About methodistmel

It is not at all lonely in the middle, but most of us do lack passion. The less kind might even call moderate Christians the "frozen chosen." I plan to show some passion-- but with thought. This blog hopefully will speak from the heart and the head. I'm a soon-to-be-retired Methodist pastor and former lawyer and lobbyist for the University of Texas System. I also served as a staff person in the Texas Legislature for about 10 years. My wife is the best, my step-children are great and my daughter-in-law and grandchildren are wonderful.

Evangelicals Struggle with Self-Identity

The National Association of Evangelicals issued a statement yesterday aimed at clarifying widespread misunderstanding of evangelical beliefs and practices.

Their longing for clarity arose out of the fact that a growing number of people consider “evangelicals” to be a political grouping rather than a religious one.

The NEA  statement is clear about how they see themselves, “We identify ourselves by our spiritual convictions in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus Christ alone and living out our faith in everyday life, especially sharing the good news of Jesus with others.”

Unfortunately, the NEA is deluding itself if it thinks such statements are meaningful.

No matter whether it is fair or unfair, the vast majority of Americans do not know evangelicals by their spiritual convictions or actions. They do not see evangelicals doing the work of Jesus. They do not see evangelicals worshipping at church, leading foreign missions, feeding the hungry, etc.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. welcomes President Trump to Liberty University.

Instead, they know evangelicals primarily through their well-publicized association with President Trump and the Republican party.

They hear that white evangelicals are the most stable part of the Republican base. They read headlines about 80% white evangelical support of Trump. They see photographs of evangelical leaders clustered around Trump in the Oval Office. They hear about leading evangelical figures giving full-throated support to Trump.

Not surprisingly, they believe what they see and hear—that Trump trumps Jesus and politics trumps faith in the hearts and minds of most white evangelicals.

Evangelical claims of faith are not enough to overcome the overwhelming media coverage—much of it coming from evangelical sources—to the contrary.

God knows, even if evangelicals don’t, that this confusion about evangelical identity was foreseeable and predictable.

Jesus certainly lived his life differently. He did not seek standing with the prevailing powers of the day, he confronted them. He did not seek his own base of power, he gave his life for others. He did not subordinate the gospel to other purposes, he lived it. His priorities were clear and his identity remains clear thousands of years later.

However, white evangelicals chose not to follow Jesus’ path. Instead, they intentionally embarked on a path to gain political power and use it. They have followed that path for decades and show no changes of changing.

They formed the Moral Majority in the 1970’s with the avowed purpose of profoundly impacting public policy. They have given their time, work and money to this effort.

At first, their work resulted in most white evangelicals supporting Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. Over the years, however, their movement slowly became more identified with Republican policies and the Republican party. By the 2016 presidential election, white evangelicalism was seen by most, even themselves, as being fused with rock-ribbed Republicanism.

And, they got what they wanted. They got political power. They got their Supreme Court nominee. They have the president’s ear and consider him to be their savior, at least in a political sense.

In the process, they have become who many people consider them to be—Republicans seeking and using political power and wanting even more.

White evangelicals should recognize that they have reaped what they have sowed. Any group or organization that lashes itself so completely to the policies, positions and practices of another group or organization loses its original identity. It literally becomes something else.

The NEA and their members may want to insist on their high-minded faith and devotion to Jesus, but no one will pay attention.

Instead of touting things that will be ignored, they might undergo a long needed self-assessment. Perhaps then, they return to the starting point of many Christian journeys  and become like the tax collector Jesus describes in a parable. In Luke 18, Jesus explains that the tax collector went to the Temple, beat his breast and prayed, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

After telling the parable, Jesus said that this man “went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

One thing we Christians always can use is a bit more humility before God and humankind and a bit less lust for power, however alluring it may be.

 

Children’s Health Plan and the Axe that Looms

The White House/Administration/Trump continue to be careen on their helter-skelter, immoral course.

Their latest outrage is an attempt to cut the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was renewed for a six-year period earlier this year.

