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Rainbows, Flags, and the Immeasurable Love and Grace of God. Yes, #LoveWins

Rainbow Flag

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in American culture. As one guy on Facebook put it, “My newsfeed looks like the confederate army declared war on a Skittles factory.” We’ve certainly seen a lot of flags and rainbows. And rainbow flags, of course.

Not because you haven’t heard, but for the sake of context, the Supreme Court of the United States did indeed make a history-altering decision on Friday, June 26, 2015, declaring that states could no longer ban same-sex couples from civil marriage.

Then the internet blew up. People were happy. And angry. And confused about whether they should be happy or angry. In the middle of it all, President Barack Obama tweeted using the hashtag #LoveWins and millions followed suit. The White House was lit up with rainbow-colored lights, as were Niagara Falls, Cinderella’s Castle, the Empire State Building, and many, many, maaaany social profile photos.

As leprechauns scurried around in utter confusion and unicorns danced with glee, I couldn’t help but reflect on the ancient history of the rainbow, going all the way back to the story where it made its scriptural debut. Long before the rainbow flag became the symbol of the gay pride movement (1978, to be exact), God used the rainbow to communicate that #LoveWins to a primitive family desperately in need of reassurance.

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That Time God Told a Man to Kill His Only Son

Sacrifice_of_Isaac-Caravaggio_(Uffizi)

Our culture has bought into this strange notion that we are ever-evolving in our enlightenment and everyone who is old and dead is dumb. Everything we thought pre-Elvis is primitive and ignorant. So ancient story about God visiting an old man named Abraham and instructing him to sacrifice his teenaged son Isaac on an altar with a knife is downright offensive to our modern sensibilities. It’s one of those stories skeptics zero in on to illustrate the outlandish nature of God’s brutality.

And I’ll admit, I’ve often struggled with the story. Human sacrifice is certainly out of line with everything else that God has revealed and seems to break several of the big ten commandments. Could the story really be the account of a senile old man hallucinating? Or was God just that mean back then? But my doubts seem to wash away when I realize what’s really going on in the story, found in Genesis, chapter 22. And when I get it, I’m overwhelmed with the nature of God’s grace.

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3 False Sources of Confidence in Ministry Leadership

School Kids

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” So wrote the elder Paul to younger Timothy (1 Timothy 1:12 NLT)

Paul’s words are the introduction to the Bible’s three volume textbook on pastoral ministry (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). And in that introduction, Paul issues a fairly stern warning to Timothy to watch out for three of the biggest false sources of security and confidence for those who lead in ministry. They were, and are, and have been for me in seasons when I’m not on guard…

1. Our preparation.

That is, we begin to rely on what we know, and we begin to assume that what we know is enough for us to coast. Here’s the thing. When God called me to ministry, I knew pretty much nothing. I was still cutting my teeth on trying to read through the New Testament for the first time. In my early years of ministry, I was a sponge. I learned enough before Bible college that I tested out of the required Old and New Testament survey classes and jumped right into some sophomore-level stuff!

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The Greatest Rescue Operation of All Time

As I write this, the United States government is weighing the possibility of using ground military forces to rescue the Yazidi people who are trapped on a mountain in Iraz, surrounded by the threat of extermination by the Islamic State, a terrorist group currently taking control of a growing number of towns in their region. Politicians and military strategists are debating whether this is the right thing to do or not from a variety of perspectives.

The situation at hand reminds me of another rescue mission planned before time began. God foresaw His people in the exile of sin and depravity and determined to send His Son to our rescue. Paul said it this way in his letter to the Galatians, “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” (1:4 NLT)

The Bible says nothing of any uncertainty in the mind and will of God. There were no deliberations or weighing the pro’s and con’s or counting the potential collateral damage. God simply knew our plight, loved us in it, planned our rescue, and acted to secure our freedom at great cost to Himself – the cost of His very own dear Son Jesus.

You can debate all you’d like about the nuances of the existence and attributes of God, but at the end of the day, the great God of the universe has acted to extract you from this present evil world through a redemptive, grace-based relationship with His Son. He went to the cross, paid the price, and rose again to free any and all who will look and cling to Him. And His hand is outstretched still, offering rescue. The choice is yours. Remain comfortably numb in exile, or trust Him fully for ultimate freedom.

Knowing Whom to Please Is Half the Battle

Keeping everyone happy is both exhausting and impossible. I know this from experience. I’m a recovering chronic people-pleaser and spent too many years of my life living for the approval of others, and it’s a struggle that still creeps back up on a regular basis.

As a Pastor, I don’t want anyone to be upset with me at church. As a husband, I don’t want to be honest enough to say something that might upset my wife. And in friendships, I’ve been afraid at times to get close enough to risk offending and have therefore missed out on intimacy. If any of this sounds familiar to you, I have some good news for you.

There is only ONE person you must please, and He is the inventor, master, and giver of this amazing thing called grace. On the one hand, this is a fairly scary thought. The Bible says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Hebrews 4:13 NLT) How can I possibly please the perfect and almighty Creator and Judge of the whole earth?

On the other hand, it’s the most comforting thought of all that while our fellow human beings will always fail to be completely gracious toward us because they’re human, God will never fail to be completely gracious toward us who are His children. The Bible describes “his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6 KJV) In God’s grace, He has declared us as acceptable and pleasing to Himself. 

When you know WHOSE you are, it helps you to know WHO you are, and therefore WHOM you need to please. It’s so much easier to live to please only the One to whom we will give an account and the One who has proven His love, His grace, and His willingness to declare us as acceptable and pleasing to Himself.

To put in a more classic way, live for an audience of only One today.