Kingdom Collision Matthew 5:38-48

Kingdom Collision  Matthew 5:38-48

His parents are from the Philippines, this type of coffee is a delicacy in that region—it’s called Musang coffee.  It comes the Kalinga mountain region of the Philippines.  In this distinct, sort of untouched, mountain region, they have a number of coffee trees.  This coffee is unique because it goes through a process in order to be formed. The process is the coffee beans are eaten by the civet cat.  The civet cat eats the coffee bean, it goes through his system, interacts with the enzymes in his gastric system, then he….gets rid of it (if you know what I mean). He poops it out!  The civet cat has this unique ability to get the best coffee beans.  He can sniff them out.  This is some of the best coffee in the world.  You hear the story and go if that’s how that coffee’s made, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.  I can assure you (Ryan opens package and takes a deep whiff) that it’s delicious!!!

Sometimes I read the words of Jesus and feel the same way.  I hear what Jesus teaches sometimes and I go there’s no way that I want any part of that Jesus, thank you very much!!  But then we start to live it out.  We start to practice it and we go, “You know what, I can taste and see that God is good.”  There’s no passage, I think, that draws out this tension more than Matthew 5:38-48.  You can listen to the words of Jesus; this is from the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’s most famous and extensive teachings.  He’s teaching people what it looks like to live in the Kingdom of God, to be “kingdom” people.  Listen to what he says:  You have heard that it was said,  “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….  I heard that when I was a high school student.  My parents were followers of Jesus for as long as I can remember and I read that as a high school student and thought to myself, “I want nothing to do with this type of teaching.”  I read it and what I heard—and you may have heard the same thing—was you’ve got to be a doormat and everybody’s going to walk all over you.  The egregious wrongs you see in the world, you have no right to do anything about, you’ve just got to sort of let them run their course and you’ve got to let them do their thing.  But I wanted to live passionately.  I had this desire, this stirring, in me that God had created every single one of us who walks the face of the planet to make some sort of difference in the world, that he gifted us and that we were called to step into that gifting and this teaching of Jesus seemed to grate against everything in my humanity.  And everything that I was created for.  I heard about it and I thought, “There’s no way.  There’s no way I want anything to do with that.”  I can stand before you today and tell you I read it all wrong.  You may have, too.

What we read in this passage is Jesus teaching us how to live in the Kingdom of God.  In order to live in the Kingdom of God, there needs to be a death to the kingdom of self.  That’s the thing that starts to grate against our humanity, when we read a passage like Matthew 5, our kingdom takes a hit, does it not?  The kingdom of God, Dallas Willard describes as the sphere in which God rules.  What God wants done is done.  Would you agree that there are times that what God wants done and what you want done are two different things?  Me too!  In the Sermon on the Mount what Jesus is teaching us is how to step into the Kingdom of God.  That’s great news for you and I.  The kingdom is possible.  You can live in the Kingdom of God today, did you know that?  That’s the good news.  The bad news is in order to get in you’ve got to die to yourself.  That’s sort of the main point Jesus is going to draw out in this passage—to live in the Kingdom of God we must die to the kingdom of self. 

I was in the airport a number of months ago standing in a very long security line, so I had a chance to look at the people who were waiting around me.  There was this guy who had a tattoo on the side of his neck that said “Carpe Diem” and I thought, “Oh man, this guy is seizing the day!”  You’ve gotta be hard core if you’re going to wake up every morning and shave and go, “Oh yeah, I’m suppose to carpe this diem!”  I kid you not, I looked at his neck and thought this guy is hard core and his T-shirt said, “I’m allergic to mornings….”   I thought, “There it is!”  That’s the tension so many of us live in when it comes to the teaching and the words of Jesus.  We hear him talk about the kingdom and we go oh yeah, that sounds brilliant and that sounds beautiful and that sounds good and you want me to….DIE in order to live that way??  I know a lot of people who admire Jesus and that’s easy.  I know a lot of people who believe in Jesus and I’d argue that that’s easy.  Following Jesus….it’s a whole other ballgame.  Following Jesus is a whole other thing because it means that we die in order to find out what it means to really, truly live.  That’s the tension.  This morning we’re going to look at this teaching of Jesus that invites us into the Kingdom of God, to live in a way that reflects the way that God is, the way that the universe is created to function, but in order for us to embrace His way, we’ve got to die to our way.

Before we jump into the teaching, let me just give you a few things this teaching is NOT SAYING.  I want to be as clear as I possibly can, because I’ve heard a lot of terrible teaching coming out of Matthew 5.  This passage is NOT SAYING:  If you’re in an abusive relationship that you should stay in that abusive relationship.  That’s not what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is not saying if you’re getting beat up just keep getting beat up.  Jesus is NOT saying that you must be a pacifist—that if your family is attacked that you don’t have the right to defend them.  Jesus is NOT saying that we as followers of Jesus are called to be passive against the evil we see in the world.  How do I know that?  You can read all throughout the Scriptures that God’s people are called to be people who fight for injustice, who stand up for people who have no voice, who point out things that are wrong and say, “God has a better plan.”  That’s the mission and call of people of God all throughout the Scriptures.  You’re sitting there going, “Okay, Paulson, well if that’s what it’s NOT saying, then what IS it saying?”  That’s a really good question, I’m glad you asked that.  Here’s what it is saying.  The context is really important because Jesus is talking to people who are extremely poor and extremely oppressed.  This group of people gathers around him on the mountain.  He’s giving this talk, the Sermon on the Mount, and they live in the Roman Empire.  These are people who have seen family members, they’re people who have seen friends, they’re people who have seen loved ones nailed to Roman crosses and killed by the thousands outside of their cities.  These are people who have zero political power or authority.  They have no dream of how to make the world a better place.  Here’s what Jesus is going to do, in a brilliant and beautiful way he’s going to teach people who have zero power and zero authority how to be people who have MASSIVE influence.  It is a wonderful, beautiful teaching and it grates against our humanity even now because we go the way to have influence or authority is to have power.  We legislate our influence.  That’s how we do it!  But these people would have had no vision of that.  That would have been so far off their radar screen and Jesus goes okay, okay, okay, so you’re never going to have power or authority, that does not mean you can’t have influence.  He’s going to teach them how in two different ways.

Jesus, in this passage, is teaching his followers how to respond when they’re wronged.  {Will you look up at me for a second?}  The way that you and I respond when we are wronged determines the kind of fruit that starts to come from our life.  Anybody can respond in the right way when people treat you well, but it’s people who live in the kingdom who are the type of people who say, “Even when I’m not treated well, I’m going to respond in a way that honors and lifts high the name of Jesus.”  Listen to the way he starts to teach this (Matthew 5:38-39a)–You have heard that is was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  He’s going to give four illustrations and every single one of the illustrations has at its core this central message, that when I am wronged creative influence has to replace vindicated vengeance.  Oh, sure, we could look at the person who wronged us and go my goal is to pay them back, my goal is to give them what they deserve.  In fact, the original teaching “you’ve heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was limiting the amount of vengeance the people could have.  It was a good command.  It limited retribution.  It declared, essentially, that the punishment had to fit the crime.  But Jesus said if you want to have the type of character that has an influence on the world around you, when people wrong you, you don’t respond in kind.  You respond in a better way with more creativity and, in time, with more influence.  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul would say it to the church at Rome:  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is min, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19, 21)

If we want good to win in our world, how do we do it?  When somebody wrongs us we don’t fight back with the same evil that they came at us with.  Jesus says we actually respond with more creativity, more flare.  It’s this confidence, that God will eventually make the world to rights, that frees me to say, “I don’t need to get vengeance now.  I trust that my God has everything under control.”  Friends, when I’m confident in the King, I’m free to live in the kingdom.  As we’ve just sung in that great hymn,  This is My Father’s World, the author writes: “This is my Father’s world, oh let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, he is the ruler yet.”  When I trust that God will get his justice, I’m freed to think creatively about how I respond to the wrongs in the world.  But when I’m captive to fear, I have no ability to live in the kingdom.  When fear has a grip on my heart, I have no ability to step into the way of Jesus.  Fear makes me defend my turf and my kingdom and my self.  But as Dallas Willard so beautifully puts it: “This world, with all of its evil, is a perfectly good and safe place for anyone to be, no matter what the circumstances, if they have only placed their lives in the hands of Jesus and his Father.” 

So four illustrations Jesus gives that are going to draw out this invitation to have creative influence rather than live with this desire for vindicated vengeance.  First illustration: But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  Have you ever read a passage of Scripture and thought, “Seriously?! You want me to do what??”  We often skim over it and in my head the way I read this passage is if somebody punches you, let him punch you again.  But that isn’t what Jesus said.  If somebody slaps you on the RIGHT cheek….  Why in the world would Jesus give so much detail?  Why does it matter what cheek somebody slaps you on?  {I’m glad you asked that.  That’s a great question.}  In this society it was an honor and shame based society and the left hand was considered unclean.  You wouldn’t use it, so if you were going to hit somebody, you were going to hit somebody with your right hand.  In order to hit somebody with your right hand on their right cheek, you would have to hit them backhanded.  Jesus, in this instance, is not talking about somebody who is being abused, he’s talking about somebody who’s being demeaned.  This was the way they would hit slaves.  This was the way they would hit children.  It was a way of saying to somebody, “I want to publicly declare you are under me.”  Jesus says when that happens to you—because to the people he was talking to it would have happened—normally you have two options:  (1) You could run away and cower in fear.  (2) You could fight back and get beat down.  OR you can live in the kingdom, which means that your God is covering you.  He will get vengeance.  You are completely safe in Him.  No harm can overtake you.  He is good and He is your Father.  When that’s the case, how about instead of running away or fighting back, you turn the other cheek.  Because in the Kingdom of God, vulnerability is the pathway to impact.  When I feel the need to defend my own self, when I feel the need to sort of puff up my chest and my insecurities start to come out and my desire to prove that I’m right and to get the last word (look up at me a second), I lose the ability to impact the people around me.  You know that’s true.  You know that your quick-witted comeback to somebody’s condescending remark has never actually changed their heart.  Anyone want to argue with that?  You’re going oh no, no, no!  That funny quip that I came back with actually did change things.  No, it didn’t!  It never has!  Jesus wants better for us.  He wants us to be the type of people that influence and change the world around us.  The challenge is to believe that God is strong even in my weakness.  Or maybe better, God is strong ONLY in my weakness.  The Apostle Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that he boasts in his weakness because that’s where the power of God actually shines through his life.  Jesus says well, you could turn the other cheek.

Verse 40: And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  When I first read it, I thought when somebody tries to steal your shirt give him your coat also.  That’s not what Jesus is saying. Jesus specifically says if someone sues you for your tunic.  Now, just a quick lesson on first century wardrobe. They didn’t wear any pants. They had a long undergarment which would have been their tunic, but you can think of it as a long T-shirt or even underwear.  On top of it, they would have a cloak, which was something they used to maybe cover themselves when they were sleeping.  It was also sort of an outer garment they wore on every single day.  If someone was being sued for their tunic, they were really, really poor.  I have never met anybody who wanted to give up their underwear!  Jesus says if somebody wants to sue you for your tunic, give them your coat or your cloak also, which would have meant they would have been effectively naked.  This isn’t if somebody wants to steal your shirt, give them your coat also.  This is when somebody abuses you to the point in your poorness and in everything you lack…….when somebody wants to demean you to the point that they sue you for your underwear, give them your coat also and it will be a way of saying, “I’m going to draw attention to the fact that there’s a wrong going on.  I’m going to wave a flag.”  In a position of no power and no authority, I am still going to step into my calling, but in order to step into my calling to be a person of influence, I have got to be the type of person that sacrifices a little bit of comfort.  You go back and read through the history books, the people who have made the biggest difference in our world are people who have said, “I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of my temporal comfort to make an eternal impact.”  You show me one person who didn’t live this way and made a huge impact, and I will change my mind, but I can’t think of any.  I haven’t read about any?  I think Dr. Jeff Brodsky is a great example of this.  Going without shoes for over six years because of the girls who are on garbage dumps in Cambodia with their shoes stolen from them so that they’re easier targets for people who would take them into slavery.  What does he do?  He says, “I’m just going to step into this.  I’m going to go without shoes.  I’m going to draw attention to an egregious wrong in our society by creatively coming up with an idea to maybe, just maybe, have an influence.”  Friends, that’s the kingdom at work!

Verse 41: And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Jesus is giving four real-world examples that everybody would have seen or experienced or been a part of in some way.  In the Roman Empire, a Roman guard could require any person that they encountered to carry their heavy gear one mile.  So imagine, if you’re a mom and you have your kids in tow with you and you’re heading to the market place…….or you’re a dad and you have your kids in tow with you and you’re heading to the market place to buy food that you’re going to eat that night for dinner, and a Roman guard comes up to you and says, “Hey, calling on you to carry my gear one mile.”  What would your response be?  My guess is that this command or that this call from a Roman guard never met somebody at a time when they were like, “Actually, this is a really convenient time for me to do that for you.”  I don’t think that ever happened!  So what’s Jesus saying?  Jesus is saying that even when we’re inconvenienced, we can be people who respond with compassion.  In the Kingdom of God, you can, because you’ve been loved by the King, love people who are really, really difficult to love.  You got anybody like that in your life?  If you don’t, you’re that person in somebody else’s life!  One of the ways we respond when somebody wrongs us or if somebody inconveniences us is we dehumanize them.  Can you imagine how easy that would have been for somebody who a Roman guard requires them to carry a their gear a mile and you can look at them and go well, this person is evil and this person is dark and this person is you-fill-in-the-blank.  We have this ability to dehumanize people and the teaching of Jesus is no, even the people who you’re in competition with or you view as your enemy, because of God’s love towards you, you can respond with compassion towards them.  You can say hey, you know what, I know you required me to go one mile with you and I’m happy to do that, but my guess is that you’re somebody’s son or daughter and my guess is that you’re here against your will, to some extent.  My guess is that you’re being treated poorly and that you’re being paid poorly also, so I’m going to serve you even though we should be at competition with one another.  You know what that does?  It changes somebody.  

Verse 42:  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  Jesus isn’t giving a new set of commandments that every time somebody begs you need to give.  And every time you get into a slapping match you need to turn the other cheek.  And every time……    He’s not doing that.  He’s saying, “What if because you are so free in the love and care of your Father, you thought creatively about the way you responded when you were wrong.”  And instead of responding to somebody who’s needy and whiny and always asking….instead of responding with annoyance, you can address the people you normally avoid.  You can be generous to the people that you normally judge and you can, because you live in the kingdom and you died to self, see the person underneath the problem.  Wow!  In the Kingdom of God, vulnerability leads to impact, comfort is exchanged for calling, competition is exchanged for compassion and judgment is exchanged for generosity.  {Look up at me for a second.}  Jesus is brilliant.  He’s brilliant, because the way of the world, when somebody wrongs you and you just respond in kind, does not work.  Does it?

He goes on says this in verse 43:  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Do you know that the main predictor of whether you like somebody is whether or not you think they like you?  You could find out that Mother Teresa didn’t think that you were all that great of a person and you’d go, “That Mother Teresa, I’ll tell you what.  I’ll tell you a few stories about her.”   Right?  The main predictor of whether we enjoy somebody, like somebody, appreciate somebody is whether or not we think they like us.  But Jesus is saying that because we know our Father, we know who he is and we know the love that he has for us, we are free to love people regardless of how they feel about us.  In the Kingdom of God, when I’m hated, sacrificial love replaces a heated hostility, a hatred back.

Creative influence replaces vindicated vengeance and sacrificial love replaces heated hostility.  This, friends, is the crux of what the early church held onto.  When they didn’t have the Bible, in the same way that we have the Bible, all put together nicely for us.  And they really had a central command from Jesus and his commandment was, “People will know that you are my disciples by the way that you love.”  It was what they held onto.  It was the thing that held them together when the whole world was falling apart around them, when their friends were being crucified, when they were being tarred and lit on fire to light up Caesar’s night parties. This was the thing that they held onto.  Even when we’re wronged, we will respond with love.  Did you know that you have never laid eyes on somebody that you were not called to love??  Ever!!  Followers of Jesus….if you’re not a follower of Jesus, this isn’t for you today, but if you are a follower of Jesus, we don’t get the chance or opportunity to decide IF we love.  We only get to decide HOW we love.  Our recognition at the core of who we are is that the battle that we fight and the enemies that we have, at their deepest core level, are not enemies of flesh and blood, but that this is a spiritual battle that we find ourselves in.  The way that we win the spiritual battle isn’t by hating people that hate us.  It’s by loving people that hate us.  It’s by sacrificing for people who would want to take us down.

Jesus says in verse 45:  And when you do this….you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  {Quick timeout.}  Jesus wants to say alright, all I’m asking you to do is live in the same way that God created the universe to function. Have you ever stopped to recognize that the sun comes up on your atheist neighbor at the same time, in the same way, with the same degree of heat as it comes up on you?  Have you stopped to recognize that?  Have you stopped to recognize that regardless of people’s religious affiliation or the color of their skin or the part of the world they live in, that they all wake up and there’s air to breathe?  That the rain comes down and it doesn’t just hit followers of Jesus’s lawn.  Have you ever noticed that?  Here’s what Jesus is saying:  God is way better than you think. Theologians call this “Common Grace.”  It’s that grace that followers of Jesus are called to live with.  When sacrificial love replaces heated hostility, we start to ditch the way of the world or the way of humanity and we start to look at the world around us the same way that God looks at it.  Think about the contradiction, if Christians are known for hatred and they preach a God who defines himself as love, is there not a bit of a contradiction?  We have a little bit of a PR issue, would you agree?  We are the issue.  Jesus would say, “What if instead of hating back you responded with prayer.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his great little book Life Together, says it’s really hard to hate somebody you pray for.  It’s true, try it.  The reason it’s so easy for us to hate oftentimes is because our prayer lives are so infantile.  What if, instead of cursing back, you blessed?  You know what just might happen?  You might start to look like the God that we preach.  You might become a light to the world or a city on a hill.  That might be what happens.   When you live in the way of love, people see your great God! 

Jesus finishes his teaching:  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  {He’s like, Come on, you guys, the standard’s a little bit higher, it’s a little bit more.} And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   How’s THAT for a standard?!  I read that and go, There’s no way I can do that!  This word that’s translated ‘perfect’ in our English Bible is the Greek word ‘telios’ and it means ‘complete’ or that it’s reached the goal or you could read it as ‘whole.’  It’s this idea of shalom — wholeness, healing.  Jesus says when you live in this way, not only is your soul beginning to be healed or telios, coming to its completion or its goal, but when you live in this way the world around you is healed.  Have you ever stopped to recognize how much energy it takes to hate?  What if, because of the kingdom, we were freed from that and released in a way thatbrokenness was traded for flourishing.  Be ‘whole’ as your heavenly Father is ‘whole.’

I started to wrestle with this idea that this love is what we’re called to—this ridiculous, transformative force in the world that, please know, it HAS changed the world.  Followers of Jesus in the Roman Empire….when that little sect of religion started, they had zero power, zero authority, as we said, and within 300 years they had turned the Roman Empire upside down, living the way Jesus had taught them to live.  No political power, no authority and absolute transformation.  This type of love can melt a hard heart.  It can repair a damaged relationship.  It can change a nation.  When your head and your heart aren’t consumed with hate, think of how much more energy you have to point people to your God who says, “I am love!”

The question I’ve wrestled with is how.  How?  Because it’s hard.  The last thing I want you to do is come in here this morning and hear, Alright, in order to live in the Kingdom of God we’ve got to try harder and we’ve gotta do more.  That’s not it at all!  Jesus draws out the ‘how’ implicitly when he says, Therefore you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect—you’re children.  You’re children of the Most High God, who not only instructs you to live this way, but who lives this way himself.  Think about it.  Jesus was taken before the Roman authorities and he was slapped and he opened not his mouth.  Didn’t just have his tunic and his cloak taken, He was stripped bare.  Naked.  Hung on the cross for your sins and for mine.  He didn’t just go one mile and He didn’t just go two, but he walked all the way to the hill of Calvary.  He looked down on those who were needy and annoying and desperate and condescending and He looked down on them with love, declaring Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.  How did Jesus treat his enemies?  This is important to know, because, in the Bible, you’re described as one!  Here’s how he treated his enemies: He loved them and He gave himself for them.  Instead of killing his enemies, Jesus dies for them.  He invites us to live in the same way.  Friends, this is the heart of the gospel.  The good news is NOT that you are a good person, but that He is a gracious God and your life is hidden Him!!!  That’s the good news!!  We can live in the kingdom when we trust that we’ve been loved by the King…and only then.  That’s the security that your heart needs and that my heart needs at its very core.

I have one phrase I want you to keep in mind this week and it’s simply this:  OPPOSITION is my OPPORTUNITY. When I’m wronged or somebody makes a condescending remark or a slighted glance, when I’m wronged: opposition is my opportunity.  When we’re criticized: opposition is my opportunity.  When you’re taken advantage of: opposition is my opportunity.  When you’re hated: opposition is my opportunity.  The same material that the enemy wants to use to destroy you, God wants to use to develop you….and change the world!

Martin Luther King, Jr., January 30, 1956, had his house bombed by a white supremacist group.  After coming home and finding his house in shambles, he went to see if his wife and daughter were alive inside.  They were. An angry mob of his supporters gathered on his porch and wanted to go and find whoever “did this.”  Martin Luther King, Jr., at that time, gave one of the most stirring and impressive sermons of all time about not responding in kind to hatred but responding in love.  Then he led his followers, not in an expedition of finding the enemy and taking them down, but he had them all sing Amazing Grace on his porch.  Would you stand with me and we’re going to sing that first verse together this morning.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

{Ryan leads directly into communion.}

Kingdom Collision Matthew 5:38-482019-02-18T00:33:11-07:00

ALL I AM: Breathe In, Breathe Out Hebrews 11:21 & Genesis 48

ALL I AM: Breathe In, Breathe Out   Hebrews 11:21 & Genesis 48

Growing up as a kid, I used to love going to amusement parks.  We grew up near Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags, so I used to love to ride those roller coasters whenever we had the chance.  I can remember, as a little kid, standing in line and seeing the loops and flips the coaster would do and each step in line getting closer and closer to actually getting on the ride.  I could feel my blood pressure rising.  It was this nervous, fearful excitement.  I can remember getting on the ride and having the time of my life—-the flips, the turns, the speed. All of that fear and excitement got turned into a GREAT time!  I wanted my kids to have the same experience, so we went to the Eagle County Fair.  The “roller coaster” they had was, I think, backed in on a flatbed truck the night before.  It had a dragon on the front of it; it wasn’t exactly death defying, in any way, shape or form.  My kids resisted going on the ride.  Like any good father, I forced them to.  We were the only people in line and giving them that pep talk — Hey, you can do it!  You can get on this ride!  There’s tears…..   Finally, there’s enough bribery that they finally get on the ride.  They were flying…..it was like ten feet in a circle.  {Ryan puts up a picture of his son and daughter on the ride.}  If you could zoom in on Avery’s face…..her face is splotchy and red because she was crying.  They walked off the ride with THOSE faces!  What started off as fear, what started off as anxiety, was turned into excitement and fun!

I was thinking about that for your life and mine, every single moment of every single day we have an experience that’s similar.  That things are converted in our life all the time.  Let me give you one example: just take a deep breath and exhale.  Your body just did a conversion.  You took oxygen into your lungs and your body sent, and is sending, that oxygen through your blood, all throughout your body, to give your body the nutrients it needs. When you breathe out….you breathe out carbon dioxide.  You breathe in oxygen, there’s a conversion that takes place, then you breathe out carbon dioxide.

I started to think about that as I looked at the life of Jacob.  The question I wanted to ask was prompted by the book of Hebrews—When we breathe in faith….what do we breathe out?   When we breathe in life with God, what do we breathe out?  What is it converted into?  We could read through Scriptures and get a number of different answers for that.  We could look at some passages of Scriptures and what it’s breathed out as or what it’s converted into is confidence or boldness.  We can see that faith is translated into justice and a longing for God to make the world to rights.  Sometimes faith is converted into love, that’s what it looks like on the ground and in people’s lives.  Sometimes faith looks like telling people about this great God that we serve.  But in the life of Jacob, towards the end of his life as he’s breathing in faith, he’s breathing out something that’s different than the biblical list we just went through.  In the book of Hebrews, they actually give him a shoutout in the Hall of Faith for being a person of faith and they describe what this faith was translated into in his life. {If you have a bible, turn to Hebrews 11:21.  That’s where we’re going to start today.}

The author of Hebrews is going through a number of people who lived significant lives because of the faith that they had in their great God.  He gets to Jacob and this is what he says about the life of Jacob:  By faith {So because of this faith and walking in this faith and because faith was what he breathed in….} ..Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  It’s fascinating that what happened when Jacob walked by faith, lived by faith, breathed in faith that what he breathed out into the lives the people around him, specifically to his family, was blessing.  By faith, even when he was dying…..when his body was wasting away, what was coming out of every pore of his being was blessing.  As he’s dying, he’s speaking a good word over the people who were around him.  If read through the whole chapter of Hebrews 11, you’ll find great stories.  You’ll find the story of Noah building the ark.  That’s a pretty significant faith-filled achievement, is it not?  You hear stories referenced about people who stopped the mouths of lions, who stopped the edge of the sword.  You hear a story referenced about people, who by faith, conquered kingdoms.  That’s some pretty significant faith-filled activity, is it not?  Then you come to Jacob and it’s like….by faith he blessed people.  I’m thinking, “Well, that doesn’t seem all that big of a deal.”  Except if we were to go around this room today and ask how many of us want to live lives of blessing.  My guess is that most people would go, “Absolutely, yes, that’s the type of life I want to live. I want to live a life where blessing comes out of every pore of my body, where I speak a good word over the people that I interact with, that when they walk away from me there’s this “Jesus-residue” that stays with them, this blessing that stays with them.”  The question many of us wrestle with is how does that become a reality in life?  Because “try harder” doesn’t seem to work because there’s this thing about people that’s true:  some people tick me off and it’s hard to be a blessing.  Sometimes try harder doesn’t work.

What Jacob’s life displays to us is that the hand of blessing is always extended through the life of faith. This walk with Jesus, this trust in God, is the thing that allows us to consistently be a blessing to the people around us, to speak a good word over the people around us.  When I walk faithfully, I bless consistently.  It turns out that one of the by-products of trusting Jesus is being a blessing and a blesser of the people around me.  If I want to bless the people around me, I’ve got to trust God because blessing flows through us when faith lives within us.  Jesus said a similar thing (in Matthew 15:18):  But what comes out of the mouth {or exudes from your life} proceeds from the heart.  Have you ever thought about that?  That everything you say is speaking about and from the deepest places of your soul.  When we give that parting word to someone that’s meant as a curse or that criticism or that cynical remark or that put down in order to make ourselves feel better, here’s what we’re actually doing.  We’re putting on display the condition of our soul.  That this is what’s going on inside of me.