Known more widely as CHIP, this program provides health coverage to nearly 9 million children in low-income families in all 50 states.

It is widely-recognized as successful. It turns out that, just as predicted, children’s health improves with access to medical care.

In addition to its medical and policy successes, CHIP also saves the country money by reducing expenditures on other health care programs, particularly Medicaid. CHIP does this because of the better medical outcomes that result from treating children earlier and in a doctor’s office as opposed to later and in an emergency room.

Nonetheless, it is under threat of the knife.

Indeed, it is on the chopping block to the tune of a $7 billion reduction because of the ballooning budget deficit that the administration is salivating to reduce.

It matters not to the White House that the deficit results primarily from its ill-advised 2017 corporate tax cuts. Those will remain as is, although there are rumors of some wanting additional reductions.

One might wonder why children should go without medical care while the country injects more cash into already-profitable companies, but that is just the way the United States rolls– or, careens– today.

One does hope that our white evangelical brothers and sisters (Where are you Franklin? Jerry, Jr? Rev. Jeffrees? Mr. Perkins?) will use their new-found political muscle to prevent this reduction.

Unfortunately, their political agenda may be too crowded with issues other than the just treatment of children.

 

Donald Trump– Man of Prayer?

Today’s media attention is again riveted on the bright, shiny object of the past few days—the James Comey interview and the tornadic reaction to it from Trump and friends.

However, it was another interview this weekend which caught my attention, the few minutes that Fox and Friends spent with the Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and evangelical extraordinaire.

Of course, the Fox hosts did not seem interested in anything particularly religious, except for Graham’s views on the president.

Graham rose to the occasion in an almost Hannity-like fashion with the observation, “this president understands the power of prayer.”

He also stated, “I appreciate that we have a president who understands prayer and solicits prayer.”  

His words had barely left his mouth when Twitter reactions began popping up.

Hollywood Director Judd Apatow tweeted, “I don’t care what your politics are — @FranklinGraham is either a fool or works for the devil. There is no way he believes Trump believes in God and the power of prayer. Nobody on Earth truly believes that.”

Christian voices also weighed in.

Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, Jr., a United Church of Christ pastor wrote, “Seems to me that @FranklinGraham sold his soul to @realDonaldTrump.

Thomas S. Kidd, who teaches history at Baylor University, added, “Because on Fox ‘evangelical’ Christianity means nominal Christianity employed for political ends.”**

Meanwhile, about the time Graham was opining on Trump’s religiosity, the Big Man Himself was undercutting that argument by throwing a Tweetstorm about Comey with the usual type of character assassination which we hope would stop.

However, at least two other comments Graham made gives never-Trump Christians food for thought.

First, he observed that we need to pray for Trump.

Second, he said, “Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, the fact is that Donald Trump is the president of the United States. And if he does well, makes good decisions, it benefits all of us as a nation, regardless of our background … We need him to succeed at home, and we need him to succeed abroad. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about succeeding for all Americans.”

I served at a conservative United Methodist church in rural Texas during Obama’s presidency.

While my prayers for Obama did not stir great controversy in the church, at least two people expressed their displeasure.

Likely, at some progressive Christians would say the same about prayers for Trump.

Christians who place party and politics over God to be at work in a person’s private or professional life need to reassess that position.

The thought of “Donald Trump—Man of Prayer” strikes me as ludicrous given his apparently unrepentant lifestyle.

However, we all can pray for him to become one.

** My favorite comment was from former “New York Times” opinion columnist Clyde Haberman who tweeted, “Donald Trump is to piety what Stormy Daniels is to chastity.”

 

 

 

Take It Back, God, Take It Back!

Wayne La Pierre, of NRA fame, and our sitting president are among those claiming that God bestows upon all people the right to own firearms. Even the simplest of web searches will reveal scores of Christians making the same argument.

Of course, it is relatively easy to make absurd claims and claim Biblical support. Indeed, over the years many have claimed that the Bible authorizes misogyny, mass slaughter, genocide, polygamy, slavery, public stoning for certain offenses (Kids, careful what you say to your parents!) and any number of other noxious acts.

