[The show] is a humorous, uplifting drama about an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he receives a friend request on social media from God and unwittingly becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him. Miles Finer is intelligent, hopeful and optimistic, but he doesn’t believe in God. This puts him at odds with his father, Reverend Arthur Finer, a beloved preacher at Harlem’s Trinity Church for 25 years who is stung by his son’s strong rejection of his faith. Miles feels he’s found his purpose in life hosting a podcast where he’s free to speak his mind, but that changes when he receives the ultimate friend request. After repeated pokes by God, Miles’ curiosity takes over, and he accepts the request and follows the signs to Cara Bloom, an online journalist suffering from writer’s block. Brought together by the “God Account,” the two find themselves investigating God’s friend suggestions and inadvertently helping others in need. … Miles is set on getting to the bottom of what he believes is an elaborate hoax, but in the meantime he’ll play along and, in the process, change his life forever.
I don’t believe that description has enticed me to watch the show, but it is nice to see God on CBS Prime time, at least in some vague form. It is even nicer to be reminded that those who have tried to follow God have left a trail of good deeds behind them – like the founding of our nation’s greatest schools, hospitals, orphanages and many benevolent works. It is a nice break from the growing sense of national hostility concerning the notion of a Creator.
Today we encounter a story that CBS won’t run, but it has the extra virtue of being a true story about a man who heard from God and walked away changed. Prior to that meeting with God, he was for all practical purposes an atheist, but grew up in the home of a God follower. Like many who grow up that way, he knew all the right words, but, when alone, made very different choices than God would have wanted, or his parents would have appreciated. The text of Genesis made clear Jacob, the subject of our study, didn’t meet God as a reward for being good. Rather, his story up to this point was filled with lies and deception. He cheated his les clever brother, and deceived his nearly blind dad on his death bed. Yet, God met him as he attempted to flee the scene after he got caught in his lies and faced paying the penalty. Here is the truth our story will make very clear…
Key Principle: A real meeting with God changes us.
When Isaiah saw God, high and lifted up (cp. Isa. 6), it changed his life. When God set afire a bush in Midian, the encounter wasn’t just a curiosity; it was a life change moment for Moses…You see, God doesn’t desire to slowly nudge us; He desires to profoundly change our life direction by a meeting with us – a divine interruption in our path. It won’t be a “poke” or “text message;” it will be something we know was Him when it happens.
The opening word of the story
To see this truth at work, let’s pick up our account with the simple, but powerful first word of Genesis 28:1 So…
What a loaded word! The “so” suggests the story we are about to engage was based on a timeline of events that preceded it – for good reason. The “so” reminds us that by this point in the story, it became perfectly clear to both Isaac (Jacob’s dad) and Esau (Jacob’s older brother) that Jacob and Rebekah (Jake’s mom) conspired and tricked the nearly blind and elderly Isaac to get a financial windfall in his will. Jacob took by clever deception what was originally intended for Esau, the double–portion of inheritance and the charge over the camp that came with his “firstborn” status. Now Jake had the legal writ, but his trick wasn’t accepted by everyone as a completed deal.
In fact, (if you check Genesis 27:41) it is clear that Esau intended to kill Jacob as soon as he possibly could, in retribution for what he had taken. Isaac was still alive, but wouldn’t be for long. One of the last scenes times in which he played a role in the Word was when he brought Jacob in to tell him to flee the scene and preserve his life. Ironically, Isaac the passive probably only did this to appease his wife, because she heard people around the tent camp claiming Esau was seething and plotting Jake’s death (according to Genesis 27:42).
Time for an exit
In any case, Jake knew it was time to hit the trail and get out of there. Momma Rebekah’s words to Jake were these:
Genesis 27:43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! 44 Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”
Can you hear it? Rebekah felt she could manage the situation. May I make an observation for a moment? So far, about everything she did led Jake into deeper trouble.
When you have a friend that keeps suggesting things that land you in a hospital bed or jail cell, you may want to expand your horizons and find some new (and dare I say, safer) friends. If you got banged up in the last few exchanges, don’t fall for the “I know a guy who has this really cool, inexpensive “bungee jumping” place you will just love…
What is really interesting is that while Rebekah was pulling aside Jake to prepare him to go, she was also bending Isaac’s ear about “what to instruct Jake to do” in finding a wife. She didn’t seem “short on advice” but perhaps thought some things would come better from even a passive dad. Genesis 27:46 tells the story this way:
Genesis 27:46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?”
Let’s acknowledge that parents with adult children who have walked out in defiance of the family’s long stated values understand Rebekah’s comment: “I am sooo tired of this!” It IS exhausting to watch a grown child depart from right thinking and right living. Esau’s choices left momma tired of her life!
Well, the time came and Jake entered again into his dad’s tent – this time to hear his dad’s words about heading north. It couldn’t have been easy, since it was clear that he wasn’t honest with his dad a short time before. I am guessing this was rather awkward.
