The Penitent Thief (Jesus)

good-thiefThis is the last post in this series. The story comes from Luke 22:39-43:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It’s very possible both these men believed in Jesus. The books of Matthew and Mark call them rebels and revolutionaries. It’s possible they were some of the men that had hoped in Jesus as their Conquering King, that they were among the crowd that witnessed his miracles or welcomed him triumphant into Jerusalem. What a rude awakening it must have been to see their Savior strung up there beside them.

In this simple scene we have a literal picture of “sharing with Christ in suffering.”

The obvious response to suffering is that of the first thief. Doubt. “Are you really God? Are you really powerful? Why won’t you save me?”

But the second thief gets it. Whatever we suffer, we deserve worse. Jesus suffered undeservedly. He took on our sentence to be with us, though it meant terrible suffering. Knowing that, how can we reject being with him where he leads us, simply because it requires that we suffer?

I used to think that the penitent thief got a pretty sweet deal. All he had to believe was that Jesus was innocent and he gets “in.” I didn’t realize he was professing faith in a God who would not only let him be crucified but let His own Son be crucified. He believed before there was a resurrection. He believed though he thought it wouldn’t save him. He believed in the face of great offense.

In this series I’ve talked a lot about disappointment, buried dreams, suffering and sacrifice. The reason I can be bold despite doubt and open about pain is because I believe at my very core that it will all be worth it.

The thief didn’t know that being crucified would be the best thing that ever happened to him.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 18:17).

I believe God sent Jesus to the cross. I believe he sent the thief to the cross as well. As if, in the midst of the pain, in the midst of the mockery, to remind Jesus what he was doing this for.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10). “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

And Jesus does what he does best. He snatches the captive from the jaws of death. He pulls him back from the very border of hell and issues him a passport to heaven.

You may have noticed in my other posts I frequently bring the conversation back to Jesus, often using something he said to makes sense of things. Well, I love this story because it makes some sense of him.

THIS is my Jesus. Let me tell you why I love him . . .

Because with the hardest thing any man has ever had to face ahead of him, he still sees the man hanging next to him. Because at the very moment when God does not save him, he is still saving others for God. And because when he walked victorious into glory . . . he did it with a thief walking by his side.

It will all be worth it — not because we will be in paradise, but because we will be with him.

Stay With Me (Peter)

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Luke 22:54-62:

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

It had been a long night. The disciples, sick with sadness, had finally collapsed into a restless sleep. They understood their Lord was suffering greatly, but the human heart can only take so much sorrow. So when their friend and brother shows up with a band of soldiers, they are all taken off-guard.

Peter, in confusion and fear, draws his sword and strikes one of them, opening up a gash on the side of the man’s head where his ear used to be.

With a touch of his hand, Jesus gives the man a new ear. “No more!” he says to Peter. “Put it away.”

Bound by the words of his Lord to do nothing, Peter watches his Lord bound and taken away. He still holds the sword limply in his hand. The final rebuke stings in his consciousness. Everyone else scatters. But Peter stays fixed to the spot, as the torches of the mob disappear in the darkness.

Then something rises up within him. That can’t be the last. He somehow knows those will not be the last words Jesus speaks to him. But something equally strong holds him back. He follows, but from a distance. By the time he reaches the gates of the high priests house, they have been locked behind Jesus. So Peter waits, and finally a servant girl is sent to let him in.

“You’re not one of them, are you?” she asks.

“Of course not,” he says. But when they come into the light of the fire and she sees his face, she again questions him.

Another was there when he cut off the man’s ear and he attests to the resemblance. “I saw you with him in the garden.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he says.

It was a bad idea to speak. They mock him now. “Listen to his accent, he’s a Galilean too! He must be with him!”

“I swear, I don’t know him!” Peter yells. But the crowing of a rooster drowns out his curse. Like a rush of blood to the brain, it comes back to him. Other words spoken by his Lord: Tonight. Deny. Three times.

In shame, Peter runs from the courtyard.

He doesn’t let the darkness of the night dissuade him, or the betrayal of a friend turn him away. He doesn’t let the rebuke of Jesus deter him, or the guard at the gate keep him out. But in the face of his own failure, his faith doesn’t hold up. And when it matters most, he leaves the one he loves most.