I watched, like many of you did, the funerals for the people killed in the Orlando shooting.  I watched as the Westborough Baptist Church picketed those funerals.  I looked at that picture and thought, “Please, Jesus, don’t let this be what the world thinks Christians are like.”  And then I thought, “Man, if that’s what’s coming out of their life, think about what’s going on in their heart.”  My heart went out to them, because can you think of how much anger and how much bitterness and how much rage must be dwelling inside of people to go there. Everything that comes out of our life is indicative, is a picture, is an expression of what’s going on in our soul. The book of Hebrews would say that if we want blessing to come out of our mouth—almost all of us would say we would—then we’ve got to be the type of people who cling close to Jesus, who trust Jesus, who live lives of faith, because the hand of blessing is always, always, always extended through the life of faith.

If I were you, my question would be: how does that happen?  And why does a life of faith lead to a posture of blessing?  Why is that true, Ryan?  If you turn with me back to Genesis 48, we’re going to go and read the story of Jacob actually giving this blessing that he’s commended for in the book of Hebrews.  It’s going to show us how the hand of blessing is extended through the life of faith.  To catch you up…..we’re closing out a series on the life of Jacob that we’ve doing over the last ten weeks.  We’ve seen Jacob start off as this second born in a first-born society, he was sort of born a rung lower than he wanted to be.  He was loved more by his mother than he was by his father, that wasn’t a great thing in a patriarchal culture.  He found himself drawn to cooking in tents rather than hunting in fields which wasn’t the manliest way to live back in the day.  He goes through a number of things in his life—he’s on the run for a lot of time.  As we pick up the story in chapter 48:8, Jacob is at the ripe old age of 147.  He’s coming to the end of his life and dying and listen to what he does:  When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?”  {Joseph is his eleventh-born son and he hadn’t met these sons yet. Joseph had been taken off into captivity in Egypt where he’d been living, so Jacob is finally reunited with his whole family.}  Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.”  And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.”  Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see.  So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them.  He’s going to go on from here and give them a blessing, as the Scriptures say.

I want to ask some questions, though, about this passage, because there are some intricacies of what’s going on that will let us go deeper into how to become people of faith that blessing just naturally comes from us.  If you were to look at Jacob’s life on the surface, everything is not going as “planned.”  Jacob, at this point in time, is in Egypt; he’s not in the land that God promised him.  He’s had to flee from that land because there was a famine and they ran out of food and they were on death’s doorstep.  Luckily, by coincidence, one of his younger sons had been sold into slavery in Egypt where he became one of the rulers in Pharaoh’s household and then he welcomed him back.  Crazy coincidence, right?  He’s not in the promised land.  He’s not in the house that he built and the land that he purchased and the life that he thought in his mind.  Not only that, but his people are getting ready to spend 400 years in this land as slaves.  You add on top of that, his life is coming to a close, his body is shutting down.  He’s taking what he views as some of his last breaths and what does he do?  He blesses. In the midst of a body that’s failing, in the midst of a story that’s crumbling, in midst of everything going wrong, Jacob refuses to allow his present moment to redefine God’s past faithfulness.  That’s what faith does in us. Faith gives us this ability to see life through a new lens.  It gives us the ability to see life through a different perspective.  Jacob could have cursed that day.  He’s dying.  He’s in exile.  They’re going to be in slavery.  He doesn’t have the things God promised him in the land that he longed for.  Yet, what comes out of his life is not cursing, but a life of blessing.  How is that even possible?  Jacob refuses to allow the present moment to redefine the entire story.  He’s going alright, God, this is what’s happening now, but I can see the bigger picture. I refuse to let the temporal define the eternal—that’s what he’s saying.  This is a new faith-given perspective.

I think you can see this best in chapter 35:16-18.  Jacob had practiced living this way.  If you were with us last week, we read about the call that God gave Jacob to rise and go to Bethel.  It was this invitation back to a place of vitality.  It was an invitation to return to his life being full and his soul being alive.  As he goes back to Bethel, they leave from there and they’re returning to their home.  We’ll pick of the story there:  They they journeyed from Bethel.  When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, {Just a quick note.  Rachel is the wife that he loved more than Leah.  Rachel is the hot wife!  Rachel is the one he wanted to have kids with this whole entire time.  They had Joseph and now she’s in labor.}   ….and she had hard labor.  And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.”  {My guess is that at that moment Rachel’s eyes lit up, her face lit up.  This is what she wanted.  This is what she hoped for.  This is what she prayed for.}  And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni.  You probably have a notation next to that name and a note at the bottom.  The note at the bottom will tell you that Ben-oni….Ben means son in the Hebrew and oni means sorrow.  Son of my sorrow. Rachel says, “I know I’m breathing my last” and takes that little baby boy and they wrap him up.  As she’s breathing her last breath, her midwife takes her baby and Rachel says, “Hey, one thing before I die.  Can you tell Jacob to name this son Ben-oni.  Name him “son of my sorrow” because I’m about to take my last breath. Labor has taken it out of me and his name should be indicative of how he came into this world.”  As the midwife takes and carries that baby to his father Jacob, she says, “Here’s your son.  Your now late wife Rachel wants you to name him Ben-oni, ‘son of my sorrow.'”  It would have been a real fitting name.  It was a sorrowful condition to which he was born into.  This was the wife that Jacob loved.  He’d given his heart and his soul to this woman and now, in childbirth, she passed away.  I wonder if Jacob looked at the midwife and said, “That’s a good name, that’s a fine name.  Is Rachel dead now?”  “Yeah, she’s gone now.”  “Okay, great. So we’re not going to name him Ben-oni.  We’re actually going to name him Benjamin.”   Ben-oni means “son of my sorrow”—that which just rips the guts out of me and takes the life out of me, but Benjamin means “son of my right hand.” Which was the hand of strength, which was also the hand of blessing.  He goes, “Okay, Rachel, I get how you could see this circumstance as one that would be indicative of death, but I see this circumstance as one that is indicative of blessing.  We prayed for this boy.  We hoped for this boy.  We longed for this boy.  God’s delivered this boy and yet, you’re going to take your last breath and that’s tragic and that’s sad and that’s sorrowful.”  But what Jacob speaks back to the world around him is—I refuse to let a moment in this boy’s history to define his destiny.  I refuse to let one thing that happens in his life speak a word over his entire life.  What Jacob says to you and to I in the most beautiful, thought-provoking way is that I’m going to trust God’s promises and God’s promises are going to be greater than the pain that I experience in my life.

Here’s the deal, friends—so much of our life is this mixture.  It’s this mixture of…..you see Rachel dying, she’s passing away while Jacob is holding this brand new little life.  So much of life is a mixture of both sorrow and joy.  Of regret and of strength.  So much of life is a mixture of both pain—things that hurt, things that we’d rather avoid, things that stink and we’d like to fast-forward through—and God’s promise to be ridiculously, graciously good to us.  So much of life is a mixture.  {Will you look up at me for just a second?}  Here’s a beautiful thing about that—YOU get to decide how you label it.  Is it going to be Ben-oni or is it going to be Benjamin?  And everything that comes into our life has to pass through a lens and we have to look at it and decide…when we look back on this story, what is going to be the story we’re going to tell.  The label that we give will often lead to the story that we tell about the things that happen in our life.  I can tell you, a lot of your anger and a lot of my anger comes from mislabeling.  From mislabeling the kids — they’re just crazy, rambunctious, misbehaving kids.  OR they’re three!  Both are true.  What label are you going to give them?  The dog’s a terrible dog.  It just pees all over the house and is untrained.  OR they’re a puppy!  What label are you going to give them?  Everything in our life has to pass through the lens of the label that we give.  So here’s some questions for you:  Is there some pain in your life that could be labeled growth?  Is there some failure in your life that could be labeled strength?  Is there some breaking down of your body that could be labeled hope?  Is there some death that could be labeled life?    For Jacob, faith stirs inside of him this ability to have a greater perspective — I refuse to get caught in the momentary and define the destiny that happens in the moment. That kid is NOT Ben-oni, he’s Benjamin, son of my right hand, son of my strength, son of my blessing and he speaks it over him.  I love the way that Viktor Frankl, the great author of the book Man’s Search for Meaning, puts it:  “Life is NEVER made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”  What labels are you giving?  We read about Jacob and the faith that he has because of the blessing that he gives, but that’s all birthed out of his ability—faith gave him an ability to see a greater perspective—to zoom out.

Listen to the content of the blessing that Jacob gives.  He gives this over Joseph and his grandkids. (Gen. 48:15-16)  And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”   Jacob is claiming that God has taken care of him every step of the way.  He says, “He’s been my shepherd all my life.”  If you’ve been with us over the last ten weeks, you’re going, “All my life??”  There’s some crazy, mixed-up, soap-opera-type things that have gone on, has there not? All my life means God has been my shepherd even when I stole the blessing from my brother.  Even when I got bad advice from my mom and I ran away from home.  Even when I approached crazy Uncle Laban, even then God was my shepherd.  Even when crazy Uncle Laban took advantage of me and even when I woke up next to Leah when I thought I was going to wake up next to Rachel.  Even then God was my shepherd.  And God was my shepherd when I came back and encountered Esau and he had 400 men to fight me.  Even then God was my shepherd when the men of Shechem were wiped out because of a surgery that they had because my boys tried to talk them into a covenant and then we had to flee.  Even then……God was my shepherd.  Here’s what Jacob would pour into his boys and his grandsons as he’s dying:  My life story is a testimony of God’s faithfulness. That’s what he would say.

Faith grounds us in the reality of God’s providence.  It’s this 20/20 hindsight vision that followers of Jesus get to operate in.  It’s the putting on of the proverbial 3-D glasses of the movie.  They just look silly, but to put them on and to see the faithfulness of God all around us.  That’s what faith allows us to do. Have you ever met somebody who’s just walking with Jesus and they saw him at work everywhere in their life??  Sometimes we label them as nuts or crazy.  But we should probably label them as faithful, walking with God, seeing his fingerprints.  All my life.  Faith gives us eyes to see the fingerprints of God all over our life.  Looking back, that’s what Jacob tells his sons and his grandsons—-He’s been my shepherd all my life.  Even when I went to crazy Uncle Laban and I had nothing to my name, he was my shepherd and he provided.  Even when I left and I was uprooted and I didn’t know what the future was going to bring, even then God was my shepherd and he provided.  And when we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, He was my good shepherd and he did provide.  And when I didn’t know which way was up and when I had so much pain in my life that I felt the world was crumbling around me, even THEN He was good and He was my God.   John Owen, the great Puritan author, says this about this passage:  “It was a work of faith to retain a precious thankful remembrance of Divine providence in the constant provision of all needful temporal supplies, from first to last, during the whole course of his life.”  Here’s the CliffNotes version of that note: God never let me down!  Doesn’t mean it was easy, but it means He never let me down!  He (Jacob) goes on to say through the hazards and through the trials, even angels attended to me.  They redeemed me.  Jacob’s saying that the life of faith doesn’t mean we’re skipping through a field the whole day; it means that God holds us even in the darkest moments of life.  And that God has been faithful to His covenant.

I love what Jacob does as he gathers his boys around him and his grandkids around him.  He doesn’t say, “Alright, boys, I’ve written a ten page paper on the faithfulness of God.  I’d like to read that to you.  Point one, God has been faithful.  Point two…..” and walk them through the Scriptures.  He’s not giving them a doctrinal dissertation.  He’s inviting them into the story of his life.  The truth of the matter, friends, is that the stories we tell will be the seeds of hope in the lives of the people that hear them.  Listen, the faithfulness of God in the previous generation, in the stories that are told, will be the hope of God’s faithfulness for the coming generation.   {Will you look up at me for just a second?}  We need to hear your stories—-those of you that are farther along the pathway of faith—-we need to hear your stories.  We need to hear the ways that God has been faithful, that He has been good, that He has held you.  We need to hear the ways that God didn’t always come through in the way that you hoped that he would, but that he was always sufficient and he was always enough.  We need to hear those stories, because those stories are seeds of hope in the lives and souls in the people that will walk with Jesus for the next however-many-decades he gives us.  We need to hear those stories.  Jacob is telling one of those stories, because stories of God’s faithfulness is the stamina of faith for people that currently walk with him.

This is for free: you should read biographies of people who have walked with Jesus.  You should read biographies of people who’ve seen God do miraculous things.  You should read Bonhoeffer’s biography.  You should read Aquinas’ biography.  You should read the stories that people tell about St. Francis of Assisi.  You should read about Hudson Taylor.  You should read about these heroes of the faith.  Why?  Because their story is meant to sow seeds of hope into your life.  When it does, it starts to look like faith.  And then it starts to be breathed out as blessing.  I have this confidence God’s been good before and I have this hope He’s going to be good again.  My friend and one of our elders, Eric Nevins, has started this blog/podcast called Halfway There. He’s telling people’s story of faith—some of the people are from this congregation and you know them.  Some of the people are people he’s run into.  His conviction and the Bible’s conviction and our conviction as a church is that the stories of faith that people have to tell are the seeds of hope that we need to receive.  He’s telling stories, but they’re not stories of “then everyone lived happily ever after.”  Praise God!  Because that isn’t real life for most people.  They’re stories of faith — on the darkest night of my life, He held me close.  I the night that I thought or the day that I thought He’d taken His hands off, looking back I realize He has been my shepherd.  There’s this spiritual heritage that’s passed down.   When you tell your story, you plant seeds of hope.  We need to hear it, because God sometimes doesn’t come through on the timing we think he should come through on.  Amen?  Sometimes it doesn’t look like what we thought it should look like.  That’s true all throughout this passage and all throughout the Scriptures, which is why need people looking back going, “You know what?  Now that I think about it, 100% of the time my God’s been faithful.  There’s never been a day where he let me down.”

Here’s the way this passage closes.  Jacob blesses both of his grandsons and then says this:  Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers.  If I could summarize what Jacob just said….I’m going away, but good news, God is going NOWHERE! Yeah, I’ve been the leader of this family and I’ve been the father—sometimes a good father, sometimes a bad father—but through it all, God’s been the one who’s been faithful and I want to speak a blessing over you as I’m taking my last breath.  The person, the thing, that sustained me through my whole life is not dying with me.” The baton of faith that Jacob hands to the next generation is not “I was awesome.”  The baton of faith that Jacob hands to the next generation is “God has been amazing!” and I’m dying, but He is going nowhere!  Praise the Lord!  That’s what faith does — it stirs in us this confidence in God’s presence.  He’s been with me, Jacob says……you wonder if he’s thinking back, “Yeah, there’s been some times where I’ve been a little bit shady and if God was going to tap out, he would have done it on me.”  So with all confidence he can say, “God stuck with me through the muck and mire and He pulled me out of the pit and in the same way that God has been with me, He will be with you.”  This is the substance of faith.  To be able to see the world with the perspective of God is at work even when things are falling apart.  To see the world with the perspective of I know there’s pain, but there’s promises from God that undergird all of that and I’m holding on to the promises.  I’m not labeling it as pain, I’m seeing the promise and that’s the label it’s getting.  It’s the stuff of faith that allows us to look back on our life and see the providence of God in any and every situation that we have walked in and walked through. It’s the stuff of faith that allows us, with confidence, to say, “Every step of the way He’s been with me and so He will be with you.”

As I look at my life, I don’t know that I have a deeper desire than to say to my kids, “He’s going to be with you in the same way He’s been with me.”  To say there’s a different way to see the world—to bust out of the temporal and to see the eternal.  That’s the type of thing I want to pass down to my kids.  You know we’ll all leave a legacy, every single one of us.  The question isn’t whether or not we’ll leave a legacy, the question is what our legacy will be and what type of legacy we’ll leave.  I stumbled across this story of a missionary whose name is Dr. William Leslie.  In 1912, William Leslie spent 17 years of his life ministering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  After 17 years,  he came home assuming his ministry there had been an absolute failure.  He got sick and nine years after he returned home, Dr. Leslie passed away and died.  In 2010 there was a group of people who went back to this same area.  When they went back—based on what Leslie had told them—they expected to find people who had heard the story of Jesus and who maybe, at some level in some syncretistic way, may understand the gospel, but they didn’t expect to find followers of Jesus.  When they went to these villages what they found absolutely astounded to them.  Listen to what Eric Ramsey, the leader of the expedition, writes: “When we  got in there, we found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle. Each village had its own gospel choir, although they wouldn’t call it that.  They wrote their own songs and would have sing-offs from village to village.”  They found a church in each of the eight villages they visited scattered across 334 miles.  They also found a 1000-seat stone “cathedral” that often was so crowded in the 1980’s—people walked from miles around to attend—that a church planting movement was birthed out of those worship services.  Dr. Leslie, Ramsey writes, traveled throughout this remote region teaching the bible and promoting literacy.  He also started the first organized educational system in these villages.  For 17 years, Leslie fought tropical illnesses, charging buffaloes, armies of ants and leopard-infested jungles to bring the gospel to this remote area.  He died feeling like he had failed, but instead, his faithfulness and courage left a powerful legacy of vital churches.

I love that story because it can be so easy to measure our faithfulness at the time by our fruitfulness in the moment.  Did you know God never commands you to be fruitful?  He only tells you that you will be as you abide in him.  I don’t know about you, but I can look at my life and think, “I wish there were so much more coming out of it.”  If that’s you this morning, here’s what God wants to say:  Don’t look at that as the measurement of your life.  Your job, and your job simply, is to walk by faith.  To live a life where you trust God.  To live a life where you surrender to God.  To see from His perspective, to know his providence and to recognize his presence in every moment.  As you walk by faith, you WILL be a blessing.  Friends, the legacy we leave (and we all will leave one) will be determined by the faith that we live!  I imagine a community of followers of Jesus who tell the stories of God’s past faithfulness, who refuse to label things “pain” when they could be labeled “promises,” and who say to the coming generation, “You live in a God-bathed world and He’s been my shepherd every day of my life and I’m 100% confident that He will be yours, too.”  Let’s pray.

Father, as we look back on Jacob’s life, we see what, in many ways, could have been construed as just a mishmash of disconnected pieces of some successes and a lot of failures.  A lot of lying and some truth.  Of mountaintops and valleys low.  But, Lord, as we look back on his life, we see that you’re the thread that weaves its way throughout the whole thing.  From the get-go there was a promise over his life and you were faithful to that promise, God.  We’re confident that you’re going to be faithful to your promises over our lives, too.  This morning, in a fresh way, we surrender to you.  We say that we want to live lives that are defined and shaped by the faith that we have in you.  Lord, we do that in light of the faithfulness that you have displayed throughout every generation.  Lord, as we look back, would you help us to see from your perspective, would you help us to see your providence, would you help us to know your presence and out of that, may we people that speak blessing over any and everybody we come in contact with this week.  We pray in Jesus’s name.  Amen

ALL I AM: Breathe In, Breathe Out Hebrews 11:21 & Genesis 482020-08-21T08:25:37-06:00

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

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.  

ALL I AM: Going Back and Moving Forward Genesis 35:1-152020-08-21T08:26:34-06:00

All I Am: Hulk Hogan and Hebrew Heros – Genesis 32:22-32

It wasn’t the day that it took place that was actually the hardest.  It was the next morning.  It was waking up and before becoming totally conscious of what the day held ahead, it was that thought for just a brief moment that maybe, just maybe, the previous 24 hours were a terrible nightmare.  But as I wiped the sleep out of my eyes and started to recognize no, in fact, it wasn’t a dream.  Like an avalanche or a tidal wave of emotion, it just hit me.  I had these thoughts in my head, these feelings in my heart on that day, July 5, 2005.  The thought that I woke up with was failure.  I’d failed as a friend.  I’d failed as a pastor.  I’d failed as a guide.  I’d failed as a protector.  The previous day on July 4, 2005, I held one of the students in the youth group in my arms and performed CPR for an hour and a half while he took his last breath on a trail just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado.  A lot of you have heard me tell that story before.  You’ve heard my heart, but it’s one of the things I look back on and see God’s gracious hand in and his goodness most, but I can tell you that the 24 hours after it were pure hell.  The two years that followed were filled with questions.  I was a pastor and I felt like the biggest hypocrite because I was wrestling with God.  Some of the questions I had for God were:  God, if I’m going to serve you and this is how you’re going to treat me, why in the world would I continue to give my life to you?  God, I thought I was following you, but there’s no way if I’m following you that life should end up looking like this?  God, if I’m a fully devoted follower of Christ, if I’m a disciple, then why am I feeling so depressed?  This is two years of my life with this cloud, feeling like it’s just sitting over my head.  God, if you’re so powerful, why in the world didn’t you stop this? And it pains me to believe that I know you could have.  Have you ever been there?  Where you just woke up in the morning and just wanted to say back to God, “God, I know you rule the universe and if that’s true then why in the world does life stink so badly??!!”

I was a college pastor for five years before the Lord led Kelly and I back to Colorado to pastor this church.  As a college pastor I would walk onto college campuses and had the chance every single week to engage college students with questions about faith.  I started to hear this resound that echoed off of university campuses all across southern California.  It was this resound:  I used to go to church.  I just didn’t get it.  I started to ask more questions and you know what was interesting?  It’s not Jesus that they didn’t like.  It’s not necessarily even YOU that they didn’t like.  Or me.  What they didn’t like was that church never felt like a safe place to struggle. What they didn’t like was that church never felt like a safe place to doubt.  What they didn’t like was that they felt like, in order to enter these doors in any sort of church, they had to have life figured out and they had to have it together.  In order to come (to church), they had to arrive at a place where they knew intuitively, if they were honest, that they would never get to.  They didn’t know that we all just play games!  Or do we?  They didn’t know that THIS is a safe place to struggle, a safe place to wrestle.  The question I want us to engage with this morning is: What happens when life falls apart?  What happens when we have questions that we don’t have answers to?  Do we push in or do we run away?

I have three kids: seven, five and three.  I have a boy, a girl and a boy.  My boys absolutely love to wrestle with me.  They love it!  My son Reid, who’s three years old, will come and jump on me unexpectedly.  Anybody else have that blessing on a daily basis?  I’m sitting there minding my own business and it’s like a cannonball and he lands on my lap!  He grabs my shoulders and says to me, “Daddy, I’m a jaguar!  Rowr!!”  For a few moments I pretend to be scared and then I go, “Well, I’m a lion!”  Then we’re rolling around and we’re wrestling on the floor.  I had a friend a number of years ago tell me, “I measure my parenting effectiveness by how much time I spend on the ground.”  I like that.   Our kids love that!  What is it about wrestling that our kids love?  They love the contact.  They love the clinging.  They love the physical interaction.  They love to feel you.  I think they also love to know that you’re stronger than them, even though they resist that.  They love to know that at a moment you could just flip them over, pin them, done, no conversation, no questions asked.  They love that! They desire that contact, that interaction.

What if God was the same way?  What if God loved the wrestling? What if far more than answering questions, God loved authentic doubt?  What if faith looked far more like wrestling than it did certainty?  What if?  What if church once again became a safe place to say, “I don’t have it all figured out.”  “I don’t know all the answers.” “There’s some things that haunt my soul.”  “I can’t figure out why we’re following God and they passed away.”  “I can’t figure out why I lost the job.”  Why the relationship crumbled. Why the health report didn’t come back the way we wanted.  I can’t figure it out.   What if church became, once again, a safe place to wrestle?

If you have your Bible, turn to Genesis 32:22-32.  We going to look at a passage where Jacob is going to wrestle with God.  Over the past few weeks we’ve been walking through this narrative of the patriarch Jacob. Remember, Jacob is born as a second born in a first-born society.  He’s loved way more by his mother than he is by his father.  He prefers to cook in tents rather than hunt in the fields.  All three of those things were stacked up against him from birth.  From birth, he’s trying to prove himself.  He’s trying to say, “I’m okay and I’m deserving of any love that should come my way.”  Throughout the course of his life, he has some successes.  He goes and lives with his uncle for 20+ years.  His uncle is coercive and manipulative, but Jacob prospers even there.  God’s hand is on him.  Now, he’s being led back home, the place that he left over two decades ago.  On the way there he’s going to have to encounter his brother, who he ran from 20+ years ago.  It’s this picture of….you and I know this journey….to face the things on the deepest level that haunt our souls.  We can’t run from them forever.  Jacob is throwing things ahead.  He’s sending gifts to his brother to try to appease him and to be accepted by him.  It’s on THIS journey, before he meets his brother, that he has an encounter with God.

Here’s how the encounter looked.  The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.  And Jacob was left alone.  And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  And he said to him, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”  But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”  And there he blessed him.  So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

What’s going on?  What a strange passage!!  Can we all admit that that’s a weird passage?!  We don’t have to pretend that the Bible always makes sense at face value!  What a strong passage!  Jacob is camping.  He’s on a solo camping trip, he’s all alone.  He’s got his tent pitched and he’s ready to go and somebody shows up out of nowhere and goes MMA on him.  They wrestle through the night.  At some point, this man/God just touches his hip and he’s out of joint in his hip for the rest of his life.  Couldn’t you have done that earlier?  If all he had to do was touch his hip, was this really ever any sort of wrestling match worth betting on?  What in the world is going on here?!  I think if you read the passage from the perspective of God, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  But if you read the passage from the perspective of Jacob, it starts to make more sense.  Jacob saying: Oh yeah, we were wrestling and it was……we were face-to-face and we were going at him and I almost had him. If you were to ask my kids if they could beat me in wrestling matches, both of my sons, three years old and seven years old…..and I’ll admit I’m not exactly a physical specimen, but I’m pretty sure I can take them…..most of the time they would agree with you.  They’d go hey, I think it’s 50/50.  We’re hearing this interaction (of Jacob) from the perspective of Jacob.  We read it through the lens of our enlightened minds and go, “Come on!  That would never happen.”  God just appears out of nowhere and wrestles with Jacob throughout the night?  Come on!  The Bible is so ancient, it’s so primitive, it’s so out of touch.  And yet….  We’ve all have those seasons in life where we’ve wrestled with God, haven’t we?  We’ve all had those questions that we can’t seem to get resolution for.  We’ve all had these mysteries that sorta sit on our shoulders and weigh us down where we go God, I don’t get why you did that or didn’t do that and God, I don’t understand why that’s happening.  All of us, whether you’re a follower of Jesus this morning or not, have had these questions where we’ve wrestled with God.

