak.  Levi and Simeon go and kill every single man in this town.  This is one of those stories you read and go, “THAT’S in the Bible?!”  How strange, how weird, how absurd…..that people would use religion to hurt other people.  Huh!  

Jacob gets word that his sons have done this and here’s where we pick up the story, Hebrews 34:30 — Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land… {Here’s my translation–It’s going to be really hard to have a good turnout at our block party because of what you guys have done.}  You know what’s interesting?  Levi and Simeon are indignant that their sister was taken advantage of in the way that she was.  You know what’s devastating?  Jacob wasn’t.  You read through the story and who is Jacob concerned with?  Me.  Me.  This is going to be really hard to set up shop here, you guys. This is going to be really hard to live.  I have my porch, I have my rocking chair, I have my Arnold Palmer in hand, I’m watching the sunset every day….this is what we’ve dreamed of, this is what we’ve hoped for, this is what God promised us and YOU GUYS are making it really hard on me!!  Hey, Jacob, this just in—your daughter was violated and you want to sit back and do nothing about it!   Where there is a lack of spiritual leadership, sin will always fill the void.  Always!!  Every single time.  It’s what happens in the life of Jacob.  It’s what happens in the life of his family.  He abdicates his role….he takes his foot off of the gas and goes let’s just coast for awhile, guys.  His passive nature leads to the pain of his family.  It always does!  {Happy Father’s Day!}  That’s always the way that it ends up, so Jacob has to leave.  He has to get to the place of alright, we’re not going to live here anymore, we’re not going to dwell here; you guys have made it really hard on us.  He says, “They’re going to destroy both you and I and our household.”  But his boys reply:  Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?  As if to say, “Dad, step up!  Come on!”  

Genesis 35:1 — God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel….”   {Jacob, you stopped short of going here originally, but I’m calling you deeper, I’m calling you higher, I’m calling you to more.  Jacob, I’m not letting you settle for Shechem, I’m calling you to Bethel.”  You’ll remember that Jacob had an encounter with God at Bethel.  It literally means “house of God.”  He saw this stairway that came down and God’s message was essentially this:  Jacob, you will not set your foot on a place of this globe that is not drenched with my presence and glory.  That was his message.  And Jacob, I’m going to be faithful to you.  And Jacob, I’m going to be good and Jacob, I’m making some huge promises to you that you can build your life on.}  ….”Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.  Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.”   So hey, Jacob, did you notice the foreign gods before God called you to Bethel?  Jacob, you knew that they were in your camp.  Jacob, you knew what was going on in your household.  Jacob, you knew.  But you were way too concerned with just taking in the goodness of God and sitting on your porch that you started to drift.  You got passive.  You got complacent and eventually, Jacob, you ended up in this place that you never thought you’d be. 

So chapter 34 in this narrative serves as this inciting incident where they face crisis.  Dinah is violated.  The brothers slaughter a whole town.  It’s this moment in their life where everything is hitting the proverbial fan and it’s THAT moment that God finally gets Jacob’s attention.  Arise, go to Bethel, Jacob.  Do something!  Break out of your passivity or complacency.  Be intentional because life is slipping away from you, Jacob.  And it’s in those moments, isn’t it, those moments of life….because we hate crisis moments of life…..but it’s often the crisis moments of life that catalyze us to confront our complacency.  Isn’t it?  It’s those moments of I never wanted to end up here, where we look back at the shore of life and realize we’ve drifted.  We’re not who we want to be. I’m not living in a way that I feel like aligns with what God has placed inside of me and it’s those crisis moments that give us a new perspective.  It’s those crisis moments that open our ears to hear the voice of God in unique ways.  So don’t push away from the crisis.  Utilize the crisis to give you a renewed perspective.   Here’s the way C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully:  “Pain insists on being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains.  It is his megaphone to rouse (to wake up, to stir) a deaf world.”  

Arise and go to Bethel.  In light of the circumstances and the crises you’ve encountered, Jacob, arise and go to Bethel.  Take the journey back, Jacob, to where you’ve started.  Friends, this is the point we’re going to circle around this morning — A return to vitality, a return to life, a return to fullness, that we all have an inkling of deep within our souls that we were designed for…..   A return to VITALITY begins with the rejection of PASSIVITY and an embracing of INTENTIONALITY.  Why?  Because you never drift anywhere good.  Nobody has ever ended up somewhere where their soul was full, where they were walking in joy and they never ended up there and went, “I don’t really understand how we got here.”  It’s always been an intentional decision to say, “I’m going to pour into the things that are most important to me,” whether you’re a follower of Christ or not that principle is true.  If you are a follower of Jesus this morning, he’s saying, “Is there any area within you that’s grown cold?  Is there any area within you that’s grown dark?  Is there anything that you’re neglecting?  Is there anything that YOU need to be more intentional about today?”  Maybe as a parent, maybe as a friend, maybe it’s with your health.  This happens in every area of our life.  If we aren’t intentional we drift to places we never intended to go.  

