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Jack Graham - Learning to Lean


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    Jack Graham - Learning to Lean
TOPICS: Epic Adventures, Jacob

Turn in your Bibles to Genesis chapter 32. One of my fond childhood memories, getting in our car, ah, my dad and my brother and going to Little Rock, Arkansas, there to a coliseum to watch wrestling. And, as a little boy this was incredible exciting to do. There were wrestlers like Farmer Jones who's primary weapon was a mule kick. And, of course, there was Gorgeous George and he had long flowing blonde hair and he was the man! Long before there was Hulk Hogan and Kabuki and some of these guys, there was Gorgeous George.

Friends, this was when wrestling was real! Not that fake stuff that you see on television today, but real wrestling, or as we say here down south, rasslin'. So, of course, what happens when you get home is you try all these moves on your friends, or your dad. And some of my happiest memories were rasslin' with my dad, knowing that he could whip me at any time, but we kind of both enjoyed the fight, I think. It was a blast. Well, Jacob was a man who wrestled with God after twenty years of living apart from God, living life as really a deception, a deceiver. I need to catch you up on who Jacob is really, because we're told that Jacob was a twin.

The struggle in Jacob's life began in the womb of his mother Rebecca. His father Abraham, Isaac. His grandfather was Abraham, His father was Isaac, his mother was Rebecca. And he had a brother by the name of Esau, and the Bible says they struggled, a twin brother, they struggled in their mother's womb. This is where the conflict began. He spent all of his life in conflict. When they became young boys, then men, the conflict continued. And two twins could have not have been different. Esau who was red and hairy was a variable man's man. He was a hunter, an outdoorsman. But Jacob was turned differently. Well you might say he was a mama's boy because he got behind his mama's apron strings and even deceived his own father with mom's help. But it was all over this idea of the birthright or the blessing of the father, which was the power of the family, the provision of the family. It was the favor of God upon the family and every young Hebrew boy wanted his birthright.

Well, as the firstborn Esau was given the birthright. But one day Esau was out hunting and he came in and he was famished; he was so hungry. And Jacob had been cooking a stew. Esau smelled that food and he was so hungry he bargained with his brother. In fact, Jacob bargained with Esau. He said, "Okay you're so hungry. You can have some of my stew". But rather than giving it to him, ah Jacob cut a deal. He cut a deal and said, "If you will give me the birthright, I'll give you this stew". And Esau said yes, sacrificing as many people do even today, sacrificing the blessings of God for immediate gratification. Sacrificing their future and the blessings of God for immediate pleasure or satisfaction. People do that today. It's a bad bargain every single time.

Well, of course, this caused problems. In fact, this family put the fun in dysfunctional. It is a terribly difficult situation in this family. Later on, later on Jacob stole the blessing by deceiving his own blind and dying father. Esau had had enough by this point and said, "I will murder my brother. As soon as my father dies, and a time of grieving is over, Jacob, my brother is a dead man". And he meant it. And so Jacob did something that he spent the next twenty years of his life doing, and that was running. He was running like Forest Gump, but he was running from his past, he was running from his sin and the consequences of sin and selfishness, and ultimately he was running from God and the very thing that he wanted the most, the blessing of God. From time to time along the way in these two decades of being on the lam, he encountered God's living presence. He was a man who knew God, he certainly knew of God. He wanted God's blessing in his life, and from time to time he would renew his faith and his vows to God.

For example, he saw angels ascending in a dream, up and down a ladder. Jacob's ladder, you've heard of that, right? And there he gave his life to follow the Lord, but he continued in his lying ways, his conniving cheating ways. In fact, his very name Jacob means the cheat. One catching a heel, because when he came out of his mother's womb he was taking hold of the heel of his older brother and he spent the rest of his life, really just grabbing and cheating and conniving and manipulating! He had messed his life up totally trying to live his own way. And so God spoke to him and said, "Jacob, it's time for you to go home". Well, Jacob had no place else to go. He's been away all these years. And he knew at this point of his life needed to obey God. And yet he was not trusting in God. He was just going home, and to face the music and to face his family and his brother Esau. On his way he encounters an angel band.

