Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Disturbing patterns and aggressive grace; A religious experience in the pew

One of the best things of being in the states this year is getting to go to our home church, York Alliance.  We started out at YAC in 2000 with Steve on staff in youth ministry and it since has become home.  Just the other week I had a religious experience in the pew during the sermon.  Our good friend and pastor, Brian Kannel, is preaching on a series called, "The God of Promise", a study of Genesis 12-35.  He was preaching specifically on Gen 31:1-32:21, I won't recap the whole sermon here but just highlight the part that hit me with a bona fide religious experience.  Jacob was fleeing Laban and God told him to return to the land of his fathers and God promised to be with him.  Jacob was fleeing one bad situation to find himself in the midst of another.  The schemer was being schemed and forced to return to the place of his birth, a place he fled years before after swindling his brother, Esau, out of his birth right.

Brian points out a disturbing pattern had developed in Jacob's life.  In Genesis 32:9 Jacob finally prays to God asking for help.  However in that prayer he doesn't ask God for direction but instead goes about the crisis in his own way, acting out in fear. This disturbing pattern in Jacob's life is evident each time he gets himself into a bind.  This time he does cry out in prayer which is good but closes the prayer without asking for guidance.  Jacob recognizes the depth of guilt in his sin, he has lied and swindled and cheated many times.  That guilt had led him into fear.  And he has a legitimate reason, sin has covered him throughout his life.  His name actually means, "deceiver" and he lives up well to his name.  We are often so like Jacob when we have a crisis, we seek God and then try to work our own way out without seeking and following God's direction.

Isaiah 6:1-5 tells how Isaiah has seen the King and he has come undone.  In verse 5 he cries out, "Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."  He feels the weight of his sin.  Brian pointed out that unless we can feel the depth of our sin we can never grasp the wonder in the forgiveness of that vile sin that covers us so completely.  God touches Isaiah's lips with burning coals and takes the sin away, not only the sin but the guilt of the sin also!  The joyous results Brian tells us are found in 1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

The freedom of Christ is knowing He has made us right.  Our guilt is taken away and we don't have to forever cower and react in fear because sin and guilt of sin is removed...gone!!  1 John 4:17-18 says that God's love is perfected in us.  We can have confidence coming before God, true worship!  We are able to fully love God and one another!  Verse 18, "There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

I sat there in the pew asking myself what disturbing patterns are in my life?  Fear is a major issue in my life, has been for as long as I can remember.  I am afraid of so many things.  I can become easily over-whelmed and retreat and disengage.  I sometimes run from responsibility.  And at times I take to my bed, burying my head beneath the sheets which tragically transforms into a giant white flag of surrender.  Oh the cowardice!  It's really quite embarrassing.  I hate to write it out loud.

When I live my life acting guilty and running and not living the truth that God through Christ has taken my sin and the guilt of my sin away, I allow the weight to flatten me.  The enemy never tires of condemning.  Freedom, from sin and the guilt and fear that follows so closely, is what I want to embody.  The three headed monster of sin, guilt and fear is ever after me.  I can feel it breathing down my neck.  I must hold on tight with every fiber of my being to the freedom that Christ's sacrifice has brought me.  Satan twists Christ's sacrifice into something cheap and meaningless!  God forgive me for believing the lies and sometimes living a craven life filled with doubt, retreat, mistrust and taking to the bed and burying my head beneath the covers!  May I live in light of God's truth and may I not cheapen Christ's sacrifice by thinking I can do anything to separate His profound love for me even while I still sin. 

This past week Brian continued with Genesis 32 and 33.  This passage of scripture contains the infamous wrestling match between God and Jacob.  Brian talked about the aggressive grace of God.  I love the juxtaposition of the words aggressive and grace.  One way Merriam-Webster defines aggressive is, "marked by combative readiness... by driving forceful energy or initiative."  Whoa, to think that the God of the universe is so intentional as He pursues Jacob the deceiver.  I looked up the definition of grace and didn't like the lack of vibrancy and depth of Merriam-Webster.  Grace is sweet and unmerited and a gift so remarkable it defies concrete explanation.  So God became a forceful, combative initiative that night wrestling with Jacob till dawn.  God's aggressive grace accomplished transformation in Jacob's life. 

Brian points out that God wasn't at full strength.  He matched Jacob's strength, met him where he was.  God touches Jacob's hip and wrenches it so completely that Jacob walked with a limp all the remaining days of his life.  Yet Jacob refused to let go until God blessed him.  God asks one question, "what is your name?"  Jacob simply answers, "Jacob - deceiver."  Jacob is honest with God about who he truly is.  God then changes his name to Israel.  This marks a transformation in Jacob's life.  He has a new name.  There is power in a new name.  However just hours later Israel behaves again as if he were Jacob.  He deceives and schemes and goes half way in obeying God.

Half way obedience is another disturbing pattern in my life.  And who are we kidding?  Half way obedience is disobedience.  Brian points out we so easily begin to obey we take steps and start but soon stall out.  Years can go by, decades of starts and stalls.  Consequences come due to Jacob's half-way obedience, horrific consequences.  Jacob was told by God where to go and settle.  He went and settled just shy from the destination God called him to.  Just a day's journey from full obedience.  I think we get distracted or believe it's too hard or just lose direction and we stop just short of full obedience.  We hold out for the sake of pride or indifference.  We suffer consequences.  We make it harder than it ever need be.  I know this because it is my story.  The smallest setbacks in my life are made into huge obstacles.  I sit and stew and stall.  And it's not even uncommon, it's ordinary.  And that is the crux of the matter, being ordinary.  Living an existence of mediocrity.  Oh God save me from myself!  

I have wrestled more writing this post than any other.  I don't want to reveal too much, to over share.  I like being liked.  Yet I have to be honest before God and man.  I need His help, His aggressive grace to stomp out the disturbing patterns in my life.  I'm not going to retreat when it gets tough.  I'm not going to allow my overactive imagination to reign terror and defeat.  I must dig deep into this life less comfortable.  No retreat.  No surrender.  Will you do the same?  Of course all this after I take a nap.... Just kidding!  I hope.       


Anonymous said...

You are certainly not alone in these things! I know from personal life experience (and it is a fairly long life!) that halfway disobedience is particularly deadly. How often we deceive ourselves, never believing, but acting like God doesn't already know our hearts!
Thank you for having the courage to share so that others might be encouraged.

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you for sharing so openly. As I too, have such a hard time with this. Funny, this is the second written reminder today of God's complete grace. I could go on and on. Love ya.