My experience has been that those questions revolve around two primary things: 1) God, who are you?  Because I believe you are all-powerful and I believe you are all good and the Scriptures really teach me that.  But if you’re all-powerful and you’re all good, then do you not care?  That’s one of the questions we have.  For well over a year after my mom passed away, I wrestled with this: God, who are you?  The second question is like it. God, who am I?  Who am I to you? Do you love me?  Do I have worth?  I think all of the questions that we wrestle with as human beings—-and those are human questions—-if we were to boil them down and tear away all the layers, what we’d get down to are two primary questions:  God, who are you? and, in light of that, God, who am I?  So here’s what I want to do this morning.  I just want to give you the freedom to say, “I don’t always understand what God is doing.”  I want to give you the freedom to say, “I have questions.  I have doubts.”  I know, I get it.  In modernity and a version of Christianity that’s been entrenched in modernity, we have equated faith with certainty, but I want to assure you the Scriptures never do.  They never do.  People who walk by faith, they wrestle with God.  They struggle with God.  You read through the book of Job, ok?  Job interacts with God.  He wrestles with God.  It’s only when his friends come and they have all the answers that Job gets off track.  His friends start trying to answer the questions that aren’t intended to be answered.  They want to say, “Job, here’s why it happened.  And here’s how it happened.  And here’s a resolution.”  And God goes no, no, no, no, no, just wrestle with me.  This stinks!  Draw near.

David, the man after God’s own heart, will say to us in Psalm 73:3, why in the world do the wicked prosper? He’s like I don’t get it.  I’m trying to do everything right here, God, and the people that are against you, antagonistic towards you, are the ones you seem to be blessing.  What’s the deal?  You have John the Baptist, a friend and relative of Jesus the Messiah, sitting in a jail cell (Matthew 11:4-6) knowing that his days are coming to an end.  In fact, days later his head, literally, will be on a platter at Herod’s party.  He sends his disciples to go ask Jesus, “Hey, are you the one that we were waiting for?  Because this doesn’t look like it’s going to turn out good.”   What’s he doing?  He is wrestling!  He’s wrestling with God.  He’s not settling for easy answers.  You have the apostle Paul, once called Saul, who has this thorn in his flesh and he says:  Three times I pleaded….. (2 Corinthians 12:8).  It’s not this hey, three times I politely asked you, “Jesus, would you please take this away?” In the Greek it carries with it this emotive, deep longing of…..God, COME ON!! ACT! MOVE! DO!  I believe that you can.  Why aren’t you??

If you read through the Scriptures and look at people who follow Jesus, here’s what I think they would testify to you and to me — they would testify that the only faith worth having is an honest faith.  A faith that’s mixed with confidence and questions.  A faith that doesn’t always have it all figured out, but that says I’m unwilling to let go even when there’s questions.  I’m clinging to you.  I’m wrestling with you.  God, I am in this for the long haul.  Here’s the truth of the matter, friends—-Wrestling with God is essential towalking with God.  It’s not some sort of nice addendum to the Christian life.  It is central in who we are as followers of Christ.  That there’s things that are going to come up in our life where we’re not going to have the answers and we’re going to have to enter into seasons of struggling and seasons of wrestling and we are better for it.  I think a lot of the narrative that we’ve embraced as a church culture in the West is:  walking by faith means that you’re always certain, that you’re always confident, that you’re always sure and if you aren’t, then you’ve gotta get it figured out before you really consider yourself a follower of Jesus.  Dallas Willard, sort of tongue in cheek, said the way that we teach theology, typically, is you should believe this whether you believe it or not.   And that’s true, isn’t it?  We know we’re not suppose to doubt, but what happens when we do?  We know we’re “not suppose to question,” but what happens when we have questions?  You show me a strong friendship and I will show you two people who have the ability to wrestle with each other.  To disagree and to still say, “We’re in this together.” You show me a marriage where one person has just shut down and another person makes all the decisions, tells everybody what to think and what to do, and I will show you a straw man of a marriage.  It’s this question, it’s this interaction, it’s this wrestling where we really grow in relationship.

I want to show you the dynamics of how this happens in the life of Jacob.  Genesis 32:22.  Let’s look at this and sort of dissect it a little bit more to see what was going on in Jacob’s life and how did God use it.  This is after he sent all these gifts ahead of himself to try to earn the acceptance back from Esau.  The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.  And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”   Not only has day broken, but the narrator of Genesis is so poetic and it’s so beautiful…..there’s this breaking of day that’s happening, certainly, but there’s also the breaking of Jacob. Jacob’s being torn down.  Jacob’s being shown who he really is.  Over the course of this evening what’s been happening his entire life sort of comes to a focal point, to a fruition, and what we start to see is God is lowering him in order to eventually elevate him.  He’s breaking him in order to rebuild him.  It’s often in those unwelcome seasons of brokenness that we see the preceding unprecedented seasons of fruitfulness.

Jacob’s left alone.  He is vulnerable, he’s open and what I have found over the course of my life, and maybe you would disagree, but what I’ve found is when I’m most broken I’m most open.  Anybody want to agree?  I will to cling to my own abilities until I have nothing left to cling to.  Any amens out there?  This is the human story. This is human nature.  When Jacob is left alone, here’s what he starts to do.  He starts to be open.  He starts to be vulnerable.  He starts to interact with God in a different way.  We see that his isolation leads him to a place of revelation.  Here’s the thing for you this morning.  You may be going through one of those seasons of loneliness.  You may be left alone.  The word I want to speak over you is when you’re alone you have two choices:  loneliness or solitude.  It all has to do with the attitude.  God, are we going to wrestle with you or are we going to focus on the fact that we’re all alone.  Loneliness or solitude?  Jacob chooses solitude.  He engages with God.

The second thing we see is that he’s out of joint.  Not only physically with his hip, but life just feels like it’s just been thrown upside down and spun around and thrown out there.  The attempts he’s making to win the approval of his brother are falling short.  He thinks he’s walking into a war that there’s no way he’s going to win.  He is out of joint.  God is bringing him low.  It’s the picture of a farmer tilling the soil in the springtime before he starts to plant the seeds.  The soil that’s gotten hard after a long winter.  He needs to dig deep down into in order to start to break it apart, so that the seeds will take root.  If God just throws the seeds on top of Jacob, his heart isn’t ready to receive them.  It’s this process that God leads him through where he eventually comes to the place where he’s able to receive.  I love the way that John Bunyan, the great Puritan author, puts it: “Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think.  It’s wounding work; without the wounding there is no saving.”  It’s that tilling process.  We don’t like it, but we need it.  The song that Aaron just sang so beautifully for us by Jason Gray, he says, “The wound is where the light gets in.”

All of us get to that point in life where God is tilling the proverbial soil of our soul and here’s what we all have to deal with:  are we going to be the type of people in those seasons who tap out or cling on?  I call my generation the “tap out” generation.  When it gets hard, we leave.  When it’s tough, we’re gone.  What I love about Jacob is he knows he’s not going to win this battle.  He’s already lost it!  He says, “I won’t let go.”  A few weeks ago, I meet with a friend in my office.  He’s been through the valley of the shadow of death.  He’s lost some things that were dear to him.  Sitting with him in my office, I said to him, “Hey, I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know why this all happened and I don’t know why God allowed it.”  To say anything else would have been disingenuous.  I could have gone theological as far as the problem and pain and the reason of suffering, but it wasn’t what he needed.  My encouragement to him was you have two choices:  you can either push away or you can cling on.  That’s the place we all get to in the wrestling with God.  Are we going to be the type of people who cling on or are we going to be the type of people who push away?

Sometimes God invites us into seasons of mourning rather than seasons of knowing.   And that’s okay.  We don’t need to trivialize those things.  As Christians we sometimes do, don’t we?  Here’s one refrain that just drives me nuts — Well, everything happens for a reason.  It’s like the Christian trump card.  BOOM!  What are you going to say to that?!  Well, does it?  Does everything happen for a reason??  If that’s true, we’ve got to find reason for some pretty crazy things, don’t we?  Do you know what the Scriptures actually say?  You can’t find any verse that says “Everything happens for a reason.”  What the Scriptures actually say is that God weaves together good out of everything for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)  He’s able to take these things, that maybe without Him would be disjointed, and He weaves them together for your good. You know what that means?  Not everything was good until God got ahold of it. {That’s for free.}

Jacob is alone, he’s wrestling, he’s out of joint, he’s disoriented.  Verse 26:  Then he (the man/God) said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  And he said to him, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Jacob.”  Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  What’s Jacob’s deepest longing? When we gets ahold of God, what does he want more than anything else?  Blessing.  He wants a good word spoken over him.  He wants to hear the voice of God saying you’re okay, I’ve got you.   I’m good.  I’m in control.  I love you.  He wants to hear that his life matters.  You know what’s interesting?  Jacob’s already been blessed.  If you read back through the Jacob narrative, it starts with him stealing a blessing from his older brother.  Remember, he dresses up as Esau.  He walks into Isaac, his father.  Isaac lays hands on him and Isaac blesses him.  But Jacob knows that blessing was never intended for him.  For the decades that follow, those words, rather than being seeds of hope in his life and goodness, actually start to turn on him, because the words spoken over him he knew wasn’t actually for him.  When He’s wrestling with Jacob, what does God ask him?  What’s your name? You go back to Genesis 27…..Isaac, his father, asked him the exact same thing:  What’s your name?  At THAT point, he did not answer honestly.  He said, “My name is Esau.”  Because I think that’s what I have to do to get blessed.  I have to lie about who I really am.  I have to ignore the deep, painful places of my soul where I didn’t add up.  I’ve got to put on a mask.  I’ve got to put on a show.  In order to be blessed, I’ve got to lie about who I really am.  But when God gets ahold of Jacob, He says, “Jacob, what’s your name?  I need you to say it.  I need you to admit it.  I need you to step out of the shadows.  I need you to come clean, because if you’re going to be blessed, it’s only going to be as you actually are, not as you wish you were.  So, Jacob, what’s your name?”  I imagine Jacob’s mind immediately goes back to putting on all of the clothes that were Esau’s, covering himself in fur that looked like Esau’s freaky hair and lying about his name.  At this moment, Jacob says, “I am Jacob.” My prayer is that some of you will have an “I AM JACOB” moment with God today.  This is who I really am.  And in saying “I am Jacob,” what Jacob’s saying is I’ve been the swindler, I’ve been the cheater, I’ve been the liar; I’ve lived up to everything my name meant and everything my name said.  It’s in this moment—this moment of brokenness, this moment of solitude, this moment of openness to God—God says back to him, “Ok, Jacob. Here’s the thing….drum roll…..your name is no longer Jacob.  You’re wrestling with me, Jacob.  You’re interacting with me.  You’re not pushing me away, you’re drawing me in and you’re saying I won’t let go! Therefore, your name is no longer Jacob, swindler, cheater, liar, thief.  It’s no longer that.  Although you have to come to terms with the fact that that’s reality.  Now your name is Israel, which means you strive with God.” Isn’t it interesting that Jacob’s name goes from cheating people—which is horizontal—-to wrestling with God.

Here’s what we start to see—that you and I, we have to admit that so much of the time God doesn’t answer the questions we have.  We don’t have the “everything happens for a reason and here’s the reason” type of life with God, do we?  If you do, I’d love to meet and talk with you.  I’ve got some questions for you.  I don’t.  We have the type of interaction with God where we go to him with questions and longing…..hey, will you bless me?  Will you make this situation turn out well?  Will you redeem the pain?  I’m going into battle with Esau and all I want, God, is for you to tell me that I’m going to win this battle.  That’s not what he hears.  What God does, so much of the time, is he doesn’t answer the question that we ask, he answers the question underneath the question underneath the question.  He answers the thing that’s deepest within us—the longing that we have most that just occupies it.  If we were to resolve that question the other ones wouldn’t matter quite as much.  Here’s what God does.  He says:  genuine prosperity (or blessing) is only grounded in renewed identity. It’s Him saying this is who you really are.  It’s the only way we can live with and wrestle with the questions of life.  Why does this happen?  Why did that happen?  Why did that person get sick?  Why did that person die?  I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I’m going to wrestle with God and I’m going to cling to God and I’m confident that what’s more important to God is not that I gain something, but that I become someone.  That He starts to change me from the inside out.  Did you know that you’re invited to have an Israel type of faith?  The type of faith where we wrestle with God, where we strive with God.  Why is that a great and beautiful thing?  Because it means you’re clinging to him.  It means you’re saying, “I will not let you go until I hear from you—who am I?”  And, friends, that’s the gospel.  The gospel answers the question: who are you?  So if you walked in here JACOB, my hope is that you walk out ISRAEL.  You walked in maybe cheating and manipulating people.  I want you to walk out wrestling with God.  This is the gospel, because here’s what he says over you—-I have adopted you! (That’s identity, yes?)  I have called you my own.  I chose you before the foundation of the world that you would be holy and blameless in Christ.  That you would be adopted as sons and daughters of the King.  He will not always answer every question, but He always gives his blessing.  His blessing is found in the reality that YOU..Hello!!..you’re name is child of the one true King!!  You’ve been saved!  You have been redeemed!  That’s your name!!

As Jacob starts to walk away, he walks away with this limp.  It’s the “gospel limp,” friends.  It’s the “I have wrestled with God”….I’ve come with my questions, I’ve come with my doubts, I’ve come with my fears and I still have a lot of those, but I know who I am!  I am loved by Him and I am chosen by Him and I am called in Him and He is the rock that I am building my life on!  Struggling with God always leads to a transformation from God. He goes, “God, I’ve seen you face-to-face.  We’ve been intimate together.”  But that only happens through the authenticity.  It only happens through the wrestling and the struggling.  We often look for answers, but God just wants our honesty.  I don’t get it, God, but I know you’re good and I trust you.  Isn’t it fascinating that when Jacob wrestles with God and he comes out the other side….if you were to look at him you’d go, “Oh, man! He got the worst end of that deal! The rest of his life he’s just dragging a foot!”  But I think if you were to talk to Israel, what he would say to you is….I know it looks like an injury, but I want to tell you it’s a reminder.  It’s a reminder that I’m no longer Jacob but I’m Israel.  It’s a reminder that I can have a relationship with God that’s honest and I can wrestle with him.  It’s a reminder that I’m no longer who I was, but I am who He says I am!   I don’t know about you…I want that limp!  I want the reminder God, this is who you say I am.

If you’re thinking, “Paulson, I’m still a little bit held up on the ‘is it all right to question God?’  Is it all right to doubt?  Well, I would submit to you it is.  Jesus did.  That’s the trump card!  He’s in the garden going to the cross and he cries out, “Father, if there’s another way, let’s do it that way!  Father, I don’t get it!”  Luke 22:44 says he’s sweating drops of blood!  He’s so agonized by what he knows awaits him.  He’s wrestling with God. Then he clings to his Father and then surrenders to him — Not my will, but yours be done.  It’s interesting that in the same way that Jacob was left alone, your King, your Messiah, was left alone.  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Therefore, because he was left alone, the Scriptures say that you never have to be abandoned.  The Scriptures are really clear in Romans 8:38 that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Just like Jacob, Jesus was out of joint on the cross.  His bones had dislocated, his muscles moving around.  He was out of joint Psalm 22:14 says, but because he was out of joint, you can be made whole.  The Scriptures are clear in saying that by faith you are made complete in him.  Because he gave up his name…..the Scriptures say that he emptied himself of all that it meant to be God (Philippians 2:7) and that he took on the very nature of a servant and submitted to God, even to death on a cross.  He gave up his name and because he gave up his name and his glory, YOU can be filled with all of the fullness of God.

It doesn’t mean that we always get all the answers.  But it means that we have the most important answer.  The answer to the most important question:  God, do you love me?  And in the midst of all the chaos in the world, of all the pain and all the questions, His cross and His resurrection declare over you—You are loved.  You are chosen.  You’re forgiven.  That’s your new name.  You are redeemed.  So, friends, because of the work of Jesus, we can wrestle honestly with God AND walk confidently in his world!  And I would pray that you do.  My prayer is that this would be a safe place to say, “I don’t get it.”   A safe place to say, “I’ve got questions.”  A safe place to say, “God, I don’t understand why you didn’t heal this way and this time and God, I don’t understand why that didn’t work out the way that I hoped it would.”  Where the cross would hold us in such a way that it would allow us to cling to God, even when life doesn’t make sense.  Let’s pray.

Before we go running out of here, I just want to invite you to take a deep breath.  What’s going on in your life that maybe you’ve ignored and pushed down?  I don’t know about you, but I’m really good at that.  What are the things that if you were just honest with God and didn’t say what you thought He wanted to hear but what was really in you, what would you say?  This just in—he knows anyway!  Jesus, we come to you today. And in all of the brokenness of this world—we don’t have all the answers to it, we don’t have it all figured out, but Lord, in the midst of all of that and whatever life brings our way, whatever storms we find ourselves in, our desire is to be the type of people that say I’m holding on; I’m clinging to you, Lord.  We believe that you’re clinging even harder to us.  Lord, would you help us to be honest with you, to engage you not as we wish life were, but on the terms that life really is.  Father, as we’re honest with you and honest with ourselves, may we hear you speak a better name over us.  Lord, would be hear the truth that we are children of the One True King—adopted, saved, redeemed, made holy—because of the work of Jesus.  May that draw us in in every season.  May we cling to you, rather than running away.  God, as we’re honest, would you do a work that only you can do.  It’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen.

All I Am: Hulk Hogan and Hebrew Heros – Genesis 32:22-322020-08-21T08:27:32-06:00

ALL I AM: Masquerade – Genesis 32 & 33

A number of years ago when I was a college pastor in San Diego, we had a tradition after every single one of our Sunday night services—-me and a few hundred college students would head over and flood In ‘n Out Burger.  We would pack the place out and typically, that celebration would last well into the morning.  One night, I was getting ready to leave about midnight after hanging out with a group of students.  When I had pulled into the space (earlier that evening) there was no one parked in the space directly behind me.  I decided I was going to pull straight back and then pull out, because if you’ve ever been in a southern California parking lot, you know you have to sorta grease up to get out of most parking spaces.  They’re pretty tight.  I went into reverse—with a lot of my college students standing around talking—and hit a brand-new, black Mercedes Benz, as hard as I possibly could in a parking lot.  It still had the temporary license plate tags on it!  I get out of the car and there’s (I kid you not) not even the slightest scratch on this Mercedes Benz, but my Honda Element did not fair quite as well.  There was a nice chunk taken out of my bumper.  The next morning I tried to pop out the bumper.  It didn’t work out that well, but I decided I was going to keep driving the car.  I wasn’t going to spend the money and get it fixed.  I was just going to drive it broken.

I was thinking about the life of Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the Hebrew faith.  We’ve been studying his life over the last eight weeks and I think he’s living in the same way.  He’s living in a way where life is just a little bit off; life is just a little bit broken; life is just a little bit fractured.  Jacob, for the last twenty years, has lived with his crazy Uncle Laban.  Remember, he stole a blessing from his brother and was running in fear because his brother said he wanted to kill him.  Evidently, when you steal somebody’s blessing it doesn’t go over quite that well.  Jacob runs away from the problem.  Because of the way he’s programmed, Jacob is able to overcome a lot of things in his life.  Jacob is sort of a shady character and is able to manipulate situations and he’s able to get what he wants….most of the time.  But regardless of how far he runs and regardless of how much he accumulates, how much he has to his name—how many possessions, how many wives, how many kids, how much stuff—Esau is always in his rearview mirror.  Esau is always this fracture in his life.  Esau is always sort of looming in the shadows, looking to see…..are you going to address me?  Are you going to fix this problem?  Are you going to address this fear and this issue that’s hidden beneath the successes that you’ve and the things you’ve accumulated and the identity that you’ve formed?  Are you going address ME?  Esau looms and cries out from the shadow of Jacob’s life.  For 21 years he’s able to run from the problem.  But you better believe that for 21 years he never forgets.  Although it’s out of sight, it’s never out of mind, because Esau, in Jacob’s mind, is that THING—that person, that event, that decision, that failure—that shapes and forms his identity on a very core level of his soul.  Regardless of how far he goes, he can never outrun Esau.  And regardless of how much he accumulates, he can never get to the point where this person doesn’t matter anymore in his life.

I think a lot of us are like Jacob.  I think a lot of us are driving around with that fracture.  That crack.  Maybe there’s some words that have been spoken to us….some things we’ve heard from a very early age that just shaped our identity.  You and I know that regardless of how much we accumulate to our name, we will never get enough to squelch that name down far enough where it doesn’t determine the decisions that we make and the life that we live.  A lot of us are running from the things we are afraid of, on a very core identity level. There are things that have shaped us, events that have happened to us or decisions that we’ve made that have formed us and we’re trying our best to keep those voices and those names in the shadows as much as we can. But I’m here to tell you, Jacob was not able to outrun those things in his life and {Will you look up at me for just a second?} you won’t be able to either.  The running we often do and the brokenness that we have, the identity that we’re trying to fill up in the accumulation of the things that we have, the failures that we’re trying to out-achieve and the insecurity that we’re trying to build hedges around in our life, we will eventually have to stare those things in the face.  We’ll eventually have to address the fears that so often haunt us on a very deep core level of our souls.  For Jacob, Esau represents his insecurities.  Esau represents the life that he wished he’d had—the blessing that he wished was actually for him.  Esau represents THE thing that Jacob has been hiding from for decades.  And he can’t outrun it anymore.

I wonder if you’ll invite me in a little bit…..and I know that many of you don’t know me all that well, but I would love an invitation into your heart and into your soul and into your mind to just poke around a little bit today.  To allow the word of God to examine us and to ask some questions.  The main question I want to ask you this morning is is there something you’re running from?  Is there something in the very core of your soul that you feel like….man, this has happened to me or I’ve made this choice and therefore I’m unlovable, I’m unknowable and I don’t want anybody to get close enough to me to actually hurt me.  Is there something that you’re running from?  There’s something Jacob was running from.  His name was Esau.  Today we’re going to look at, after 20 plus years, Jacob finally encountering the thing that always lurked in the shadows.  The thing that remained, regardless of how big Jacob got and how many accomplishments he made.

Genesis 32:1-5 — You and I have an Esau in our life.  Turn to the person next to you and say, “You’ve got an Esau.”  We all do.  It’s typically not something we’re going to lead with in a small group.  Our “Esau,” our thing that we wrestle with is typically not something that we’re going to reveal to everybody in our life, but it’s completely unhealthy to reveal it to no one.  Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.  And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!”  So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.  {He’s saying, “Alright God, you’re with me in this.”  Remember, God was the one that said to Jacob, “Leave Laban and go home.  Go to the country that I’m promising you.  It’s your land, Jacob.”  This is God’s initiative.} And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau:  Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants.  I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.'”   What an interesting phrase.  What an interesting picture.  See, Jacob is getting to meet his nemesis, as it were, Esau.  What does he say?  Here’s my goal.  Here’s my desire.  Here’s my wish. After 20+ years, after I stabbed you in the back, I can imagine you’re going to be a little bit upset, but my goal in this interaction, seeing you for the first time in over two decades is that I might find favor.  That you might look upon me not in a way where you want to take me out back and kill me like you’ve said you wanted to do when I ran away, but that maybe time has healed this wound…….and isn’t it true that time does heal some wounds?  Some wounds time has a way of expanding.  Some wounds time has a way of healing.  Jacob doesn’t know which direction this is going to go at this point.  So he sends his men with a message:  I’ve got stuff.  I’ve got flocks.  I’ve got herds.  I’ve got people.  I’ve got wives.  I’ve got kids.  I’ve got….stuff.  These decades have been pretty good to me.  That’s the message.

Verse 6 — And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.”  {Now, if this is a movie…pause…slow motion.  Jacob’s jaw drops, his eyes big.  He knows he’s in trouble.  The music changes.  Verse 7.}   Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.  {We can relate to Jacob, can’t we?  That thing that we have in our life….our Esau.  That pain that we’re running from.  That decision we’ve made that haunts us.  That thing that was done to us that we can’t get over.  I love the reality that the Scripture is grounded in.  Of course Jacob’s greatly distressed and afraid.  The last time he saw this guy he said he wanted to kill him and now he’s got 400 men coming with him, presumably not for a parade to welcome him home.  So yeah!  He was afraid so here’s what he does.}  He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”  He is making a provision for getting his face kicked in.  He’s assuming…..this is not going to go well for me.  He’s doing what we do.  He’s making a contingency plan to overcome the fear that so often haunts us in our souls.  That’s what he’s doing.  He’s looking at the external circumstances and going, “Whew! I’ve got a battle in front of me that I know I’m going to lose!”

In verses 9-12 he prays.  We’re going to come back to that.  He prays and he asks God to deliver him.  Verse 13 — So he stayed there that night, {He’s encamped with two different camps with all of his stuff….all of his family and the things he’s accumulated:  the herds, the goats, the flocks, the wives, the children.  He’s got it all right near him.} …and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau….  (verse 17)  {He’s going to give his brother a present.  He instructed the people who were taking it to him….} “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going?  And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob.  They are a present sent to my lord Esau.  And moreover, he is behind us.'”  He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him.  Stop there.  Let’s get the picture in our mind.  Jacob is encamped.  He has two different camps, but at the center of the camp is Jacob.  And around him he has his wives, his children, his flocks, his herds.  He’s got all of his stuff surrounding him.  Here’s what Jacob does.  This is the picture of how he deals with the pain that is in the shadows of his life for 20+ years.  This is what Jacob thinks — I’m going to lob ahead of me….gifts.  I’m going to throw out there the best parts of me.  All my successes and all my strengths.  What Jacob’s going to do is be behind.  I’m going to lob my gifts ahead.  My gifts are going to do my bidding for me.  But me, the real me, the me that’s in pain, the me that regrets that decision, the me that’s afraid….I’m staying back because I’m not sure how I’ll be received.  I’m staying BEHIND. That’s Jacob’s thought.

Don’t you wish the Bible were applicable?  {I love the uncomfortable laugh.}  Yeah!!  We do the same thing, right?  We’ll let people see a certain part of us and typically it’s the good part.  Typically, it’s the part we’d like them to see.  We’ll let them see a certain piece of us, but the real us lags behind.  The real us stands in the shadows.  The real us still refuses to be known because the pain is so deep that we think we’ll be rejected if they know the real us.  So what does Jacob do?  He does what we all do — he insulates his life.  He plays the game.  He puts on the mask.  He continues to run from the thing he needs to face in order to grow to become the man that God is calling him to be.  Before we’re too hard on him, let’s just acknowledge that we often do the same thing.  We arrange the things around us to hide the pain that’s deep within us.  So that’s what Jacob is doing.  He doesn’t want to face it.  He doesn’t know how it’s going to go.  The Scriptures are really, really clear. He is distressed and afraid.  When that happens to you and I in the same way it happened to Jacob, it stirs up fear in our hearts.  The fear that we carry always leads to the facades that we wear.  The masks that you go to are a mechanism to cope with the fears that haunt you.  They always are.