Let us not stretch the absurdity to include biblical authorization of firearms. It is not there.

It is likely, however, that people such as Mr. La Pierre have an ulterior motive for their claim—that there is a “divine” law that will override any attempt to regulate the purchase or possession of certain weapons. After all goes the reasoning, if God is for it then who can be against it?

Nonetheless, the present right for Americans to possess firearms is controlled not by the Bible, but by the Supreme Court decision in Washington, D.C. vs. Heller, a 2008 case.

The 5-4 majority in that case created constitutional right under the Second Amendment for citizens to own firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense and hunting.

The opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, also noted that the “right” is not unlimited and that it is not a right for a person to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for any purpose whatsoever.

In other words, he noted that this “right” can be regulated.

That is the fight we are having—whether additional regulations should be adopted to restrict the sale or possession of certain weapons.

Let’s not drag God into the American carnage that is related to firearms.

I suspect that God is appalled enough already.

 

America’s Sacrificial Lambs: Our Children

Child sacrifices are one of the more gruesome practices of humankind. Genesis 22 describes a chilling scene of one that almost happened.

God tells Abraham to sacrifice his young son, Isaac. Abraham dutifully begins to obey, no questions asked and no emotion shown.

Instead, he soon packs what is needed for the task and leaves for Mt. Moriah with Isaac and two servants. It was there that Isaac would die.

When they arrive, Abraham tells the servants to wait while he and his son find a place to “worship.” He and Isaac then leave for a short hike to find God’s preferred site. Ironically, Abraham gives Isaac the wood to carry while he takes the knife and “fire.”

When they arrive at the appointed site, Abraham builds an altar, puts wood on it, binds Isaac and places him the wood. He then lifts his knife to kill him, to sacrifice his son on altar to God.

There is no indication what Isaac and Abraham were thinking and feeling as the events unfolded. Instead, it played out rather matter-of-factly—like another day, another sacrifice to make. Ho-hum.

So it seems to go in our country. Another day, another sacrifice to make. Or like yesterday, seventeen sacrifices.

Child sacrifice was common in ancient cultures. Today, we think of it as a primitive, barbaric act, something too horrific to imagine.

Unfortunately, we routinely do it as a culture. We are the primitives. We are the barbarians. We are the ones who sacrifice our children. We are the ones with blood on our hands.

We sacrifice them on altars made not of wood but of political power and zealotry. Our gods are the NRA and a particular interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

God stayed the hand of Abraham that day, but our country does not seem to have the ability to take any meaningful steps to stay the hands of mass murderers, even in our public schools.

Admittedly, there are laws against murder and there are some restrictions on the sale of firearms.

But, there have been twenty-five fatal school shootings since Columbine. There have been over 150 mass shootings (defined as shootings where four or more have been killed by a lone shooter) since Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas Tower on August 1, 1966 to gun down twenty-five people.

In the last twenty-four hours, the governor of Florida, attorney general of the United States and president of the United States have made statements deploring the act and vowing to end school shootings.

But, the fact is that our governments have done . . . nothing.

And, our body politic has done . . . nothing.

And, more die.

Christians believe that sin is endemic to human beings. Our task as our culture is to seek ways to curb this particular manifestation of sin.

Unfortunately, that requires a national effort and a political effort that includes both political courage and citizen revolt against these murders. To date, all these elements have been missing.

If you are one who cares, then by all means pray for the victims, witnesses and their families. Pray for the law enforcement officers and other first responders who had to see and wade through the carnage. Pray for doctors, nurses and health care personnel who cared for those who were brought in for treatment. Pray for the shooter and his family.

Then, phone, write or email your legislators at all levels of government. Give money to candidates who will change the status quo. Write letters to the editor. Rage on social media. Do anything you can to reduce the carnage.

 

 

What Would Jesus Tweet?

One of the more disappointing aspects of the fealty white evangelical leaders pay to Donald Trump is not so much that it reveals their potent lust for political power (He talks to us! He does our bidding!). Power’s siren song has lured many irrespective of religious beliefs.