In fact, in chapter 32 and verse 1: "Jacob went his way, and the angels of God met him. And here he's assured of God's angelic presence; of God's own presence". Now we know that angels exist. They are ministering spirits, not controlled by man but spirits made by God and controlled by God. And literally there was an encampment of angels there. We sing angel armies. It was a battalion of the angel armies that showed up there to assure Jacob of God's presence and God's promise to protect him, that there was no reason to think that he was alone or to think that he should be afraid because the angels are now with him. We're told in the Bible that angels operate all around us. Psalm 34 and verse 7: "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and delivers them". Psalm 91, verse 11: "For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all of your ways" because angels are there to assure us of God's love and God's grace.

And when we get to heaven, whether or not you ever see an angel this side of eternity, when you get to heaven, your eyes will be open to all the times in your life when angels were there unaware, guiding, guarding, protecting and providing. And so God is bringing His servant Jacob along. And He promises him that He would be with him. And so Genesis 32 records a prayer, verses 9 through 12: 9 And Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good.' I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps".

In other words, God blessed him along the way. God had given him many things that even though he was out of the will of God, apart from the provision of God and the blessing of God, God allowed him to be blessed. And he has two camps around him. Verse 11: "Please deliver me from the hand of my brother (this is an SOS prayer at this point), from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with children. But you said, 'I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'" Now that's a great prayer. The only problem that I think I have with his prayer, it's way too late at this point.

Did you know this is the first recorded prayer in Jacob's sorry, selfish history? This is the first time that we know of that he prayed. Now he may have prayer along the way but here he's desperate. And in my view this is just Jacob doing what Jacob always did. He's trying to con God. He's trying to manipulate God, to use God for his own end. He wants to go home. He wants to be safe from Esau. So he's crying out to God. It's a desperate prayer but he can't, it comes from a prayerless life. And it is as though he made his own plan, if you read the text. He'd already made some plans about how to salve the conscience of Esau, how to make things right. He set the camp up, two sides and two armies in case one got hit, the other one would remain and be saved. And then he sent gifts over to Esau.

You see what he's doing? He's doing what he was always good at and that was cheating, conniving, swindling, working things out for himself. And now he's trying to use God. He's praying and asking God to bless what he wants to do! But God will not be used! Prayer is not a smoke-screen. God does business with those who mean business with Him. And to this point the only business that Jacob was interested in was his own. And it is this point that the darkness encroaches, God turns out the light. It's night and Jacob is all alone. Verse 24: "And Jacob was left alone", and watch what happens, "And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day". To me it's like God says, "Okay, Jacob. You want to fight? You've been fighting Me your whole life. Let's go"! And in the middle of the night or somewhere in the night this being pounces on Jacob.

Of course, Jacob had no idea what is taking place here. Who was this? Was this Esau? He's desperately afraid. He's trembling in fear of his life and now someone jumps him in the middle of the night. Could be Esau, or has Esau sent an assassin to take him out? In deference to Jacob, the old Jewish Rabbis used to teach that this being, this angel who jumped on Jacob was actually Jacob's guardian angel. I don't know where they get that. But imagine a man so despicable that his own guardian angel attacks him! Well we really don't have to wonder who this angel is. He is the Angel of the Lord. Later Jacob would say, "I have met God face to face".

This is the Angel of God, this is the very presence of God! And I believe this is the Lord Jesus Himself in a pre-incarnate appearance, the same fourth man standing in the fiery furnace, the same Savior who would appear from time to time in the Old Testament in angelic form or powerful supernatural form. I believe Jesus Himself is this wrestler who is now fighting Jacob. Jacob is alone, he is afraid and now he's in the fight of his life. Sometimes God brings us to the end ourselves, to places in which we are alone and afraid, to the end of ourselves and our own selfish ambition that we might see the face of God. If you want a spiritual breakthrough in your life, and I know you want God's blessing in your life, you want a sense of God's future and purpose for you. And regardless of the circumstances of where you are, where you've been in your life, you need to get alone with God.