Not only that, but you shouldn’t miss the irony in the fact that Jacob was now on his way out of the Promised Land which was a key to the blessing God promised Abraham. The whole story is about a land and children being blessed to live in it. By cleverness, Jake got what amounted to a worthless blessing because he couldn’t peaceably inhabit the land simply because he couldn’t outrun his brother’s arrows. How could this be in the life of the “promised child” of Abraham’s seed?
Consider this: Jacob focused on getting material blessing in this life, not a walk with God for eternity. You never find the right things looking in the wrong direction.
He wanted to control his life now, he couldn’t waste time worrying about his life for the ions to follow this life. By his choices we can surmise he wasn’t really sure if there was a God, and perhaps he didn’t give it much thought. Jake’s thinking was more: “A man will get whatever his clever mind can grab from dullards around him.” When clever is a high value, integrity is a low one. When winning is all that matters, how you play the game just isn’t your focus.
Often God appears absent to one who is about to meet Him. Go back to Genesis 28:1 and pick up the story:
Genesis 28:1b …Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.”
Isaac tossed out a blessing that sounded like he may have been shaking his head and hoping for the best. This was the distance throw at the buzzer – there was no more time to put points on the board. Isaac used up his dad instruction time, and Jake was heading off to face the world. What he didn’t know was what Isaac knew – he was heading into the family of his wife’s relatives – and that was going to be an eye-opening experience for the young man. I cannot help but feel the possibility of sarcasm when Isaac offered: “I trust you get back… and “be blessed” dealing with your momma’s family.”
Jake, confident in his clever mind, thought he knew where he was headed and who he would meet – but God interrupted his plan. Keep reading:
Genesis 28:5 Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
That was the summary of the journey. Now follow for a moment the detail of the journey that changed the young man – because in these verses the “big idea” becomes clear…
God Interrupted the journey
Skip down a few verses…
Genesis 28:10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said…
When God touches your life, you see (perhaps for the first time) the reality of life. Things are much more than they appear to be on the surface. The text detailed:
• He went to sleep and had a dream (28:12a).
• He saw the connection between the two worlds (28:12b).
• He saw the Lord above those who operated in both worlds (28:13).
Jake knew cunning and cleverness. He knew how to plot. What he never really stopped to consider was the fact that there isn’t just a physical world; there is a spiritual world behind what we see at home, at work and in our community.
The Bible is full of stories of people who set the limits of their understanding of life on this world and neglect to consider the power of the spiritual world operating behind it.
• Job’s friends tried to make sense of life without taking into account there may be a spiritual reason beyond the “cause and effect” world of the physical.
• Moses heard God’s voice from the bush and realized it wasn’t just a bush on fire – it was a holy place to meet God.
• Joshua, the High Priest and friend to Zechariah (cp. Zech. 3) wasn’t just discouraged about the temple; he was under attack by Satan’s minions.
I am not trying to sound spooky, but it is clear that you are more than you appear. You are both physical and spiritual. If you have not really spent much time thinking about your life as part of two worlds, you are like many of those who entered the Biblical account trying to make sense of life solely on the basis of the five human senses. The problem is, if you are perceptive about life, your senses will lead you to see the broken world and its inequity. That happened to Solomon, the author-king who left us his diary in Ecclesiastes. He rightly concluded that life here doesn’t make sense – because the One Who holds the story together isn’t under the sun, but in the heavens.
The Bible opens with a simple idea it presents as fact: all things here were caused by One in a dimension different than ours. There is a spiritual world. The things we see here don’t, won’t, and can’t make ultimate sense without the rest of the picture.
The “rest of the story”
Some of us recall the name Paul Harvey. Beginning as a newscaster during the Second World War, Paul offered his own brand of story-telling which consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with some key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end. Each broadcast concluded with some variation on his tag line “And now you know the rest of the story.”
Think of your life this way: It cannot make complete sense until you set the physical world into “the rest of the story.”
Listen to what God told Jake when He appeared in the dream:
Genesis 28:13b “…I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Perhaps it is already clear enough, but we should point out that knowing there is a spiritual world isn’t enough to cause you to change course in your life – and it wasn’t enough for Jake long ago. God spoke. He explained what He intended. He clarified where Jake fit in His plan.
For some who are encountering this story (maybe for the first time) with an open heart, this is the piece you have been waiting for. Perhaps you have already been open to the understanding there is a spiritual world. Maybe you have long believed (though it didn’t set the boundaries of your behaviors) that God exists. That’s great, but that isn’t enough.
Consider the six things God said to Jake:
• I am the Lord.
• I met your fathers before you.
• I made promises and you heard about them.
• I have things planned for you and your children.
• I am with you all the time.
• You aren’t finished here; I will be drawing you back here later.
These six revealed truths changed Jake. Think of how knowing each would change you:
• If the One you are meeting truly is Master of all things, it is time to consider the fact that you are not some anonymous being hidden in the cluster of creation; God knows you. He sees you. He is aware of where you are, who you are and what you have done with the life He has provided for you.