Nor is it their unfortunate over-identification with conservative political policies. They unabashedly remain true to this Caesar not only on matters like abortion and judicial appointments, but also military funding; making and threatening war; harassing immigrants, Muslims and DREAMERS; repealing Obamacare; opening the treasure trove of deep tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy; and on and on.

Like the lust for political power, however, belief in the ultimate truth of personal policy preferences is a common human failing.

No, instead of such things as these, the most regrettable moral failure of these church men is their steadfast refusal to condemn or even mildly criticize Trump’s notable and numerous personal excesses or, as we mainliners might say, and evangelicals used to say, sin.

We can even dismiss the whole sex thing from this analysis, including the infamous ‘grab their pussy’ video; the twenty or so women who have accused him of varying degrees of sexual assault; and, the supposed ‘hush money’ settlement with Stormy Daniels. After all, the video is only thing known to be true. As a result, many conservatives, including these leaders, refuse to consider their veracity.

But what in Jesus’ name would our Lord make of Trump’s ever-lasting pursuit of money; continual attacks on other people; new-found pastime of toying with people’s lives (immigrants, legal or illegal, Muslims, refugees, DREAMERS, etc.); naked bullying of those having less power than him; and, continual dog whistles to racism and white supremacy?

There is no need to beat a drum about the golden rule, drone on about the most important commandment, tell of Jesus’ example of love and sacrifice or cite chapter and verse of the Bible to condemn such conduct.

It simply is clear that a Jesus ethic condemns lusting for money, disparaging others, beating them down, or encouraging racial, ethnic and other types of divisions.

After all, it is doubtful that Jesus would do things like mock a person’s disability (he healed them!); tweet about a woman’s weight or urge watching her sex tape; or, accuse an judge of racial basis because he is a “Mexican.”

Yes, I know. It is hard to see in another person’s heart. However, this president gives the world an up close, 20/20 view into his heart—and it is ugly.

Similarly, some would say that he can confess any sin and all sins. That also is true, but at some point confession needs to include at least a feigned attempt to alter one’s conduct. Trump rarely even apologizes.

It is unfortunate that the failure of leaders like (Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell, Jr.) has ramifications beyond being a mere personal failure.

Indeed, they have not only reaped a whirlwind but a hurricane, tornado and tsunami as well.

They have abandoned the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the Christian ethic.

They have ignored a ripe opportunity to proclaim any type of moral standard for the nation. Trump has everyone’s attention. Calling him out would be a highly publicized event.

Their failure combines with myriad other forces to make it more likely that the United States will continue its slow slide toward abandoning any widely accepted ethic of appropriate personal conduct.

This, in turn, will ensure that the types of excesses Trump so amply displays will be adopted by others and metastasize across American society.

 

 

The Grand Sweep, Version 4

My two small churches and I continue a one-year reading plan through the Bible as  described in “The Grand Sweep” by Ellsworth Kalas.

If you are planning a sermon series, I can report that the early reaction to this project is  encouraging. About 2/3 of the people in these churches have chosen to participate, and they seem to be more involved and emotionally connected to worship and faith than in the past. It is wonderful to see.

Admittedly, we’re in the part of the Bible that contains the foundational people and events of our faith and thatalso abounds with rich and meaningful preaching material, so I don’t know what will happen when we hit Leviticus (in two weeks!) or get challenged by the prophets, but people seem to want to be told the story of the Bible. They do not seem to know it. At least in United Methodism, this is because we haven’t been teaching it, at least on a widespread basis.

I’ve also changed my preaching style in these first few weeks from narrative to teaching. My efforts have not equaled the possibilities of  the material, but it is a blessing to me both to read through the Bible and see our members’ reaction to it.

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“God Making a People,” Genesis 32:26-30; 38:24-36a; 45:7-8a; Matthew 1:1-3a; Romans 8:28

If you have a Bible, please join me in opening it to Genesis 45:3-8.