An old friend and a long-time pastor once told me that he’d never known anyone who stopped following Jesus without large or persistent sin in their own lives. Either too large for them to take it to God in the first place (so they thought), or instead of going to Jesus again and again to let him pay for it, bit by bit, they let their own shame push them away from him.

Any time we sin we deny Jesus. The question is, will we run from him?

Why are we so quick to attribute omniscient judgment to Jesus’ warning to Peter, “You will deny me three times”? Why do we read condemnation in that last look his direction? What if he wasn’t saying “I told you so”? What if he said it to prepare him? And when the trial comes, he looks to see what Peter will do.

Jesus is facing the suffering death that will save Peter from all his denials, do you think he is holding anything against him in that moment?

Peter is, in the very instant of his failure, fully forgiven.

Jesus is abandoned by all his followers and all disciples but one. He’s about to be mocked, beaten and killed. Peter is his best friend. What would it have meant to Jesus to have Peter with him in his darkest hour? Jesus turns to him and if Peter had looked long enough he would have seen that those eyes did not condemn him, they were saying, “Stay with me.”

I believe Jesus is saying the same to us in the moment of our denials, our sins, our failures. It is only in his presence that we can be washed clean.

We don’t have to follow at a distance any longer. Our sin no longer separates us. Will our shame?

“Stay with me. I’ve taken care of everything. Stay with me.”

The Memory of Light (Moses)

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Numbers 20:8-12:

“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.

I don’t know a lot of people who claim to understand why God kept Moses back from the promise land, even if they can explain the reasons He gives. Moses is one of my favorite bible characters and I’ve always grappled with this seemingly insignificant scene that seems to matter so much to God.

What went wrong here? I’ve read so many answers and none of them seem to satisfy.

So, let’s play this thing out. Do me a favor here: Go outside and find a rock and a stick, preferably big ones. And then hit the rock with the stick a couple of times. Really. Go ahead, I’ll wait.Francois Perrier, Moses draws water from the rock

You’re not going to do it because you know water is not going to burst forth from that rock no matter how many times you whack it with that stick. That’s not the way it works.I think Moses and the people of Israel probably had a similar understanding of things. I don’t think that hitting rocks with staffs usually had the effect of being able to hydrate a nation of people in the dessert, or they would have been doing it all the time. So maybe it’s the lack of dependence that upsets God . . . but the idea that by hitting the rock Moses was relying on himself and not God seems a little suspect to me. It was a miracle either way.

I’ve read that it was Moses taking the short-cut God didn’t like. Moses was pretty robust for an old guy, but sorry, even if he’d been an Olympian rock-hitter, it’s easier just to talk to the thing. So maybe it’s the lack of effort that put God in a mood . . . but I think, more often than not, we make the things we do for God harder, more complicated, than what He’s actually asked of us.One commentary suggested that it was the violence of the act that God was opposed to. Moses hits the rock. Twice. So God is some kind of a stone-rights activist, right? And maybe it was Moses’s anger that God was judging . . . but time and again God is the one angry at the people and Moses was the one talking Him down. Hitting the rock is exactly what he’d instructed Moses to do the time before this. Exodus 17:6:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Ah, there. That’s it.

How often to we live on the word we received from God weeks, months, even years back, instead of being in current relationship with Him? We rely on old light to illuminate a new path.

I wish, I very much wish, that when Moses had hit the rock the water had not flowed. He makes quite an impressive show of it with his little speech and his staff-robatics. And maybe it’s the glory-seeking that gets God’s ire . . .

What gets me is that no one knew the difference. The blessing wasn’t withheld because of Moses’s disobedience. The earth didn’t open up and swallow anyone. The people never needed to know that God had said “speak.” For all external purposes, everything looked good. It had “worked.” Hadn’t it?

And that’s too commonly the way we live our lives. But if you evaluate your relationship with God based on whether or not there is water coming from the rock, you’re missing the whole point.

Moses had betrayed the very thing he had going for him. He was the one who spoke with God face-to-face. He was His friend. God trusted him and he trusted God. Didn’t he?

“You did not believe in me,” God says. Under pressure, Moses believed in what he’d done before, what he knew worked, the established model.

And it did work. They usually do. But it betrayed the very life of their relationship.

To believe  in God is to believe that He lives. To believe that He’s real, and He speaks into the present moment.

