August 8, 2021
*Call to Worship
From the moment we open our eyes each morning, until we close them at night, God is with us.
There is no one like you, our God!
In times when we are surrounded with struggles, in all the surprising places we find hope, Jesus is with us.
There is no one like you, our Brother!
When we feel orphaned by the world, when we are welcomed into faith’s family, the Holy Spirit is with us.
There is no one like you, Witnessing Spirit!
You speak, God – you always speak, if we will but listen. All we need to do is pause and turn our attention to the song singing from the heavens and whispering in the wind; to the flight of the dove, and the touch of its wings on our heads; to the giggling of the water, and the mark it leaves in our hearts. Your voice comes to us in faithful surround sound, beckoning us to join the chorus, share in the dance, and extend the invitation into all the earth. You speak, God – you always speak; and joyfully, we are listening. Amen.
*Hymn UMH 144 This is My Father’s World
Join together in humming or singing very quietly in your mask. This beautiful hymn began as a poem, celebrating the author’s joy in walking in nature, in God’s creation.
Scripture Genesis 28:10-19a Jacob’s Dream at Bethel.
Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending on a ladder and receives God’s promise that the land will be given to him and his descendants. Then he calls that place Bethel (House of God). God appears to Jacob as he escapes from his brother Esau’s hatred, which he caused. Jacob, with his mother Rebekah’s help has stolen the family birthright and blessing from his older twin Esau. This really belonged to Esau as Isaac’s firstborn.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[a] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[b] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel,[c] though the city used to be called Luz.
This is week 3 in the series Pastor is working on, “Telling Your Story.” Today’s Scripture and Meditation are related to something everyone of us can say we have experienced. The question we all have asked at some point in our lives is, “God! Where are you? Very very few people can say they have heard God speak to them. But God still speaks. God is not silent. God has not forgotten the story He started with you. Think about the hard times in your life. Did you wonder why God took someone you loved away, or put such a huge obstacle in your life? Have you begged him to tell you why? If we are honest with ourselves, I’d bet every single one of us has.
One way or the other, most of us have been in this situation. We might not be running for our lives from family members like Jacob was from Esau, but many of us have felt a little forgotten by God: As if God had many plans for us and our futures and then forgot about us.
Some of us felt like God was in our corner when we were young and healthy but has forgotten about us as we have aged. Some of us just need help making important decisions in our lives. We used to hear God’s voice so clearly, and now all we seem hear is silence.
This is a lonely moment in Jacob’s story. He was running away. He has propped his head on a rock in
the middle of nowhere thinking “What have I done?” But something happens. He falls asleep and
through his dream he realizes that God was already there. In fact, angels were busily moving about
from heaven to earth, up and down the ladder. As a side note – this is the story for the old Sunday
School song, “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Who remembers that?
It is significant that God communicated with Jacob during his anxious journey. The dream does not contain a word of judgment about what Jacob did to his brother and his father. Rather God’s address to Jacob contains one unconditional promise after the other. A very real example of God’s grace as He transformed an ordinary stone and an ordinary place into something special.
In this moment, Jacob realizes something that we would all like to know: we have not run beyond God’s reach. It turns out God was already there, and God is still busy shaping our story. Jacob received a promise. It’s the same promise his grandfather received, because God has not forgotten about us. Jacob wakes up and proclaims this famous line: “God was here, and I didn’t know it!” God IS here. God is not silent. God is still shaping our story.
This morning, we listened to one of my favorite Christian songs, “God Only Knows” by For King and Country. This song has spoken to me since I first heard it, I have really been drawn to it. I actually have been waiting for an opportunity to talk about this song. When I saw the Scripture for today, I knew my chance had arrived!
“God Only Knows” was written about someone who finds life hopeless and is contemplating suicide. A friend figures it out, convinces her God is there. He knows. He knows everything. The real message is that God sent that friend to help; He is speaking to the woman in crisis via her friend. God speaks in many ways, often through other people, things we see, books we read.
The real lesson is God does know the real you, and he’s there. Just look up, listen, pay attention to the world around you. Don’t just go through the daily motions. Like we teach our kids: Stop. Look. Listen.
