About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Change Your Password - Change Your Life

   Change Your Password – Change Your Life

   Genesis 32:22-31

   The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the 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 is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, 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 place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.



   Change Your Password; Change Your Life


   I wasn't always a pastor. 

   Back in the day, I hung out with some real shady characters. 

   And not your street-corner ruffians who'd shake you down for penny-ante dough, see. 

   I'm talkin' the worst. 

   Computer Science majors. 

   Hackers when there was nothing to hack. 

   Future Chief Information Officers. 

   Tech Support.


   It was fall of 1981. 

   Ma Bell was a still a monopoly and the Apple II was like the Jetsons. 

   I had a college roommate. 

   We'll call him Paul. 

   Because that's his name. 

   Paul was majoring in computer science and unlike the rest of us poor slobs who had to carry around trays of punch cards, Paul had it made. 

   His parents had bought him a 40-pound cathode ray terminal that he set next to the window to keep it from overheating. 

   Also, that's where the phone was, see. 

   Paul would lift the handset from the wall, and use the rotary dial to call up a number practically no one else knew. 

   When he heard the screeching in the earpiece, he'd jam the handset into the modem and start pressing Return as fast as he could to make the connection. 

   One green-phosphor line at a time, the University greeting would print itself across the screen. 

   Paul was a god.


   Paul liked to collect passwords. 

   Back then, people shared passwords like cans of Pepsi Free. 

   Paul had this hobby. 

   He would find out a chump's password and then log onto his account from our room. 

   There was nothing worth finding, except somebody's homework. 

   So, prankster Paul would hide people's homework files in a sub-sub-subfolder on their own account. 

   He didn't take anything. 

   He just rearranged it. 

   A day or two later, as the homework deadline approached, he'd put the files back where they belonged – bingo, bango – no harm, no foul. 

   It was all fun and games. 

   At least, until Paul hid the homework of the wrong dude.


   See, Paul, unknown to him, had stumbled into the account of the owner of the local computer shop. 

   A regular Mr. Robot. 

   This guy didn't mess around. 

   He called the authorities.


   One afternoon, I came back to the dorm and said, "Hi, Paul, I'm home." 

   Paul was sitting on the end of his twin bed, white as a ghost. 

   I said, "What's wrong?" 

   He said, "The police came." 

   I said, "What?" 

   He said, "The police came. 

   "They wanted you, because the phone's in your name, but I confessed." 

   You see, Paul's computer shop victim had not only involved the police but also the FBI, who had been tapping our phone for weeks. 

   They'd listened in on Paul's little shenanigans, decoded what was happening, and showed up at our door, flashing badges.


   Eventually, after several university senate hearings, Paul was able to avoid the hoosegow, but he did get a big, red reprimand on his Permanent Record Card. 

   The next semester, Paul transferred to another college and I never heard from him again, that is, until Facebook was invented and he contacted me, because that's what you have to do on Facebook. 

   Paul had six kids, homeschooled, and he was working for Fanny Mae, right up until the mortgage bubble crashed. 

   He changed jobs just in the nick of time. 


   You tell me.


   I tell you this sordid story of my criminal association as a cautionary tale. 

   Keep your passwords safe. 

   Because Paul's still out there. 

   And he has six kids to put through college. 

   Your identity, your passwords, are only as strong as you make them. 

   If you give out your online identity, you give away a part of yourself. 

   It takes a long time to get over it.


   Whether you are online or off, if you open up about who you are, who you really are, if you share yourself with someone else, you're taking a risk. 

   Whether it's a risk or an opportunity, depends on how much you're willing to trust other people, and wrestle with God.




   Jacob was the Bible's first identity thief. 

   A real shyster. 

   When he was born, he came out hanging onto his twin brother's heel, trying to pull him back in so he could get out first. 

   That's how he got his name, Jacob. 

   It means, "supplanter," or "schemer." 

   Thief… of identity.


   If you haven't read Genesis 25-32 in a while – like, "Oh, darn, preacher, that totally slipped my mind" – you should. 

   It's a great Who-did-it and Here's-how. 

   Jacob spent his life stealing identities – namely his older brother, Esau's. 

   It's how he copped the family fortune. 