You can’t see your way by the memory of light. You must carry it with you.

The One Who Was Chosen (Leah)

Fuhrich's Joseph and Rachel

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Genesis 29:16-35.

One more thought on having a good life: Rachel was Jacob’s choice. Leah was God’s choice. There are three people who I don’t want to be in that story. Rachel, who got the guy but was so oblivious to the lack of God’s favor in her life, she even blamed Jacob for it. Jacob, who didn’t accept God’s merciful intervention when it came (and ended up with not just one miserable, bickering marriage because of it, but four). Leah, who was loved and blessed by God but in the end would probably have chosen to be loved and blessed by her husband even over being in the line of David and lineage of Jesus.

And that last one is the important part, because I want to choose God. God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Hosea married a prostitute, Esther married into a harem, not because they were unloved by God, but because they were chosen by him.

Years ago I had to write my parents a very hard email about the end of a relationship. This quote is part of that letter. (In case you’re wondering, yes, my emails do often read like a Lenten blog series.)

Read “Unrequited Love” my post about Leah on the IndiaAnya blog.

Beating the Ground (Joash)

Dyce-JoashArrow(600x417)This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from 2 Kings 13:15-19:

Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow.” And he put his hand on it, then Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. He said, “Open the window toward the east,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot!” And he shot. And he said, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram; for you will defeat the Arameans at Aphek until you have destroyed them.” Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground,” and he struck it three times and stopped. So the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times.”

This passage was on my mind when I woke up this morning. I should say when I woke this morning, because there was nothing very “up” about it. Despite the tirades you hear these days against busyness, I like being busy. I like feeling that my life is full — full of people, full of activity, full of tasks, even full of work. But mostly, full of meaning. That’s why I became a writer, I want to deal in the currency of meaning.

I’ve had the blessing, for most of my life, of having work that is meaningful. I know why I’m doing it, and even when I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, the pursuit of meaning gets me through. But in every job, in every household, probably in every life, there are some things that just need to get done, with no particular purpose in them but allowing the thing after that to get done. And I HATE that stuff.  I don’t have tirades about busyness, I have tirades about laundry.

And that’s why I woke this morning with the story of a half-bit king of Israel running through my head. Joash is best known for having a really evil son, Jeroboam. He’s not even evil enough himself to be truly infamous, and besides the above story and his shoddy use of metaphor, the book of 2 Kings only mentions his death — several times, as if the author was glad to get rid of him — and follows it with one of my favorite biblical literary devices, “As for the other stuff he did, I’m sure someone else wrote about it.”

Why Joash was so unremarkable? Maybe this story gives us insight.

Elisha was dying. Joash had come to him for a final blessing. Maybe the king was hoping he would get to see the prophet go up in a chariot of fire, like Elisha had witnessed Elijah’s ascent into heaven. Instead, Elisha tells him their enemies will be completely destroyed, and then he asks him to do the smallest of things: to beat his arrows into the ground.

Joash does it, and yet he doesn’t do it . . . he obeys the prophet, but his heart is not in it. If Elisha had asked him to sacrifice 40 bulls and 70 rams on the hills above Samaria, he would have hurried to accomplish it, if he had told him to fashion a sword of gold and rubies and carry it into battle, he would have obeyed with gusto. At lot of the commentaries on this passage say that Joash just didn’t want it bad enough, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here at all.

I think he’s actually disappointed with the smallness of what he’s asked to do. It was not the greatness of the task that daunted him, it was the trivialness. Oswald Chambers writes:

It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God: but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things . . .

Bows and arrows were not glamorous fighting instruments back then, they were the common-man’s weapon, not the stuff of kings. Any shepherd boy would have known how to use one from childhood. Yet the old, wisened prophet puts his own hands over the king’s hands on the bow and tells him to shoot for the victory, to do the small thing for the grand goal. To “serve wholeheartedly,” Paul put it, “as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” 

How often is that our task in following Jesus? Every. Single. Day. To feel the hands of the Lord put over our hands . . . and then change the diaper, or wash the dishes, or write the memo. It may feel like you’re beating arrows into the ground, or your fist into a wall, or your head against a keyboard. But the smallest of tasks may be the Lord’s arrow of victory.

