From cheater to champion

Genesis 32:27-28 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 men and have overcome.”

dv1644052As we have learned over the past several weeks, Jacob was kind of a scoundrel. He lied, stole, and cheated… yet he got really mad when someone cheated him.  Through it all, however, Jacob started growing up.  He turned to the Lord and asked for favor.  He worked hard and tried to honor God.  Today, Jacob finds himself on a journey to meet up with his older brother who he had not seen since he stole his birthright.  He is kind of hanging around at the back of the pack when he finds himself alone.

Then it happens.  A mysterious man (God) shows up and wrestles with him.  Jacob is tenacious and wrestles all night long with this guy.  Somehow he realizes that this is no ordinary man, but one sent from heaven.  So he is determined to not let go without receiving a blessing.  Can you just see Jacob holding on for his life?  “I won’t let go of you, God! I am about to meet my angry brother. I need your favor and your blessing.”

What takes place next changes Jacob’s life forever.  This “man” asks him what his name is.  He responds with “Jacob.”  And at that moment, God changes his name to Israel.  That may not seem all that significant, but if you take the meaning of these names into account, it really is.

What’s your name?

Heel grabber.  Cheat, Liar, Thief.

That’s not who you are any more.  Your new name is God Prevails. 

God truly did prevail with this heel grabber.  He pursued him and loved him.  In Malachi 1:3, God says “Jacob have I loved.”  Did you catch that? Jacob have I loved.  Not Israel. Jacob.  He loved that heel grabber.  He loved that man who wrestled with men and overcame.  He loved that man who held on to his God all night in desperation.  And he loved him enough to change his future.  That future started with his identity.  He said, “You are no longer a heel grabber, son.  You are a man in whom I will prevail!”   Jacob the cheater became Israel the champion.

*What’s God saying about you?  Are you identifying yourself with the person you used to be? Cling onto Him and begin to discover what God says about you! 



You have got to be kidding

Acts 25:13-15 13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

april-1-foolThis is just ridiculous.  Is it April Fool’s day or something?  How is it that after two years of sitting in prison under Felix, the chief priests and elders still have a beef?  Seriously, they are still working up a conspiracy plan to kill Paul.  Two years of him sitting in jail.  Two years of the church growing like crazy.  Two years of the Holy Spirit at work.  Two years worth of leaders raised up.  Yet they are still gunning for Paul.  Move on, guys.  It’s time to get over it.

When I read this passage today my thought was: you have got to be kidding!  How is it that after all this time, these guys are still ticked off?  They killed Jesus and that didn’t help them, so what good will it do to keep a grudge against Paul?  It won’t help at all.  Hanging on to lame arguments and past hurts injures the person hanging on.  It kept their focus on taking care of Paul while the church of Jesus Christ spread like wildfire all around them.

We can read this story and wonder what their problem is.  We can point our fingers and mock their stupidity.  We wonder how it is that they just couldn’t let go of this one.  In fact, the text says that they were charging him with stuff they couldn’t prove.  I bet they couldn’t even remember why they were mad in the first place.  Yes, those morons just couldn’t get over it.  But what about us?  Are we hanging on to foolish things that are only hurting us?  Are we remaining stuck because our feelings got hurt two years ago?  Hanging on to the past hurts you.  You might be laughing at the chief priests and elders today, but if you are doing the same thing… the joke’s on you.

*Are you hanging on to stuff that is hurting you?  Stop looking back, forgive, and see what happens when you start looking forward.

I’ve walked in your shoes

Acts 22:4 I persecuted the followers of the Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison

shoesPaul was in some trouble. After sharing the gospel, a riot started and he was arrested.  It was quite the scene… pushing, shoving, yelling, and shouting.  Anger flowed freely from their lips as they shouted, “away with him!”  But rather than quietly accepting his chains, Paul asked to speak to the crowd.  Even though he had just been arrested, he was going to give it one more shot.  He would try once more to share the gospel with a lost and dying world.  As a man being persecuted, his opening statement begins with this: “I’ve walked in your shoes.  I used to persecute people, too.”

It’s something subtle that we forget about as Christians – identifying with those we are trying to reach.  You see, we all have a past.  We have all made mistakes.  And if we are growing, we are probably doing our best to put that past behind us.  We shouldn’t be looking over our shoulders, we should be looking ahead.  Paul said to focus our eyes on the prize set before us, to look upon the finish line rather than the starting blocks.  As we grow in the Lord and become “mature,” we hopefully stop doing some of the things we used to.  Maybe we stop swearing and drinking, judging and hating, cheating and lying.  And now in all of our maturity, we feel it is our duty to let the world know that those things offend us.  We hold them to our standard before we tell them about the Standard Bearer. 