   The story picks up today in Chapter 32 where Jacob has grown up and is the proud husbander of two wives, two concubines, and eleven children. 

   Bless his heart, family man Jacob is trying to come clean and make a name for himself. 

   Except chance, and other weasely people, and maybe even God won't let him. 

   Not yet. 

   First, Jacob has to lose his identity before God will give him a new one. 

   God brings risk of failure, and the opportunity for new life, but Jacob's gonna have to give something up for it.




   Jacob was worried. 

   He had left his home and was on his way to meet and maybe make amends with his big, burly, hulk of a brother. 

   One night, Jacob couldn't sleep. 

   He sent his family away, and he stayed in a dark, empty place, all alone.


   A man appeared. Jacob wrestled with him all night long. 

   Near morning, the man, sensing he wasn't going to win, dislocated Jacob's hip. 

   But still, Jacob hung on. 

   Jacob refused to let go, the same way he had refused to let go of his brother's ankle at birth. 

   Was it God that Jacob was wrestling with that night? 

   Was it some dark angel? 

   He said, "Let me go!" 

   But Jacob said, "No! Not until you bless me." 

   It was the same thing he wanted when he impersonated his brother in order to steal their father's blessing. 


   And the man said, "What is your name?"


   Now, to us, that's nothing. 

   We exchange names all the time. 

   What's your name? 

   What's your text number? 

   What's your email address? 

   What's your Snapchat handle? 

   (If you don't know what Snapchat is, ask a Middle Schooler after church.) 

   We exchange contact information all the time. 

   It's no big deal.


   But what if someone asks your password? 

   What if someone asks your secret code that protects your identity from theft and abuse? 

   What if someone wants to hack you and hide your homework, or much, much worse? 

   What if they want your Social Security Number? 

   Or a credit card? 

   No way, Jose. 


   When the stranger in Jacob's dark night wants to know Jacob's name, it's like he's asking him to unlock the gateway to his soul. 

   Back then, your name was your password. 

   And you didn't give it out unless you were willing to take the risk.


   Jacob wants a blessing. 

   And the mystery man says, "What is your name?" 

   The moment of truth. 



   He says, "Jacob." 

   And it's as if Jacob's soul has been unsecured. 

   From the moment of his birth, he's been "the supplanter," the thief, the stealer of identities. 

   All his life, he has lied about who he is. 

   He has lied to his father. 

   He has lied to kings. 

   He has lied to himself. 


   But then the man did something very strange. 

   Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome."


   This is the blessing the man gives Jacob. 

   He gives him a new name. 

   He gives him a new identity. 

   No longer the schemer, Jacob now is Isra-el, which means, "Contends with God," "Struggles with God," or, in some translations, "Triumphant with God." 

   Jacob, now Israel, is changed. 

   No longer is he a pretender. 

   Now he is one who knows God. 

   He is known BY God.

   He is blessed by God. 

   Yet he's also the one who struggles with God, even in the darkest of nights when he can't see God. 

   Once Jacob. Now, Israel. 

   Once the thief, now the contender.


   But the wrestling isn't quite over. 

   It's Jacob's turn. 

   He asks the stranger, "Please. Tell me YOUR name." 

   But the stranger replies, "Why do you ask?"


   Maybe the stranger doesn't want to reveal that much about himself. 

   Or maybe Jacob, I mean, Israel, already knows. 

   He has struggled. 

   He has contended. 

   He has been permanently scarred by his grasping. Now his identity is tied, forever, to the one with whom he contends. 

   And the contending is never really over. 

   Day breaks, and it's a draw. 

   Israel will keep contending, but he will do so in truth, in the light of day. 

   No longer the schemer, he contends, and the one he wrestles with knows his name.




   Isaiah 43:1 says, 

   But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.


   Psalm 139 says, 

   O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.


   John 10:3 says,

   "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."


   Through Christ, God finds us. 

   God makes peace with us even though we connive and even though we struggle. 

   Like Jacob, we might never see who God is, but God will find us, even in the dark. 

   God knows us, knows who we are, and calls us into life, secure and sealed forever to the Spirit. 

   God knows who we are. 

   God changes who we are. 

   God gives us our true name, our true identity. 

   And it can never, ever, be stolen from us.