Wow! It was a really good day at church today. We heard the chaplain from an active duty naval ship speak on the text from Genesis in which Jacob wrestled with God and survived, receiving a name change (Israel) to reflect the fact that he had been humbled and was now ready to be used by God to continue the promise of blessing given to Abraham to bless all nations of the earth (Jesus) (Genesis 32).
We also heard a powerful testimony in Sunday School from a man who has been rescued from substance abuse and financial destruction simply through God’s outpouring of love and discipline in his life, similar to the story Jesus told of the prodigal son (Luke 15).
Both of these stories tied in well with a topic that has been on my mind the last few weeks. In both cases, the stories depict people who, through the decisions they’ve made over the course of their lives, have been at odds with God, seeking to steer the course of their own lives. The navy chaplain used a pen as an illustration of this. We often try to “write our own story”, only giving token acknowledgement to God and even refusing to let Him have control of a part, or parts, of our life. The chaplain challenged us to hand the pen to God and let Him write our story from here on out. This is a beautiful picture that all of us should take to heart.
However, another friend of mine has correctly pointed out that it’s one thing to give the pen to God… and another thing still to actually take our hand off of it and truly let God take control. This is a struggle that is real for any human being seeking to live the life that God intends us to. We need to be honest about what it means to “keep hold of the pen”. John Piper has a sermon titled Christ’s Power is Made Perfect in Weakness, based on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 in which Paul talks about his supplication to God to remove the “thorn in the flesh” that troubles Paul, and God responds by saying “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Piper points out that the weakness Paul is experiencing is NOT sin, but rather various forms of persecution and trials. We must be careful not to claim that God’s power is magnified through our sin. The truth is that our sin must be acknowledged and repented of and THEN God’s power will be revealed through His grace in our lives and manifested in miraculous ways.
Jacob had to acknowledge the fact that he had continually resisted God and tried to steer the course of his own life through deception and thievery. Hence God’s question to him… “Tell me your name”. Jacob’s name literally means “deceiver” and he had to own up to that fact and repent of his choices.
Likewise, the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable had to come to point of acknowledgement that he had sinned against his father. The man in our Sunday School had to acknowledge his own deceptiveness and reliance on substance for satisfaction before he could experience the miraculous forgiveness and healing that only God can provide.
This is the crux of all our sin, no matter what it is. Ultimately, our choice to rebel is the same one that Adam and Eve made originally – to choose our own desires and take action on them in spite of God’s clear commands. We make ourselves the god of our own life by holding on to that pen and writing our own story. We must let go and say “yes” to God and let Him direct the paths of our life story.
Throughout scripture, God continually invites His people to look back at the things He has done and be stirred to repentance for forgetting Him and rebelling. He reminds them of His acts of deliverance. He also reminds them of their acts of rebellion. It is important for us to maintain a perspective that similarly looks back at our own life blessings and rebellions in order to properly look forward to following God’s direction and control.
These last few weeks, as I’ve had time, I’ve been scanning old documents and pictures as part of our downsizing efforts and it’s served to remind me of the blessings God has given me. This in turn has reminded me also of the many choices I’ve made, both good and bad, that have framed my life story and served to encourage me to continue to rely on Him going forward. Here are a few things I’ve revisited lately:
- I am grateful for the wife God has blessed me with. Proverbs 5:18-19 says “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” God prepared her for me (and me for her) from the outset.
- I am grateful for her family for the daughter and household they produced. Her family reminds me of Joshua’s family in the Old Testament. As Joshua neared the end of his life as Moses’ successor and leader of the Israelites, he challenged them with these words (Joshua 24:14-15) – “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Darlene’s family have been faithful servants of God.
- I am grateful for my parents and siblings (but I haven’t scanned many of those pictures yet). One of God’s commandments is to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). I remember my Dad telling me once, “Son, I am grateful that you have never been a rebellious son”. This was on the occasion of having done something that hurt him very deeply and had caused some tension between us, but we were mending things and re-affirming our love for each other. It meant a lot to me.
- I’m grateful for my children. Psalm 127:3-5 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” I look back at my children (and at them presently today) and I am immensely proud of the young men they have become.
All of this is to say that as we move forward with our plan to downsize and live/travel full-time in our motorhome, we are determined to let God lead us in the direction(s) we should go. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. That’s a commitment that you don’t just make once. It has to be a daily/continual choice.