Here’s a better place to start: I’ve walked in your shoes.  That’s what Paul did.  He told them that he’d been where they are.  When you do that, you tear down walls and open plugged ears. When people see that you are flawed and have struggled through their struggle, they are more likely to listen.  It’s not that you should start focusing or romanticizing your past sin.  No, instead use the stories of your past as a tool to bring people into an abundant future! Find common ground and identify with those you are trying to reach.  You might just find that you’ve walked in their shoes.  And if you’ll remember that, they might just someday walk in yours.

*Challenge: Think about someone you are trying to reach.  Can you find an area of life where you’ve walked in their shoes?  If so, ask God how you can bring hope to the very situation you have walked through yourself.

An elephant never forgets

Philippians 3:12-14 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

There’s an old saying, “an elephant never forgets.”  Some people use it on their kids to remind them that even an elephant would remember what happened or to grab his coat.  Sure elephants have great memory, but what in the world does an elephant have to remember?  Let’s see, did I eat today?  Did I give myself a bath?  The list is pretty short. If I could count on my hand the things I was supposed to remember, I would never forget either!

But we have lot’s of things we are supposed to remember.  It requires a calendar to keep it all straight.  Add kids into the mix and you are surely doomed when it comes to remembering all the things of life.  But it’s not so much the details that we remember for a long time, it’s the best times of our life and the worst times of our life.  Those are the things that really stick.  Very few people can remember riding their bike in June when they were six.  But many people remember riding it for the first time.  Even more people remember crashing.

Which is an odd phenomenon when it comes to memory.  It seems we tend to remember more of the bad stuff than the good stuff.  The wonderful things that our spouse does get lost, but the things that made us mad stick around a while.  Why is this?  Why do we remember our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our sin at a greater rate than we remember our victories?  It’s not right, I tell you!

Here in Philippians 3, Paul tells us that if we are going to run a successful race, we are going to need to let go of that past.  Paul certainly had a past – he was a murderer of Christians.  That certainly doesn’t go well on a preacher’s resume! But if he would have dwelled on that, it would have been impossible for him to move forward with an effective calling on his life.  Focusing on the past sins, mistakes, and hurts would have just kept him captive to guilt and condemnation.

That’s really what focusing on the past does – it keeps us captive. Our past failures hold us back and keep us from moving forward effectively in our walk with Christ.  The only solution is to move from the past into the present.  We’ve got to forget about it.  We can’t be like elephants when it comes to the memories.  If we insist on remembering, we won’t be able to walk free.  The solution?  Cast it all on the Lord. Do this today: take a few moments and ask God to show you what you have been holding on to.  Search your heart and find the past failures that are defining your present and your future.  Then let go of them once and for all.  If you need to repent, ask God for forgiveness.  Then ask Him to help you forget.  Ask Him to usher your mind into the present and what He wants to do in your life today.  He isn’t held back by your past and you shouldn’t be either.

Back to the Future

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

This has to be one of my favorite verses in the Bible.  It speaks of new beginnings, new adventures in Christ.  It is a picture of the old ways wasting away.  It is a description of the redemptive work of Jesus alive in us.  I don’t know about you, but I am glad that the old has gone.  I like the new that Jesus has brought.   I am a fan of His “new creation” work in me.

But even though we have been made new, we sometimes want to continue to live in the old – the past.  We choose to go back to those old wells, old sins, and old memories.  We live our life in the coulda, woulda, shoulda.  It makes me think about “Back to the Future.”   There had been mistakes made in the past and Marty wanted to go back and fix them.  What he found, however, was that altering the past had some detrimental effects.  The past needed to be left alone; the only way to change the course of life was to affect the present.  The only solution was to get back in that time machine and go back to the future.

Some of us need to get in our time machines and go back to the future. We need to stop living in the past and start living in the present.  We need to embrace the fact that when we are in Christ; the old has gone and the new has come.   We’ve got to let go of the old, whether it be relishing in our past glories or drowning in our past sins.  Let the old be the old.  Let it pass away.  Let it die.  Get into the life of Christ and discover again each day, the new creation work He is doing in you.