Friday, February 6, 2015

Jacob & Esau

From the time they were born, Jacob knew what it was like to be second best.

His twin brother Esau was an athletic marvel.  His father bragged on him to all his friends, the same way a dad might boast today.  His boy Esau was the strongest, fastest, bravest kid in school.  He was shaving daily in second grade!  I imagine he never lacked for female companionship.  He was loved and admired by all his peers.

And Jacob was his brother.

Jacob was smooth skinned well into adulthood.  While Esau was fighting women off, Jacob had to work years to get a woman to pay attention to him.  Jacob was less strong, less fast, and less brave.

Jacob was less.

And he was sneaky.  Perhaps it was because of his brother's large shadow, but Jacob was always proving himself to everyone.  He wanted to have the things that Esau had.  I suspect it was a bit of an obsession for Jacob.  He would've given anything to have his father's approval, even for just a few moments.

The Bible says that their father, Isaac, had been chosen by God to be a blessing to the whole world.  One day, he would pass that mantle on to one of his sons... the responsibility to be God's ambassador to the world.  In Isaac's mind, that son has to be Esau.  He was the oldest (by a few seconds), but he was everything you would want in a leader.  Esau was bold, well-balanced, honest to a fault, and imposing.

And Jacob was less.  

The confusing part of this story is that God chooses Jacob.

In spite of his flaws.
In spite of his weaknesses.
In spite of him being second-best.
In spite of his sneakiness.

In spite of the fact that Jacob didn't really even believe in God.  It takes a powerful vision of a stairway to heaven ("Jacob's Ladder") that inspires him to seek God at all.  But God chooses Jacob to be his standard bearer.  And I have to confess, it's always been a little confusing to me as to why God chose as He did.  I would have picked Esau.  Sure he was overly hirsute, but he seems more reliable.

Over the course of one long afternoon, Jacob cheats his brother and lies to his father in a way that did powerful damage to their family.  The kind of damage that makes you have to move away from home for 20 years.  On the way home, while he is terrified about meeting his family again, he spends a whole night wrestling with an angel of God.  At the end of the night, as the angel is about to leave, Jacob - in great pain - refuses to let go until he receives a blessing.

It's a metaphor of Jacob's whole life.  He was always striving, always wanting to be someone different... something MORE than what he was.  Now, on this quiet night when he is all alone, he discovers it is really God that he has wrestled since the day he was born.

It was God who made Jacob who he was.  God is the potter who makes us into what He decides.  Jacob, like Paul would a thousand years later, had used every waking hour to kick against God's plans for him.  It's like he finally realizes it, and he lays down his pride and begs God for a blessing.

Jacob gets a new name.  He will now be called Israel, which means "he struggles with God".  It is said that Jacob has struggled with men and with God and prevailed.

This is likely the reason that God chose Jacob to begin with - his willingness to stubbornly hang on.  Jacob would wrestle with God, while Esau never gave it too much thought.  Jacob's faith is messy, but it's real.

I think God meets us where we are,  He recognizes how our past scars can drive us to new poor decisions.  He sees how our hunger for approval will sometimes push us to seek it from the wrong people.  He knows all that.  Yet, he can see deeper into our hearts than anyone else - He knows us better than we know ourselves, I think.  He keeps calling.

When I learn to lay down my pride, and hang on to him, then in my weakness, I am strong.

-- Jeff Hudelson

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


As Easter comes towards us, I always tense up. I love the focus on Christ, His centrality in our lives, the undiluted gospel of peace that restores us into a right relationship with God, and even the commands to love and make disciples, to obey, teach, etc. It seems like when that is the focus of our lives, we are headed someplace. Its like we are looking through binoculars, headed for that next hill to climb, going someplace beyond the sunset, as the old hymn goes.

And then Easter comes. We celebrate big, and lots of people come. Jesus never had much trouble drawing a crowd. And often, our celebrations water down the very gospel we are coming together to proclaim.

 Now, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me explain what I mean by "watered down". When we present a gospel that speaks only of the gift, and not of the sacrifice, when we speak only of love without truth or obedience, when we speak only of the empty tomb without the weight of an occupied cross, we do the "visitors" a huge disservice. I need the whole gospel, the 1 Corinthians 15 gospel parsed out, written every word in red on my heart, because I so easily get sideways!

And often, when Easter is over, when all the ham has been eaten, when the deviled eggs have been digested, it comes down to a nice spring festival, complete with bunnies and candy and ham and eggs, and hunts for all kinds of things other than the risen, victorious, redeeming Christ. I mean, we did our hour and a half of homage to the bringer of spring-tidings, but we have no real intention of actually obeying the gospel of peace, the truth that demands an answer of us.

Many would disagree with me, and that's ok, as I don't pretend to have all the answers on this. It just seems that as lent approaches, we (and in that we is a healthy dose of me) don't have a very good idea of what it would mean to (re)lent. To really surrender. All. Like the hymn.

So - instead of ending as a rant, I want to end with encouragement. Jump in! Really press in to the reality of a risen Christ Who loves you and gave Himself for you, so that He and His Father and His Spirit can and will dwell in you right now! Don't let your focus get askew in all the trappings of spring, only to culminate in a celebration of something other than Him. He is sufficient, He is enough, He is worthy to be celebrated. If you do all those other things, do them to the glory of the One Who made you, not to any other glory. Be impressed with Him, be moved by Him, be taken captive by Him. Love Him. Obey Him. 

And don't be afraid to talk with others about Him.  In fact, if this risen Christ is real to you, you won't be able to help yourself.  It will come out.  Naturally, intentionally, and wonderfully.  Oh, and yes, sometimes even a little confrontationally (the cross confronts the sin).  But always lovingly.