In an interview, For King and Country explained the message behind the song. They said there are inward songs written about specific circumstances and you hope someone else resonates with them. You know the songs – many are about good and bad relationships. This was a song looking out. The song is really a question mark – do we really understand each other fully? Our histories, our family heritages, the struggles in life, the things that have been done to us or by us that no one knows about. The shame that we carry. Some of it we’ve done to ourselves, that’s self sabotage. Some of it other people have done to us. What if we pulled the lens back? Even if we did, there are some things that God does only know. We’ve got our shame, we’ve got our troubles, we’ve got our prejudice, we’ve got our judgements. God knows your heart and loves you with this wonderful superhuman love. But so often we don’t understand because we’re stuck in a human variation of it, and can’t enlarge our view.
That’s the connection to today’s Scripture. God loved Jacob, without regard for the horrible thing Jacob did. In the dream, God told Jacob He loved him unconditionally and for all eternity, without judgments. Because God knows everything about you, there should be no shame – he already knows what you did. All he asks is that you ask for forgiveness and take a step forward. Take that step, knowing that He is right there, holding your hand and smiling at you.
Great things often start with humble beginnings. Ross Perot launched his multi-billion dollar fortune with a $1,000 investment. McDonald’s worldwide hamburger chain began with one little stand in San Bernardino. Apple Computer started in a garage with a couple of young guys who had an idea.
It’s often the same way spiritually. If we each could share how God began with us, we’d probably marvel at the ways He broke into each of our lives.
If you look at Jacob before his dream, you can hardly imagine that here is the great patriarch, the father of the 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel. He was a 77 year-old mama’s boy, a cheat who had to flee for his life from his angry brother. And yet by His grace, God began to work in Jacob’s life. There weren’t quick changes; the process took a lifetime. But God’s breaking into Jacob’s life made the difference.
This raises a question we all need to face: How can God break into my life and begin a work in me? If you have trusted in Christ, then God has already begun a work in you. But it’s easy to grow complacent in your relationship with Him. Your spiritual life is on auto-pilot. You need a new beginning with God. How can that take place?
God begins at my point of need. In problem solving, the first step is to recognize and define the problem. Often our problem is that we don’t clearly see the problem. We aren’t aware of our need for God, so we aren’t open for Him to move into our lives to begin working on the problems. Many times, it takes a crisis for us to be able to see our need and be open to God’s breaking into our lives.
How about you? Are you at a place where you see your great need for God? Are you, like Jacob, out of logical solutions? Then maybe you’re at a place where God can break through into your life. He won’t give you magical, instant solutions, but He will begin to work when you come to the end of yourself and admit, “Lord, I have a need I can’t deal with by myself. I need You!” That’s the place where grace—God’s unmerited favor—can take effect. You’re at Bethel, the house of God, where God comes down to earth and earth’s problems are carried up to heaven.
God begins with His grace. At Jacob’s point of need, God gave him a strange dream. Jacob understood this dream as God breaking into his life: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it”. Jacob had not personally encountered God until this point. But now this ladder into heaven, with the angels going back and forth between Jacob and God, showed him that the God of Abraham and Isaac could be his God, too.
In Jacob’s dream, the Lord stood above the ladder and applied the promises given to Abraham and Isaac to Jacob. If you had done what Jacob had done, what would you have expected God to say to you? Jacob thought he had to use manipulation and scheming to gain God’s blessing, but here God freely gives him everything while he’s asleep. That’s grace!
Jacob didn’t understand grace at this point. His response was fear. This was more than proper reverence; Jacob realized that he was dealing now with a God he couldn’t connive against or cheat, a God who had his number, a God who had taken him thoroughly by surprise. I wonder if John Newton had this text in mind when he wrote, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”
What am I supposed to do when God begins at my point of need with His grace?
When God begins, I should respond to Him. Frankly, I don’t think Jacob knew what to do. He babbles on about this place being awesome, the house of God, the gate of heaven. He got up in the morning and set up a pillar with his stone pillow and poured oil on it, as an act of consecrating it to the Lord. Then he made a vow to the Lord, but he also set conditions and tried to make a deal.
Jacob’s response shows that he doesn’t understand God’s grace. God’s promises to Jacob are all unconditional; Jacob’s promises to God are all conditional. Thank God that He deals with us on His unconditional terms, not on our conditional terms! But all this reflects where Jacob is coming from. He was used to working out deals, so he’s responding to God by trying to work out a deal.