These verses strike me as best summarizing not only the chapters we read this week but also the Biblical story line of God’s continuing work among humankind.

I didn’t do a good job of describing God’s work last week, though, and want to step back and make another run at it before getting into this week’s readings.

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Starting with Genesis 12 and the call of Abram, God was doing something new and exciting!

God was beginning to create and shape a people, God’s people.

It is that work that is described throughout the Bible and it is that work that continues today with people like you and me.

We tend to read Genesis, Exodus and much of the Bible through a filter of knowing how the Jewish and Christian religions evolved, including the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

That filter clouds our understanding and makes these older events and people seem relatively unimportant.

We know the rest of the story, so the earlier parts don’t matter so much.

Except that they do.

We need to understand what God was doing then in order to understand what God is doing now and, along with that, what God is trying to do in us, you and me.

Thousands of years ago, when God called Abram, humankind was in bad shape.

We couldn’t seem to get it right.

Sin and evil abounded, along with their component parts of things like pride, greed, selfishness and violence.

They abounded so much that God flooded the earth and left only one surviving family and, later, they again abounded so much that God scattered humankind across the earth.

It was then, after the Tower of Babel fell, that God decided to reverse the spiral of death and destruction caused by the sin and evil that gripped humankind.

It was then that God decided to create and shape a people who would be a different people from those which had come before them.

God decided to create and shape a people, God’s people, who would bless the world.

However, God had to work through people to do that.

The first person he tried to work through, or at least the first person to say ‘yes,’ was Abram.

Back when God called Abram, there was not an ethnic group called Hebrews or a country called Israel or a Jewish or Christian religion or an Old or New Testament, or any testament at all.

God would get around to those things, but they would come later.

In the stories we’ve read the past two weeks in Genesis 12-45, God was in the earliest stages of God’s great project with humankind.

He began with a man who was part of an Aramean family.

The Aramean people, and Abram and his family, were native to an area in the Middle East located is in present day Iraq.

At some point in time, though, Abram’s father pulled up stakes and moved northeast to an area around the present-day border of Syria and Turkey. That area is referred in Genesis as Haran.

It was when Abram was living with his family in Haran that God called him to go to a land which God would give to him. At the same time, God promised that Abram would become a great nation and that his name would be great and that he would be blessed to be a blessing.

Abram went.

He took with him his wife, Sarah. They had one son, Isaac.

Laster, Isaac returned to the family homeland of Haran to marry Rebekah. Rebekah and Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob.

In those days, God was growing a family– and increasing God’s people.

More was to come.

After Abram and Isaac, Jacob was the one God chose over Esau to be our ancestor in the faith, the one who would inherit the promises God had given to his father and grandfather.

Just like his father, Jacob returned to the family homeland of Haran to marry. He married Leah and Rachel and had 12 sons and one daughter born to him.

It is this line of Arameans, beginning with AbraSpeciallm, whom God chose to be what we might call the “First Family of Faith,” or at least, our first family in the faith, our spiritual heirs.

They were the first in a long family line, that includes (I think, although many would disagree) all Christians and all Jews.

Now, imagine that Abraham’s family had one of those big family reunions back then—his and Sarah’s child, grandchildren and great grandchildren. That reunion would have around 70 people attending.

A big reunion, to be sure, but God’s work was not done.

God was not just creating and making a family but creating and making a people as numerous as the stars.

What we will see next week is that God was busily at work in the two or three centuries that passed between the time of the events described in these final chapters of Genesis and those described in Exodus.

Specifically, God was busy multiplying and shaping God’s people.

By the time of Moses, Abraham’s family of seventy had grown to number hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people.

It was those hundreds of thousands, or even millions, who were slaves in Egypt who came to be called Hebrews, sojourn to the Promised Land and begin the religion we know as Judaism.

And, the Good News is that God is still calling, creating and shaping his people right through today, right through us, even us, in our little church.

God was doing something new then and is doing something new today!

God’s great work of creating and shaping a people is the story of the Bible and continues today!

Hallelujah!

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Let’s return to Genesis 45 and get an idea about the scene that was unfolding that day.

