Church and The “Jacob Syndrome”

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JacobLadderWe live in a world of choices. When you have enough choices you learn to choose the things that have the most to offer you. Consumerism boils down to you thinking you are what is most important, whether or not that is actually the case is up for debate. We are trained to make decisions when we shop based on what is in it for me. We make those choices when we watch TV, or pick a place to eat dinner, and even in deciding where to go to church.

And it makes sense. We only have so much time in this life and our lives today are as packed full of things as they have ever been…so you choose the things that have the highest probability of enriching you or making you happy and avoid the things that don’t “work for you.” We have been culturally conditioned to think that way but that path is not always the godly path. Had the Good Samaritan followed that principle we wouldn’t have the phrase “Good Samaritan” (okay…I know it was a parable but stick with me). What is more…if Jesus had followed that principle it wouldn’t be the year 2014 right now but some other year and most of you reading this would probably be polytheists.

That brings us to Jacob. In Genesis 28:20-22, Jacob makes this mind-boggling vow to the Lord,

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

There are Christians who want to pull a Jacob on God and the church. They will be a part of a congregation but only if it is the flavor of the month or if they have a certain kind of music or if the kid’s program is excellent or if the parking isn’t too hard or if [fill in the blank].

Again, I get it. We are trained to think like that but it isn’t compatible with thinking “Christianly”. Instead, Christianity is highlights crosses, submission, and generosity more than self. It is about patience and love and grace and mercy. For any of those things to have opportunity to be demonstrated, they require the presence of difficulty. In other words, how do you exhibit grace if there are no issues? How do you truly show unconditional love if there is never an ounce of hate? How do you demonstrate a real patience or peace if there are no struggles?

The “Jacob syndrome” allows me to set the terms. It allows me to fix the boundaries and conditions by which I will approach God and the church. The problem is, in scripture…approaching God never, ever….ever works that way. Ever read Leviticus?

One last thing – this is not said to open the door to the church being mediocre or haphazard. The church has to do our best to please God and have a meaningful presence in the world in which we live. So the burden in this is not just on the individual. The burden is on all of us to be serious about our faith while also being patient with the shortcomings of ourselves and others. So before you are tempted to say you would be a part of a church only if the did X, Y and Z…take yourself out of the driver’s seat for a moment and pray that God would shape your choices and decisions because God often has a way of using imperfect people and situations to really shape us in significant ways.

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