With Jacob as our guide, I want to explore what does it look like to return to vitality?  What does it look like to return to a place of life?  I think a lot of times, at least in religious type of environments, the subtle (or not so subtle) instruction is if you want to get back to a place of vitality, you need to embrace intentionality and really what that means is try harder.  Do more.  Pull up your bootstraps!  Come on!  You can do it….is often the subtle message.  What I want to tell you today is the news is way better than ‘you can do it’ or ‘do more’ or ‘try harder.’  The pathway that Jacob charts is also our pathway to a full life.  Let’s look at what he does because it’s what we’re called to do.  Verse 2:  So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.  Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress….”   So all of his family give him all these different gods.  This word then is an interesting word.  It connects this action of saying, “We’re done with these other things and these idols,” with “Now we’re going to follow after, chase after, Yahweh, the one true God.”  Here’s what Jacob shows you and I:  You cannot hold onto your idols and chase after God at the same time.  You can’t hold onto your sin and expect to encounter God at the same time.  So many of us walk through life wanting to have our cake and eat it too.  We want both and.  We want to pursue sin, we want to pursue pride, we want to pursue self, we want to pursue power AND we want to encounter God. What Jacob clearly says in this narrative is you can’t do both.  It’s God OR idols, but you can’t have both.  

Here’s where he leads his family to:  it’s this place of Repentance.  There’s three actions that you see if you read back through that passage.  1) They say, “We’re cutting ties with these idols, this sin, that was in our life. These decisions we made deliberately to not follow God, we’re turning our back on those things.  We’re changing our mind about those things and in order to go and meet with God, we have got to say we’re done with the idols.”  We know this is true in marriages, right?  If there’s an infidelity in a marriage (which is what idolatry is in a spiritual sense), in order to go back to a place of vitality there needs to be an intentional saying of I’m done with that and I’m chasing after you now with everything that I have.  We can’t hold onto the idols and chase after God.  

Next, they put it away and they purify themselves.  It’s this confessional piece of God, we were wrong.  We elevated some things that eventually sucked the life out of us.  We were wrong.  The Scriptures are really clear in saying: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  And then it says they put on these new garments.  It’s signifying the fact that they are walking forward, they are moving forward in life.  I sometimes think this word scares us so much, because here’s what I envision:  I envision the guy on the street corner with the sign that says — REPENT or go to Hell!  Repent, you wicked fill-in-the-blanks.  Repentance, biblically, is this beautiful word.  This invitation that regardless of how dark life is right now, no matter how far you’ve wandered off the path….you’ve heard the promises, you’ve trusted the promises and yet you’ve decided to live in a way that was contrary to them…regardless of how far gone you think you are, the pathway home is open if you’ll change your mind in a way that will lead you to a change in direction.  When we see the word repentance in Scripture, we should high-five ourselves.  (Ryan high-fives.) Yeah!  Thank you, Jesus.  The way home is open to a person even like me.  It’s the kindness of God that leads us to a place of repentance.  Not the anger of God.  It’s the kindness of God (Romans 2:4) that leads us to a place of saying back to him, “God, thank you for welcoming me home.”  {Will you look up at me for a second, you guys?}  I think God wants to do some business with us today.  It is so easy to get caught up in religiosity.  It’s so easy to get caught up in just one day after another living life and I just want to invite you to pray a dangerous prayer today.  It’s a prayer right out of the psalms. It’s Psalm 139:23-24.  David, the psalmist, says this: Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! {Will you pray that today?  One of the things I love about David and his writing in this psalm is implicit within it is this admittance, “God, I may have missed something.  God, there might be something that is so ordinary and so present in my life every single day that I’m walking past it.  I’m drifting and I don’t even know it.  God, will you wake me up?”  That’s the prayer, will you pray it?  God, wake us up.}   And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.    He’s going back to God and he’s going, “God, I need you to guide this life.  I need you to steer it, so I’m repenting of anything in me that’s not true, that’s not of you, that’s not honoring to your name.  I am ditching that and I’m saying God, I’m moving forward with you.”  Arise and go to Bethel. It’s this invitation back to a place of innocence.  To a place where we hear God’s voice and to a place where we bow in beautiful surrender to our great God.  Repentance requires intentionality, because my default (and I’m guessing yours, too) is to just simply accept or justify sin in our life that we grow so accustomed to.  So repent — it’s a beautiful thing!  Repent, come home.