My kids love to dress up and wear masks around our house.  On a daily basis we have a costume dance party in our home.  It’s wonderful.  We have little Batmen, little Supermen, little Spidermen running around on a daily basis.  It’s really cute……when you’re seven or five or three.  It’s not as cute when as adults we do similar things.  It’s not as cute for Jacob.  It doesn’t get the job done in a way that allows us to deal with the realities of life in a way that would lead us to be healthy people.  Jacob’s saying, “I’m going to wear the mask.  You can sort of see a part of me, but you can’t see the whole me.”  He wants to resolve the issue without exposing himself.  So he lobs the gifts ahead.   E.E. Cummings, the poet, said this: “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”  Jacob is in this battle.  He’s in this wrestling — Who am I going to be?  What is my life going to be defined as?  He steps into the same pattern that his ancient ancestors set up in the Garden.  Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed according to Genesis 2:25.  But when sin enters into the world, what’s the very first thing that they do?  They hide!  Because they have this conviction:  Who I really am cannot be found out.  If they really see me and if they really know me, there’s no way that they’ll still love me.  If they see the real me, they will run in fear because I’m messed up and I’m broken and so it’s safer to cover myself than it is to reveal my hurt.  That’s what they do.  That’s what Jacob does — he just lobs the best things in his life forward.  He embraces this false self as a defense and a protection.

Did you know that all throughout the Scriptures we’re called to not fear?  As if it’s so easy that we could just put together our to-do list in the morning — Laundry; Go to work; Call that person back; Don’t fear…..  Check! Done! Wonderful!   We know it’s not that easy.  So the Scriptures tie a lack of fear into the knowledge of who we are as children of the Most High God.  Look at the way this plays out in Isaiah 43:1 — But now thus says the Lord, {This is Isaiah the prophet speaking on behalf of God.} …he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  Don’t fear!  I know you!  Not the mask you, not the gifts you, but the real you.  I know you.  {Will you look up at me a second?} For some of you, you need to hear this.  There’s walls around your heart and you’re running and you’re hoping you can out-achieve that pain that you’ve gone through, that thing you’ve been……   This is a word for you this morning — He sees you AND He loves you!  He knows you AND He loves you!  Not the mask you but the real you.

I started to think through this story.  I started to think through my life and our life as a community of faith and I wanted to ask the question — what are some of the masks that we wear?  What are some of gifts we lob forward and lag behind in the shadows hoping that that thing will just simply go away?  Here’s the first I see in the passage.  It’s the projection of power.  The projection-of-power mask says, “Hey, Esau, in the 20+ years we’ve been apart, you may not realize this, but I’m sort of a big deal now.  I’ve got herds.  And I’ve got flocks.  And I’ve got wives.  And I’ve got people.  And I have….and I have….and I have.  Esau, you don’t want to mess with me.” He’s (Esau) got 400 people?  I don’t want to mess with him!  Initially, here’s the mask — I have…..I have…..I have.  We have this projection of power that we wrestle with in order to not allow people to see the broken us, but to see the best pieces of us.  Here’s the way I’ve seen it played out in my life — I see it play out when I make a sarcastic remark in order to remind somebody I’m better than them.  I see it play out when I say something condescending about somebody else.  Here’s my conviction:  if I can make myself look a little bit better by making them look a little bit worse, well, maybe I can continue to run from the things that really are haunting me.  I see it play out in our culture.  I haven’t gone this direction obviously, but some people are really into their physical strength.  That might be my deal, but it might be yours.  It might be the type of clothing that we wear, the type of bank account we have—this projection of strength—I’m stronger than I actually am.  I have more power than I actually do.  Do you know how many people are in debt up to their eyeballs because they’re addicted to that mask?!  If I just buy a little bit more I’ll be okay.  If I put off this projection of I’ve-got-it all-together then I’ll be okay.  For some people, that power mask or the projection of power is about manipulating all the people and the things around them to do exactly what they want them to do.

That’s one of the masks Jacob wears.  Here’s the next.  He instructs them first.  So he’s sending people out ahead of him.  He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob.'”   And he goes on and he goes on.  Here’s what he wants to do.  He wants down to the very words to control what his servants say in order to project a certain image.   The person whom I serve, Jacob, is not only a big deal, but he is a guy who, in the last twenty-something years, has really got his stuff together. Here’s the mask — the mask is the persona of perfection.   I’ve got all the flocks.  I’ve got all the wives.  I’ve got all the kids.  I’ve got everything I need, thank you very much says Jacob.  What he fails to mention is that there is something that’s been haunting him for 20+ years that he is unwilling to stare in the face and address.

This is my mask—the mask of perfection.  I don’t know where it came from, I’ve done some digging there. I have this conviction that as a pastor I want to be the best pastor I can and there’s something good about that. There’s a weightiness about the calling that I gladly embrace, but can I tell you this is my mask—the mask of perfection.  Anyone else want to say, “Me, too.”  It’s this conviction that if I don’t serve everybody perfectly, I’m going to let them down and then somehow the world’s just going to spin out of control because it all depends on me.  How crazy is that?!  How insane is that?!  But it’s true.  Here’s what this mask says:  You can see my successes, but you cannot view my failures.  I’ll share bits and pieces, but I won’t share the things that really sting and the things that really hurt.  I was astounded as I was doing some research, that Maya Angelou, after writing eleven best-selling books, after being nominated for three Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, said in one of her more recent books:  “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now.  I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.”  That’s the mask.  What are the results?  People who wear this mask are often fairly self-conscious.  They’re often pretty hard on themselves.  They’re often fairly hard on others, because they don’t want others to blow their cover.  The people around them have to play the game also.  Ernest Kurtz in his book The Spirituality of Imperfection says: “Perfectionism is the greatest enemy of spiritual growth.”  Oh man!

Finally, after they go and see him, here’s what Jacob commands his servants to tell him:  …and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.'”  {He’s playing the game still.  That’s where he is.}   For he thought, “I may appease him {I know I stabbed him in the back and I know I lied and I know I ripped him off, but maybe, just maybe, I can give him enough stuff to make him forget how badly I betrayed him.}  …with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face.  Perhaps he will accept me.”   Maybe I can be okay after I’ve sort of paid him off.  After I’ve made him happy.  These are the masks we often wear, aren’t they?  The power mask, the perfection mask and then finally, the people pleaser.  I want to appease him.  I want to make him happy.  I want to give enough that what I’ve stolen will be outweighed by the gifts that I deliver.  Instead of being honest, I’m going to try to make him happy.  That’s the core of a people pleaser.  Instead of honesty, I want to try to make the people around me happy, so I’ll give you what you want; I’ll tell you what you want to hear, even if it’s not true; I’ll oversell my abilities in order to earn the validation from people around me.  But if you wear this mask, here’s what you know:  attached to this mask is a huge amount of anxiety, is there not? Because the question always remains—have I done enough to make ________ happy?  This mask in a marriage leads to destruction, leads to pain, leads to hurt.  This mask in a workplace leads to walking on eggshells and constantly wondering, “Am I enough?  Have I done enough?”  It leads us to compromising our integrity, doesn’t it? We tell people what they want to hear instead of what’s actually true.  Paul says if you’re going to be one who is a messenger of the good news, we have to say no to this mask.  We have to say, “Alright, God, I’m not just going to tell people what they want to hear.  I’m going to tell them the truth because I believe the truth is what’s best for them.”  So he’ll write to the church at Galatia: ….am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10)  Why? Because the gospel’s offensive.  It’s not what people wanted to hear in Paul’s time and in the church at Galatia and the surrounding areas.  It’s typically not what people want to hear in our time either.  Sometimes it’s easier to wear the mask, isn’t it?  Sure, all roads lead to God, even though that makes no logical sense whatsoever. Sure, we don’t believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We’d rather just make everybody happy and appease everybody than telling them the hard truth—-there’s no salvation outside of Jesus the Messiah.  That there’s no forgiveness of sins outside of the atoning death of Jesus the Christ, who, on the hill of Calvary 2000+ years ago, took your sin, your shame, your guilt, bore it on the cross in order to give you freedom.  There’s nothing outside of that, friends.  Oftentimes though, we will choose to wear the mask instead of delivering the truth…..in a way that’s loving, please hear me on that…..and genuine.  When we wear this mask, we turn life into a performance.  I’ll say it like this:  the things that we want to pacify, that we’re content pacifying……  So, Jacob wants to pacify Esau. He just wants to be okay—-he and Esau.  Let’s just sort of sweep this under the rug, let’s move on.  I’ll lob my gifts forward and you can do with them what you please, but let’s just move forward. The issues that haunt our soul, if we are content to pacify them, we will never make peace with them.  We never will.

The mask of power.  The mask of perfection.  The mask of people pleasing.  Jacob wears them.  Maybe you wear one of them also.  Could we all agree though, that that is an exhausting way to live?  Feeling like we always have to lob our gifts forward and wear a mask and do the masquerade ball every second of every day, in the hopes that we won’t really be found out.  That’s an exhausting way to live.  The Scriptures would invite us to be us….to be us vulnerably….to be us authentically….to be us honestly, because what I continue to hide, God cannot heal.  What we continue to hide, God cannot heal.  It’s interesting to me that this tension resides in Jacob’s soul, in his life.  Look at the way that this plays out, this tension that he’s walking in.  In the very first part of the this verse we read it.  He was saying that his goal was that he might find favor with Esau.  I want to appease Esau.  I want to be liked.  I want to be okay.  I want to sort of sweep this under the rug.  In verses 9-12, he has this really beautiful prayer, where he pauses and goes I have 400 men bearing down on me, but I’ve got a promise undergirding me.  I’ve got 400 men coming to make war, but I have a God who’s declared my worth.  In verses 9-12, he says:  Please deliver me from the hand of my brother….  He turns back to God and says God, you’ve gotta move, you’ve gotta work, you’ve gotta do this.  If you read these verses, you’ll see that they’re admirable.  And you’re rooting for Jacob as he prays these things.  Yeah, Jacob, do that!  Walk with God! Believe His promise!  Call out for His deliverance!  Walk in His way!  Then he reverts back to:  that I might appease him and that he would accept me.  I love this.  Anyone want to say they don’t live in this tension every single day?  I’ve got to make a way.  I’ve got to find favor.  God, deliver me; it’s only by you!  That I might appease him.  That I might be accepted.  Right?  This yo-yo of the life of faith.  One moment we’re down, the other we’re up.  I love that the Scriptures are so honest that they would say to you, even the great patriarchs of the faith struggled with the exact same thing.

It’s in this moment of tension—-Jacob wrestling with what direction will I go? who will I become? will I walk in the way of faith or will I walk in the way of fear?—-he encounters God.  God touches him and God blesses him and God names him and God stirs something in him. {We’re going to spend a whole message on that when we pick up our series in the life of Jacob in the coming weeks.}  God touches him and ignites something in his soul that allows him to live in the way of faith.  Look what that looks like in Genesis 33:1-3 — And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him.  So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants.  And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. {He’s not playing favorites!  Why does he put Leah in front of Rachel?  So she can be a shield, right?  It’s I want to protect the things that are most important to me and put them in the back, which is why heinitially was in the back.}  He himself went on before them…..  So drastic difference from chapter 32.  In chapter 32, he’s behind them.  In chapter 33, he steps out from all of his masks.  He steps out from all of his stuff—-all of his protection, all of his insulation, all of his achievements, all of his wealth, all of his prosperity, all of the things he said I’m using this to shield me from actually being known by the person that has the ability to hurt me more than anybody else.  I’m stepping out from behind it.  Here’s the truth of the matter, friends, you and I can only be valued by others if we’re vulnerable before others.  So he steps out and bows down—-not in a sense of worship, but it would be akin to saying, “I surrender. I’m done. I’m not playing the game anymore.”  He bows down before him in a position of vulnerability, in a position of honesty, in a position of brokenness.  If fear causes me to wear facades, faith is the thing that empowers me to live in freedom.  Ironically, the only thing Jacob needed to do the entire time to live the life God was calling him to live was to step out from behind the mask.  To step out from behind all the stuff he’d accumulated and that he’d built his life on in order to run from the thing that was most painful to him.  The picture in the beginning is Jacob surrounded by his stuff.  The picture in the end is Jacob on his hands and knees and face, vulnerable, honest, open and free.  And free!  Saying to his greatest fear—to the thing that lurked in the shadows for twenty years—do to me what you must, but I refuse to continue to run for the rest of my life.

You know what Jacob finds?  Probably the same thing you found.  But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.  Ironically, what Jacob’s been running from for 20+ years was not Esau.  What Jacob’s been running from for 20+ years is…….himself!  Somehow, Esau had come to a place where he was going to forgive his brother…..that blood was going to be thicker than betrayal.  But oftentimes what happens in situations like Jacob and like us, where we wear the mask, is that we project on the other people the pain that we feel and the way that we think they’ll respond, because we think its the way we would respond.  What we often find, or at least what Jacob found, is that an anticipated attack turned into an emotional embrace.  You might have found the same thing when you’ve been honest about something that’s been going on in your life with somebody who you love deeply.  You may have found the same thing when you came and said hey, this is the thing I’m struggling with….that people didn’t shun you, they actually surrounded you.  That they loved you genuinely in the midst of your brokenness.  Jacob was never really fighting against Esau; he was fighting against himself.  When you stop trying to fix Esau and simply walk by faith, you find the freedom that God designed you to live in.  Friends, here’s been my prayer this whole week—-allow us to see what are the Esaus in our life and then allow us to confront them with honesty, with openness, with vulnerability saying, “This is really who I am!  No masks!  No pretension.  Just vulnerable honesty.  The real me.” {Look up at me just a second.}  The greatest thing you’re running from, that you’re hiding from, has already been handled.  The King of kings and the Lord of lords clothed himself in humanity.  He stepped down into his creation.  He took your sin, your brokenness, your shame, your separation from God upon himself.  He bore that pain, nailed to the hill of Calvary and he took your sin and he gave you his righteousness.  The only way you can be clothed in his righteousness alone is if you come out of the shadows and say, “This is who I am!  I’m broken and yet loved.  I’m in pain, yet there’s provision.  I’m messed up, yet there’s mercy, even for me.”  When you come and you bow prostrate before the throne of God—-in the same way Jacob bows before Esau—-what you recognize is that the thing that you’re running from is already been handled by God himself.  He clothes you in His righteousness.  He declares his love.  Friends, there is no more guilt, no more shame, no more running! Come out of hiding and RUN to the throne of grace.  There’s enough there for you, in the name of Jesus!

Father, that is our prayer this morning.  Before we go running out of here, I want to invite you to take a deep breath.  Is there a conversation you’ve been running from that you need to have?  Truth in your life that needs to be spoken?  A pain or a regret, a failure that needs to be addressed?  There’s no healing if there’s no honesty. Jacob found it.  Father, would you remind us today that there’s enough grace at your throne to cover even the most wicked of offenses, the most deepest of pains, the most consuming regrets.  Father, by your love, would you call us out this morning—out of hiding, out of running—into grace.  As we bow at your throne, in faith, may we find the freedom to no longer live in fear and behind the masks, but to walk with you in the freedom that you have purchased on our behalf.  I pray it over my friends this morning.  Help us step out.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

ALL I AM: Masquerade – Genesis 32 & 332020-08-21T08:28:29-06:00

ALL I AM: Transition Time – Genesis 30 & 31

When I was 11 years old, my dad’s company that he was working for in California closed their doors.  They had offices all over and we were offered four different places to move.  We could move to Sacramento, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or glorious Denver.  Praise be to God, my parents chose wisely!!  I grew up in California and that was all I knew.  My whole family was really involved there, so leaving that place was like tearing up roots that had been drilled deep into the soil of where we were.  It was a difficult thing to leave.  I can remember two things about leaving:  1) There were a lot of tears.  2) At one point in time, there was a circle of people who surrounded my family and me.  To the glory of God, we all sang, with tears pouring down our face, Friends are Friends Forever by Michael W. Smith.

Transition times, moving, change is a difficult thing, isn’t it?  It can be.  A number of years later, my wife and I….I was serving as a college pastor at a church in San Diego.  I got a call to come to serve as lead pastor of a church in Colorado—that’s you guys, South Fellowship Church!  As we tried to think through whether God was leading us down this journey and come and serve as pastor here…..that decision point, that transition time was one of the most difficult times in my life.  I can remember driving with my two kids in the back seat of my car.  I was taking my oldest son to pre-school and my daughter to a friend’s house.  I drove right passed my son’s pre-school and thought, “What am I doing?”  I turned around and drove right passed it again! I thought, “Someone’s stolen my brain!”  I get there and dropped him off.  I forget my daughter’s in the back seat of the car.  I drive to church and park.  I’m getting out with my bag over my arm about to shut the door and from the back seat my daughter says, “Hi, daddy!”  I’m like a moment away from being a statistic you hear on the news!  I’m going, “What is wrong with me???”

I don’t know if you’ve ever walked through a season of change or a transition, but they can mess with our heart and our soul and our mind in some pretty crazy ways, can’t they?  I think there are two types of people in the world.  One type is the person who’s probably a little more realistic and they go, “Change is coming and that’s a difficult thing.”   It stirs up anxiety in our heart and in our soul and in our mind. Then there’s these other people—-they’re sorta like a unicorn—-who like change.  Anybody like that?  They love change.  They thrive on it and it feeds the excitement that their soul needs to really feel alive.

I don’t know how you approach change.  I only know that change is inevitable in life.  It’s not if it comes for us, it’s when it comes for us.  For some of us today, we’re in a season of change.  I think the timing of this message is divine in that this happens to be in the flow of our year when graduations happen.  So they’re not in elementary school any more, they’re now in middle school.  The middle schooler gets into high school.  There’s some high schoolers that are graduating and they’re moving on to whatever God has for them next—into the work force or college.  There’s some parents in this room that are looking at their calendars and going, “Alright, in three months we are going to have no kids in the house anymore.”  Some of you are transitioning out of the work force and retiring.  This is the year and change is coming for you.  It comes for us all. It came for Jacob, too.

If you’ve been with us for over the last few weeks, you know we’re studying the life of one of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew faith.  His name is Jacob.  His grandfather is Abraham and his father is Isaac.  If you’ve been with us, you recognize that Jacob’s life didn’t get off to the greatest start.  He was the second born in a first-born society.  He was loved more by his mother than by his father.  In a patriarchal world that didn’t work all that well for him.  He wasn’t a hunter like his beastly brother; he was a gatherer and liked to cook soup—-that worked to his advantage sometimes, but it didn’t earn him the affection from his dad and the people around him that he deeply longed for and that his soul needed.  Jacob stole the blessing from his brother by pretending to be his brother.  He was on the run; his mom sort of shoves him out the door and tells him to go live with his crazy Uncle Laban.  Laban is the only person in the Jacob-narrative who is more shady than Jacob. When Jacob encounters Laban it’s like he’s looking in a mirror.  He works for Laban for 20 years.  We’re going to jump into the story about midway through.  If you have a Bible, you can open to Genesis 30:25.  Jacob has married both Leah and Rachel, Laban’s daughters, his cousins.  He is at the point now where he starts to think about going home.  Here’s what the Scriptures say:  As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.  {Just a quick timeout.  We start to recognize that Jacob has been there about 14 years, at least, but when he says this you start to see that he’s never felt like he’s been home.  There’s always been something else on the horizon.  There’s always been an unsettled nature in his soul.}  Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.”   Jacob senses that it’s time to leave.  It’s time for a transition.  He’ll go on to say—-you can read about this in Genesis 30—-the reason he feels that way is because he’s grown as much as he can in the place that he is.  He’s maxed out, he feels like, under Laban’s wing.  He can only acquire so much. He can only gain so much.  He can only grow so much.  He reaches the point where he’s grown as much as he can and he says alright, now it’s time for me to head into a different season.  It’s time for me to chase that dream, that promise, that God placed back in his heart and on his life in Genesis 28:15 — Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land.   He goes, “Alright, Jacob, there’s going to be a time where you’re going to outgrow where you’re at and there’s going to be a time where you’re going to need to think about not staying where you are but coming home.”  What God promises Jacob years and years and years ago, is that when that time comes, as scary as it is…..and let’s be honest, transitions are hard, aren’t they? Change is scary.  There’s a reason that there’s a promise of God’s presence that undergirds this promise of change.  “I’m with you and I will keep you.”

I wonder for us today what type of transition we might be looking at; what type of change might be coming in our life.  For Jacob, it was the change of where he physically lived.  We live in a transient society where people move all the time and that’s sort of the world we live in.  But for Jacob and the world he lived in, that was rare. Because their very livelihood, their wealth, their identity was tied to the land that they lived in.  For them to be uprooted and for them to move would have been earth-shattering, risky faith, bold, like-you’ve-never-seen-before.  When Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, gets a word from God, gets a promise from God—when God says I want you to leave the place that you’re at to go to a land I will show you—we don’t have a modern-day equivalent for just how risky and crazy that was.  Now Jacob is following in his grandfather’s footsteps.  Maybe it’s that stirring from God that just……the ground that I’m planted in is not where I’m called to flourish long term.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe not.  If it’s not, please don’t say, “Well, this message isn’t for me.”  Because change is a part of our lives even if we stay where we’re at.  Change has to be part of the way that we think. We’re all in the process, hopefully, of diving deeper and deeper into what it means to be a child of the Most High God.  We’re all in the process of learning what it looks like and what it means to not just sing a song that says, “I’m no longer a slave to fear, but I am a child of God,” but to live with our feet on the ground in a way that reflects that theological truth.  Sometimes that means that we need to change some of the things going on in our head so that we can walk in truth of what God has declared.  Maybe it’s not “we’ve got to leave physically,” but maybe God will challenge some of you this morning to say, “Alright, maybe it’s time to ditch the lie that I’ve been sinking my heart and soul into and to move forward into the truth that I know God has declared.”

Maybe for some there’s this sadness over your life.  I can remember for a long time after my mom passed away, I almost felt guilty about being happy and laughing.  My thought was, “I should be upset and I should be sad, but in this moment I’m not.”  For me, it was a change to say, “Ok, there’s freedom.  There’s freedom to find joy again.”  There’s freedom to walk in the goodness that God has made, to see not the pain that’s out there, but to see the joy that’s on the horizon.  Maybe that’s it for some of you.  Maybe for some of you, you’re angry and it comes up in different ways in your soul and it comes out on the people around you.  There’s an invitation on the table this morning from God to say, “Alright, maybe it’s time.”  Maybe it’s time to walk out of that season and into something new.  Here’s the thing….  {Will you look up at me for just a moment?}  It’s better to be uprooted than it is to be grounded in the wrong field.  It’s better to have to wrestle with the change that comes and the uncertainty and the pain that inevitably comes along with it than it is to be grounded in the wrong field.  Maybe you’ve grown as much as you can; or maybe there’s this calling of God on your life; or maybe there’s a promise you feel that God has given and it’s time to step into it…..that’s the way Jacob felt.

Here’s the truth that we’re going to circle around today and this is the reality—you know it and I know it—times of transition or change are filled with unprecedented challenge and immense growth!  Part of the challenge of life is that it’s BOTH of those things.  It were just one or the other, we could either dive into with both feet—full on—or we could avoid it like the plague, but the reality is change brings both challenge and growth in a way that maybe nothing else in our life does.  Change is hard!  When we encounter Jacob at this part of his story, he’s lived with Laban for 14 years.  He’s 91 years old at the first part of the story and when he ends up leaving he’s 97 years old!  That’s a heck of a time to make a life-altering change!  {I’m going into a new career field!}  Wow!  You wonder, as he steps out, if the questions swirl in his soul—What if what I step into is worse than where I’m leaving?  What if I don’t even make it there?  What if my brother sees me and, after these many, many years, is still holding that grudge and takes me down?  He has this conviction that it’s better to be uprooted than it is to be grounded in the wrong field.  Change always comes with uncertainty.  But it also always comes with growth.  I love the way Benjamin Franklin put it: “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”  Period.  Change is a part of life.  Another person said, “Change is inevitable—except from a vending machine.”  It’s inevitable.  That’s a great thing for you and I.  Not an easy thing, but a really, really good thing.

So Jacob says to Laban, “Hey, it’s time for me to go home.”  Laban says back to him in Genesis 30:27 — But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.  Name your wages, and I will give it.”  So, Jacob says,”It’s time for me to go,” and Laban says back to him, “Not so fast.  What were you making a few days ago?  I will give you as much as you want as long as you’ll stay with me.”  So Jacob has this promise from God stirring in his life and Laban, his uncle, says, “Just work for me a little bit longer.”  To make a long story short—-Jacob says yes and he works for his uncle for another six years.  From the time God stirs the promise in his heart to the time he actually leaves to go where God’s leading is a time period of, at least, six years.  Don’t you ever just want to say back to God, “Could you condense the time a little bit?  Just give the promise when you want me to go and I’ll go.”  But here’s what Jacob does….we learn so much from Jacob’s life….here’s what he does and you may be entering into a season of transition and it may be coming faster than you think or it may take a lot longer than you ever dreamed.  If it takes longer, you’re in good company with Jacob.  And when it does, keep working while you’re waiting.  That’s what Jacob does.  Jacob enters into a season of being a shepherd—-of caring for Laban’s flocks.  God’s plan of delay is actually a plan to prepare for what He has for Him on the horizon.  We often see it as waiting—-and every life is filled with waiting.  But what we call waiting, God often calls preparation.  We don’t have a huge value of preparation in our culture and our time; we live in a microwave culture where we want it our way and we want it right now.  But God knows better than that—this just in—He’s smarter than you!  He will often put a dream in your heart and a promise over your life and a calling and then and then and THEN He will prepare you to step into what He is calling you towards.  Let’s just admit that that’s a really hard season sometimes—-to walk with God in the waiting.  For Jacob, there’s this dream that’s been birthed inside of him that he just can’t let go.  He knows the future that’s on the horizon; he knows the calling of God that’s on his life and God says no, I want you HERE right now and I want to prepare you for what I have for you THERE.

If we want to wait well, there’s three quick things we gotta do and things that Jacob does.  Waiting is not passive.  Seasons of waiting cannot be passive—-where we sort of take our hands off the wheel and go, “Well, whatever happens happens.”  Seasons of waiting must be actively engaged.  In this waiting season, God expands Jacob’s flocks; he expands Jacob’s wealth; he expands Jacob’s reach of his tiny kingdom; and He’s preparing him to step into the land that he left.  Had he gone right away, he would not have had what he needed to flourish where God was going to plant him.  That’s a word for some of you here this morning—if you just go there right away, you will not have what you need to flourish where God wants to plant you.  Now, this is for my generation and younger—-we hate the process.  We hate working our way up.  I can’t tell you how many people that I talk to—-they may be younger than me and graduating from college or seminary—-that have a dream job in their head.  They’re not going to say yes to anything but the dream job.  You know what that means?  They’re going to be unemployed.  They aren’t ready for the dream job yet.  God hasn’t stirred in them; he hasn’t prepared them; he hasn’t readied them for that.  So what if we committed to walking the journey with God rather than looking for shortcuts to the destination.  God stirs in Jacob:  1) Be actively engaged.  2) Value preparation.