I imagine that it takes place in a huge room, a room bigger than this church. The room is decorated with Egyptian works of art, shoulder-high vases, busts of past pharaohs and gilded ornamentation around the ceiling. It is an impressive and imposing area.

I picture Joseph, son of Jacob, seated in the rear of the room, high and mighty on a throne.

Joseph had risen to be second in command of Egypt, accountable only to the Pharaoh.

He was wearing his best second-in-command, Big Shot attire: crown on his head, staff in his right hand, gold band around his forehead, wearing a pure white robe with his finest leather sandals.

His attendants were arrayed around him and dressed like him—but a little less so. No crown, but white robes, leather sandals, and spears not staffs in their right hands.

They were standing at attention in front of the boss.

It was an important moment.

A bunch of men from Canaan were groveling on the floor before Joseph.

They did not know it, but they were the brothers of that powerful man on the throne.

They were the ones who thought about killing him years earlier but, instead, sold him into slavery.

Their clothes were dirty and torn. They were bowing their heads in submission. They were afraid for their lives. They had just been arrested and hauled before this man for stealing a silver goblet.

And, they were foreigners. They were dispensable. The man on the throne could punish them and even kill them for what they did.

Let’s listen to what happened in Genesis 45:3-8:

“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Let’s emphasize these words, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God . . .”

The main theme of the Bible and of Genesis was playing out in that courtroom drama—God was working in the world to bless and make a people—His people.

Mind you, it had not been easy, because God had been trying to work through human beings.

Human beings in all their glory and goodness, to be sure, but also with all their sins, mistakes, misunderstandings, pettiness, rivalries, hard-heartedness, and family dysfunction, etc.

But, hallelujah! God was at work! God was at work!

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Let’s take a step back and remember what led up to Joseph proclaiming God’s work.

We began at chapter 28, with the father of Joseph and his brothers, a man named Jacob.

In that chapter, we read that Jacob’s father, Isaac, had blessed him, and that Jacob had then hightailed it out of there. It was “feet don’t feel me now” moment.

He was running area from his home, his land, out of fear of his brother, Esau. He had cheated Esau out of his rightful birthright and blessing.

That was a big deal, because an older brother is those days was destined to get the lion’s share of his father’s estate. And, their daddy Isaac was a rich man.

But, those became Jacob’s . . . and Jacob was not letting the sun set that night with him anywhere near Esau. Instead, he hightailed it north to the family’s ancestral lands in Haran.

Of course, we know that Jacob was a greedy and grabby man, one we would charitably call a cheat. He had snookered his father and hurt his brother, all for his own gain.

The greedy sonuvagun stopped for the night, and you know what happened?

He had a dream and God came.

And, that night, God promised the sun, moon and stars to Jacob. We read about it in Genesis 28:13-15:

“And the Lord stood beside him 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; and 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 all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’”

If you remember having heard something like those words before, it is because you have.

God gave Jacob the promises that God first gave to Abraham and then to Isaac. Jacob, greedy, grabby cheat that he was, was now in the line of succession.

You have heard of God the Potter?

In Jacob, God had chosen a misshapen blob of clay. To further show you what a greedy, selfish, self-centered man Jacob was, he basically told God at the end of Chapter 28, after having received this lavish blessing, “Okay. If you give me all this, and keep up your end of the bargain, I will let you be my God.”

What a guy.

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However, God does God’s work over time, and God shapes people over time. So, as the years passed, Jacob changed. He became a better man, in some ways a new man, because God worked in him.

As the sun rose the morning after Jacob received God’s blessing, he resumed his journey. Remember that he was going back to the family lands, looking for his Uncle Laban.

He found Laban and the funniest thing happened. We call it “just desserts.”

Laban cheated Jacob. We won’t go into all the ways but let me tell you the first way.

Jacob got to Laban’s house, saw his daughter Rachel and fell head over heels in love with her.

This was at a time when there was not romantic marriage. People married out of convenience or arrangement. But, Jacob was in love.