They take this journey to Bethel (literally “the house of God”).  Verse 9:  God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him.  And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.”  So he called his name Israel.  Okay, anybody here last week?  This is like deja-vu.  If you go to chapter 32, you’re going to read almost the exact same dialogue between God and Jacob.  “Hey, Jacob, your name’s Jacob, right?”  Jacob’s like, “Uh, yeah.”  “No longer shall your name be Jacob, but your shall be Israel.”  Jacob means swindler, it means cheater, it means liar and Jacob lived up to everything his name meant.  Israel means—-in contrast to one who controls people and manipulates people and lies to people—-“one who wrestles with God.”  The playing field of his life changed definitively. God, I’m wrestling with YOU now; I’m not trying to manipulate and control people.  So it’s Jacob who’s reminded by God who he really is.  Why?  Because if you read the previous two chapters, you see a whole lot of ‘Jacob’ but not a whole lot of ‘Israel.’  He starts to live again like Jacob; he abdicates responsibility, he slips into passivity, he embraces complacency, he’s a shadow of who he really wants to be.  Here’s what God comes and does.  He graciously reminds him, in the midst of his failure, in the midst of his sin, your behavior looks like Jacob but your identity is Israel.  The fact that your life has come off the rails does not negate the reality that God has changed you from the inside out.  You look like Jacob still, but I want to assure you, you are Israel.  How many of us want to say that we wrestle with this all the time, don’t we?  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corin. 5:17)  But it doesn’t feel like it a lot of the time, does it?  Sometimes our actions look a whole lot more like the old than they do the new, right?  I don’t know about you, but my default is to go back and wonder, “God, did your work on my behalf really work?  Did it take root? Because I sure feel like there’s a whole lot of Jacob still left in me and there’s a lack of Israel that I’m seeing come through in my life.”  My name is ‘saint,’ but so many of my actions are ‘sinner.’  What do we do with that?  A lot of people try to work harder, do more, pray prayers that say, “God, I’m going to do better this time, I’m going to do more.”  Then they feel guilty when they don’t and it’s this really tragic downward spiral that many followers of Jesus find themselves in.  

Here’s my proposal:  I think we should do what God does.  The question becomes what does God do?  When Jacob is Israel but he’s acting like Jacob, what does God do?  He comes and he reminds him of a conversation that they already had.  Hey, Jacob, wake up!  You’re no longer Jacob, you’re Israel now.  Remember who you really are!  The fact that you have failed in your behavior does not negate that he’s changed your identity. {Look up at me for a second.  I want to say it directly to you.}  The fact that you’ve failed in your behavior does not negate the fact that He’s changed your identity.  You are a child of God.  There is therefore now no (zero) condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)  Remembrance.  Remembrance requires intentionality because my default is forgetfulness and defining my identity based on my behavior.  The pathway home is always remembering not what we’ve done but how great our God is.  Remember, he’s changed you from the inside out.  

I love that the dialogue between God and Jacob is not:  “Hey, Jacob.”  “Yeah?”  “I really need you to try a little bit harder, Jacob.  I need you to be a better leader of your family, Jacob.  I need you to step up and be the father that I’ve called you to be, Jacob.  I need you to take a little bit more control and I need you to do a better job and Jacob, what was the deal with all the idols that you let just dwell in your camp and you let your family worship them?  Jacob, you really let me down.”  (Just a quick time out—-is so much of our internal dialogue with God, isn’t it?)  God’s dialogue with Jacob is way different.  God preaches to Jacob:  Hey, Jacob. Look up at me, he says.  You are no longer Jacob, you’re Israel.  Remember who you are.  Your failure and behavior has not forfeited the reality of your identity.  Jacob, while you’re at it remembering who you are (verse 11), remember who I am.  I am a mighty God (verse 12) who makes promises to you and keeps them regardless of how good you are to me.   That’s what the dialogue looks like.  Jacob walks away from this conversation recognizing what I hope you recognize too, is that when the circumstances of life fail you, the promises of God hold you.  So Paul will write to the church at Corinth:  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  {Outwardly we’re wasting away, sure. We’re getting beat up day by day, but inwardly we’re being renewed.}  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corin. 4:16-17) So we fix our eyes on what is unseen not on what is seen for what is unseen is eternal, but what’s seen is temporary.  He goes guys, we’ve got a promise and we’re holding onto it and it is holding us up when all of the circumstances of life let us down.  