You see, it’s the unexceptional things that reveal our heart, and God is concerned most of all with hearts. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” There’s prophecy for you. Elisha had foretold victory, but Joash revealed his own character. And in the end, his character was his fate. The fullness of the goodness of God is always available to us, in all things big and small, but it is our own hearts that determine if we lay hold of the of the victory, or not.

The Bloodstained Dreamcoat (Joseph)

Owen Jones - Joseph dreams of stars
This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Genesis 37, 39-41.

I want to clarify something I said in my last post about having “to choose between ‘a good life’ and a God life.” Though that is the choice as I saw it then, it’s also a false dichotomy. The “God life” is a very good life, and a good life can be a very hard one. Hitching your wagon to His star will not keep you from suffering anymore than hot-tailing it in the opposite direction will. And I think this is important because, as I get older and see more and more of my friends choosing other lives than the God one, the number one deciding factor is always disappointment. It’s sickness, failure, bankruptcy, loneliness . . . In short, they expected something better from God than what I got.

I’m not talking about presumption. I’m talking about justifiable, even biblical, expectations. The kind of things we teach our children, and preach from our pulpits. If I wait upon the Lord, He will show me His will for my life. If I steward my business well, God will make it profitable. If I save myself for marriage, God will bring me a worthy husband. If I marry the one God tells me to, we won’t have any trouble having kids. If the Lord has promised, He will fulfill. If I delight myself in Him, He will give me the desires of my heart . . .

It’s different for every person what will test their faith to the breaking point, but I believe we all get there. The five thousand were disappointed when Jesus refused to give them more to eat. The rich young ruler turned away after God didn’t “meet him where he was at.” And even John the Baptist was offended when the kingdom he’d heralded didn’t keep him from being imprisoned . . . or beheaded. Ouch.

In the face of personal failure and unfulfilled promises in my own life, my faith survived. I got up, I dusted off the ashes, and I continued to follow. But something else in me died: my ability to dream. I could still believe, but I could no longer hope. I knew that God was wholly good, but I doubted that he was fully powerful. Otherwise, why had He failed to come through?

Owen Jones - Joseph cast into the pit

When God began to encourage me to dream again, I asked Him to tell me about Joseph. Why, if God was going to give Joseph dreams, did He show him reigning? Why didn’t He warn him about the years in slavery, about his life as a prison warden? Not only did God not warn him about that, He gave him a dream calculated (strategically, I’d say) to aggravate his brothers’ resentment of him. Next thing he knows, he’s pleading for his life from his own family, he’s facing the prospect of starving to death at the bottom of a pit, and then his identity is stripped off his back and his life is sold for petty cash.

I was talking with some friends about this series the other day and joked that, though Ezekiel is one of my favorite bible characters, I’d have to call a post about his life “God is Mean Sometimes (Ezekiel).” I’m not usually one to skim over hard verses. I kind of enjoy reading Revelation, I actually love the God of Job. But the God of Ezekiel baffles me.

The way God treats Joseph baffles me, too. Take for example his second dream: “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Jacob scolds him for this. “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”

Will they? When does that happen? Like the sheaves of grain in the first dream, Joseph’s brothers bow down to him as ruler of Egypt. But by then, his mother is already dead. In fact, she was probably already dead when Joseph had the dream. So it’s possible Jacob is talking about Leah here. But based on where she was buried, it’s likely she was also dead long before Joseph was released from prison.

And Joseph himself also baffles me. What was it about him that let God know he could gamble on Joseph’s faith and win? What do we even know about Joseph before his young life is in ruins? (My only answer is this must be the greatest testament to the buoyancy of children who are deeply loved by their fathers!)

Owen Jones - Jacob blesses Joseph

During those years, through betrayal after betrayal, how did Joseph keep up faith that God had not betrayed him as well? In a way, God had betrayed him. Joseph himself says that it was God who arranged for him to be sold into slavery. It took 25 years for him to know why. Maybe during that time he just thought, “Well, I got it wrong. God doesn’t speak through dreams after all.” But we know he didn’t because it was eventually his faith in God’s interpretation of dreams that got him out of prison — as simply as it had gotten him in. What if somewhere in all that time he had just given up on dreams? Where would we be?