Laban said, “Okay. You can marry her . . . but only if you work for me 7 years.”

Jacob said, “I’ll do it.”

I think this is evidence that Jacob’s consciousness was beginning to extend past himself. It now reached to Rachel and included her. After all, 7 years out of a life is no small thing.

Seven years passed. On the day of the wedding, there was a big blowout party. Everybody was invited. I can’t explain what happened to Jacob that, but maybe he got blottoed drunk.

Anyway, the happy newlyweds disappeared into a tent and consummated the marriage.

Let’s read Genesis 29:25 to see what happened the next morning, “When morning came, it was Leah!”

Laban had substituted his daughter Leah for Rachel!

Jacob, of course, was not happy.

He demanded of Laban, “What have you done to me? Why have you cheated me?”

Laban sweetly replied that Leah was the older daughter and had to marry before Rachel.

He then said, “Work for me another 7 years and you can have Rachel.”

Jacob agreed. Again, he gave some of his years for love, and he worked another 7 years for Rachel.

Then, over a course of years, the sons of Jacob were born, 12 of them. With a couple of substitutions that came later, these 12 were going to become the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Four different women gave birth to those 12—Leah, Leah’s maid (Zilpah), Rachel and Rachel’s maid (Bilhah).

Meanwhile, Jacob became wealthy in what ended up being decades working for Laban—after he had started with nothing. He was shrewd in business and came to be shrewd in dealing with Laban.

Over time, Jacob matured and grew.

That is shown more fully when God called Jacob to return to his homeland, the promised land.

Jacob got buy-off from Rachel and Leah to go back home. That was not the old Jacob.

Soon, they headed back to the Promised Land, Jacob and his wives, concubines and sons; camels and sheep; tents and candlesticks; and, everything else.

That was not an easy thing to do for Jacob, because he was heading to a reunion big brother Esau.

The last we heard, and the last Jacob heard, Esau was raging mad at Jacob to the point of murder.

But, you see, Jacob was following God’s will. It was God’s call to return to his homeland. Jacob no longer considered God as an object beholden to him. Instead, he finally recognized God as God and put his destiny in God’s hands.

However, as he neared his homeland and Esau, Jacob more and more quiet and more and more afraid.

The night before they were to meet, Jacob made sure everyone and everything went across the Jabbok River, while he stayed on other side.

Jacob may have thought that he was going to spend the night alone.

He was wrong. You can read what happens in Genesis 32:23-33. In brief, though, Jacob wrestled with a mysterious being until dawn. All night.

Jacob even got wounded in the battle. His opponent dislocated his hip socket, something that caused him to limp the rest of his life.

Here is the central verse, Genesis 32:28-30:

“Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, 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 place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’”

Jacob had changed. He had struggled with God and people and found himself in the process.

At least, I think that his what it means for him to “have prevailed.”

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But, to go just a bit deeper, we prevail when we surrender ourselves to the Lord.

That is when a Christian finds out who they are.

That is when they become one of God’s people . . . when they are surrendered to God, when they are in obedient relationship to the One who makes, calls and shapes them, when they have matured as Jacob did.

In his struggle that night, and likely before, I also think Jacob struggled with the same things we struggle with, the things we have to come to terms with, as we age and mature in our lives.

Things like faith, doubt, sin, fear, passion, prejudice and regret, but also dreams and hopes and desires.

As with Jacob, the good news is that we are not only struggling with God, but that God is with us and helping us in the struggle.

Just as God worked on Jacob over time, so God is with us, working away, shaping us into one of God’s people or, we might say, part of the body of Christ.

That is what most struck me as I finished reading these chapters and thought about what they taught me about God and those people and myself.

God was at work, maybe hidden, but God was at work.

God is still at work, creating and shaping a people and creating and shaping us.

I want to close with some verses that came to mind as I pondered God’s great work across time, beginning with this Aramean family and continuing across the centuries to us, you and me and our brothers and sisters in faith across the world. They are from Psalm 103:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy . . .
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Amen.

Bless the Lord.