So the pathway home for a follower of Jesus….the pathway back to vitality is  rejecting passivity and embracing intentionality around….we’ve seen two things so far.  One is repentance.  God, we’re going to take seriously the way you’ve called us to live and we’re going to try our best to say we want to honor you and live in a way that would lift high your name.  Repentance, one.  Two, remembrance.  Who we are in Christ.  Verse 13: Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him.  And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone.  {It’s an Ebenezer.  When we sing the song, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and sing “…here I raise my Ebenezer” it’s just a pillar of remembrance.  It’s remembering how good God has been.}  He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.  So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.    It’s this same place that he’s come to again.  God met him there in the first place and gave him promises and reminded him of the world that is God-bathed that he lives on and he brings him back there.  I love this picture!!  He says, “Jacob, I know you’ve wandered and I know you’ve strayed and I know that life is looking a little bit tangled up and a mess and you’re a shadow of the person you wanted to be.  But, Jacob, as part of the journey out of this, I want to remind you of a time when I was real.  I want to remind you of a time when I spoke to you.  I want to remind you of a time when you heard my voice and you surrendered your life.  Jacob, I want you to build your future not from scratch, but I want to take the pieces and the rubble that is your life and I want to remind you at every turn and at every disappointment and at every pain that I have been faithful.  Jacob, I’m not calling you to start over from scratch, I’m inviting you to begin again.”  So he brings them back to this place.  That’s great news!  That’s great news that our God weaves together all these pieces of our story.  He takes them back and invites Jacob to make this pillar—the equivalent of Jacob going God, you’ve got me.   Recommitment.  Recommitment requires intentionality because my default is more of the same—coasting is the path of least resistance.   It is!  This is the easiest thing to have happen in our life.  So when Jacob builds this pillar, he says, “God, I am reminding myself of who I am.  I’m repenting of the sin and the wrong that I’ve done and I want to come and once again bow at your throne.”  Here’s the really, really important thing:  the pillar that Jacob builds is not based on how awesome Jacob claims he’s going to be.  Praise the Lord!!  How many of our recommitments are like alright, Lord, I know I’ve failed the last 40 times, but this time it’s going to be different!  In the back of our mind we know no it’s not!  Jacob’s commitment is NOT this is how awesome I’m going to be.  Jacob’s commitment is this is how amazing YOU have been.  And You’ve been faithful to your promises even when I was flaky in my behavior and when I let you down you held onto me.  When I abdicated my responsibility, God, you were still good.  You beckoned me home, you invited me into the way of repentance, you reminded me who I really am and now I’m building my life not on how awesome I plan on being, but how amazing you have been….through every generation your steadfast love and faithfulness has been good.  

Friends, those are the anchors we need to sink deep into the soil of our soul.  NOT we’re going to do better and we’re going to try harder, but God, YOU’VE never failed.  You’ve never failed.  And that’s where I sink my anchor.  Not I’m going to do great and I’m going to do better this time, but God, you’ve held me every single time.  This recommitment does absolutely nothing to change where Jacob stands with God.  It does everything to remind him the way that God has always stood firm with him.  Those are the kind of pillars we need in our life.  

If you go hey, Paulson, that’s me…..I came in on fumes.  Maybe there’s some areas in your life that God has put his finger on today.  I’ve been praying all week that he would.  Not so that you’d feel bad, but so you’d be invited to life.  Or maybe you’re here for the first time or the first time in a long time and you’re not sure about Jesus, I just want to tell you the pathway to vitality is by rejecting passivity, because when we are passive and complacent we end up in places we never wanted to be.  When we’re intentional—-what I mean by that is we repent and we say God, search me.  When we remember who He’s made us to be and when we say God, you’ve got my life because you’ve always been faithful and commit back to Him, he leads us to a place where we are filled with his goodness and his joy and his love.  If you’ve wandered, friend, I pray that you would embrace the invitation to return to vitality this morning.  It’s open….yes….even to you!  Let’s pray.

The book of Revelation—the Apostle John records Jesus in his letters to the churches and in the letter to the church at Ephesus, he talks about how great and how wonderful their theology has been.  How great their church programs are and their Sunday School classes are.  But he says this to them (Revelation 2:4) — But I have this against you, that you have abandoned (or forgotten) the love you had at first.  Remember therefore……   {And with all of our heads bowed and all of our eyes closed, I just want to invite you to remember.  Would you remember back to what it was like when you first met Christ.  Where there was just a vibrance in your soul. The invitation today is arise and go to Bethel.  Come home.}  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, {Turn from the things that have just become a common part of life and you’ve accepted as normal.  Repent means come out of hiding.}   ….and do the works you did at first.  That’s the pathway forward, friends.  Repentance.  Remembrance.  Recommitment.  

Jesus, this morning, that’s our posture.  {If that’s for you, would you raise your hand this morning?}  God, that’s our prayer this morning in this place, that we would hear your voice in a fresh way and maybe you’d use crisis to catalyze us out of and call us out of complacency today.  We don’t want to drift; we know we don’t drift anywhere good.  We want to intentionally follow after your heart, your way.  So, Lord, we turn from the things we’ve embraced that aren’t of you.  We remember the fact that regardless of the way that we’ve acted that your name over us is SAVED, REDEEMED, HOLY, NEW, SAINT—no longer sinner.  Lord, it’s our desire to build our lives and stand on your beautiful promises.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.