But as you do that: 3) don’t lose sight of intentional vision.  God, this is where you’re calling and God, this is what you’re doing.  Jacob starts to flourish.  He starts to be mightily blessed by the hand of God.  His flocks are expanding.  He lives three days away from Laban now, so he put some distance between he and Laban after he accepted the job offer to stay with him.  He goes, “Yeah, I’ll stay with you but I’m putting three days between you and me, buddy, because you’re shady and I know shady.”  His land is expanding and his people are flourishing and it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.  What I love about Jacob is there comes a time where he says, “I’ve grown as much as I can in this place and it’s time for me to leave.”  I love that, because sometimes God’s biggest blessings can also be some of the greatest hindrances to being obedient to Him.  Isn’t that true?  God, you’ve blessed me where I’m at, so I can’t leave.  I can’t touch that.  I can’t mess with that.  You’ve been so good and your hand is so on this!  I can remember when we were thinking about leaving the college ministry we were a part of in California and it had grown a lot in the five years that we were there.  God’s hand of blessing was all over it.  One of the hardest things about embracing transition and change was leaving something we knew God’s hand was on.  The blessing can sometimes block us from obedience.  Sometimes it’s easier to say, “God bless you as you go” to kids leaving the house if they’re just a pain to be around.  My parents didn’t shed a tear when I left!  Other kids….they’re a huge blessing and it’s harder to let them go.  Sometimes God’s blessing can be a hindrance to our obedience.

Genesis 31:1-3 — Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.”  And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before.  Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”   This is six years later, after he gets the call to go; after he senses the stirring to go.  He gets this word from God, “Now is the time.”  So they start to pack up all of their things.  They start to get ready to make the move.  Genesis 31:19 — Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods.  As she’s getting ready to go, she says, “I’m going to go and take my dad’s little idols and I’m going to bring them along with me.”  Just sorta tuck that into the back of your head, because we’re going to come back to that in just a moment.   They leave.  They’re a three-days journey ahead of Laban and he gets word that they left and he goes and he starts to chase them down.  Verse 25:  And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen pitched tents in the hill country of Gilead.  And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters likes captives of the sword?  Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre?    If you believe that Laban would have actually sent him away in this form and this fashion, I have some ocean-front property in Arizona I’d love to sell you!  There’s no way!  But here’s the picture:  Jacob has decided it’s transition time and God, you’re calling me go.  He’s packed up everything that he owns—all of the people that are with him—the wives, the children, the possessions—and he’s taking all of them and he’s walked somewhere around 300 miles on this journey.  He’s gotten to a certain point and now, standing in front of him and the promise that God’s given him is crazy Uncle Laban.  Isn’t that the way that change feels sometimes?  You get going and you’re walking with God and then right in your way stands some opposition, some resistance, some pushback.  So not only, if we’re in that season, do we need to work while we’re waiting, but we need to expectresistance…..but hold on to promise.  You’ve never seen a good movie that didn’t have resistance.  You’ve never read a good story that touched a piece of your soul that didn’t have some form of the protagonist being blocked from getting what he wanted, what he set out to get.  It is the form of every good story and here’s the truth of the matter, friends: it happens in every good life, too.  It’s not just the stories that we read, it’s the lives that we live.  Anytime we want to follow God into something new and into a new season—-maybe it’s in a mindset or an emotional stronghold that’s in our life and we sense a transition out of that—-you better believe that if you decide to go, there’s going to be some resistance along the way.  There just is!

History, though, is filled with men and women who pushed through opposition, said no to destructive fear and ended up changing the world.  History is not filled with people who’ve had an easy road—-you know that, right? Martin Luther King, Jr. was thrown in jail over 20 times as he led the Civil Rights Movement.  He had multiple crosses burned in his front yard.  His house was bombed and was lit on fire.  Eventually, he was killed.  But he believed in this movement; he believed in the value of the personhood of every single person that walks the face of the globe.  He wanted that equality and fought for it.  You better believe that he encountered resistance and he pushed through it.  It’s why we still read about him today.  We live in a culture where it’s so easy to tap out and say, “Listen, if it’s hard, I’m done!”  But praise the Lord for people that have said, “If it’s hard, I’m going to hold onto the promise and I’m going to keep going.”  You may have read about Malala Yousafzai who stood up to the Taliban.  In 2009-2011, she wrote this underground blog that the BBC newspaper picked up and started publishing.  It was how women were getting robbed from education by the Taliban.  In 2012, she was getting on a bus and there was a Taliban soldier there who identified her.  He shot her three times at point-blank range.  She didn’t die, miraculously enough.  She had a bullet that went through her left eye socket, down through her shoulder and out the other side.  She refused to stop.  She continued to fight as an activist for women’s rights, for women’s education under the oppressive regime of the Taliban.  She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 and she was the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She said, “I will not stop!”

You will never go through a season in your life where there’s fruitful change that happens and you DON’T encounter opposition.  You never will!  You will never grow your faith in a way that leads to you flourishing without opposition.  I love the way Frederick Douglass said it:  “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” We love looking at that for somebody else’s life, don’t we?!  We can identify that—Oh, that’s true!  But what about the things you’re facing in your life right now?  What about the problems you’re looking at?  The giants on the horizon?  The mountains that you have to climb–relationally to repair things?  Or as a transition—moves in job or career or where you’re living?  You’re looking at the mountains and going, “Man, there’s no way we can do it!”  I’ll say back to you, “There’s never been a time in your life where you’ve grown and you didn’t face opposition.  Ever.”

Jacob believes this promise of God and he immediately encounters opposition.  He’s just a few days along the way.  God has spoken to him, “Hey, Jacob, it’s time to go.”  Jacob’s like, “Alright, I’m gathering my stuff. I’m gathering my people.  I’m gathering my multiple wives.  I’m gathering all my kids.  I’m on my way!”  A week into his journey, he sees his nemesis staring him in the face.  Don’t you wish a promise from God equaled easy passage to the fulfillment?  We can try to read the Scriptures in a way that suggests that, but you can’t read them in context and think that.  You just can’t.  He believes the promise and then he encounters resistance.  He confronts it directly, he speaks truthfully and he remembers God’s provision and he keeps going, he keeps pushing.

Genesis 31:30-32 — We have this issue with these stolen gods, these household idols that Rachel took.  So after a back-and-forth between Jacob and Laban, Laban says, “And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, buy why did you steal my gods?”  Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.  Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live.  In the presence of kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.”  Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.  So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them.  And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s.  Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them.  And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.”  So he searched but did not find the household gods.   What an interesting story! First of all, wow!  But second of all….here’s the narrative.  Step back for a second.   Jacob senses a new season is on the horizon.  Jacob is leading his family into a promise. Into seeing God move and seeing God work.  And in his caravan of his possessions are these little household gods, these idols.  Worship of foreign gods, not Yahweh, the One True God.  The question we have to wrestle with is will new seasons and seasons of change also invigorate and invite us to new devotion or will we just carry with us the old and plant it down in a new field.  That’s what we’re wrestling with.  That’s what we’re seeing.  So the encouragement I hope we all take away is that seasons of change would also mean—-we work while we’re waiting, we expect resistance—-that we embrace refinement in the midst of disorientation.  That’s what this whole story revolves around — God, you’re at work and you’re moving and you’re leading and we’re doing our best to follow.  Receiving the promise from God always, always, ALWAYS carries with it a season of God’s refinement in us.  Will we let go of the things that we’ve put as ultimate on the throne of our heart and follow our good God to the new season that He leads?  We can fight that or we can surrender to it.

When these household gods are brought up, they have this decision:  are we going to hold onto them and just take them with us and plant them in a new place or will we…….we call it repentance.   Will we turn from the false gods that we’ve been worshipping and will we bow at the throne of the one true God, Yahweh.  Will we repent?  Will we change our mind?  It’s interesting that this story is thick with irony—-what Jacob says is you can kill whoever you find holding the idols.  It’s ironic because idols always kill!  They always kill!  They always lead to death.  Bowing at the wrong throne and centering our life around the wrong thing always leads us to a place of regret and pain and hurt, because idols always promise something that they cannot deliver. Refinement in this way is hard because it requires repentance.  It also requires that we step out into this place—-this is why most of us hate change—-where we’re out of control.  So, God, if I let go of this thing, what are you going to replace it with?  What are you going to put back?  God, if I let go of this anger, what’s going to fill that place? God, if I let go of this sadness, what’s going to dwell there?  If I let go of the bitterness and the unwillingness to forgive that’s driven my life for years and years and years, what do I put back in that place?  That’s why change is hard.  What Jacob and Leah and Rachel wrestle with is God, in the midst of being disoriented, will we allow you to mess with us?  Refine us.  Shape us.  Make us more into your image.  Here’s the thing—-this just in—-God is ruthlessly, passionately, ferociously committed to that in your life.  He’s committed to refining you.  The Scriptures say that he will use any and every situation that you walk through in life in order to do that.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. (Rom. 8:28-29)  That’s His plan in your life—-to shape you and make you and mold you to the image of Jesus.  One of the seasons He does that most is in seasons of change and seasons of transition.

So, the story ends with Jacob and Laban coming to terms with each other.  They make a covenant.  It says in Genesis 31:44, 51-52 — Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I.  And let it be a witness between you and me.  {They decide how to divide all the stuff and they decide that they’re not going to go any further than this pillar that they set up, roughly halfway between Laban and where Jacob will eventually land.  This is how that account ends.}  Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.  {I can remember my brother and I sharing a room when we were growing up.  We used to have a line down the middle of the room.  You’re not allowed to go passed it. Conveniently, the door was on my side.  He had to figure that one out, right?}  What’s going on? Jacob, at this moment, encounters the point of no return.  He’s saying, “OK, I can’t go back now.  My face has to be set towards where You’re going.”  There’s boundaries that are set and there’s a commitment now in Jacob’s heart and mind and life to the new future that God has placed in his soul.  So how do we navigate seasons of transition well?  Commit definitively and walk confidently.  That’s where he finds himself.  I can’t go back. God, I’m going to remember your blessing in the past and I’m going to build my life on what you’ve done and remembering your goodness, but I’m not going to live in the past.  I’m going to walk with you into the future.

I don’t know about you, but Jacob’s life strikes a cord with me.  That there’s some new things that God is doing in my soul.  Some things that I’m passionate about that He’s leading us—-as a Body, as a community of faith—-into and I am so excited about that.  I think a lot of times we want to see God’s faithfulness, but we don’t want to take the risk to step out in faith.  So much of our life is spent longing and hoping and praying and dreaming—-and those are all good things.  But there comes a moment, friends, in all of our lives, where we are called to step out and to put our faith in practice—-not just songs that we sing on a Sunday morning that are absolutely true, but a life that we live.  If you want to see the faithfulness of God in your life, it demands that you take a step of faith.  Take a step of faith.  That’s going to require some change.  Maybe in a mindset.  Maybe something in your heart and your soul that you’ve just held onto.  Maybe it’s geographically and physically.  But what is the thing that God’s calling you to say, “It’s better to be uprooted than it is to be planted in the wrong field.”  Seasons of change/times of transition are the most fruitful times we’ll walk through in life.  They’re also some of the most difficult.  Which is why the Scriptures’ instructions are so clear — Work while you’re waiting. Trust God’s promise.  Walk with Him.  Know what He’s called you to.  Know there’s going to be resistance.  Know it’s going to be difficult.  Just file that in the back of your mind.  See it as a time to clear the deck—-to refine your commitment, to give your life fully and totally to Him.  Then, friends, step out in faith.  Let’s pray.

Some of you know God’s calling you to something new, something different.  Maybe it’s a thought pattern. Maybe today you want to trust God with your life.  For some of you, it’s letting go of some of the anger, the bitterness, the lack of forgiveness that you’ve walked in for a long time.  For some of you —- I’m planted in the wrong field, God.  I want you to uproot me and I want to follow you into this and I don’t know what that means. {Ryan asked for raised hands if anyone was in any of those categories.}  So Father, we know that these are really hard times—-times of transition and times of change.  They’re times of uncertainty.  They’re times of questions, doubts, fears—-all of those things swirl.  Father, for my friends who have raised their hands to say that they’re in that season right now, I pray that you would remind them of your goodness today.  That you’d remind them that while seasons change that you remain.  That your love remains.  That your steadfast goodness holds them tight, even when their hands get weary of holding you.  Father, I pray over my friends and the resistance that they’ll face; the refinement that they’ll encounter.  Lord, may they accept it and walk in it with grace—clinging to you, Author and Perfecter of our faith.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

ALL I AM: Transition Time – Genesis 30 & 312020-08-21T08:29:31-06:00

ALL I AM: Filling the Void – Genesis 29 & 30

ALL I AM: Filling the Void  Genesis 29 & 30

I have quite the challenge in front of me — I am preaching on Mother’s Day out of a passage that has to do with polygamy!  Pray for me.  In fact, it’s even a little bit deeper than that….not only is it about polygamy, it’s sorta of a sister-wives meets “Desperate Housewives” meets intervention.  That’s where we’re going this morning.  If you’ve been with us over the last few weeks, you know we’ve been studying the life of Jacob, one of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew faith.  He’s one of the more unheroic heroes in all of Scriptures.  If you’ve been looking for glimmers of hope or shouts of light in the story, you’ve been left wanting over the last few weeks.

We started this journey saying that Jacob was born second-fiddle–he was second born in a first-born society. Unlike his brother, he was a gatherer.  His brother was the more manly hunter.  Because of that, his brother was loved by his father and in a patriarchal society that was a good thing.  Jacob was more loved by his mother which didn’t help him out a whole lot.  He swindled a birthright out of his brother Esau.  He lied to his father and stole the blessing that was meant and intended for his brother.  That didn’t work out all that well.  After he stole the blessing, his mother told him that he should go live with his crazy Uncle Laban.  It’s a 700 mile walk up to his uncle’s place.  The only person more shady in the narrative of Jacob is his Uncle Laban.  It’s as though the narrator of this story puts a “chuckle” in the writing as Jacob leaves his home in Beersheba to go up to Haran to encounter his counterpart in shadiness and swindling (Uncle Laban).

If you have a Bible, Genesis 29 is where we’re going to be camping out today.  Verse 1 has Jacob on his way to go see and hopefully live with his uncle.  That would be his desire.  Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east.  As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered.  The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place over the mouth of the well. {Do you get the picture?  Jacob approaches this well and there’s three flocks of sheep waiting for enough sheep to get there so there’d be enough shepherds there to collectively move the big stone that was over the face of the well to keep the water fresh.}  Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?”  They said, “We are from Haran.”  He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?”  They said, “We know him.”  He said to them, “Is it well with him?”  They said, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!”  {If this were a movie, the camera would pan over slowly to Rachel.  Rachel, with thematic music in the background, would be slow-motion walking towards Jacob.  There’d be wind in her hair, blowing.  She would be beautiful and breathtaking. The music would let you know she owns the world.  Behind her there’s sheep and they are in a “mighty ducks” flying-V formation, I’m sure.}  He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together.  Water the sheep and go, pasture them.”  But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”  {Hey, Jacob, great idea!  Thanks alot, but we actually will wait until the sheep get here because it takes all the shepherds to move the stone.}  While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.  {Quick timeout.  This would be akin to saying, nowadays, she was not only beautiful, but she followed football and she had an arm.  She could drop back in the pocket and throw a football like nothing you’ve ever seen!  For a woman to be a shepherdess…..the guys would have been like wow! alright, Rachel!!  And indeed Jacob was.}  Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, {his cousin} Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. {They’re waiting for a number of other shepherds to come and Jacob’s like, “Uh, baby, you need some water for your sheep?  Let’s chat about that because I can move that stone off of that well if you need me to.”  Jacob — feat of strength!}   Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.  

As a high school pastor and a college pastor, I was constantly running into books on biblical dating.  Courtship. It’s interesting that I never encountered anything on Jacob in any of these books.  Let me just propose to you that if you’re interested in biblical dating or courtship, Jacob is a biblical model that I don’t propose you follow. If you were to write a book on biblical dating according to Jacob’s life, here’s what you’d see:  1) Bench press a lot of weight and demonstrate feats of strength in front of the women you want to impress.  2) Kiss her without saying a word.  Jacob grabbed Rachel and he kissed her.  3) Weep like a baby.  Isn’t that awesome?  He kisses her and just starts crying.  Oh, sweet Lord, thank you!  My cousin’s beautiful!  4) Tell her the good news — you’re related.  That’s how it plays out in the passage.  Jacob is obsessed with Rachel.  Verse 13:  As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house.  Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.”  And he stayed with him a month.  Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing?  Tell me, what shall your wages be?”  Now Laban had two daughters.  The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.  Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.  {Just a quick timeout.  There’s a number of comical debates in the commentaries about what this means.  If you Google it — What does it mean that Leah has weak eyes? — you’ll find things as comical as….she had glaucoma.  Things like: She must have been allergic to the sand that was blowing and whirling around in the area.  A side note:  We are committed at such a high level of taking the Bible literally, that we take it literally when it doesn’t intend for us to take it literally.  Here’s how I know it doesn’t intend for us to think that Leah had weak eyes.  Look what follows it.  Leah has weak eyes, but Rachel had 20/20 vision.  No, that’s not what it says.  Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful.  It was a Hebrew idiom.  It was a way of saying, “She’s a little bit hard to look at.  She’s not the most beautiful of women.”  Her sister was far more beautiful.  Verse 18.}  Jacob loved Rachel.  And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”  Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.”  So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Isn’t that romantic?  Sort of.  We would love for it to be romantic.  We look for that kind of thing in the Scriptures.  There is a glimmer of romance in this passage.  But here’s what you start to see if you dig a little bit deeper.  The going rate of a dowry would have been two to three years of work.  Jacob is obsessed.  He’s overpaying, in a sense, for Rachel’s hand in marriage.  He wants it so badly.  And while we look at verse 20 and go, “Isn’t that romantic?” nobody has ever continued to read to verse 21 and thought the same thing.  Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.”   That’s not on a lot of coffee mugs.  Not on a lot of greeting cards.  Here’s what you see….Jacob is revealing his true heart in what his intentions are.  He longs to be with Rachel.  He is obsessed with her.  His world revolved, for seven years, around verse 21 — I want to be with this woman, who I long for her to be my wife.  In that verse we start to see one of the themes that weaves its way throughout the entire narrative, this entire passage.  It weaves its way throughout this narrative and it weaves its way throughout our lives.  You see, Jacob has this conviction.  He has this conviction, he has this hope, he has this expectation, if I get Rachel then my life will be complete.  He goes a little bit Jerry Maguire on us — You complete me, Rachel!  He has this false belief that if I can just get her then everything else in my life will be okay.  If I can just get that relationship….  If I can just have that marriage….well, then everything else is going to be good.  He has this inner emptiness, Jacob does.  But he’s not unique in that.  {Will you look up at me for a moment.}  All of us have that.  All of us have that on some level.  That conviction:  if only I had…..you fill in the blank of whatever it is….then my life would be complete.  Then my life would be okay.  What we see if Jacob’s life and what we see in the other characters in this narrative in their lives is that this inner emptiness creates unrealistic expectations.

This is a huge word in our lives, isn’t it?  Expectations.  I ran across a little thing on Facebook this week.  An article that pointed out travel expectations vs. reality.  Expectation:  Go to the Great Wall of China — the sun is setting, it’s beautiful, it’s pristine.  Reality:  You might not be there alone.  Expectation:  Go to visit the Taj Mahal.  You’re there alone.  It’s bright, it’s sunny.  Reality:  You might need to wear a mask because of the smog.  Expectation:  Go to see the Mona Lisa.  Reality:  You walk in the room and thought, “That’s a lot smaller than I thought it would be.”  Managing expectations is a huge part in living the type of life we want to live, isn’t it?  As a parent, one of the things Kelly and I constantly run into is our oldest son…..his best friend gets something and his expectation is I will have that same thing within a week.  His best friend got a FitBit recently and my son is now, “I want a FitBit!”  Now that kid gets 50,000 steps a day so I’m like, “Here, you can wear mine for a while.  Run around the backyard.  Get your game on.”  His expectation is I’ll get it immediately.  Some of us had expectations that we’d graduate from high school then go to college.  We’d graduate from college and then we’d get married.  We’d graduate from college and get a great job.  We’d work that job and our company would respect us and honor us and eventually we’d get to the point we could retire.  Those were our expectations going in.  Sometimes, isn’t it true, that the expectations that we have are really birthed in an emptiness and a longing that we have deep within our soul.  The truth of the matter is when any expectation is birthed in an emptiness, we can never, ever, ever fill the void that we create in our own soul.

In this narrative, you look at Jacob.  Jacob’s conviction is if I just get Rachel, my life will be okay.  Rachel’s conviction is if I could only have kids then my life would be complete.  Leah’s conviction is if I could just get the love of my husband then I’ll be alright.  I love have applicable the Scriptures are because how many of us walk in with similar expectations?  If I just got him or her then my life would be okay.  Maybe on Mother’s Day that’s the longing of your soul — if we just had kids, we’d make it, we’d be okay.  What happens in this narrative is that the emptiness creates an expectation on the lives of everybody in it.  Here’s what you start to see as you track along with the story in Genesis: these unrealistic expectations that he or she or it will fulfill the longing in my soul always, always, always inhibits genuine enjoyment of life.  Here’s the truth of the matter — when I’m constantly thinking about the way I wish things were, it’s impossible to appreciate the way that things are. When I’m constantly obsessed with “if I just had that (fill-in-whatever-blank is in your life) then I would be okay.”  It’s true in marriage, it’s true in parenting…..if our expectations are tied up in our emptiness, when they’re unrealistic, it’s impossible for us to actually enjoy the life that God has graciously given us.  The author of Ecclesiastes (3:11) puts it like this:  He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart….  Here’s what that means — that emptiness that you feel, that fill-in-the-blank that you have in your life…the depth of that thing is eternal.  That’s a black hole.  Regardless of what you put into that space, I can guarantee you that every single time it’s going to come up short.  So if the thought is “if I had him or her” and we put that into that space in our heart, into that eternal hole or void that every single one of us has in our soul, it will never satisfy.  You see Jacob doing it.  You see Rachel doing it.  You see Leah doing it. What they’re wrestling with is man, I have this pervasive emptiness in my soul and I need to fill it with something and they try to fill it with people and love and stuff and it let’s them down.   Before we’re too hard on them, can we just go, “Oh, yeah.  Been there.”  I’ve been at that place where I’ve had something in my mind that I wanted so badly and when I got it I put it in that spot I thought it would fill and it didn’t even come close. {Anybody want to go Amen?!}  It’s what we see being birthed in this narrative.  I love the way that the great early church father, Saint Augustine, puts it:  “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you, O Lord.”

So the question we have to wrestle with is where do we go when we get to this place of…..God, I have this emptiness and it’s created an expectation and the expectation always lets me down every single time….where do we go when we get to that spot?  We have options, right?  We can look at the marriage and if that’s what we’re trying to put in that emptiness, we could try to improve the marriage, right?  Which is not a bad idea. It’s a great idea.  But it’s never going to fill the void that we’re putting it in.  We could try to be better parents which isn’t a bad idea either.  It’s just never going to satisfy.  We could blame other people.  We could blame ourselves.  We could blame the world.  OR…we could reorient our lives.  We could say, “Well, maybe that’s not what I was designed for.  Maybe that IS an eternal void. If it is an eternal void in my soul, then there’s only ONE THING that can fill it.”  There’s only one thing big enough, there’s only one thing beautiful enough, there’s only one thing good enough to fill that void in our soul.  Leah, ironically, is one of the only people in this narrative that starts to understand this reality.  Listen to the way she helps us get to this conclusion:   And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”  Therefore she called his name Judah.  Then she ceased bearing.  Here’s her declaration–I’m changing the game.  I’m no longer looking to Jacob in order to be my sufficiency.  I’m no longer looking to Jacob to fill me up.  I’m no longer looking to Jacob to tell me who I am and to tell me I’m enough and to make my life matter and to make my life count.  I’m taking Jacob off of the throne of my heart and I’m putting God in his place.  {Will you look up at my a second.}  Some of you…that’s the journey God wants to take you on today.  I just sense it in my bones that there’s some of you in here where you have something else on the throne of your heart, your life and God’s invitation to you today is…THAT will never satisfy, it will never fill the void.  The ONLY thing that can is Him!  Ultimate joy is found when we embrace a new affection, just like Leah does, not by trying to fill our emptiness.  Where we say alright, I’m going to stop trying to put things into that void.  I’m going to stop trying to play THAT game and I’m going to now focus on making God my ultimate joy, my ultimate affection, my ultimate longing.  He’s going to be what I have in my view.  I’m going to turn my eyes to Him.  “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim…..”

Here’s the interesting part about that.  When God is in His rightful place as our ultimate affection, the good things that He’s given us in life actually get better!  My wife is a wonderful wife.  She’s a wonderful mom.  She’s a terrible God!  She is!  She’s a horrible God!  My kids….if my sufficiency and my identity is tied up in how well my kids perform…in school, in sports, in the play, in the choir, whatever…if my identity is tied up in how they do, I will crush them with those expectations and being a dad won’t be all that fun.  Being a mom won’t be all that fun.  But if we know who we are, if Christ is at the center-point and at the fulcrum of our lives, then it doesn’t make everything else worse, it allows us to enjoy everything else MORE.  Because it’s in its rightful spot. Instead of worshipping the gifts that God’s given us and bowing down at the idolatrous throne of….whether it’s marriage or children or the stuff we have in our bank accounts or our garage or in our neighborhood or whatever it is….when God’s in His rightful spot EVERYTHING else gets better.  Whatever’s on the throne of your life will determine how you find joy.  Whatever you put there has to be able to sustain the weight you give to it.  The only way that you and I can find joy in every single circumstance we walk through in life is if our joy is anchored to something greater than our circumstances.  If it’s tied to our circumstances, it’s going to waver with the wind and the waves that come into our life.  Which is why the Apostle Paul will write to the church at Philippi:  I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ…(Phil. 3:8-9)   I count it all loss.  I count it all rubbish.   What’s he saying?   I’m putting Jesus on the throne and that’s the way I’m living my life.  Here’s the beautiful thing that starts to come out of that — a new affection. Jesus on the throne, if you will, frees us from being controlled by unrealistic expectations.  A new ruler in our life.  A new lord of our life.  A new ultimate beauty, an ultimate quest, an ultimate desire…..it frees us from being controlled by unrealistic expectations.  If you want freedom in your life, love Jesus more than anything else.  It will release you to be a better mom.