• If this God has been working with those before you, you have received the benefit of a life that should have taught you to consider how what you are doing looks to God. We can’t sing “God bless America” and then make law after law that ignores Him, marginalizes His Word and makes right something judgy and negative. Our fathers carefully structured our society because they held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created and endowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights…”
• The recorded promises of God have been dropped into our life through countless translations and illustrated Bible books. God hasn’t been silent or somehow elusive. In modern circles, there has been a deliberate attempt to marginalize His Word from our society (something that is causing us to shudder from our foundational documents) and to introduce any number of “counter-claims” of other gods and religious texts. The outcome has been confusion and distancing our modern behavior from the legal foundation of our fathers. We are building to a national moral disaster, but God isn’t done with His grace!
Get personal with the last part of what God told Jacob. God claimed that He was with Jake all through his life. The journey wasn’t happening alone. God was there, God was watching and God wanted Jake to know it.
Is that where you are? Are you living your life with the full awareness that you are never alone? Let me offer this simple truth: If you truly believe God is watching, it will change how you respond to the issues of your life from this point forward. If Heaven is a reality, and not just a distant story – knowledge of it will change how you judge things. If God is really engaged in your life, it will force you to consider how much of your life is intentional about following Him.
C. S. Lewis said it this way: “You don’t have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body.”
That is the observation of one who has encountered God. Now keep reading, for the last part of the story shows clearly that “a real meeting with God changes us.” Look at how Jacob responded to God revealing Himself to him.
Genesis 28:16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
Jake got up and admitted that God slammed into his life without warning and that he was utterly unaware of God’s activities in that place before the dream – but he acknowledged that what he saw was real.
The beginning place for us is to hear the revealed truth of God and then respond as though it is true – because it is.
The two profound reactions in Genesis 28:17 were fear and awe. He recognized the Creator of all things took the time to encounter him, a fleeing trickster on the run from his own selfish pursuits. Is that you? Are you living for yourself? Is God using His Word to pierce into you self-managed life?
When Jake recognized God was truly speaking, in Genesis 28:18-19, he marked the place with signs of worship and surrender. He didn’t want to get back to his regularly scheduled life – this changed his perception. It gave him the “why” of his life. He couldn’t just pass it by. He stopped, set up a memorial stone and poured out oil, a sign of a place of comfort, of healing and of worship.
Pastor Wesley Bishop offered this is a sermon some time ago:
We didn’t think up the need for worship. Someone wasn’t sitting around one day and said, “Hey, I think we should worship God.” Worship is not a human innovation. Some of what we do in worship is born of human creativity. Humans, using their God-given creativity, wrote the songs we sing… Even though the MEANS may include human effort, the ACT of worship was a God made thing.
Jake made a vow that promised God something. He told God that if His Word is true, he would vow to follow God’s leading. He would listen to God’s further directions as life progressed. He would give back a portion of his income to God to thank Him for His protection and oversight. In effect, he would begin living daily with a knowledge that God is watching, God has a plan, and God has deliberate expectations He is making known.
Jacob’s surrender to God included the same elements we all must have in such a Divine encounter:
• Trust that God is able to keep His Word concerning our destiny. (28:20).
• Recognition of subjection to God as Master (28:21).
• Surrender of things I “own” to His use (28:22).
Sam Wrisley shared this touching example a few years ago:
Currently Rudy is locked up and locked up is what he deserves. I met Rudy 4 years ago. He was drunk at a bus station. He wanted a bus ticket and I bought it for him. It would not be the last ticket I’d buy for Rudy. Rudy was arrested for robbery when he was 17. The judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison. One can imagine what hard time does to a teenager…
He has spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law… in fact on the wrong side of society. I didn’t know why but God wanted me to continue to invest into [what at the time seemed like] this worthless person. It’s taken four years but I now see why. It’s because no one is worthless to God. He has a plan for his children. I received a letter from jail just this week from Rudy and I want to share his words.
“Sam, you can tell the church that I pray for them as much as they do me. I’m learning that I should pray for others. God will take care of me. He knows my needs. Also tell them to bring it, don’t sing it! Like you said what are you doing Monday through Saturday? Being a Christian to me is 24/7 365. And as the word says, Love, Love, Love. In here I am tested daily. different ways. One word comes to mind. LOVE! That’s how I’m doing my time. I refuse to give Satan any power over me. (i love this part) I’m locked up and happy 🙂 You tell everybody that once you FINALLY surrender they will enjoy peace and happiness that I’m experiencing and sharing with others. Well I miss everybody… Take care. God Bless. RUDY” “worthy is the Lamb:)”
Spiritually, freedom comes through surrender. God set an incarcerated man free like Rudy because he recognized the implications of life being greater than the world of his cell… Praise God for true freedom!
Remember: A real meeting with God changes us.
Are you ready to be changed?