Have you noticed that God most often deals with us in the darkness and in our aloneness? Up until this point like most people Jacob when he was on the run from God, he didn't want to hear from God. He didn't slow his life down long enough to hear from God. And many people do that today, right? Pop the earplugs, listen to music, go to clubs, turn the noise up, keep your life active, keep it busy, keep it going, keep it going, keep it going, keep it going. You don't slow down long enough to get alone from God and let him deal with you at a personal level. You see all along Jacob thought his problem was Esau. All these years he felt that his struggle was with his brother and his past! But he's about to find out what everyone of us need to find out and as followers, as Christians, our problem is not our problem, our problem as we're away from God is God Himself.

And so they're wrestling through the night, and finally the angel wrestler, God just touches his thighbone, his hip joint and dislocates it! Can you imagine that? Now if you're an athlete, certainly a wrestler you depend on your legs; that's where your strength is. And now God just takes his leg out. And he is broken. He is damaged! And instead of fighting and resisting and struggling; now all he can do is hold on. And God says, "Gotcha. This is where I've wanted you all along; to come to a place of personal defeat and complete surrender to Me".

Have you noticed that so often God has to hurt us in order to help us? And when you surrender your life to Him, you lose, but Jesus says you gain. In fact, the way to gain your life is to lose your life. And the way to lose your life is to try to hold on to it and keep it. Stop running from God! And start running to Him and with Him! Stop fighting God! And begin fighting for Him. Someone said, "God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him". You know, God would choose for you what you would choose for yourself if you had sense enough to choose it. And that's what Jacob had to find out. And that's what we have to find out. That God's plans are good because really this story's not about Jacob as much as it is about the stubborn grace of God to go get His man. The relentless grace of God that refuses to let us go.

Philippians 1:6: "He who began the good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ". Even though you may run and you can't hide, God will track you down, and when He does, it is because of his grace and his love... He loves you too much to let you go. Jacob is no longer resisting; he's clinging. And so he gets a new name. His old name, Jacob, will no longer do. No longer Jacob the cheater, Jacob the supplanter, Jacob the heel-catcher, Jacob the crook, Jacob the fraud. God asked him his name. "Tell me who you are". God was not looking for information but a confession. "Who are you"? And Jacob said, "I'm Jacob. I'm a fraud, I'm a fake, I'm a phony, I'm a deceiver, I'm a poser". And it is in that act of confessing his name that he repents. It is an attitude and an action of repentance. And God gives him a new name. He says, "You will no longer be Jacob the liar, the cheater, the supplanter, the conniver. But now you will be Israel, a prince of Israel".

Scholars are unsure exactly what this name means, Israel, but it probably means something like "one who let's God rule". Or "one who reigns with God". Or God's prince, God's warrior. A God-controlled, God-mastered man. The word Israel means to struggle. And here's a man who struggled with God and God changed his life. He totally surrenders. Now God rules. No longer you the man you used to be, Jacob. Now you're a new man with a new name, depending upon the Lord. And when we take our plans and dreams and schemes and surrender them to Him. When we say "Lord, I take hands off my life. Lord, I will not let you go unless you bless me. More than anything in my life I want you, Lord, and your blessing. I will not let you go"! It's not just now that he wanted the blessing!

Now he wants God! And with God comes the blessing. God breaks us in order to bless us. I cut this out years ago and put it in my Bible, and I close with it today: When God wants to drill a man, And thrill a man, And skill a man When God wants to mold a man To play the noblest part; When He yearns with all His heart To create so great and bold a man That all the world shall be amazed, Watch His methods, watch His ways! How He ruthlessly perfects Whom He royally elects! How He hammers him and hurts him, And with mighty blows converts him Into trial shapes of clay which Only God understands; While his tortured heart is crying And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks When his good He undertakes; How He uses whom He chooses, And which every purpose fuses him; By every act induces him To try His splendor out, God knows what He's about. God knows what He's about in your life today, and in fact, Jesus went to the cross for your Jacob heart. Did you know the verse in the Bible that says, Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked"? Did you know that's the word for Jacob, the deceitful heart? Everyone of us have a Jacob heart. The heart is a Jacob! Deceitful! But Jesus went to the cross and wrestled for our souls. He fought for us on the cross and He gave His life and rose again. And this is the Gospel that we preach, and this is the Savior that we love.
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