We can’t know what was going on in Joseph’s heart or head. We don’t have eighteen chapters of him ranting, like Job. All we know is that at the very end of everything his answer is, “Am I in the place of God? . . . God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

And all I know is my faith would not have withstood that test. Sitting there amidst the ruins of my hope, I’d tell God this. “I’m not him. I’m not like that. You gambled wrong.” I wasn’t a phoenix who would rise from the ashes.

Jesus told John’s disciples to tell him, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” When thousands turned away from him, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” And Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”

So this is the part of the post where I’m meant to solve the riddle. But I don’t know the answer yet, I’m still learning to dream again. I know it’s there, somewhere just out of my reach. I know it has something to do with Peter’s answer to Jesus (I’m going to talk about Peter and the other reason we turn away from God in another post). And I know it has something to do with that second dream, the unfulfilled one, the impossible one, where they were not sheaves on the earth, but stars in heaven.

He Walks With a Limp (Jacob)

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Genesis 32:24-31:

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [the Face of God], saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

These may seem like extraordinary circumstances, but ask yourself how much you have (or have had) in common with Jacob at that moment.

Jacob was afraid. He was facing all that he had been, and all that he would be. He was running from one man he hated straight toward another who hated him. Going back was not an option, making it ahead was far from certain. He was alone, in the dark, in a desert place. And there in the darkness he’s taken unaware. But he fights back. Jacob didn’t know how close he was to drowning in the Jabbok river, or how close he was to seeing the face of God.

The thing about darkness is, you don’t know how close you are to anything.

Years ago, in a blog post about prayer, I wrote the phrase, “Better crippled by God than — well, just about anything.” I didn’t know then that I was heading into one of the darkest seasons of my life, catalysed by the very thing that had inspired that blog post. I didn’t know how I would struggle through that darkness, drown in it, even, how before it was over I would have to choose between “a good life” and a God life.

But recently it all came back to me.

It was after dark and my friend and I were winding our way through the narrow alleyways of our neighborhood. I don’t remember how he said it, I just remember the effect it had on me, because the guy he said he could “see me with” had said he could see us together himself, just the week before that.

“Why do you think so?” I tried to keep my voice level. My friend couldn’t have known, and he’s not the type who would say something like that without putting thought into it.

“He walks with a limp,” he answered.

“He . . . he what?”

“He walks with a limp. Like Jacob. You can tell He doesn’t just know God, he’s wrestled with Him . . . you know?”

I knew very well. I knew what joint in the world’s way of doing things God had pulled out of socket to make him walk through this life differently. I knew the moment in his life when that tendon was touched. I knew how that made us similar.

“The Christian life is a maimed life,” Oswald Chambers once wrote.

There are many things that are perfectly legitimate, but if you are going to concentrate on God you cannot do them. Your right hand is one of the best things you have, but Jesus says that if it hinders you in following His precepts, then “cut it off.” The principle taught here is the strictest discipline or lesson that ever hit humankind. When God changes you through regeneration, giving you new life through spiritual rebirth, your life initially has the characteristic of being maimed . . . There has never yet been a saint who has not lived a maimed life initially. Yet it is better to enter into life maimed but lovely in God’s sight than to appear lovely to man’s eyes but lame to God’s.

Better crippled by God than just about anything.

Barry Moser, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

I think about Jacob when counting my blessings feels a lot like counting my losses. I think about Jacob because all I want is to be Jesus’ best friend, even though I know that all of Jesus’ best friends lived horrible lives in the eyes of men, and died brutal deaths at their hands. I think about Jacob in the darkness when God is far off. The thing about darkness is, you don’t know how close you are to anything.

Drowning — or seeing the face of God.

Unless you go into that place, into the night, into the desert, you cannot come out as one touched by God. Until you walk with a limp, you cannot bear the name of a nation.

Frederick Buechner wrote a fictional autobiography as Jacob, called “Son of Laughter.” In it, Jacob says of that night,

I remember as blessing the one glimpse I had of his face. It was more terrible than the face of dark, or of pain, or of terror. It was the face of light. No words can tell of it. Silence cannot tell of it. Sometimes I cannot believe that I saw it and lived but that I only dreamed I saw it. Sometimes I believe I saw it and that I only dream I live.

For that — that glimpse. Don’t let Him go. Wrestle the night long. Fight until day breaks.

But know, you will come out marred. You may even lose your life. But only those who lose their lives can ever possibly find them.

“For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”