If you were hoping to hear a Mother’s Day message — three steps to being a better mom — I’ve got better than that, I’ve got one step to being a better mom.  One step to being a better parent.  One step to being a better spouse.  One step to being a better employee, student, neighbor, friend……  Whatever situation you find yourself in, set Jesus as your greatest affection and then you’ll free people from the faulty expectations they often live under.  You’ll allow them to be who they are without you finding your identity and sufficiency in either their successes or their failures.  One of the things this narrative draws out for us is how freeing it is to have an affection that’s tied up in the King of kings and the Lord of lords and on the opposite side, to be controlled by an emptiness that creates false expectations of ourselves and everybody else around us and just drives us deeper and deeper and deeper into an eternal hole.

So the invitation this morning is turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Allow Him to be the ultimate in your life and when he is there’s some things that happen.  I tried to imagine how this narrative might have turned out differently if God had been the ultimate in each of these people’s lives, if God had been the supreme in each of their lives and how might we receive from them what God might do in our lives.  I want to talk about four things that I see in this passage that would transform with a new affection.  Verse 30: So Jacob went in to Rachel also, {This is after seven days with Leah, that time period was up, he then married Leah’s beautiful sister, Rachel. They were together.} …and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.  I spent a lot of time thinking about this story.  There’s a lot of different dynamics in the different characters, but every time I read it, I just can’t help but feel absolutely devastated for Leah.  Think about her life.  She’s the older of two girls.  In this culture, you needed to marry off the older before the younger and she’s this stalemate.  Her sister is beautiful, but nobody wants to be with Leah.  Her father has to trick somebody into marrying her.  He (Jacob) wakes up after their wedding night and goes, “Wasn’t expecting to see YOU here!” That can’t go over well.  There’s years of counseling behind that one statement, right?  She knows she’s unloved. You go on and you read through this relationship between the three of them—Jacob, Rachel and Leah—and Rachel and Leah are just at each other’s throats.  They have what each other wants.  Leah wants to be loved by her husband and she’s not.  Rachel wants to have children and she can’t and each of them looks at the other person and they compare their life to the life of the other.  Here’s the thing that starts to happen and what would happen if we had a new affection…..maybe, just maybe, we would be freed from this comparison game we often find ourselves in and able to walk whatever road God has for us with contentment.  It’s impossible to appreciate what I have if I’m consumed with what I lack.  It’s impossible to appreciate what I have when I’m obsessed with what somebody else has.  It’s that comparison game that we get into so often, don’t we?  {I’m just getting on my soap box for one minute here.}  One of the things that social media has done for us is that it has driven us to new ways and new levels of how we can compare our life to other people.  There’s scientific studies that they’re doing right now and what they’re finding is one of the ways to have a miserable day is to start your day by looking at Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram or whatever drug of choice you choose….that you start your day by comparing your life to everybody else.  We look at Pinterest and think, “I could never make the cupcakes like that,” or “I could never decorate my house like that.”  We start to compare our lives with everybody else.  Here’s the secret—that’s not their real life!  It doesn’t always look like that.  That’s one picture out of a hundred that they took.  The other 99 were terrible!  We’re comparing our lives to something that’s a non-reality.  No wonder it’s hard for us to say, “God, thank you for the things you’ve given to me.”  Thank you for the life you’ve given to me.  Thank you for the spouse you’ve given to me.  The friends you’ve given to me.  The job that you’ve given to me.  Comparison is one of the greatest killers of joy!!

For all the moms here today, I want to give you gospel freedom and tell you you don’t need to compare yourself to anybody else.  You’re called to run your race and if it doesn’t look like Pinterest, who gives a rip! You love the people God has put into your life as faithfully and as well as you can.  Try to rest content every night in the reality that you’ve done that, not comparing your journey or your way to anybody else’s.  You run your race.

Paul talks about, in Philippians 4:10-11, that he learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. I love that, because he’s showing us that behind the scenes, pulling back the curtain a little bit, that he didn’t always nail it.  He says he didn’t always get it right, but one of the thing that God’s doing in my life is whether I’m well fed or hungry, whether I have plenty or in need, I’m LEARNING how to be content in any situation that God takes me in.  {That’s first.}

Second, it says in verse 35: And she (Leah) conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”  There’s a defiance in the claim “this time.”  There’s a changing of the game we talked about in the “this time.”  This time I’m going to do things a little bit differently.  God, you are getting my affection and you are getting my attention.  One of the things I love about this statement is that Leah’s circumstances with her husband do not change.  The emptiness that she feels in her life is still there and growing daily as she sees her sister get the affection that she so desperately longs for.  One of the things you see in Leah’s life is that pain is going to be inevitable.  It’s going to be part of every single journey that you and I walk.  There’s nobody that gets out of life unscathed by pain.  No one!  The question is — what will our pain drive us to?  Will our pain drive us to self-pity?  And some of that’s very, very…..what I would consider natural.  There’s some hard roads that you guys have walked.  And getting to walk with you as a pastor, I am brokenhearted for some of the pain that you find yourselves in, even to this very day.  The question isn’t though whether or not we will walk through pain, the question is whether or not our pain will lead us to self-pity or will it push us to praise?  That’s the question we all have to wrestle with.  A new affection, a new love for Jesus, a new exultation of Jesus in our lives allows us to sing praise instead of sulking in self-pity.  This time I’ll praise the Lord.  I’m just wondering for those who are in here today…I am keenly aware that Mother’s Day is, as you look on the calendar, one of the most double-edged-sworded days in our culture.  There are people that love it and there’s people that see it coming and dread it.  They dread it because Mother’s Day reminds them of a void there is in their life, because their mom isn’t here anymore.  That’s the boat I’m in.  There’s people that see that day coming and go, “I wish, with everything that I have, that I were a mom.”  And there’s pain in that journey.  And there’s expectation in that journey.  And there’s longing in that journey.  As gently and pastorally as I can, I just want to point you to Jesus today.  I just want to say to you, “I know that there’s pain along the way.  The question is will we feel sorry for ourself or will we reflect on the greatness of our God?”  It’s hard to do both.  I’ve never met anybody who wallowed in self-pity and said, “You know what?  I’m really glad that I have so much pity for myself.  It’s actually making a difference in my life!”  I’ve never met anybody that was able to step back from that and go, “You know what’s really turned the corner for me?  The pity I feel for me!  It’s changed everything!”  I’ve never met anybody like that.  Neither have you, because it just doesn’t work that way.  So what if we allowed a new affection to drive us to praise rather than down and sulking in self-pity.

Two more things and then we’ll land the plane.  Genesis 30:1-2 — When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister.  She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”    This is identity tied up in producing kids, is it not?  If I don’t get that, my life isn’t worth living.  This is between two sisters who are married to the same guy, I mean, inevitably there’s going to be a few challenges there, I’ll just throw that out there.  People will rightfully point out that the Bible never condemns polygamy.  What I would say back is you’re right!  It also gives an example of it working out even remotely well!  You make the call.  Good luck!  She envied her.  You think??  And the feeling was mutual, because they each had what the other thought would fulfill their life and if they could’ve just sat down to have a conversation, what they would have told each other is I got what I thought I wanted and it wasn’t actually what I needed.  So what if we had a new affection that allowed us to choose encouragement over envy?

The early church fathers wrote about envy far more than we speak about it in modern Christianity.  One of our seminarians pointed out to me that here’s a great sermon called “On Envy” by one of the early church fathers, Saint Basil the Great.  Listen to what he says: “Nothing more destructive springs up in the souls of men than the passion of envy, which, while it does no harm to others, is the dominant and peculiar evil of the soul that harbors it.  As rust consumes iron, so does envy wholly consume the soul that it dwells in.”  Just this haunting picture, isn’t it?  When we live with envy, we are unable to encourage the people around us, because envy is the pain that arises at another person’s good pleasure.  Another person’s success.  If I’m envious of somebody, I cannot celebrate the fact that they are successful and that they have gotten to a place of walking in joy, because I view them as competition.  So, in a very real way, if we harbor envy in our souls and if we are on the throne of hearts, envy tends to be the way that we engage with the people around us.  If that’s true, it’s impossible for us to be authentic and real with anyone.  If I view you as competition, I can’t let you see the real me….in all of the brokenness, in all of the pain, in all of the regret, in all of the things that I carry.  I can’t share that with you if you’re competition.

The other thing it prevents me from doing is actually having friendships where I’m known, valued and loved by people that I care about.  Envy is this huge inhibitor.  In a story where you go well, it’s sort of strange, they’re married to the same guy, what if they had a new affection and they could actually walk with each other and be an encouragement to one another.  If you want to fight against envy in your life, here’s one of the ways you do it — by embracing the discipline of gratitude.  It’s hard to be envious of everybody else if you are aware of how good God has been to you.

Verse 19:   And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son.  Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.”   Hellooooo! This is insane, is it not?  Unless they had a conversation where Jacob was like, “Hey, sweetie, I don’t like you if you give me five sons, but when we get number six that’s the magic pill right there!”  This is the action of an addict. If I just had a little bit more of what I already have, that will solve the problem that’s wearing away and eating at my soul.  That’s what’s going on.  If I just had a little bit more of what I have then I would be okay.  But this whole story revolves around what Leah or Rachel can produce and can give to Jacob in order to receive his love. Isn’t it true that so many of us buy that same lie?  That our worth is directly determined by what we produce—by the bottom line of what comes out of our life.  It all happens because we have a faulty thing on the throne of our lives, but if we had a new affection, what if we were able to value personhood, value people for who God created them to be, not for what they produced for us?  What if we were able to love people instead of use people?  To value personhood over production.

My guess is there’s a lot of moms here today and you’re going, “Paulson, I just wanted a Mother’s Day message.” Well, I would propose to you that you got one.  If you’re a mom in this place {would you look up at me a second}, if you’re a woman….  You want to be a great mom, you want to be a great friend, you want to be a great spouse, a caregiver……love Jesus more than you love anything else.  Put Him in his rightful spot and it will allow you to flourish in whatever role God has you in.  Because if you have Him as your ultimate affection, you’re able to engage in every other aspect in your life in the way that He designed you to live in.

If you’re thinking, “Paulson, why would you say that God is worthy of my affection?  That God’s worthy of being the ultimate.”  I would respond with, “That’s a good question,” and I’ll end with this—verse 22: Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.  She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.”  And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”    This little line just stood out to me — God remembered Rachel.  I just want to say to you as clearly as I can this Mother’s Day, God remembers you.  God sees you.  Whatever season you find yourself in, whatever pain you’re walking through, whatever valley you’re in, whatever mountaintop you’re on, God sees you and God enters into your story, to humanity’s story, with His love and with His grace and with His mercy.  He sees you and He loves you.  God remembering me is my greatest hope—–I’m desperate without it.  If He doesn’t see me, if He doesn’t act, I am left without an anchor in a tumultuous sea.  God remembering me is my greatest hope and me remembering God is my greatest joy. To remember that in every season, He is good, He is present, He is there.  Because He is, I’m putting Him at the top as Lord, Savior, that He would reign over my life.  I would ask you to do the same thing!  Happy Mother’s Day!  Let’s close in prayer.

Before you go running out of here today, I want to give you space to breathe.  To remember God’s grace to you. You may be in a season where you wonder if He remembers.  I want to assure you that He does and that He’s good.  Lord, over all the mothers especially, I pray a blessing.  For the women in this room who nurture, who care, who pore into the lives of so many…those that are their kids and those whom they have taken under their wings to pore into, Lord, I pray would you strengthen them?  Would you uphold them?  And Lord, would you turn our eyes to Jesus—may He be our greatest affection, our greatest joy, the greatest beauty in our life and may the other things we’ve chased after grow strangely dim in the light of your glory and your grace?  And as we see you, may we walk rightly in the world that you’ve invited us to walk with you in?  Lord, we love you and are so grateful for the time that we’ve had together this morning.  Would you encourage us as we go in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people said……Amen.

Receive the benediction — May God bless you and keep you.  May He make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.  May He turn His countenance towards you and give you peace.  In the name of Jesus.

ALL I AM: Filling the Void – Genesis 29 & 302020-08-21T08:30:29-06:00

ALL I AM: Stairway to Heaven – Genesis 28:10-22

May 1st 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

I grew up in a family that went to church every single Sunday.  While I wouldn’t say I was a begrudging participant, I definitely didn’t have a faith in Jesus in the way the Scriptures describe that.  My parents were very involved (in the church), but my interest in church, for the first number of years in my life, up to the age of 10, revolved around a man by the name of Randy.  Randy had a mental disability.  He took the bus to church and sat in the very front row.  He had a backpack with him in the front row.  About ten minutes into a sermon one time, he unzips his backpack, takes out two cans of aerosol deodorant, shakes them vigorously, crosses his arms, puts his hands under his shirt and starts to deodorize himself in the front row!!  As a ten-year-old kid, I’m like praise Jesus, right?  I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen!  That was the pinnacle for me!  We had reached the mountain top when Randy double-barreled deodorized himself on a Sunday during the sermon.

Needless to say, I heard the stories but they never really sunk in.  I don’t know if you ever had that experience. Maybe you had the pleasure of growing up in a family that came to church…..for 18 years I’ve been around the story, but the story never was my story.  I’d heard about who God was.  I’d seen people that genuinely believed in God and had a strong faith, but I’ve got to be honest with you, some Sundays it just sort of felt like we just went through the motions.  It just sort of felt like we played church.  It felt like we came to a place, not all that dissimilar from here, where we did what we did the Sunday before and it was what the tradition that we stepped into did. There wasn’t a whole lot for me that was genuinely encountering the God of the universe.

I would argue that Jacob would fall into that same category.  If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks, we’ve been studying the life of Jacob, one of the great patriarchs of the faith.  And yet, there’s this poignant part when he’s receiving the blessing from his father where he turns back to his dad, Isaac, and says, “YOUR God…that YOUR God might bless me,” as if to say, “Dad, this is sort of your deal, but it’s not mine.  It’s not mine on a HEART-level type of way.”  Maybe like you, Jacob had heard the stories.  Maybe like you, Jacob had been around communities of faith.  He’d heard about the faithfulness and the goodness of God.  He’d heard about the promises of God and yet…..the promises weren’t something he’d held onto personally.  THE story he’d been told was not yet hisstory.   Until this day.  Until the day we’re going to read about this morning.  This is the day where religion turns into, for Jacob, relationship.

If you have a Bible, turn with me to Genesis 28:10-16. We’re going to see this beautiful story start to unfold.  It’s a story that’s both mystical and engaging.  Josh Billings, our executive pastor, did a great job last week of introducing us to Jacob’s crazy uncle Laban.  Jacob has stolen the blessing from his brother.  He pretended to be his brother; his father spoke a good word over him, a word of blessing over him.  His brother found out and, as you can imagine, wasn’t all that excited to hear that he had had the wool pulled over his eyes.  Jacob was on the run for his very life because his brother wanted to kill him because of what he’d done.  Starting in verse 10: Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.  And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.  The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.  Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land.  For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 

What a statement.  What a terrible reality.  That it’s possible for you and I to walk through life and to live in a world that’s permeated with the presence of God and, in the same way of Jacob, to say, “I didn’t know Him. I didn’t see Him.  My eyes weren’t open, my ears weren’t attentive, my heart wasn’t soft.  I didn’t know, God, that you were present and that you were in this place.”  Let’s just take a moment and think about how insane that is!!  If the President of the United States walked into this room, we’d know it!  We’d know it and we’d probably acknowledge it in some way, shape or form.  If John Elway walked into this room, we’d all know it.  Paxton Lynch has been a Bronco for three days and if he walked in, we would know it.  And yet, he misses it.  Jacob missed it for years.  The tragedy is that he grew up around the story.  He grew up hearing about God.  He grew up knowing the faithfulness of God to his grandfather Abraham.  Abraham had to have taken him around a fire and told him about God speaking to him and saying through our family, Jacob, all the nations of the earth are going to be blessed.  You better believe that his father Isaac, in some way, shape or form, passed down that story saying, “I’m the chosen seed that God is going to redeem humanity through.”  He grew up around it and he missed it.

As I started to study this week, I just had this question that permeated my soul and it may strike you, too:  How much do I miss, God?  How much of THIS do we just attribute to sort of playing church?  We attribute to just going through the motions?  We do THIS on a Sunday because this is what we’ve always done on a Sunday.  But do we really expect to encounter the God of the universe?  Do we expect to see Him?  Do we expect to interact with Him?  This is the day for Jacob that changes everything!  It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ paragraph in his book Miracles, where he says this:  “An ‘impersonal God’ — well and good.  A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads — better still.  A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap into — best of all.  But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, the king, the husband —that is quite another matter.  There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly:  was that a real footstep in the hall?  There comes a moment when people who have dabbling in religion (or playing church or pursuing ‘man’s search for God’) suddenly draw back.  Supposing we really found Him?  We never meant it to come to that?  Worse still, supposing He had found us?”

That’s Jacob’s experience.  He is on his merry way, playing church, going through the motions.  It’s his father’s faith, it’s not his faith and he has this encounter that just opens up his eyes and radically, dramatically changes his life.  Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.  I have.  Ironically, just like Jacob, mine was on a backpack trail.  I’d grown up in church and gone through the motions.  I thought I understood what this whole “religious” thing was all about.  After my senior year in high school, a friend invited me to go on a backpacking trip with Young Life.  We were on day two of a seven day backpacking trip in the San Juan Mountains and if we were to go back there today, I think I could find the very rock where I was sitting.  I opened my Bible and was still for one of the first times in my life.  The only way I can describe it is that it felt like I was wearing 3-D glasses and the words of Matthew 5 were flying off the page and hooking into my heart in a way that I knew would make me different. When I got home and sat down at the breakfast table during that next week, my mom said to me, “Ryan, you seem different.  What happened to you out on the trail?”  I responded, “I think I became a Christian.” She responded, “I thought you already were.”  And I said, “Me, too!!”  But this was different.  This was an experience of God that shaped my life.  It happened to Jacob.  It’s happened to many of you and when it happens our eyes are opened in a way that just completely, dramatically revolutionizes the way we live.  Open eyes to the presence of God, to the activity of God, to the power of God lead to a vibrant life.  That’s where Jacob starts to walk and that’s my prayer for us today — that we wouldn’t just play around with religion, but that we would pursue the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  That there would be some sort of expectation when we walk in here, not just that we’re going to go through the motions and not just that we’re going to step into the stream of 2000 years of beautiful tradition.  We’re doing that.  But we’re meeting with the God who is alive and well.  Paul writes to the church at Rome and says (Romans 13:11):  Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  It’s time to wake up.  It’s time for our eyes to be open, for a revolution in our soul to occur that we would see that God is not just something that we play around with and that we tinker with and that we have a mental assent to try to understand.   But that He is present and real and personal and when our eyes our open to his presence our lives are changed to his purposes.

That’s what starts to happen in Jacob’s life.  I want to walk back through this with you.  There’s three things that I want to point out in Jacob’s life that happen when his eyes are opened.  There’s three distinct ways that his life is changed and it becomes more vibrant.  It’s like in the Wizard of Oz when the screen goes from black-and-white to color.  That’s Jacob’s experience in Genesis 28.  Look at verses 10-12.    Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And he came to a certain place {I love that it’s not named yet.} and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.  And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  Most scholars will point out that what Jacob most likely saw wasn’t a ladder (like today).  It was probably what was called a ziggurat.  A ziggurat was a huge, massive structure that was used for worship in the ancient world.  But it wasn’t necessarily a place that people went to give worship, it was a place that the people built for the gods to dwell in.  Jacob gets this image of God….these angels ascending and descending and God definitively declares to Jacob, “The entire world is my footstool!  There’s not a corner of the globe, Jacob, where I am not!  There’s no place that I don’t exist.  In all of my vast and beautiful creation, the entire earth is my footstool.”  As the great Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, puts it:  “Earth is not left to its own resources and heaven is not a remote self-contained realm for the gods.  Heaven has to do with earth.  And earth finally may count on the resources of heaven.”  We often think of heaven up there, out there, somewhere and God dwells there and then we have earth down here.  It’s a dualistic understanding of the world we live in.  Jacob’s dream points out a more beautiful, deeper reality — that heaven and earth are not distinct and different.  They are beautifully, powerfully intertwined.  There’s a crossover.  You and I live under an open heaven.  An open heaven where God is present at every place.

In Christianity, we have this picture of a ladder.  But in every religion you go to there’s a ladder.  There’s a way that we are instructed to get to God.  The fascinating part about the ladder in Christianity is the direction of the flow.  In every other religion, the ladder is there for you to climb up.  The ladder’s there for you to do enough good in order to get to God.  The ladder’s there so that you can jump through enough hoops.  The ladder is there in order that you who are separated from God might be able to pull up your own bootstraps and do enough in order to get God to look down on you and go, “You know what?  That Paulson guy’s not all that bad.” But in Christianity, the ladder’s there for a definitively different purpose.  The ladder, in Christianity, is not there for Jacob to climb UP.  The ladder is there for God to come DOWN.  The point of the story is not do enough good, perform enough religious duty, jump through enough hoops…..if that’s what you think Christianity is I have great news for you — you’re WRONG!!!  This is a picture of grace.  This is a picture of God entering into the story of humanity with His presence and His goodness that permeates it all.  It’s as though the psalmist writing in Psalm 40:1-2, echoes this picture that we see in Genesis 28 — that when I was stuck dead and deep in the muck and the mire in the pit, God dropped the ladder down for me not to climb up, but for Him to meet me and pull me up!  That’s the gospel!  He put a new song in our mouth to sing.

The miracle of this passage is that God definitively binds himself to a treacherous fugitive and Jacob’s eyes are opened!  When our eyes are opened, we start to become conscious of the presence of God all around us.  The theological term is omnipresence.  There isn’t a place that God doesn’t exist, that His goodness and glory does not permeate.   As the psalmist writes in Psalm 139:7-10 — Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence? {It’s a rhetorical question and the answer is….nowhere!} If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  {Look up at me for a second.}  You have never had an experience, you’ve never had a day, you’ve never gone to a place where there wasn’t a ladder!  EVER!  Every single day you wake up, his goodness and grace is present. In the deepest, darkest, most painful experiences of life…..I want to assure you….I want to declare….I want to PREACH to you this morning….there’s a ladder.

How do I know that?  Look at Jacob’s life.  This first passage is beautifully poetic and real.  It says:  Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And he came to a certain place….  We don’t know the place.  Why? Because it doesn’t matter!  The beautiful part about this place is it’s not a place.  That’s the powerful part of this story.  It’s not some place that many people of God have been before and they go you’ve got to get to fill-in-the-blank if you want to meet with God.  No.  He meets with God in a certain place which is really no place at all.  Probably the last place you met God, too.  Not only that but it points out that he’s on a journey from Beersheba to Haran.  In case you were wondering how far that is…..by foot, it’s about 700 miles.  He’s pretty early into this journey when he sees the ladder, when he encounters the God of the universe.  Isn’t it funny how God works?  We often think we’ll encounter God when we get to a certain place and do a certain thing.  And God often meets us in the in-between.  In between the promise and the healing, that’s where He meets us.  In between the pain and the resolution, that’s where He meets us.  Waiting for an appointment, waiting for a job, waiting for a relationship, waiting in traffic!  Isn’t it great that God can meet us even there?!  In the in-between times in life.

…..and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.  What the narrator of Genesis wants you to feel is that not only is the sun setting in the physical sense, the day is coming to a close, but Jacob’s life feels the same way.  The sun is setting.  The promises that he’d been given that he was trying his best to hold onto….there’s no way they could be good still today in light of where he is and in light of what’s going on in his life.  He’s at his lowest point.  How do I know that?  He’s so low that the narrator of Genesis says:  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  You have got to be pretty close to the end of your rope if you’re using this (holds up large rock) as a pillow.  He’s early on in his adventure to go see Uncle Laban.  Can you imagine him being a few days in and going I didn’t even bring a pillow!  Oh, man!  What’s wrong with me?!  He’s at his lowest point!  And that’s where he meets God.  That’s where religion turns into relationship.  That’s where THE stories become HIS story.  That’s where God starts to wreck and transform in the most beautiful of ways Jacob’s life.  Here’s the beautiful thing about the story, friends, is that pain can be a portal to His presence.  Hopelessness can be a catalyst for healing.  Disappointment can help us distinguish and clarify our priorities in a new way.  Confusion can actually lead to a place of clarified vision. How do I know that?  Jacob’s life points to it.   It declares it all around.  When our eyes are opened to His presence everywhere, we begin to believe that there is not a place or an experience, regardless of how painful it is, that God is not present.  I love the way C.S. Lewis puts it:  “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.  The world is crowded with him.  He walks everywhere incognito.”  That’s awesome!

The story goes on in Genesis 28:13 and this is what God says to Jacob when He climbs down the ladder and has a conversation with Jacob, the fugitive:  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.  The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. {That is what we’d call the “Patriarchal Promises.”  They were the same promises that had been given to his grandfather, Abraham, to his father, Isaac, and now what Jacob hears from God is, “You are in the lineage of promise.  My hand will not leave you.  I’m going to be good to you and everything I told to your Grandfather Abraham, I will be good to you on, also.”  If you’re Jacob, you’re going, “Praise the Lord.  Give me some of that.”}  {Verse 15 – These are promises that are personal to Jacob.  Patriarchal promises came first.  The personal promises come second.}  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land.  For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Listen to what God says to him — I am with you.  That is the intent for Jacob to see in every season of life, in every pain and every sorrow and every regret, there’s a ladder in the story somewhere.  You think about these promises that Jacob has.  You think about the promises and then what he’s going to go and live through.  He spends twenty years with his crazy Uncle Laban.  Much of that time he’s taken advantage of, much of that time he’s manipulated.  Then he runs from Uncle Laban and he tries to go home and he’s met by his brother, who twenty years earlier he betrayed, and I don’t think that’s exactly a bro-hug coming, right?  Neither does Jacob. Isn’t it true that so much of the time we read the Scriptures and we read the promises of God and we go, “Come on!  All I want you to do, God, is tell me how it really is, because my reality seems so far removed from your promise.”  And Jacob’s story is not a story about how he receives the promises of God and then his life is awesome.  Which I love, because if it were, wouldn’t you and I read it and go, “Pbhhhh! We know that’s not true!”  It’s not that he goes, “Well, isn’t this great.  I’m skipping through fields, eating strawberries, sipping lemonade. Oh, promises of God are awesome….”  NO!  It’s in the deepest, darkest moments of life that I will hold onto You because I’m convinced that You’re holding onto me.  That’s what the promises are — that in the storms of life, we have a solid place for our feet to stand.  It’s not that life is always awesome, it’s that He NEVER lets us go!  That’s what the promises tell us.  That He is good in every single season.  So God tells him, “I’ll be with you.  I will keep you.  I will assure your homecoming.  You will return home.”

