The faith of Jacob

A Bible reflection, courtesy of a sermon by Rankin Wilbourne at Pacific Crossroads Church:

Hebrews 11 details a list of lives of faith in the scriptures, stretching back to Abraham, Noah, and Abel. For Jacob, the description in verse 21 reads “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”

Of all the experiences of Jacob’s life, why highlight this as his culmination of faith? What about the vision of the ladder of angels ascending and descending? What about hearing the voice of God promising blessings on him? What about wrestling with the angel? What about finding his son Joseph, given up as dead, alive and well in Egypt?

The actual blessing from Genesis 48 reads:

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
the Angel who has redeemed me from all harm—
may He bless these boys.
And may they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they grow to be numerous within the land.”

On its face, a rather generic blessing, and certainly a far cry from the more detailed blessings in Genesis 49. It is significant that Ephraim the younger was blessed to be greater than Manasseh the elder, but Hebrews 11:26 refers to blessing both, not Ephraim over Manasseh.

But consider this line: “the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day.” This is the first time that God is referred to as “Shepherd.” The Bible is full of references to God’s character as a shepherd, including in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” All these find their origin with Jacob.

Jacob’s entire life was a struggle for self-preservation. Tricking his brother to give up his birthright, deceiving his father to receive the firstborn’s blessing, working for Laban to earn the right to marry Rachel. Jacob was driven by the belief that he had to fight to get what he wanted. Yet at the end of his life, Jacob saw that God had been shepherding him the entire time. As Hebrews 11:21 describes, Jacob ended his life of strife and conflict in worship, “leaning on his staff.” He learned to rest in the character of God.

Keeping perspective on the continuing path

This has been a very busy quarter. Looking back on it, I feel worn it. I feel as if I haven’t had any time to take a break during these past few months. Every night, there has always been more work to do. I miss days when I can take time off and not do any work. I start to feel weary and tired thinking about it.
But then I look at how much I have matured in the last few months, how I have grown in diligence and discipline. I see how I have learned to manage my time and have vision for my studies. Instead of seeing my lack of time, I can focus instead on my growth in maturity. Now, in looking to what is ahead, instead of feeling worn down by how tired I feel, I can feel uplifted by how much stronger I have become. By choosing to focus on where I have made progress, I can keep my perspective for the continuing path.
I am still looking forward to this quarter being done, though.

Death in the church

I was talking with a friend about her church. The church is a unique mix of young professionals like herself and older adults in their 60s and 70s. She had recently had dinner with the pastor and asked him what it was like leading a congregation with this age span. In his response, he mentioned that he has done a number of funerals in the time he has been there. When she asked him how many, he replied “About 40.”

Think about that. 40 funerals. I think the pastor has been there for 10 years, which means about 4 funerals a year. A funeral every quarter. If you were a pastor, think about how that would inform your sermons, your counseling, your prayers. How would you conduct weddings, baptisms, and christenings, knowing that death has touched not just you but your community?

I have been a part of several church communities; most of them have been filled with young students or professionals. I have not experienced a death within community. A member might have a family member or a friend pass away, but not someone within the community itself. Yet when death happens, as terrible as it may be, it will be an opportunity for the community to embrace and support each other. Just as mourning is a season of maturity for an individual, so it is for a community.

Valentine’s Day 2015

My most memorable Valentine’s Day was spent in a hospital. Emily Fu​ had the idea of bringing some care to people in the waiting room. We brought homemade chocolate-dipped strawberries and gave them out to folks. We offered to sit and listen with people and pray with them.

I remember meeting a middle-aged couple. They were regulars in that waiting room. Their 19-year old son had been in a car accident several weeks past, and they were waiting to visit him again. I asked about their son, about the circumstances of the accident, about his dreams and quirks and ideas. They were heavy with emotion, grateful that he is still alive but worried over the real possibility that he may never walk again. I prayed a prayer of comfort and peace with them, then said my farewells.

Many people spend Valentine’s Day trying to find someone who will make them feel good. But visiting that waiting room reminded me that sometimes, true satisfaction comes in bringing comfort and hope to another. The longer I spend contemplating my own feelings of loneliness, the further I get from lasting happiness.

Mentorship

I had found it critically important to have a good mentor. One of my mentors is Steve. Steve is a partner at a firm in San Francisco. I met him through a mutual friend in my counseling group. Steve told me that he had thought about going to seminary, but went to law school instead. He does real estate work, and particularly enjoys serving religious nonprofits and churches with their real estate needs. He discovered that he could make a positive impact in a different way than as a pastor.

Steve clearly loves his work. “I have had people tell me that they have never seen a lawyer with so much joy in his work. I don’t plan to retire. I plan to do this job until I am too tired to do it anymore.”

I always make a point to see Steve when I am in the Bay Area, and his counsel has been incredibly helpful. After I didn’t get a job with a big firm through the on campus interview process, he reminded me that “not getting a summer associate position is not the end of your career.” He was right, and he helped me remember the many reasons that going to work for a large law firm was not for me.

The most striking thing is Steve’s heart for service. He told me that lawyers can be uniquely positioned to be voices of counsel and support for nonprofit boards and organizations. He is involved with work supporting orphans overseas and legal services locally. In many ways, Steve exemplifies the kind of lawyer I want to become. I am thankful to have his guidance.

Here to Help!

I was at the wedding reception for Anthony and Mona Moreno. They had just returned from their wedding in Austin and were celebrating with friends in Chicago. I was simply present as a guest, there to celebrate.

Mona and Anthony stood near the entrance and greeted people as they came in. Of course, they were very excited to greet friends, and there was a wait as more and more people arrived. I quietly inserted myself close to the door and started greeting people and giving guidance. “Welcome to the reception! Glad that you’re here. You can put your coats back there. The restroom is there too. You can sign the guestbook here, and the bar is over there. Enjoy!”

One person asked “Oh, are you the reception coordinator?” I said “No, no, I’m just a friend, but I like to help.”

I recognize that sometimes that desire to help can dangerously slip into codependency and building my identity on how much I assist. However, I can’t deny that I am wired to help others and find great satisfaction in doing so. I love how it feels to find a need and take care of it. What was particularly nice in this situation was that Anthony and Mona didn’t even need to ask; it was a pleasure to serve them in this simple way.