Monday, March 23, 2009


I feel so "cool" - I actually know what a dojo is! (That's only because I have three college-aged kids taking shotokan karate with Sensei kids are teaching me so much.) When he is home from school on the weekends, Reuben enjoys demonstrating new blocks, kicks, and punches to his younger brothers. I am amazed at the strength, balance, and focus that karate develops - and demands.

Last night at Grace, Justin Westmoreland (the RUF minister at UT Martin) preached on Genesis 32:22-32. Here we find Jacob sitting alone in the dark, distressed about an upcoming meeting with a brother he had swindled years earlier, when suddenly he is ambushed by an unknown attacker. What can we learn from this cosmic wrestling match between Jacob and his Creator? Justin made several excellent points during last night's sermon, but I want to share a couple in particular with my blog friends.

First, Justin went into graphic detail about what wrestling actually entails - this is a close-contact, down-and-dirty, physical engagement. As Justin so vividly put it, "When you wrestle with someone, you get their stink all over you." Blech. (Okay, Justin, the reference to dripping sweat and hairy armpits were almost over-the-top for me!) In Genesis 32 we find Jacob wrestling with God, and it's no quick match - the two wrestle all night long. Could God have ended the match sooner? Absolutely. We find that at daybreak, when God is ready to put an end to the struggle, He does so with a single blow to Jacob's hip. But God allowed the wrestling to continue throughout the night because He loved Jacob and had some very important things to teach him. As day breaks, Jacob confesses his sinfulness to his opponent. "What is your name?" the mystery assailant asks. Jacob answers, "Jacob" - or, more explicitly, "I am a heel-grabber, a supplanter, a deceiver - the man who tricks and steals, even from his own brother." As sinners, and as descendents of Jacob, God wrestles each of us - for as long as it takes - to the very same place. The place where, if we're to have any rest, we must confess the truth about who we are. I loved how Justin emphasized that God wrestles us (which means He gets very, very close to us - this is an extremely personal contact sport), and that He's willing to get our stink all over Him (in the person of Christ), to bring us to the point of repentance and salvation. Jacob, the heel-grabber, became Israel that night - he who struggles with God and overcomes. Camille - the grumbler, the fault-finder, the one who is always looking out for her own interests - became The Redeemed, the beloved, a daughter of the High King.

Jacob realized this unbeatable opponent must be capable of bestowing a significant blessing - so he hung on and refused to let go, demanding a blessing first. As Jacob's great-great-great-grandchildren, we discover the same thing. We find ourselves in the dojo with Jesus, so to speak, struggling with our own sinfulness, kicking against a difficult truth in scripture, swinging violently sometimes at Christ's claims on our life. Like Jacob, we find that our opponent will not let us go, but perseveres tenaciously in the midst of our struggles. And like Jacob, we know there is a blessing to be gained at the end of a long, exhausting night, and we hold on. But here is one of the interesting points Justin made in his sermon - God not only blessed Jacob with a new name (one that would be a source of encouragement to all his descendents), but He also blessed Jacob with a permanent limp. Now, that sounds more like a severe disability to me than like a blessing. But consider this....from this moment on, Jacob would live with a very vivid reminder of his dependence on God. He could no longer connive and steal and fight to make things happen the way he wanted - he would ever after be completely reliant on God's promise and ability to provide for him and his family. As Justin commented, God will indeed bless us...but His blessings may not be what we anticipate. Some in Christian circles teach that this faith will bring with it health, ease of living, solutions to life's hard problems. Jacob learned that this faith brings with it a growing awareness of and dependence upon God's goodness, faithfulness, and love - in spite of our sinfulness, and sometimes through the very pains and trials that we would prefer to avoid.

In the dojo of this life, where we train strenuously for the life to come, it is good to know that we study under the watchful care and perfect wisdom of Sensei Jesus, the good teacher. And if we sometimes leave the mat limping, we can be confident that even the limp will be for our ultimate good and His glory.

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