I just want to pause to recognize that He gives us the same promises, friends.  I’m with you.  I’ll keep you.  I’ll carry you safely home.  It doesn’t always look like what we thought it looked like, but He is always good on his promises. Because that’s true, I want to give you three pieces of encouragement.  One, know what his promises are for you.  Times in life are coming where you will need to hold onto them.  If you’re going, “Alright, Paulson, where do I start?” I’m glad you asked that great question.  Let me give you two passages of Scripture.  Start here.  Ephesians 1:1-30 and just get it into your soul.  After you do that, go to Romans 8 and here’s what you’ll be reminded of.  You’ll be reminded that you are a child of God, that you are blameless before Him.  You’ll be reminded that you have been forgiven all of your sins:  past, present and future.  You’ll be reminded that before you were ever born, God had a beautifully, masterful, wonderful plan for you.  You’ll be reminded that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  You’ll be reminded that the Spirit of God lives inside of you. You’ll be reminded that God is in the process of renewing, restoring and redeeming ALL things.  You’ll be reminded that He’s working everything together for good in your life because you love Him and are called according to His purposes.  You’ll be reminded that NOTHING can separate you from the love of God — not height or depth or angels or principalities or anything else in all of creation can separate you from the presence of God.  So, friends, stand confident in those promises over you!  Jacob is first conscious of God’s presence — that’s what opens his eyes.  Then he’s confident in His promises — that starts to open his eyes even more, it leads to a vibrant life.

This week, I’ve been wrestling with this question: What do we do with “religious experience?”  What do we do with the wonderful reality that there are times when God breaks through the natural way that He set the world up and He goes against the flow.  What do we do with the fact that there’s ladders and that sometimes we encounter the God of the universe in a very mystical, but real, way.  You do know that this is happening all over the globe, do you not?  In Muslim countries all over the Middle East, there are people who, just like Jacob, had a dream about God.  There are people who are waking up from a night’s sleep and going, “Oh, I didn’t see that one coming!”  Meeting Jesus in dreams.  I wondered as I was reading this Scripture this week and trying to get it into my heart and into my soul, why a dream?  Why come in a dream?  Why not come in the every day?  I just sensed God saying, “Ryan, I came in a dream because there’s no way Jacob would have recognized me, his life was too painful and there was too much fear.  I came in a dream because it was the only way that I would actually get through to him.”  And He’s doing it all over the globe.  What do we do when God shows up in our life in an ecstatic, spiritual, yet very real, way?  Here’s the tendency of humanity, because we long for that.  We love that.  Our tendency is if God shows up in a very real, very powerful way, here’s what we want to do: we want to build a way to reproduce the experience.  We want to try to get that over again because it just resonates so deeply in our soul.  Peter, when he’s on the Mount of Transfiguration, sees Jesus in glorious white and he’s like, “Duh, let’s build a house.”  His friends look at him and go, “You’re an idiot!”  But he just wants to preserve the experience.  He wants to relive the experience, but the ladder experiences of life, friends, the mountaintop experiences of life were not meant to be relived and re-experienced.  They’re designed to shape us, to change us, to chisel our character more into the imagine of our Creator.

In verse 18, Jacob teaches us what to do with this type of experience.  So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.   {What’s happening is he’s taking a place that was set up for another god and stealing it back and redeeming it for Yahweh, the King of Heaven.} Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.  And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”   This is a beautiful picture of how we respond when God breaks through and changes our world dramatically.  Here’s what Jacob does.  He doesn’t build a house to come back to.  He doesn’t say, “I’ve got to try to relive this experience over and over and over again.”  He says this, “God, if you are….if you are…then my life is yours.  If you ARE.  If you exist and this is your world, then my life is yours.”   This is awesome.  The promises that he’s been given turn into the pathways that he walks.  The promises that he’s given in verses 13-17 become the pathways that he walks.  That’s God’s design for all of us, friends.  {Look up at me for just a second.}  The promises of God aren’t something we’re suppose to just hold onto and cuddle and think, “Isn’t that really, really nice?”  They’re suppose to inform the way that we walk and live and be on a daily basis.  He turns promises into pathways, Jacob does.  He makes a vow of commitment saying, “God, because you are, if you ask it of me, I will obey.”  No footnote!  That’s how gospel movements start all over the world.  By group by groups of people, no larger than this, saying, “If God asks it of me, my answer is yes.  I’m not asking any questions, I’m just going to go.  I’m going to trust.”

It’s also the way that God starts to shape our life.  Jacob says he’ll remember this and set up a pillar here.  Isn’t it wonderful that a pillow that represented his pain turns into a pillar that reminds him of His presence.  The narrator wants you to know that it’s the same rock he used as a pillow for his head that he sets up for a pillar of remembrance.  What a beautiful picture, friends, of the hard things that we walk through, the pain that we walk through……that God often transforms those things that are most painful in our life to remind us of His presence and his goodness and his faithfulness….that He is with us through it all.  That’s why we’ve got to be willing to tell our stories, we’ve got to be willing to share our scars, because our scars often are the things that remind us it’s HIS story, not ours.  The pain is the thing He turns into the pillars that remind us that God, you’re at work.  Don’t you love that Jacob knows, “I’ve gotta set up a way—a physical way—-of remembering God’s faithfulness and God’s goodness.”  You and I would look at him and go, “How would you forget THAT?”  And yet…..how often do we forget the things that God’s done in our life that are transformative?  I’d encourage you to be a person that sets up pillars, Ebenezers…..  “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.” Stones of remembrances.  God loves to turn our pain into his pillars.

Finally, Jacob just goes, “Hey, if you are, I’m yours.”  That means that everything I have is yours, also.  God, I’m submitting me life, I’m surrendering my life.  My life is yours.  “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!” (Charles Wesley)  It’s interesting that this isn’t the only ladder in Scripture.  This isn’t the only time we read about this sort of obscure, interesting story of Jacob.  When Jesus comes on the scene and is gathering people to follow Him, to be His disciples, people who live in the same way He lives, He calls Philip to him and Philip becomes a follower of Jesus and together they reach out to Nathaniel.  Jesus walks up to Nathaniel and says, “Nathaniel, I saw you yesterday under that tree.”  Nathaniel’s like, “WHAT??”  Because Jesus wasn’t there.  Nathaniel was by himself. Jesus looks at Nathaniel and says, “THAT amazes you?  Wow! You’re in for a ride!  You’re in for a treat!  There’s way better things coming than just me knowing what you were doing yesterday without having seen you there.” In John 1:51, Jesus makes this transformative statement:  And he said to him (Nathaniel), “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”   Here’s what Jesus is saying:  I AM THE LADDER.  I am the connection point, the intersection, between heaven and earth and it’s on my body given and on my blood shed that the Father makes a way for you and I to be with God forever, throughout all of eternity.  Jesus is the ladder!  He is the stairway.  He’s the connection point.  And for 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have been gathering around the table to remind themselves.  They’ve been gathering around “pillows,” if you will.  Things that started out painful that God transformed into pillars. They’ve been gathering around a story about Jesus the Messiah who was beaten, was broken, whose body was nailed to a Roman cross and who died for the sin of humanity.  It’s a story that looks a lot like a stone—it’s pretty painful, it’s pretty normal.  It was normal back then and it doesn’t exactly look like something you’d want to remember. But God, in His divine sovereignty, as His son gives his life, atones for the sins of humanity so THAT pain becomes our pillar, so for 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have been gathering around the table to remember. To remember….that there’s not a corner of His globe that His presence does not touch.  To remember that because of His body given and His blood shed your life is covered in promise.  And to remember….that we have been invited to walk in His pathway.  As you come this morning, come remembering He is the ladder.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and He longs to meet you even in the in-between and even in the pain and even in the sorrow.  He longs to meet with you.  As you come, anticipate meeting with Him.

The table’s open to any who would say they are followers of the way of Jesus, who have put their faith in Him. If that’s you, you are welcome here this morning at these tables.  If that’s NOT you, I would invite you this morning to put your faith in this “ladder.”  His name is Jesus.  He made a way for you to be completely forgiven of your sin and to have relationship with Him, Most Holy God.  Surrender to Him then come celebrate with us. Let’s pray.

So Lord, as we come to your table, would you remind us of your presence with us.  Lord, for the person who’s in the in-between, Lord, they’re waiting and they’re wondering where you’re at.  Lord, would you meet them in this place, I pray.  Remind them that there’s a ladder in every story.  Lord, would you remind us of the good promises that you have purchased over our lives and as we receive those may our eyes be opened, our lives be made vibrant to walk with you, King of kings, Lord of lords.  We love you.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.


ALL I AM: Stairway to Heaven – Genesis 28:10-222021-01-17T13:42:28-07:00

ALL I AM: Crazy Uncle Laban – Genesis 28-30

April 24th 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

One of the things I do is read through my passage as many times as I can when I prepare for a sermon. I read through this one a couple times and was asking God what kind of analogy I should use, what kind of story to bring up and something hit me.  Benedict Arnold came to mind!  One of the greatest deceivers and traitors in American history. The interesting thing about Arnold….I thought I knew the story pretty well, but as it turns out, I had only scratched the surface about what really was going on in Benedict Arnold’s life when he betrayed the American forces.  The thing is is that Arnold had been dealt a pretty tough hand in life.  That’s no joke.  He had some pretty significant challenges to overcome and he had struggled and struggled to be a successful general in the American Army.  He had had some success in several battles previous to his treason, but it was limited.  To make matters worse for him, his comrades or his colleagues, other generals had been known to take credit for his very few successes that he had experienced.  To make matters worse for ole Arnold, he had very little money.  He lived with an incredibly high level of debt and he was constantly borrowing money.  At one point, his co-officers took him to court and demanded that he be court-martialed for some of the issues he had.  They found him innocent of those charges, but the stigma stuck with him.

He was a widower.  At 37, he met someone by the name of sweet little Peggy.  Peggy was 17 years old when he married her.  The interesting thing about Peggy is that Benedict Arnold thought that she had all this money.  As it turns out, she didn’t.  She had status, which back in those days were two very different things.  She knew a lot of people.  She had connections.  Her family had connections.  It’s through Peggy that he made his connections to the British military.  Because of his difficult life, he decided to commit treason.  He decided to go against the forces that he served and commit treason with the British military.  It was a pretty simple plan; he’s not a genius guy.  He was going to let George Washington trust him enough to take over a very important fort, West Point. Maybe you’ve heard of it?  West Point Fort in New York, right at the edge of the Hudson River.  This fort was so powerful that it was considered the sticking point of the war.  Whoever controlled this fort had a really good chance at winning the war.  Arnold succeeded.  He gained Washington’s trust and he took over the fort.  He began weakening it from the inside out.  Interesting.  He let supplies diminished and didn’t do the updates to the facility of the structure like he should have.  He did these things to weaken it and it WAS in a weakened state.  Through his wife Peggy, he introduced himself to a British officer.  The plan was to just kinda give the keys of the fort to the British officer and he (Arnold) sneak away in the night and be scot-free.  The British government had promised to bring him back into the British-fold and to give him huge amounts of money and to take care of him for the rest of his life.  You see the enticement, right?  Fortunately for us, fortunately for George Washington, his plot was found out.  His co-conspirator was found and captured and on him was documentation about what Benedict Arnold was doing.  As soon as Benedict Arnold found that out, he jumped in a boat and he crossed the Hudson River to the British side.  Poor sweet little Peggy was left behind.  She found herself in enemy territory with the American forces and they captured her.  Benedict Arnold wrote a letter to George Washington pleading for her life.  He said, “If you are the man that I know you are, if you have the stature that I know you have, if you are honorable like I know you are, you will release her.”  George did.  He  released her and gave her an armed escort all the way to Philadelphia to reunite with Benedict Arnold.

As the war continued, Benedict Arnold was not received the way he had anticipated being received by the British government.  As it turns out, once a traitor, always a traitor, or so everyone assumed.  He did not get the lump sum monies that he had been promised.  He did not get the land or the estates or anything and he found himself in a very poor state.  So he decided to write George Washington, again, to ask for money.  This is the way he started out his letter requesting financial aid.  He said, “When your Excellency considers my sufferings, and the cruel situation I am in, your own humanity and feelings as a soldier, will render everything I can say further on the subject unnecessary.”   One of the greatest deceptions of American history and his (Arnold’s) response is “If you knew the pain that I was in, you would understand.”   Well, George had been fooled once….he did not send the money.  But the interesting thing is how slippery the road is of playing the victim. That’s exactly the struggle with Benedict Arnold….he played the victim.

As I go through the story of Jacob, the narrative that we’ve been looking at, there is a lot of victims.  It’s a pretty tough story.  There’s a lot of deceit and bitterness.  The section I have to go through is quite large, so we’re going to be looking at chapters 28-30.  But have no fear, I’m not going to read it all to you!  Please do it later; it’s a fascinating story!  I’m only going to cherry-pick a couple of passages I want to look at.  To keep you up to speed at where we are in the story…..last week, Jacob had betrayed his brother Esau.  He deceived his father Isaac and he, at this point, has fled to Laban’s territory.  Jacob has traveled a great distance and has overcome several difficult obstacles in the journey.  As he arrives in Paddan Aram, Laban’s territory, he almost immediately meets Rachel at a watering hole.  As the audience would be reading the story, as soon as he arrives in Paddan Aram and he is at the well to meet the new bride, they’re immediately going to go this is a parallel story.  Years and years before, Abraham had sent his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac.  But there’s a stark difference in the parallel stories.  One difference is that Abraham’s servant is obsessed with God.  He was obsessed with what Yahweh thought.  He was obsessed with the way he thought Yahweh wanted him to act.  He came into this area and he prayed.  He said, “Lord, show me the woman.  Show me the woman that you picked out.  Let her be the one that carries her water jar on her shoulder and let her be the one that, when I ask, gives me a drink and let her be the one that when I even ask, ‘Can you give my camels a drink,’ she does that, too.” The story parallels are very stark.  Here, in our story, there’s no mention of Jacob praying to God and asking which woman He would have him take.  There’s no mention of it and even though, in the story before, {and we’re a little mixed up in our timeline, but Ryan is going to talk about the story before, next week} the Lord had shown up to Jacob and given him a dream and given him this promise.  This has to be fresh in Jacob’s mind, what the Lord is doing, yet no mention of him praying.  So, he introduces himself to Rachel and there’s almost instant electricity!  There’s magic in the air and there’s love in the air.  He falls almost immediately in love with this woman.  He introduces himself to Laban and almost immediately agrees to work seven hard years of hard labor for her hand in marriage.

As Laban is introduced into the story, again, that parallel becomes very evident.  Because, lo and behold, crazy Uncle Laban was present when the servant of Abraham came looking for Rebekah, Isaac’s future wife.  The text makes a point in the previous story, that Laban notices.  He notices the jewels and jewelry that the servant has given Rebekah already.  He notices the ten camels…..who travels with TEN camels??  This guy does.  Laban notices and sees it and he tries to work a little bit more resources out of the servant in order to get a better trade.  Everyone knows that’s what Laban is like.  So you come to this story with a little bit of back history of crazy Uncle Laban.  It’s no surprise that when Jacob falls in love with Rachel and promises way too much of a dowry—dowry requirements are set out in Leviticus—two and three times MORE than what was allowed for the greatest dowry, it’s no surprise when Laban goes oh, seven years, you say.  I think I’ll take that deal.  You can almost feel Laban looking Jacob up and down going, “Ah, I’ve been here before.  What are you going to offer me? Oh, seven years? Okay.”  Seven years goes by.  He works hard labor.  There’s this cool little line in the text that says: ….they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her (Rachel).   Isn’t that sweet?

Seven years is up and you have this strange exchange between Laban and Jacob.  Jacob is demanding his wife.  He says, “Look, Laban!  I’ve worked seven years.  Give me my wife.  You owe me my wife.”  Laban says, “Calm down, big guy.  We’ll get it taken care of.  Everybody’s cool.”  He sets up the wedding party.  Everything is going well as planned.  There’s probably a lot of alcohol involved at these soirées, if you will, and Laban swaps Rachel with Leah in the night.  Jacob, probably pretty intoxicated, spends the night with Leah instead of Rachel.  Now I want to take a time out and ask if you’ve ever thought of Leah in this?  Have you ever thought of what was going through this poor woman’s mind?  Her dad sets up a deception for this newcomer.  This newcomer is obviously infatuated with Rachel—to the point that seven years feels like several days—yet she (Leah) is forced to marry this man.  She knows he doesn’t love her.  She knows he doesn’t even care about her.  Yet, she is the one that has to take the hit.  That’s hard.  When Jacob finds out what Laban has done, the interesting thing is that out of the his mouth comes the sound that he knows all too well.  It’s the sound of betrayal.

Up to this point, Jacob has lived a pretty tough life.  I don’t mean that sarcastically.  He’s been dealt some pretty tough hands in life.  Let’s go through them.  First, he’s the second born in a first-born society.  He has been named “swindler or cheater.”  That’s not somebody you invite to a party!  He has a ginger Chewbaca for a brother.  {You can’t un-see that!  Once that image is in your head, it sticks with you.}  He’s hairy and he’s red and that’s the pinnacle of popularity.  To make matters worse, he has a father that seems to only love this ginger Chewbaca and not him.  He’s a mama’s boy in a patriarchal society.  His mother puts him in danger by suggesting that he takes Esau’s first born blessing.  Now, I want to point out that Jacob went ahead and did it. I’m not letting him off the hook.  He deceived his father.  But to add insult to injury, his brother wants to kill him…..and if ginger Chewbaca wants to kill you, you start running!  The man’s a beast!  So his mother tells him to flee, with almost nothing to his name, to this strange territory.  In the back of his mind, he’s got two things running.  The first is the promise that God gave his mother Rebekah:  Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (Gen. 25:23)  That’s not exactly a fortune cookie type fortune.  That doesn’t sound nice.  That doesn’t sound like he’s going to be living a life of pleasantries and comfort.  That sounds like war!  That sounds like the two nations in her womb will be at war for the duration.  That’s the first thing he has in his head.

Second thing he’s got in his head is the promise and the blessing that’s really not his….that he essentially stole. This is the blessing that Isaac gave to he thought was Esau but was really Jacob.  (Gen. 27:27-29) Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.  May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—-an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.   Doesn’t that sound nice?  Except it wasn’t for HIM!  And it wasn’t just not for him, it was for his exact opposite.  This is for the popular, strong, hunter-provider and that’s not what Jacob is. Can you imagine hearing something so wonderful that isn’t intended for you?  It’s like he has his dad on the phone and his dad thinks he’s talking to the oldest son, but he’s talking to the younger son and he goes on and on about how wonderful the older son is and all the wonderful things he’s going to accomplish…..that’s like, wow! thanks, dad!  No mention of the younger brother in there, huh?  Okay.

So far, pain and frustration has marked Jacob’s life.  His life has been hard, which has made him hard and it’s made him the victim.  His life is marked with the sound of bitterness.  Do you know anybody who sounds like this?  Who sounds like their life has been hard?  Maybe it’s you.  Maybe it’s a friend.  Maybe you’ve gotten the raw end of the deal on something small…..like a deal on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in your lunch room. Maybe you’ve gotten the raw end of the deal on being deceived and believing someone who isn’t who they said they were.  Ouch!  I have a friend right now who is going through the throes of deception as he wrestles with a potential divorce.  And his life is a mess and he knows it.  And the sound is so prevalent in his voice.  He’s tired of it all.  He’s not innocent in this.  He’s given it as well as he’s taken it.   There’s blame on both sides of the aisle.  But I can hear the sound in his voice.  The sound of deception.

I imagine Jacob being in a place like this when he figures out what Laban has done to him.  Same sound that he heard from Esau.  This is what Esau said about Jacob when he found out what Jacob had done to him.  Esau burst out with a loud and bitter cry….and said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?  This is the second time he has taken advantage of me. (Gen. 27:36 NIV)  That’s ringing in Jacob’s ears as he hears, for the second time, the sound of betrayal.  But this time it’s coming out of HIS mouth.  The narrator says: When morning came, there was Leah!  So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? {Can you imagine Leah hearing that?} I served you for Rachel, didn’t I?  Why have you deceived me? (Gen. 29:25)  Oh, how ironic!  The one who is doing the deceiving is now deceived.  The trickster has been tricked.  Laban recoils and explains how he can get away with this.  He says, “Hey, it’s customary not to give the youngest before you give the oldest.  Jacob, I thought you knew this!  Everybody knows this.  Everyone should know it.  I didn’t say you could have “Rachel.”  I said you could have ‘her.'”  Laban never named Rachel.  He just said ‘her’ and he let Jacob’s infatuation with Rachel make his assume it was Rachel.  Laban sets the trap even further at this point.  So right at the point where Jacob realizes he’s been deceived, he is faced with yet another manipulation.  Laban says, “Calm down!  No need to get all feisty.  I’ll give you the other one if you work another seven years.”  Just digs it in a little farther. Jacob’s bound.  He has taken this deception hook, line and sinker.  He’s madly in love.  Can you imagine what he’s been thinking about for seven years?  We know….it seemed like a few days because he loves Rachel so much.  What’s he going to do?  Say no?  Of course not.  He agrees.  The next seven years are a blur in the text, but the one thing that is constant is the sound of betrayal.  Now the sound is everywhere.  It’s like it’s echoing off the hills.

His two wives are almost immediately at each other’s throats.  They’re pitted against each other.  To make matters worse, he really only does love one of them.  Laban and Jacob go on to continue to try to take advantage of each other with sheep and spotted sheep.  {It’s really interesting.  Read it.}   They don’t change their tune.  They try to get rich from each other.  That’s their goals.  Until finally, Jacob senses Laban’s animosity growing to the point that he fears for his life and his family’s life.  He flees the territory.  Laban finds out.  Laban’s a powerful man and he gets his family, the text says, with him to go get Jacob.  That means his hired goons, his brothers, his sons.  When they catch up to Jacob, who’s traveling with an entire family, lo and behold, we hear the same sound.  That same sound of betrayal.  This is what Laban says to Jacob:  What have you done? {The deceiver who is now the deceived has been deceived.} You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. (Gen. 31:26)    For Laban this was the last straw.  You don’t mess with my daughters….even though I let you marry both of them at the same time.  You don’t mess with that!  Laban’s furious.

The sad thing about this narrative is that Laban and Jacob never fully heal their relationship.  The best they can do is have a meal and have a treaty.  And the treaty states that they’ll never enter each other’s territory again–you stay over there, I’ll stay over here and we won’t cross.  That’s sad.  Seems like they missed some pretty huge opportunities.  What in the world is the narrator trying to accomplish?  This is something that I’ve thought a lot about lately.  I read through this story over and over and over and I’m going what in the world am I suppose to take away from a story that’s so filled with deception and deceit and that sound of bitterness.  I began to wonder where in my life do I hear this sound.  As soon as I wondered that I realized how foolish a question that is.  An estimated 6.6 million children will be abused, in this country alone, by the time the year’s over.  Less than half will be noticed or investigated.  Just to get your head around that number…..that’s enough children to fill Sports Authority Field 87 times.  That’s a foolish question to ask: Where’s the bitterness?  Where’s the sound in our culture, our society?  It’s everywhere!

Where is God?  6.6 million children.  Where is God?  Where is He?  Where is God in this story?  He seems to be missing.  This is the Bible.  I’m reading it and reading it and reading it and going where is He?  There is one part where God shows up in this story.  Here it is:  When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. (Gen. 29:31)  There’s this tiny, little spark of love in a story where the sound is just bitterness and deception and deceit and greed and anger.  A little spark of love and her name is Leah.  She named her first son Reuben (Gen. 29:32).  That means the Lord has looked on my affliction.  She named her second son Simeon (v. 33), which means the Lord has heard that I am hated.  She named her third son {my favorite} (v. 35) I will praise the Lord.  That’s what Judah means.  She’s the only one in the entire story that has worshipped God despite her afflictions.  Even though she’s been dealt a very difficult hand, she worshipped God in her own way.  That’s the spark.

Here’s the deal: when you convince yourself you’re a victim, even if you are a victim, you blind and confuse yourself.  I heard a commercial this week that has stuck with me.  It was one of those moments where I had a lot of things going on while I was driving.   The phone’s ringing, the light’s turning red and the radio’s on.  So the thing I do is turn the radio off.  I turn the radio off right as the announcer says, “Don’t you think you deserve…” Click.  As I came to a complete stop, I began to think, “What do I deserve?  What does Josh Billings deserve?”  I thought of all the things in my life…..all the bad choices, all the good choices, everything in between.  What do I deserve?  What does Jacob deserve?  What does crazy Uncle Laban really deserve?  If you want to know, technically, they deserve judgement and separation from God.  They deserve the same from God that I deserve and that WE deserve.  Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.  Paul even references that passage in Romans 3:10.  Not one of us is pure. The interesting thing is that I’m not going to get that separation like I deserve.  Because of this:  When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive…   God is a God of love.  He’s a God of forgiveness. When we are obsessed with justice for ourselves, we focus on taking advantage of people to get it.  But when we are focused on grace that God has extended to us, we become obsessed with giving that grace away.

Jesus said:  Blessed (or happy) are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. (Matt. 5:7)   When we understand what’s wrong with us—and that’s sin, by the way—we then can see others as the same victims of the disease that effects us.  When people hurt us, we can say, “Look, I know.  I know how you feel because I have the same sickness in me and that’s sin.”  If Jacob had not been so obsessed about getting what was his, he might have seen the pain in Leah’s eyes, his own wife.  He might have seen the selfishness in Laban’s heart and been able to reach out to him and care for him in a way that moved him.  If Benedict Arnold had not been so obsessed with the bad hand he had been dealt, he might have been able to see what he was doing to his own brothers-in-arms.

I don’t know where you are this morning.  Have you been deceived?  Maybe you’re sitting in your chair going you don’t know the deception that I’ve gone through.  Maybe you have deceived.  Maybe you’ve been so obsessed with your own suffering, which could be very great, that you’ve justified all kinds of things.  Maybe your life really is hard.  Maybe it is hard.  Or maybe you’re sitting there, like me, and you’re just sick and tired of the sound.  That sound that came out of Jacob’s mouth and out of Laban’s mouth and out of Esau’s mouth.  The sound of bitterness and deception.  The thought of 6.6 million children being abused.  I’m sick of it!  I want it to go away.  I heard about a ministry that rescues children from human trafficking.  Children from human slavery which, by the way, is rampant in our own city.  I was so encouraged by the stories of these children getting pulled out of these situations.  But I was also sick.  I’m sick and tired of sin running rampant.  Let’s stop being obsessed with our own pain, our own bad lot, the bad hands that we’ve been dealt, like Jacob and Laban, and see the truth.  And the truth is that we are really messed up people.  The world is really messed up.  It’s infected with sin.  That’s the truth.

