“Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller – Chapter 7: The End of Counterfeit Gods


Opening Prayer

Focus What was one of the best things that one of your parents ever did for or said to you?

(Excerpts from another source about the value of receiving a blessing from one`s father.)

It has now been over twenty-five years since two intensely personal experiences collided on the same day.  It began on my first day as an intern at a psychiatric hospital.  It ended with the Lord opening my eyes to the life-changing power of the blessing.

That day at the hospital, for a full shift I sat next to a young man on twenty-four-hour suicide watch.  He was tall, handsome, well mannered, and an excellent student.  In fact, he was a straight A student in high school and for three years of college.  When he caught the flu the first semester of his senior year, that all changed.  In a required PE course he had put off until then, he missed so many classes that his instructor gave him an automatic grade reduction to B for the semester.  When the young man found out that there was no extra credit, no way to substitute other classes, and now no way to change his grade or drop the course, he fell into instant despair.  He left the teacher’s office, went back to his dorm room, an tried to take his life.  (And he would have succeeded had his roommate not unexpectedly and providentially returned.)

As we sat and talked for hours, and as I tried not to stare at his bandaged wrists, this young man poured out his heart to me.  His story included a brilliant, demanding, engineer father who had gotten straight As himself and demanded nothing less from his oldest son.  It highlighted how hard he had tried, all his life, to gain his father’s favour.  And it ultimately led to how his failing to get an A in a tennis class brought the death of a dream—and nearly his own death as well.

This young man desperately wanted something he couldn’t define.

He longed for something he couldn’t put words to that was always in sight, yet somehow never within reach.  His heartbreaking tale left a haunting, indelible impression.  I went home late that afternoon and shared the events of the day at length with my wife, Cindy.  Still pondering and processing what had happened, the second of two dramatic events took place.

It was nighttime when I finally sat down and began working on a message for a couples’ Sunday school class.  While I’m sure you would never do such a thing if you were the teacher, I was just beginning my message—for the next day! At the time, I kicked myself for letting school, work, and family crowd in so much.  Looking back, I can see how almighty God had his hand in the timing:  after sitting down for hours next to that hurting young man, I now sat down and opened my Bible to Genesis 27.

Genesis 27 contains the story of twins:  Jacob and Esau.  I’d read of the struggle between these two brothers countless times in the past.  My plan was to speed-read through the passage and throw together a few “inspired” thoughts.  Yet that night, with each word I read, time seemed to slow down. It was as if I saw, for the first time, the intensely personal story of how these two young men struggled so mightily to receive the same gift.

In fact, that night, it wasn`t just words that I saw.  It was like I could see each boy`s face.  The ear-to-ear smile and unbridled joy in Jacob`s eyes when he walked away with his father`s blessing.  The crushing look of shock and loss on Esau`s tormented face when he realize that he would never receive that gift.

When Esau lifted up his voice and cried in anguish, “Bless me—me also, O my father!“  I suddenly saw not only Esau`s unfulfilled longing and broken heart, but an echo of the tears and desperate cries I`d heard as I sat next to the heartbroken young man at the hospital!  And at that moment, it was as if the Lord put tangible words to the intangible “something“ that young man had longed for all his life….

He missed his father`s blessing….That`s what broke his heart!“`

As that thought washed over me, I read Esau`s pitiful, heartbreaking, repeated cry, “Have you only one blessing, my father?  Bless me—me also, O my father!“`(Gen. 27:38).  Just as suddenly, I had words for my own pain and hurt.  For all my life I, too, had longed for something I had never received from my own father—his blessing.

Long into the night, I studied and thought and remembered and prayed, and the next day was the first time I taught a group about “the blessing.“  In a small, basement classroom, on a rainy Sunday morning, twenty couples heard about Jacob`s gain and Esau`s loss.  They were the first people I ever asked whether they had received this life-changing “gift” from their parents.  The impact was incredible.  The nodding heads.  The tears in too many eyes.  The discussion in the hallway, long after class.  The calls that came for days after from people who felt as if Esau`s cry was their own—and from just as many who wanted to make sure they were giving the blessing to their children.

“Can you tell me more about that blessing?”

So began a personal, now twenty-plus-year study of the blessing.[1]

Connect

  1. What seems to be Jacob`s prime motivation for stealing Esau`s blessing?
  2. Was there likely to be any material benefit for Jacob from his actions?
  3. What reasons could there be for Jacob desiring this so badly?
  4. The night before Jacob was to meet with Esau, what were Jacob`s fears and concerns?
  5. What happened during that night?
  6. Why did God come in weakness to Jacob?

Vision

  1. Why did Jesus come in weakness to all humanity?  What did he achieve by doing so?
  2. How do Jesus` actions give us the ultimate “Father blessing” that we desire and need?  How does that “Father blessing” drive out our desire for idols?

Summary

Closing Prayer

[1] John Trent and Gary Smalley, The Blessing (Thomas Nelson:  Nashville, 1993), 1-3.

 

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About James Paulgaard

Living in the in between, becoming, but not quite there yet, old and new mixed together, hanging on with all my might to the One who is holding onto me.
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