By faith Jacob — the fighter still remains

The Word for today:
Hebrews 12:18-29

mark this:
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. (Hebrews 11:21)

A long, long time ago I grabbed my duffel bag and my track spikes and set out for Williamsburg, Virginia, to attend the College of William and Mary. It was 1971 and the world was as young as I was.

William and Mary was the east coast mecca for middle-distance runners. If you could make it there, you could make it anywhere. And I was going to try. By god, I was going to fly or die.

We weren’t, in 1971, within a million miles of the technological sophistication we take for granted today. We had transistor radios and record players with weak speakers. So when I got to William and Mary, I was blown away by the music I was hearing.

Some of those students were made of money. They didn’t have cars, they had imports. And they didn’t have radios, they had sound systems. So it was like hearing the music all over again. I was particularly taken with a song called “The Boxer,” by Simon and Garfunkel. I’d heard the song before, but not the way it sounded through a Yamaha receiver and Advent speakers.

The first lines seemed particularly appropriate to my situation:

I am just a poor boy.
Though my story’s seldom told,
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles,
Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.

When I left my home
And my family,
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station,
Running scared…

As the months went by, I learned that William and Mary wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and neither was I. And I kept on hearing that song, with its one-word chorus:

Lie-a-lie, lie la lie lie lie la lie, lie-a-lie

During my first season, I did not light up the skies at the east coast middle-distance mecca. Then the winter came on and I began to perceive, between the lines of my Mother’s letters, that all was not well with my Dad. About a week before the college emptied out for Christmas, I heard from the Boxer again:

Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone,
Going home…

And I did.

***

When I first encountered Jacob in the book of Genesis, I distinctly remember thinking that I’d met my twin. He was a confidence man and a usurper, cutting the corners and playing the angles.

I read familiarly about his first trip away from home, when he dreamed of a ladder reaching to the stars. But time passed him by in the far country until, one night, he fled. Behind him were the lies and broken promises of his Uncle Laban. Ahead of him waited retribution, at the hands of his brother Esau, for his own lies.

Sending his family and possessions ahead, he was alone again. Or so he thought, for that was the night he wrestled with God:
And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. (Genesis 32:22-25)

God, ever the Savior — and by whatever means necessary – had broken Jacob’s leg in order to save Jacob’s soul.

***

One of the dear scenes in scripture is when—wouldn’t you just know it– God calls Jacob back for a curtain call. It doesn’t happen until way down at the other end of the Bible, in the New Testament book of Hebrews:

By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. (11:21)

What staff? Remember that he had been crippled by God, so he had a staff that enabled him to walk.  That verse always carries me back—to Genesis; to races run and lost; to wishes, lies, and dreams; and to a clearing where stands a boxer,

a fighter by his trade
and he carries the reminders
of ev’ry glove that laid him down

I don’t know what God broke in you to save your soul. He may have blessed you with a broken spirit, a broken heart, broken promises, or a broken leg.

What I have learned from my own wrestling match with God is that he will mend your heart but leave the stitches. He leaves just a little reminder of every glove that laid you down.

I’m not sure why. All I know is that there was another Man in that wrestling match long ago, who to this day carries the marks, in His hands and side (1), of the battle that saved your soul.

But the Fighter still remains.

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(1) see John 20:25-28

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By faith Enoch — the company God keeps

The Word for today:
Hebrews 12:1-17

mark this: (Hebrews 11:5)
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

Stand in the Rain likes to exercise its vivid scripturally-based imagination. So when we see the chance, we take it.

Today’s article, then, will be in the realms of speculation, conjecture, whimsy, and delight. Though these things might not butter your bread, they will surely frost your cake…

Enoch is one of those characters who make the Bible a mystery! Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, you run into a Melchizedek or an Enoch to remind you that you don’t know jack, Jack.

Genesis gives us all of 51 words about Enoch…

Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:21-24)

And every one of those 51 words leaves us hoping for the 52nd, which isn’t there—because Enoch isn’t there anymore, either.

Enoch is the answer to some of the best Bible trivia questions:

Q. Who is father and son, respectively, to the Bible’s oldest and second oldest persons, respectively?
A. That would be Enoch, whose son Methuselah (969 years) and father Jared (962 years) had the longest lives in scripture.

Q. There are two people in scripture who do not die. Name them.
A. Enoch and Elijah.

***

Most of the time, Enoch is taught as a picture of the Rapture, which he certainly is. Stand in the Rain has already presented him in that way, as a picture of our transported future selves.

But he’s more, so much more, than just Enoch the Transported. So today we’d like to introduce you to Enoch the Transformed…

Genesis says that Enoch walked with God and he was not. Enoch had vanished! Certainly that can mean more than a mere disappearance. Could it be that as he walked with God, his “appearance” became more and more Christ-like, to the point where Enoch was not.

In this transcendent regard, carefully consider these scriptures:

John the Baptist:
He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

The Apostle Paul:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. “ (Romans 8:29)

And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)

The Apostle John:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)

***

It is true that Enoch disappeared, in a moment—poof!

But the far greater story is that a man named Enoch, who had not walked with God for his first 65 years, turned his steps around. Nothing much happened at first, but day after day, step after faltering step, he kept on and on with God. Then one day, after 300 years of a re-shaping relationship, God noticed that Enoch had become so much like Jesus (and so unlike the old Enoch) that, effectively, Enoch was not.

So, the transformation complete, God took him.

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By faith Abel — against the wind

The Word for today:
Hebrews 11:23-40

mark this: (Hebrews 11:4)
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

Before I ever read the Bible, I heard all about Cain and Abel. I knew they were brothers, sons of Adam and Eve, and that Cain killed Abel.

And I always wondered why I heard more about Cain than Abel. When I came to faith in Jesus Christ and started living my faith out in public in real ways, I found out why we hear more about Cain.