While Jesus was in pain and agony of death, he said: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)   The very people that put him on the cross, he asked forgiveness for.  Have you ever wondered how Jesus could have so much mercy on the very people that were crucifying him?  I usually think of that and then chalk it up to a big theological answer like: He’s God so I guess he just did it.  But the truth is He knew better than anyone, in that moment, what was wrong with them.  He knew why they were killing him. Because Jesus became sin.  2 Corinthians 5:23 says: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   The thing that was wrong with his crucifiers wasn’t that they were misinformed.  The thing that was wrong with them wasn’t that they hadn’t made all the right decisions in their life.  It was because they were sinful.

The first step in all of this….when we hear the story, when we hear this narrative, when we think about all the things that are going on in our life….our own pain and the pain of people around us….regardless, of how bad your life IS right now, you have to blame the correct thing.  You can’t blame each other.  You can’t blame Laban.  You can’t blame Jacob.  You have to blame SIN.  That’s the truth.  The second step, regardless of how bad your life is—and I know your life could be a mess—is admitting that everyone has the same disease.  We all have this thing called sin in us.  The third, and most important step, is giving credit to the one who stole death’s sting.  The only solution to our problem is Jesus.  He’s it.  So no matter where you find yourself this morning….maybe you’re guilty of the deception, the trap that you’ve just laid.  Maybe you’re a victim of a trap and you’re feeling horrible.  Or maybe it’s both.   Remember this:  1) Sin is the enemy.  2) We all have it in us. You have just as much sin as the person sitting next to you.  3) Jesus is the only solution to sin.  He’s the only one.  Let’s pray.

Lord God, your love for us is so great.  Your love for us is shown in what you did for poor Leah.  You’re a loving God.  You’re a forgiving God.  You’re also a just God, so Jesus had to die for us to be with you.  Lord, I’d ask, first and foremost, if there’s any person sitting here this morning that has not trusted you for the problem of sin, that they would do it.  That they would put their trust in you and claim You as their new master and not serve sin any longer.  Lord, the second thing that I would ask is for those of us who have trusted you that you would give us eyes to see that people around us, as much pain as they may bring us, are suffering from the same disease that we suffer from: sin.  Lord, help us trust you.  Wherever we are on the spectrum of faith, help us to gain more faith in You.  Thank you for dying for us.  Thank you for loving us.  And now, Lord, would you walk with us through this really messed up world.  We love you so much.  In your name.  Amen.

ALL I AM: Crazy Uncle Laban – Genesis 28-302020-08-21T08:32:37-06:00

ALL I AM: Jake The Snake – Genesis 27

April 17th 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

In 2010, the film Inception came out.  It was a science fiction/thriller about a person who is able to enter into, manipulate and shape dreams.  The protagonist, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and named Dominic Cobb, makes this profound, and I think very true, statement, “What is the most resilient parasite?  An idea.  A single idea from the human mind can build cities.  An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”  That’s a pretty interesting statement, isn’t it?  That one idea, maybe a word spoken and a word believed, has the ability to transform the world to build cities.  Is an idea really all that powerful?

If you have your Bible, open to Genesis 27.  We’re going to jump into a narrative where this is going to be one of the themes — the idea that a word spoken and believed has the ability to shape and transform worlds.  If you’ve been with us over the last few weeks, you know that our main character in this series is Jacob.  We’re looking at his life and trying to ask the question — God, how do you point out, in the life of Jacob, the way that you use all of the stuff in our life….the stuff we’re proud of and the stuff we’re ashamed….the good, the bad, the ugly and the everywhere in between.  How do you use all of that to shape us and make us into the people that you’re calling us to be?   Let’s jump into the story: Jacob’s father’s name is Isaac.  Isaac loves Jacob’s brother, whose name is Esau, more than he loves Jacob.  Isaac pulls Esau aside and tells him he wants to give Esau THE blessing. But I’m (Isaac) a little bit hungry so what I’d like you to do is go and catch me some dinner first.  When you bring that dinner back, prepared the way daddy likes, I’m going to give you the blessing.  Isaac is old and blind at this point in time and Jacob’s mom, Rebekah, overhears him make this statement.  Rebekah loves Jacob more than Esau, so she pulls Jacob aside and says here’s the deal.  Your dad just promised the family blessing to your brother, but what I want to do is have you steal the blessing.  We’re going to prepare the dinner that dad likes. You take it in and you pretend to be Esau and you steal the blessing from your brother.  Here’s what we’re starting to find out — Jacob is living up to his name.  No offense if your name’s Jacob.  My guess is that your parents just liked the sound of it, that’s how we primarily pick names today.  Back in that day, a name really meant something.  In this case, it meant ‘heel grabber.’  It meant cheater, swindler, shady character.  Jacob is going to start to live up to his name and he has a co-conspirator in this story and it’s his mom.  His mom has prepared the dinner for him to take in to his father to get the blessing, to trick him, pretending to be somebody else and to take what was his brother’s.

We’ll begin at Genesis 27:18.  The meal’s prepared.  The lie is imbedded and he’s about to start living it out.  So he (Jacob) went in to his father and said, “My father.”  And he said, “Here I am.  Who are you, my son?”  Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn.  I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.”  But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?”  He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.”  Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.”  So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”  {His mom made him goat skin to put on his hands and to put on his neck in order to feel and smell more like his brother.} And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands.  So he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?”  He answered, “I am.”  Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.”  So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.  Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.”  {This is sort of the climactic scene in the narrative.}  So he came near and kissed him.  And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!  May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.  Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.  Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”  As soon as Isaac had finished the blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. {Remember, he’s off trying to catch the game that his father loves to bring it in to get the blessing.}  He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father.  And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.”  His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?”  He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.”  Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?  Yes, and he shall be blessed.”  As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”  But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.”  Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob?  For he has cheated me these two times.  He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.”

Interesting story.  Interesting narrative.  It all revolves around this idea of “blessing.”  We have a fairly infantile view of blessing in our culture and even in our church culture today.  We use the word blessing like…..hey, how are you doing?  I’m blessed. #blessings   Or somebody sneezes and we say, “God bless you.”  We even use the word blessing as a way of almost judging someone like…..Oh man, that couple.  They cannot control their kids. God bless them.  But back in this culture, that word blessing really meant something.  In the Greek, the word ‘blessing’ literally means “good word” or “to speak a good word over.”  Blessing would be the projection of good into the life of another person.  Or you could view it as an accurate spiritual discernment of who someone is and then using very carefully crafted  words and symbols and ritual in order to unearth the blessing or the reality that you see in their life.  It’s speaking good over the life of another.  The nation of Israel had a long history of blessing; they were a people of blessing.  God gave them this command early on (Numbers 6:22-26): The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.    Every single time the Jewish community of people would meet in synagogue, when the service was closing to an end, the rabbi would come up and as the service ended they would recount this blessing over the people.  The people received it as the very words of God.  The good words of God.

Is the narrative in Genesis 27, where Jacob so longs for the blessing from the father and Esau longs to get it back, some pre-modern, sorta magical incantation idea that we’ve moved beyond?  When I first read it a few times this week, I thought wow, this is a very interesting narrative, an interesting story and I’m not sure how much it has to do with life today.  But then I remembered that as a youth pastor I led a group of sophomore guys.  One of the guy’s name was Tom.  Tom shared in this small group of guys…..he wasn’t the most athletic guy in the group, but he was a very intelligent guy.  He shared with us that he gave his father an English paper he had written to proofread and give back to him before he turned it in.  He said, “My father gave it back to me and on the paper he had written, ‘You’re not as smart as I thought you were.'”  What Tom said struck me, because he said to that group of young boys, “Those words are seared on my mind.”  Which one of us in this room, hasn’t had things said to us that just stuck.  We can have good things that stick with us, right?  We can have really negative and bad things that stick with us.  We can have words of blessing or words or cursing, but words have this way of just sticking in our soul.  In 1992, Jim Davidson and his best friend at the time, Mike Price, climbed Mt. Ranier.  They got to the top of Mt. Ranier and snapped this picture.  On the way down, they fell into an 80-foot-deep crevasse.  Mike died upon impact.  Jim was still alive, but was caught on an ice ledge that was only two feet wide and 80 feet deep.  Over the next five hours he started to climb his way up.  After he made it to the top, Jim Davidson wrote a book called The Ledge.  In it he said, “The entire time I climbed, the words of my father kept coming back to my mind.”  From the age of 12, he worked as a painter with his father.  His father had a contract painting power poles, so he would climb up and paint them.  From the age of 12, his father spoke words of encouragement and life into him.  He said, “The entire time I climbed, I just heard my father speaking to me.”

So I ask you, is the idea that words have power a primitive, magical incantational type of idea or is it the reality of the world that every single one of us lives in?  I would argue the latter.  You have things in your mind and in your heart that somebody spoke to you years, maybe even decades, ago that as much as you want to get rid of them, you can’t.  You also, I hope, have words that people have spoken over you—words of good—that in many ways shape and define your life.  Walter Brueggemann, the great Old Testament scholar, talks about this passage and says: “This narrative presumes that symbolic actions have real and lasting power.  Spoken words, especially from a parent to a child, shape our human life.  Words are not a matter of indifference that can be attended to or not, as a matter of convenience.”  I’d say it like this….we all heard growing up, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  What a bunch of garbage!!!  It should be “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart….can shape my soul.”  It’s true!  It’s true that spoken words shape human worlds!  The words that we speak shape marriages.  The words that we speak shape the job that we work in.  They shape the way that we view the job; they shape the way that we do the job. They have a power over us.  Words that we speak shape dating relationships and homes and neighborhoods. You name it, every single environment you operate in is shaped by someone’s words and oftentimes by YOUR words. Which is why even the New Testament is so keen on inviting us to contemplate the power of the words that we speak.  Listen to the way that James, one of the great leaders of the early church, puts it:  If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.  {You want to control a horse, he says, just control their mouth.}  Look at the ships also; though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  {Large ship, small rudder which tells it exactly where to go.  What’s his point?}  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. {The tongue is small in size, but not in stature, not in influence, because human words shape the worlds that we live in.}  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (James 3:3-5)

Have you ever stopped to think about the power in your tongue?  The power not only over your life to shape the direction and course of your life, but also the lives of other people.  Nelson Mandela had some time to think about this — 27 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement.  He said: “It is never my custom to use words lightly.  If 27 years in prison has done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”  So maybe this idea of the power of words, or the power of blessing, isn’t just some sort of magical, incantational type of pre-modern idea that we have simply moved beyond with all of our maturity and all of our advances and all of our technology.  Maybe it’s something that’s still deeply imbedded in the human soul.  That the words that we speak and the words that people speak over us have very real and lasting power.  Maybe it is true that the tongue still is one of the most powerful and influential forces in the entire world.  Maybe it’s true that worlds are shaped by words and that an idea has the power to build or destroy cities and to transform the world…..and YOUR world. Maybe it’s true that words shape worlds.

I’d like to propose to you today that it is (true), and I want to draw out from this passage three ways that that happens in the life and narrative and story of Jacob.  Three ways that that happens.  Number one.  Genesis 27:8 — Rebekah is giving Jacob this instruction and in verse 8 she says:  Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you.   Verse 13:  His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and so, bring them to me.   Verse 43: Now therefore, my son, obey my voice.  Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran.  You catching the theme?  Mom’s a little bit controlling.  Mom’s a tad manipulative and she’s pouring into her son these three words “obey my voice.”  Here’s what we see in the life of Jacob.  That words have this ability to shape worlds because they often determine our direction.  The voices that we allow to speak into our life have an ability to help chart the course of our life like no other.  Unfortunately, it’s oftentimes the loudest voices that get a hook into our soul, rather than the wisest voices.  Rebekah’s voice is the loudest in the life of Jacob.  But she had two problems:  number one is her whole world was shaped by fear.  She had this fear that her most beloved son Jacob was going to be left behind and that he was not going to get the blessing, he wasn’t going to have the life he so desperately wanted and that she wanted for him, so her whole world was shaped by fear.  You know what happens when our world is shaped by fear?  We control.  We take things into our own hands and when we can’t imagine a good outcome because of the fear that has so blinded us, we feel like we have to take things into our own hands and we have to get the job done.  We will do whatever it takes and we will run over whoever is in our way in order to get what we want.   The other thing Rebekah does is she is crippled…..she’s blinded and hardened by fear and she is crippled by doubt.  Listen, she has a promise from God….that the older will serve the younger.  She doesn’t need to go there.  Ironically, this is what God uses in order to exact his plan and his purpose in the world, but Rebekah feels she needs to take things into her own hands because she does not believe that God will be good on his word.  So here’s the question….do you?

I started to wrestle with the idea that if the words that are spoken to me help determine my direction and that often the loudest voices, not the wisest voices, get my attention, how do I choose who speaks into my life. That’s a great question and let me tell you what I came up with.  1) I want people who are wise to speak into my life.  That’s one of my criteria; that’s one of my lenses.  I want people who recognize who God is and our place in His world….those are the people I want to speak into my life.  2) I want somebody to speak into my life who is a little bit farther down the road than I am walking.  I’d put that in the category of wisdom.  But I want people who, when I look at their life, I’d want my life to turn out in a similar way.  It does not mean that their perfect.  In fact, if they put off the aura that they are……I’m out because I don’t believe you.  It’s not that they’re perfect, it’s that they’re in a place that I would want to be.  3) Are they passionate?  Do they care about something deeply?  Those are the people I want to speak into my life.  4) Is their life laden with joy?  If people are always grumpy, I’m not giving them this voice into my life.  No offense, but Jesus has risen from the dead!  He reigns!  He rules!  He’s good!  His joy is mine right now and if it isn’t yours, I don’t want to give you the right to speak into my life, no offense.  You can speak into somebody else’s, but not mine!  How do you decide who speaks into your life?  We think this is really important at South, so Pete and Sue Muckley have done a great job organizing a mentorship program.  Why?  Because we believe that words have the ability to shape worlds and determine the direction that our life goes.  But here’s the deal: we have way more people that are saying, “I would like a mentor,” than we do people saying, “I’m willing to mentor.”  I just want to throw it out there that maybe you would be somebody whose life is laden with joy…..that you’re a person of wisdom that you would say back to people who are not quite as far down the road, “Hey, I’d love to speak into your life, if you’d allow me to.”  {In our bulletin, you can mark that little box that says I want a mentor or I want to be a mentor and we will follow up with you and help you get connected.}

Secondly, look at verse 34: As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”  …..  Have you not reserved a blessing for me?    Here’s what Esau’s saying….Dad, I can’t go on if I don’t hear the good word spoken over me. Dad, I can’t go on if I don’t hear you say something good over my life.   As Dallas Willard so adequately put it: “Our souls were made to be blessed and we cannot survive without the blessing.”  It is impossible to live a healthy life that’s unblessed.  It’s not just a nice addition to life, it is a central component to living in the abundance that God has designed us to live in.  This whole family knows that without the blessing, life has no fresh possibility and no new beginning.  It’s no accident, friends, that 85% of youth who are imprisoned today grew up in a home without a father.  It’s no accident.  You just put those two things together and what we see is this immense power that words have in our life to shape worlds.  Why?  Because words have an ability to confirm our value.  They have an ability to speak something over us that unearths something deep inside of us. That we are people created in the image of a Most High God and the true value that we embrace oftentimes comes through the blessing that we receive.  I would say the opposite is true, also.  That the value that we lack is a direct result of not hearing the most important people in our life speak blessing over us.  You show me a confident young adult and I will show you somebody who had parents or mentors or friends who spoke words of encouragement and good and blessing over their life.  You show me somebody who wonders who they are, who’s faltering and who’s stumbling along, and I will show you someone who lacked people speaking this good into their life.  We either receive the validation we long for or we spend our lives fighting to say, “It’s true.  I’m worth it.  I’m okay.”  We either receive it or we fight for it.  It’s one of the two.

If you go back and read through this whole narrative, Jacob is this poignant figure, I believe, of the modern and post-modern person.  He goes about getting blessing the way that we often go about getting blessing.  What does he do?  He knows that being Jacob isn’t good enough.  That’s been pounded into him from day one.  Hey, you’re the second born in a first-born society; you don’t hunt, you’re more of a stew-maker so you’re not as loved as your brother.  The message from the get-go to Jacob is who you are is not enough.  And who you are is not okay.  So what does Jacob do?  He dresses up as Esau.  In fact, when his father asks him what’s your name, he says my name is Esau.  Can you imagine how much those words sting coming out of his mouth?  What he longs to hear from his father, he knows he cannot hear if he’s honestly and truly himself.  So he pretends to be someone he’s not.  He takes on a different name.  He dresses up to pretend and play a part.  He puts on his brother’s clothes.  His mom makes him some extremely furry mittens, I guess, and a neck gator to wear to pretend he’s his brother.  {Can we take a timeout to acknowledge how hairy Esau must have really been?? Ginger Chewbaca/Big Foot??  Hair everywhere! On his hands, are you kidding me??  Where a goat skin would pass as a……..  I’m just in awe!}  He covers himself.  He takes a page out of his ancestor’s book.  This is the exact same thing that Adam and Eve do in the Garden.  They’re created naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25). They are completely comfortable in their own skin.  They’re completely okay with who they are.  They know and they are known perfectly.  They’re an open book and because of the perfection that they were created into, they are perfectly good with that.  But when sin comes into the world, what happens?  They start to cover themselves.  They start to hide from God.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Gen. 3:7)   They said listen, we can’t be just who we are, because who we are isn’t okay.  And who we are can’t be blessed.  And who we are is broken and shame enters the world.  Shame always causes us to try to dress up as someone else, because we know that the real true us is unblessable.  That’s Jacob’s world.  That’s Jacob’s life.  If you look at his story arc, he hears what he wants to hear from his dad, but instead of making his life, in many ways, it destroys it.  He hears these words, but he knows they are not for him.  And that’s the way that wearing masks works for all us, isn’t it?  If we pretend to be somebody else, it’s impossible to receive the love that we so long for.  When we wear masks, when we’re dishonest, when we’re unwilling to engage our own story and then engage the stories of others, we prevent ourselves from receiving the very thing that we long for.  When people only know a facade, they can only love a facade, they can only accept a facade, they can only bless a facade.

These words haunt Jacob’s life.  If you fast forward to Genesis 32 when he’s wrestling with God, God asks him, “What’s your name?” in the same way that his dad asked him.  This time he says, “My name is Jacob.”  He says, “I will not let you go until you bless me,” because the words of my father still ring in my ears.  I know it wasn’t really for me and it haunts me, because I heard what I wanted to hear, but I knew that it wasn’t really for me.

How many of us do this?  We dress up…..maybe it’s in a dating relationship.  We know that if they knew the real me, there’s no way that they’d accept me, there’s no way they’d like me, there’s no way they’d eventually love me, so here’s what I’m going to do….I’m going to pretend to be someone else.  Maybe it’s in a job.  Maybe we got into a job because we felt like we wanted our budget to look like a certain thing and so we know that’s what we’ve got to put on and that’s what we’ve got to do.   And we got into a job or career field that we know we’re not passionate about, we don’t love it, but we’re doing it because we’re wearing the coat, we’re playing the part because we want it to yield a certain end.  Or maybe it’s just the way we walk in the doors here!  You have a terrible fight in the car on the way here…..you walk in the door and somebody greets you, “How’s it going this morning?” #blessed  “We’re doing great.  We’re wonderful!”  We often put on masks and we often play the part and we refuse to be honest with our pain and we refuse to let people in and in doing so, we prevent ourselves from really being loved.  {Hey, could you look up at me for a second?}  If people don’t know the real you, they can’t love and they can’t bless…..YOU.  They can only bless and love the costume that you wear and the part that you play.  Eventually, that starts to haunt the human soul.  The validation of our humanity—as much as our culture wants to push us out and away from everybody else to find out who we are—is that we, in reality, were created for community.  The validation of our humanity takes place in community not in autonomy.  Intrinsic value—the value that is in us because we are children of the Most High God—is unearthed and uncovered through human blessing and human words, confirmed by the truth of who God is and what God’s done.

So, human words shape the worlds that we live in.  Why?  Because they help determine our direction.  They confirm our value.  Number three.  You see this as you look at the blessing that Isaac projects over Jacob’s life, but you see…..the blessing was for things of physical, material blessing of earth and fertility, of well-being, or shalom.  It was a blessing of power and preeminence that his name would continue to be great.  It was a hedge of protection over it.  I don’t know, I read through this story probably 30 times this week and every single time when it got to the part where Isaac trembles violently because he’s blessed the wrong son…..I just kept asking myself, why not just take it back?  Why not just redo it?  Why not pull “fingers-crossed-behind-my-back?”  Why not?  I was wrestling with that and the narrator of Genesis seemed wholly unconcerned with that question!  He just assumes that once words are out there, they’re out there.  That once words are spoken, negative or positive, they can’t be taken back.  How many of us have said something and as we see it going out we’re like…..ohhh nooo!  Has this ever worked for anyone?  No, once words are out there, they’re out there.  And once they’re out there, they start to take on a life of their own.  Words have deep and abiding power because they help shape the futures that we live.  It was true for Jacob, it was true for Esau.

Blessing shapes us in one of two ways.  Either we receive it and we believe it and we live into it OR we disbelieve it and we spend our life searching for it and trying to prove it.  The future is often spoken over us before it’s seen or believed by us.  I can remember being a 19-year-old kid helping out on a church’s retreat.  I was serving in Young Life and my home church needed a few extra small group leaders for a high school retreat. I found my hand in the air and got selected to go on this retreat.  There was an older gentlemen who came up to me (at this retreat).  He said, “Ryan, I don’t know you from Adam.  I don’t know anything about your life, but I just want to tell you that I sense from God that He has a great plan for your life.  Someday, you’re going to teach people about the Bible.  Someday, you’re going to be a leader in His church.”  As a 19-year-old kid who had no idea what my major was going to be, who had no idea what God was calling me to, only that I had this growing passion to work with His people, to be a part of His church, to lead in some way……I can tell you, those words sunk into my soul and they haven’t let go today!!!

Here’s my prayer, friends.  I have this conviction, in the same Gary Chapman has in one of his books (Love as a Way of Life), our words can either by “bullets or seeds.”  They can either by used to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble, or they can be used to heal, to help and to bring hope.  I long to be a part of a community where we are a people of blessing.  Where we take the time to look each other in the eye and to say that this is what I see in your life.  To take the time to look each other in the eye and to encourage when people are down, to pray over when they’re downtrodden, to breathe hope where there’s despair, to breathe peace where there is just absolute chaos and storms in life.  I long to be a people who I would characterize as a “prophetic” community, where we believe God still gives words of utterance, as the Scriptures so clearly say.  It’s one of the spiritual gifts — For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom… {To say over somebody’s life, “I sense this is what God’s doing in your life.  How does that sound to you?  Does that sound right?  Does that sound like God’s Spirit is confirming that to you?”}  …and to another the utterance of knowledge….(1 Corin. 12:8)  {I think this is where God’s leading and where God’s guiding.}  This is a prophetic, life-giving, weighty-worded community, where we recognize that the words that we say have a power about them to shape our future.  That’s the type of community I want to be a part of, that’s the kind of world I want to be a part of, that’s the kind of church that I want to be a part of, where we look each other in the eye and we speak good over one another.  It is so easy to be a people of cursing….and I don’t mean saying bad words.  You can curse somebody with the raise of an eyebrow.  You can curse somebody with silence.  You can curse somebody with a passing glance.  I want to be a community where we evoke the good of our God over each other.

If you’re a parent, would you look up at me a second?  I don’t know that there’s a more important message for parents than what we see here.  The words that we speak, or don’t speak, over our kids will help determine the course of their life.  Our kids need to hear us speak good.  They need to hear us speak blessing.  We need to be in tuned enough with who God has created them to be to see that and to help unearth what’s already there.  To put a finger on it.  To put words on it.  Maybe to build symbols and memories around it because those words will have deep and abiding power in their life.  They will!  They will help determine their direction, they will confirm, or not, their value and they will help shape their world!

You know what’s interesting to me?  Because of the effects of sin in our world and in our lives, we all, like Jacob, have this need to dress up.  We all have this deep and abiding sense that who we are doesn’t quite add up and it isn’t quite good enough.  Which is why the gospel is so powerful.  The gospel is NOT that you are amazing and that you are awesome.  The gospel is God knows you need something to cover you, that you’re going to put on something, you’re going to “dress up” one way or another and so the invitation of the gospel is not to try to pretend you’re something that you’re not, but to fully embrace who you are and to put on ALL of who Christ is.  That we stand before the throne of God dressed in His righteousness alone! If you hear nothing else from me this morning, hear this — the good news of the gospel is that the King of kings and the Lord of lords has spoken blessing, goodness, over your life!  He purchased it on the cross and He gives it to you by His grace freely.  In Ephesians 1:3-6, Paul summarizes this:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing {He’s holding nothing back over your life, friends.  When you put on Christ, He’s holding nothing back over your life.} ….even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.    The blessing that your heart and soul was designed for and longed for cannot be found by pretending to be someone else, but it can be found when you know that He took your place and when you take on His righteousness He says, “If that’s where you’re at, your life is abundantly, beautifully, miraculously blessed because the King of kings and the Lord of lords has favor over you.”  Hearing God’s favor over us has this unique power and ability to create a new identity within us.  Listen, if God was able with one word to speak the cosmos into being, I think, with one word from Him, He could change the very life that we live.  Imagine if we started to hear Him singing over us.  Imagine if we started to hear His blessing over us.  Imagine if His words determined our direction.  Imagine if His words confirmed our value.  Imagine if His words started to shape our future.  Friends, I pray that those seeds would sink deeply into your soul and that they would take root in a way that would bear fruit, not only in your life, but in everybody’s life who comes in contact with you.  Speak life!  Speak hope!  Speak blessing!  There is power in your words to shape human worlds.  Use your power for good, friends.  Let’s pray.

So Lord, I would ask, as we close our time together today, that you would remind us of the blessing that’s ours in you.  That the things that we often fight for and we feel like we have to wear a mask to get, that we would recognize today that Jesus went to the cross, Father, that You paid the price that we needed in order to receive the blessing that our souls long for.  So Lord, would you help us soak in that?  Would you help us remain in that?  May your words shape the course of our life.  May it confirm value to our soul and Jesus, may it shape the people we become, the worlds that we create and live in and Lord, may everybody in our life be influenced by it.  We pray that in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

ALL I AM: Jake The Snake – Genesis 272020-08-21T08:33:29-06:00
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