Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Safe Place for Jacob

by Dr Tan Soo Inn

If you have committed some horrendous sin, adultery let's say, where will you go to get the help you need? (I am assuming you understand that sin is wrong and that it will destroy you and others if not dealt with.) Well I do not know who you will go to but I know that the first person you will talk to when the guilt gets too overwhelming will probably not be someone from your church, especially if you come from an evangelical church.
Studies have shown that when Christians fall into a serious sin or are caught in some complex failure, the first person that they are most likely to talk to is a non-Christian colleague at work.

I suspect you are not surprised.
Becky Pippert reminded us at the recent Lausanne Young Leaders Gathering that in so many of our churches, "it is a sin to admit we are sinners." Pippert noted that often she would find that in secular accountability groups, people were honest about their failures and sins but bereft of the solutions that only the gospel can bring, while in many Christian bible studies no one acknowledged any real problems and failures.
The gospel is indeed the only solution to our sins, Christian, or non-Christian but as every doctor knows, and as Pippert says:" To get the miracle, we must face the mess.
We can't benefit from the cure unless we understand the need."

If this is true, and I know it is, then many of our churches are failing our people. Our churches are not the confessional communities where people are given the time, space and encouragement to own the sin and brokenness in their lives as the first step towards healing and restoration. We create and sustain the illusion that if you are walking with God you can never fall. This does not help people to be holy. It only encourages them to be experts at hiding their sins and rationalizing away their failures.

I have always been struck by Jacob's wrestling match with God in Genesis 32:22-32.

"That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.'
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'
The man asked him, ‘What is your name?'
‘Jacob,' he answered.
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome.'

Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.'
But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.'
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon."

I have always wondered why God asked Jacob for his name.
Surely God wasn't having a senior moment when He suddenly forgot Jacob's name.
I believe He asked Jacob for his name so that Jacob would have the opportunity to embrace his name and his character.
(Jacob means deceiver.)

For Jacob to say that his name was Jacob was to admit that he was deceiver by name, deceiver by character.
It was to admit that all his life he had survived by his wits. He hadn't needed anyone's blessing. Mama's boy was the consummate con man though he had had a taste of his own medicine from time to time too.

But now in the dark, about to lose everything to a vengeful brother in the morning or so he thought, limping from a dislocated leg, he had hung on for dear life to the mysterious wrestler whose identity he was beginning to suspect.
And now asked for his name he had to come to terms with his true identity.
He was a deceiver.

But after his admission something miraculous happens. When Jacob faces his mess, he finds his miracle.
He receives divine blessing.
And he is transformed into a new man.

He is given a new name, Israel, in itself a miraculous name meaning possibly "he who strives with God" or "God will strive on his behalf" and we know it is both.
God had sustained Jacob and allowed him to go to the far country until all is stripped away and he realizes that all is life he had been struggling against God.

And God loved Jacob so much that He ripped his leg out of its socket in one last desperate move for Jacob to realize his need for Him.
The light finally dawned for Jacob and for the first time he truly understands who he really is and his inability to solve the problem that was his life.
And at that point God was finally able to save him.

From now on Israel knew that God strove on his behalf.
And so Mr Cheat became the father of God's people. The night was over and the sun rose for Jacob/Israel.

God wants so much to bless us. He wants to forgive us. He wants to transform us. He wants to use us.
But first we have to face the mess that is our lives.

We probably understood that when we first came to the Lord.
What we probably may not know or easily forget is that we need to do this everyday of our lives in some form, till we see Christ face to face.

Which is why our churches must be safe places for people to say "My name is Jacob." They must be places where people are allowed to wrestle with God.
They must be places where people are reminded that God is a holy and awesome God who sometimes break our legs and lets our lives fall apart for our own good.

Instead so many of our churches have become feel good places, places where people think they can be Israels before they first understand that they are Jacobs.
They are places where God is domesticated and everyone pretends that they are already free of sin at least serious sin.
God help us.

May our churches be places where people understand the true nature of God. And in understanding the true nature of God they understand the evil still in their lives.
Therefore may our churches also be places of safety and honesty where people are not penalized for admitting and confessing their real moral failures.
Only then can all of us find the grace we need to live our lives.

We are all Jacobs. We cannot save ourselves. Or each other.
With no defense we can only cling on to the grace of a Holy God.
And there we find our miracle.
We find true forgiveness and transformation.

We also find out the name of God.
It is Jesus, God saves.



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