The significant thing is, God didn’t rebuke Jacob: “You’ve got to be kidding! If you can’t accept My word, the deal is off.” Instead, God let it go and graciously kept working with Jacob. It would take 20 hard years with Laban, a night of wrestling with the angel of God, and a traumatic encounter with Esau to knock a lot of rough edges off Jacob, but God kept at it. Though it was an inadequate response, God took it and began to shape Jacob into the kind of man he needed to be.
That’s how God begins with you and me. He begins at my point of need with His grace, and I should respond to Him. Of course, we are all human, and we all want to make a good deal. Everyone of us has tried this: if I get an A on this test, I’ll go to church on Sunday. If the police officer doesn’t give me a speeding ticket, I’ll make a donation to them. If I win the lottery, I’ll give 20% to the church. Be honest. Every single solitary one of us has done this!
But God will still offer you grace and will carry your load for you. Wherever you’re at, He will begin at your point of need with His grace. He will say to you, “I am the Lord; … I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go; … I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” He wants you to respond by saying, “Yes, Lord! Begin your work in me.”
We don’t have to be blessed with a dream from God. God’s blessing is all around us – if we just look. The “God Only Knows” music video shows the woman presumably committing suicide by jumping off a bridge. The video then explains what could have happened if a friend she encountered that day may have been there for her and her worst point. The friend’s care results in a different ending to the day. “The power of someone interacting, showing a small act of kindness, a hug, a smile, and how that just changes the trajectory of her life [on] this one particular day, which was a very crucial day in this young lady’s life.
The really important lesson from this song is that God comes to us in so many ways. Not many of us get those life-changing dreams. But we all have little encounters with someone or see a headline, read a story – so many ways, just when we need it. That is God reaching a hand out to you in your time of need, offering you grace. I pray that each of us finds the hand of God when we are at our point of need, no matter what form it takes.
In light of his realization that God was already in this place, Jacob creates a reminder – setting up his stone as a pillar. In this way he and others can be reminded that God is already here, helping us tell our story. Our challenge this week is to set up a reminder so that we will periodically stop, look up and notice God here and at work. This week, every time you notice that you’ve had your head down staring at your phone, STOP, and look up. Look around for just a moment and see if you notice God at work in the life of someone around you. When you do, say “surely, God was in this place, and I didn’t know it.”
Hymn UMH # 393 Spirit of the Living God
Pastoral Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer
Standing at the Gate of Heaven: A Pastoral Prayer (Inspired by Genesis 28:10-19a)
This is the gate of heaven… (Genesis 28:17b)
Here we stand
At the gate of heaven
Believing that the door is still ajar.
Coming to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving
Like Jacob who poured the oil on the rock where he slept
And dreamed of angels
And an open heaven.
We confess that there may be some in this building today
Who wonder if heaven is still open
And if you hear their prayers.
We also confess that others among us
May feel unworthy to speak your name in prayer.
Here we are together Lord,
Standing before you in faith.
Reassure us all today,
That the same God who opened heaven
To a rascal like Jacob
Leans in to hear our whispered prayers.
Thank you God, for loving us in spite of who we have been and who we are
Thank you for seeing in us the people that we could become
Thank you for unrelenting love
That pursues us
If we let it,
We are awed when we consider that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has asked to be our God.
May we respond in faith by aspiring to resemble your people.
We ask all this in your son’s name, who taught us to pray together.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
*Hymn UMH # 369, Blessed Assurance
This hymn was written in the early 1800’s by a woman who had been blind her entire life. But she took great joy in loving and serving God, as expressed in the words to this hymn. Today, since we can’t sing, instead focus on the words on the screen.
*Doxology UMH # 95 Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
*Prayer of Dedication
We offer our gifts to you not because you need them, but so others might be as blessed as we are by your presence, your power, and your peace. May we use these gifts as well as the gifts of our time and talents in ways that are pleasing to You. Amen.
*Hymn UMH # 130 God Will Take Care of You
This hymn was written by 2 married songwriters, when they needed to be separated due to illness. It’s a great way to leave today, remembering that God always will take care of you!
May the love of God surround you.
May the love of God uplift you.
May the love of God stand with you through the changes ahead.
May the love of God convince you, in every situation, to love.
Go now to love others, even as Christ loves you.
- Prayer Sticks
- Ushers, Flowers, Fellowship, Soundboard