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It’s safe to say that after Sunday’s study on Genesis 34 — a difficult and sobering passage of Scripture — we’re all taking stock of our hearts.

There was a rape. There was an attempt to selfishly brush it aside and mask it with tenderness. There was a deal between factions that was full of deceit and treachery. There was vengeful murder on a large scale. And there was a reckoning of the heart amid the untold carnage and damage.

Pastor Scott introduced us to a number of human hearts on display in Genesis 34. The first is Shechem, a pagan and the son of Hamor. Shechem raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. If that wasn’t awful enough, Shechem thought he could make it all better though tender feelings for Dinah — and a desire to marry her (as if that could fix anything). So he asked his father to make it happen, and Hamor thought he could make a deal with Jacob to give Dinah to Shechem in marriage — in fact they would enact a kind of “trade”; Hamor’s daughters to Jacob’s sons, and vice versa. One big happy family, right?

But it was not to be.

Instead Jacob’s sons dealt with Hamor and Shechem deceitfully, making circumcision for all the males in Hamor’s city a condition of the deal — and then afterward when all the men in the city were “sore,” Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi drew their swords and killed all the men in the city, including Hamor and Shechem, and took back Dinah. What’s more they stole everything in the city, taking “their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” 

Simeon and Levi — the second and third hearts on display in Genesis 34 — didn’t enact justice. No, they carried out deceit, murder, revenge, and theft. A completely over-the-top punishment that didn’t fit the crime.

Jacob — the fourth heart on display — was not pleased by his sons’ actions, telling them that they’ve brought “trouble” to him. But all Simeon and Levi could say in response was, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” Yet amid his trouble, Jacob in chapter 35 demonstrates that his heart is open to God’s leading — and he listens to the Lord, who tells him:

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.

Four hearts on display — and four outcomes based on where those hearts were directed.

Shechem’s misdeed demonstrates the dangers of the power of male sexuality when it is not in line with God’s “one flesh” design in marriage according to his guidance. Shechem was selfish. Levi and Simeon took justice into their own hands and ended up killing every male in a city and plundering it. Their hearts were set on vengeance and acted out in anger. The hearts of Shechem, Levi, and Simeon show what can happen to any of us if we don’t allow God’s Holy Spirit to continually fill us and show us the way. When we let worldliness to creep in, we can be consumed with sinful tendencies that we’re soon acting out — and then we’re in a dangerous place.

But Jacob’s heart is open to the Lord’s leading. He listens to God, travels to where he’s instructed, and — once again — builds an altar to the Lord. A physical reminder to serve God always in the deepest part of his heart.

We must do the same.

As the Lord instructed Jacob, for the sake of our spiritual health, we must do away with everything that gets in the way of communion with God and continually renew our hearts so they stay open to him.

What words are God speaking to you right now? No matter what you’ve done or thought, the Lord is waiting for you to come to him in repentance so he can fill you up again with his love and grace. 

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One thing we have to accept this side of heaven is that whenever God touches us, at times it may not feel very good. But even more importantly, whenever the Lord intervenes and blasts through into our lives, we must realize that whether his touch is painful or not, it’s ALWAYS good and FOR our good.

Jacob found this out in famous fashion as we learned this past Sunday from Genesis 32.

He was on his way back home — the land of his fathers he left long ago in fear of his life after he deceived his brother Esau. So, in his fear, Jacob is back to his scheming ways. A smart man, he decides to divide his camp so that in case Esau’s men attack one of Jacob’s camps, the other can escape and be spared. 

Pastor Scott pointed a number of crucial truths from this passage that we can apply to our own lives. And it’s the fact that if we live a deceptive lifestyle, it will lead to fear — and that fear will in turn feed the need to be more deceptive, and on and on. A vicious cycle. Jacob doesn’t like obstacles, so he cuts corners. Then his mind races, and the fear sets in, and he’s continually assuming the worst. Everything is negative. A disaster is right around the bend, just waiting for him. Who would want to live like that? And we don’t have to if we live lives of integrity before the Lord!

But something good comes from Jacob’s internal struggle, and he turns over his distress to the Lord and prays for deliverance from Esau — and significantly, Jacob reminds God (as if God needed reminding) of his promises to him of a fruitful life. Jacob also takes practical action and sends generous gifts of animals ahead of him so that Esau might accept him.

And then came the moment we all know: when Jacob was alone, God came and wrestled all night with him. But Jacob wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing. And with that, Jacob was renamed “Israel” — and his hip was touched and went out of joint, resulting in a life-long limp.

What can we conclude from all of this? When the Lord wants to do something deeper in our lives, it often will involve us wrestling with a problem, wrestling spiritually with the Lord until we break through and come to new realizations — and the beauty of a new dawn breaking. But sometimes when God does something deep within us, pain is involved. In Jacob’s case, now with a hip out of joint, every time he leans on his cane, he’s reminded of what the Lord did, and that he must depend on God for everything in his life. As Pastor Scott said, it’s not about Jacob’s hip; it’s about Jacob’s heart.

God wants to do something deeper in you and in me — to the point where we’re renamed and are changed from the inside out. If the Lord is working on you, it might not always feel good — but you can rejoice because God disciplines and refines those he loves. Like Paul and his thorn in the flesh, the Lord’s grace is sufficient when he’s bringing us through pain. When we are weak, God is strong. 

“…but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11)

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Jesus told one parable in particular that spoke to everyone about their lives. I find the parable fascinating because it’s very real to us today. Now He told it in two different parts. He described the parable and then he told its meaning. I’m going to bring those two things together first here so that you can understand them and what it looks like.