Cain is the world’s boy. He goes along and gets along. He has the reputation as the rebel, but if we consider for a moment that there were four persons in the world and that Cain followed the path already taken by Mom and Dad, while Abel took the path that had been taken by no one…

You tell me which one is the rebel and which one is Mama’s boy.

I have a growing contempt for the Cains of the world. They’re the kind that take a poll before they vote. They boldly proceed—but only in the direction of the prevailing wind. They are well-liked and very likely to be named Citizens of the Year.

And they have a growing contempt for me and my kind, who will never—trust me–be elected Mayor of Podunk.

***

While my disdain for Cain increases, my respect and fascination for Abel has multiplied. He has few lines in scripture, but he has a position and place in God’s story which is powerfully eloquent.

As I mentioned above, within the microcosm that was his world he stood absolutely alone. He followed God when no one else did. Project him out to the macro world and we see the Arch-Rebel, Jesus Christ — walking as God told him to walk, bringing the sacrifice God told him to bring — without ally or precedent or example.

There’s a cute little poster, found in any Christian bookstore, with a Christian fish swimming that-a-way, against the tide of prevailing opinion, and straight into the teeth of a whole school of sharks coming this-a-way. My kids got me that picture, set in a frame, for Father’s Day a few years ago. I take it as a great compliment every time I see it, and as a source of ongoing inspiration and resolve.

But as I swim against the tide, I stand in absolute awe of Jesus Christ and Abel. I know how lonely faith can be, yet I have a phalanx of support when compared to them. I know how misunderstood faith can get, yet I am standing with many others in the place where they stood utterly alone.

Jesus Christ and Abel are my biggest and big brothers, respectively. And they are my biggest and big heroes. They went first, and they went alone.

I am deeply indebted to them. There are other heroes in the Hall of Faith, but Jesus and Abel are the original inductees, in a class by themselves.

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Faith: do-able, you-able, and me too-able

The Word for today:
Hebrews 11:1-22

mark these:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Here we are, in Hebrews 11, at the Hall of Fame of Faith!

Over the next half-dozen days, we’re going to tour the Hall of Faith. We’re going to meet the most amazing cast of characters and re-tell their amazing exploits.

We’ll hear about Abraham and Sarah and Enoch and Abel and Samson and Deborah and Gideon and about unnamed “others.”

But as we read their deeds of faith, don’t think of yourself as an outsider. We’re meant to be inspired by these stories of people just like us, who made the Hall of Faith despite (and sometimes because of) their doubts and neuroses and attitudes and wounds and worries.

This isn’t Cooperstown or Canton or Cleveland, where we go to count the stars of the diamond, or the gridiron, or the radio waves. Those Halls will never induct us, because most of us can’t hit the curve or the high note.

This Hall is different. It isn’t about setting new records or being at the center of the spotlight. This one is about following the Leader! We can all do that.

I once heard Bible teacher James MacDonald tell his students that—

“Faith is believing the Word of God
and acting upon it,
no matter how I feel,
because God promises a good result.”

I wrote those words down and tucked them inside my Bible. Then I printed them on little placards and placed them where my teenage sons are most likely to see them—on the refrigerator.

Those words summarize the three Bible verses that have helped me understand what the Bible means by “faith.” Two of those three verses are found right here in Hebrews 11:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

The other, the most instructive of all, is found at Luke 5:5–
But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:5)

Faith starts with the Word of God, then it follows: At your Word I will let down the net. It is not complicated or mysterious at all. It’s do-able and (if I may coin a phrase) it’s you-able.

***

The signature line of Hebrews 11 is this one:

By faith Abel (11:4)
By faith Enoch (11:5)
By faith Noah (11:7)
By faith Abraham (11:8)
By faith Sarah (11:11)
By faith Isaac (11:20)
By faith Jacob (11:21)
By faith Joseph (11:22)
By faith Moses (11:23)
By faith Rahab (11:31)

I hope that among them, some day, will be your name and mine.  By faith.

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for the joy set before him

The Word for today:
Hebrews 10:19-39

mark this: Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

mark this: Hebrews 12:1-2
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Did Jesus, being God, still need faith? I mean, if he could see the future (as God can) then he wouldn’t need faith, like we do, would he?

We can’t answer that question because its premise is erroneous. There has never been a moment when Jesus was not God, but when he came here to take our place on the cross, he emptied himself (Philippians 2:7) of the prerogatives of deity (things like omniscience and omnipresence) in order to become like us in all things, except for sin.

So, for the most part, he knew as much about the future as the Word of God told him. Does that remind you of somebody? It should, ‘cause that somebody is you.

Jesus’ “saw” the future in the Word of God. Jesus saw the cross, and past it, with the eyes of faith. He read in the scripture that the Messiah would be cut off and killed. He also read that his sacrifice would rescue, redeem, heal, and liberate many people, and that his body would not see the corruption of death. So, for the joy set before him, he went to the cross.

Certainly that joy was not set before his physical eyes. He went to the cross, and through the cross, because the Word of God promised redemption, rescue, resurrection, and rest on the other side:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

That’s all our faith really is. It’s trusting the Word of God enough to live it out. So when the Bible tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, the substance and evidence are the Word of God.

The only difference between God’s faith and my faith is that he acts on the Word he wrote, while I act on the Word he wrote. Look that sentence over (and over) and the difference will eventually emerge.

Tomorrow we will learn all about the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, commonly known as the Hall of Fame of Faith. But one name will be missing until we get to chapter 12, where we will see that Jesus is the source—the author and perfecter–of our faith.

Jesus wrote the book on faith. Of that we’re all aware. Then he lived it out, embodied it, turned it into flesh. It was his most comprehensive miracle. Now it’s ours to emulate.

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