You see Jesus said this. There was a sower that went out to sow. And he cast the seed out and it fell onto the soil. Now the seed He says represents the word of God and as the seed is being cast out, it falls on four different kinds of soil. The soil represents the heart of people.

The second kind of soil (and this going to be particularly important for Jacob’s life) was a soil where the seed was cast and it fell onto the rocky soil. So it grew up quickly. But when the sun came out it was so hot it scorched because it didn’t have the roots necessary. When we don’t have the roots necessary then the challenges of life cause some problems. In fact let me take you right into the parable and show you that. It says there – The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and once receives it with joy. (These are Jesus’ words here.) But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution come because of the word, they quickly fall away.

When you’re done today I hope you’ll be constrained or compelled to have your roots go deeper.

We’re going to see that Jacob lacked that. So when the pressure grew he lost it. That’s a good word to describe Jacob. He really lost it in our passage.

Let me bring you up to speed as to where we are; remember Jacob had been working for Laban for twenty years. Now he has this impression that it’s time for him to leave. Things aren’t the same as they have been in the past. It’s just time for him to move on. We talked about that desire sometimes that we have. It’s time to move on. We talked about that last week. So he takes that desire to the Lord and the Lord affirms that in his heart. Yes, He says, you can go back to your father’s country. And He says these five words: And I will be with you. We need those words. Because when we know that God is with us it helps us to trust Him. It helps our roots to go deeper into the soil. So that when the problems, the challenges, the thlipsis of life come, we know that God is with us, even in the midst of the scorching sun that takes effect on our lives and puts pressure.

Now verse 20 we get to the place where Jacob makes the mistake. The pressures of life get too much for him. His root isn’t deep enough. If his roots were deeper, he wouldn’t do what he’s about to do. You see he knows the Lord. When he left his home, he had determined that he was going to live for the Lord. He had the special experience with God, with His head on the rock pillow and seeing this stairway with angels ascending and descending but in verse 20 –it says And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean. Now he’s under significant pressure. And under the significant pressure when any of us find ourselves hemmed in, we tend to resort to self-defeating, unproductive patterns that maybe we engaged in the past and Jacob falls right back into those patterns!

Now I want to draw some applications we go back to Jesus’ parable. Because see the real challenge for all of us is that when we face trials, when we face pressures in our lives, what are we going to do with them? Do we just start yelling at people and we start berating people? Are we going to experience a lot of anxiety? Turn back to patterns that we have left behind to serve the Lord?

How do we develop those strong roots that sustain us in times of trials, problems?

Turn to the Lord and seek His plan, his way (not ours) and dig into the word to see what the Lord is saying in our lives. Then we trust Him in and with the challenges of our lives as we live out in obedient surrender to Him.

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Safety is not our goal.

As Pastor Scott shared his heart on Sunday as it related to Jacob’s experience in Genesis 31 of obeying God’s call to pick up his life and sojourn back to the land of his fathers, the truth that the Christian life is one of risk and adventure hit home.

Moving into the unknown isn’t always a comfortable thing. Whether it’s a new job, new school, new house, or new city, those kinds of changes typically bring stress and uncertainty. We wonder, “Will I be able to handle it?” or “What if things don’t work out the way I want them to?”

But there’s another kind of risk and uncertainty in the lives of Christians — or at least there should be: Our roles as missionaries. Of course, those who’ve chosen mission work as a vocation certainly face risk and uncertainty on a daily basis, particularly if they live in a country and culture that’s different from what they’ve known all their lives. However, even if we’re not “professional” missionaries, as Christians we still have mission fields to work in — and that’s part of what makes the Christian life so exciting.

After Pastor Scott’s reminder to live life with abandon — particularly when it comes to our roles as missionaries — I find myself challenged and spurred on to ask, “How often do I ask God who he’s placed in my life today? Much of my day-to-day time — and I’m sure all of us can relate in one way or another — is spent moving from one task to the next; one problem to solve to the next problem to solve; one hill to climb after another hill to climb. 

But what might happen when I’m reminded to say to the Lord — as Jacob did — “here I am”? In my own experience, I don’t ever recall God not responding affirmatively if I pray, “Father, I’m open today to whatever and whoever you bring on my path. Help me to open up and be sensitive to others’ needs — and put the words in my mouth so that they may see you.” But again, how often am I open and willing to put my own list of things to do behind what God might have me do? Certainly not often enough!

Indeed, as Pastor Scott shared, we are pilgrims, sojourners, and strangers in this world. As Christians, our priorities and the way we live our lives mean we’ll never truly fit in — and that can be difficult. Sometimes it can even feel lonely and disappointing.

But there’s another side as well: the adventure! Think about something as simple as having a conversation about the Lord with a complete stranger you meet in a store or in the gym or at a park. Now maybe even reading that last sentence feels a little uncomfortable. (Confession: It’s a little uncomfortable for me to write it!) But on the other hand, how cool is it be open to such conversations, not as a once-in-a-while thing, but as a lifestyle? Imagine waking up every day and praying, “Lord, I don’t know what you’re going to do today, but I’m open — give me the words to say and people to say them to.” Then just watch what happens next.

Safety is not our goal. Comfort is not our goal. But a hum-drum life filled with no risks, no adventure, and no out-and-out joy that God can bring when we’re open to him is not our goal, either. So today, let it be your prayer (and my prayer) to have the Lord help us to take risks in his name and according to his will. To reach out beyond ourselves and our daily cares, knowing that he wants us a whole lot more than he wants stuff crossed off a list. 

And always remember that as God promised Jacob — and Jesus promised all of us — “I will be with you.”