You took the high road, made a sacrificial choice, and seemed to lose while the other guy played dirty and made some gains because of it. Sound like your life? Then you might be encouraged by one of history’s greatest sermons, preached by One who knew quite personally what it felt like to make sacrificial choices and seemingly lose in the short run.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus taught about a broad range of relevant topics – legal issues, anger issues, worry, how to deal with enemies, prayer and fasting, divorce, and money. But there are some running themes that can be traced throughout the message and one of the biggest is… God’s got this! He knows. He’s got your back. And if you’re willing to trust him enough to make the hard choices, he’ll make sure everything is equitable from eternity’s viewpoint. Read this bullet-point summary of his sermon and see how many times Jesus seemed to have your number…
- Poor in spirit? It’s okay. Yours is the kingdom.
- Mourning over your situation? It’s okay. God will comfort you.
- Hungry for justice? It’s okay. God will satisfy your hunger. He is just.
- Persecuted for doing the right thing? It’s okay. It won’t last. Heaven will.
- Mocked and jeered? It’s okay. God has a reward for you.
- Angry at someone? Don’t strike back. God will handle it.
- Enemies on your heels? Love them. God will handle them.
- Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give them the shirt off your back. God keeps accounts. He knows.
- You don’t have to be seen giving, or praying, or fasting by other people. You don’t need their approval. God sees. God knows. And God will reward you.
- You don’t have to waste time judging the hearts and assessing the motives of others. God sees through everyone.
Read the entire sermon in Matthew 5-7.
God’s got your back. He loves his kids. While he doesn’t always prevent pain or spare us from suffering, he is always watching, always keeping an account of our lives, and remains steadfastly committed to his own promises.
For all who are purchased by the blood of his Son, for all who will receive Christ by faith, he promises immeasurable grace and incomprehensible glory forever in his company.
And never forget, it isn’t just the other guy who doesn’t deserve mercy. It’s all of us. We’ve all blown it. We’ve all been the offending party. And there is grace enough for all of us, even the one who seems to be getting ahead at your expense.
The real heart question is, do you want him to experience grace? Or is he a little less deserving than you?
Yesterday, I had a phone call with a young leader convinced he was no longer qualified to lead because he’d messed up in a way that pretty much every man on the planet has messed up repeatedly. This morning, I received an email from a Pastor wanting to know if he was qualified to lead when he still struggles with sins of the heart and mind.
First, a disclaimer… Paul made it clear in the pastoral epistles that those who desire to be overseers must live lives that are above reproach. Certainly, no one can actively serve as a Pastor who is secretly harboring or openly flaunting unrepentant sin, and often confession of certain sins sidelines our ability to lead with credibility.
But what about those weaknesses that are common to man? Not the scandal that brings reproach upon the cause of Jesus, but the sins which arise out of our struggle with the flesh and with humanness? I love this summary from Robert Coleman in his classic work, The Master Plan of Evanglism:
Our weaknesses need not impair discipleship when shining through them is a transparent sincerity to follow Christ.
Continue reading 7 Spiritual Challenges for Imperfect Leaders
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.
Continue reading Rainbows, Flags, and the Immeasurable Love and Grace of God. Yes, #LoveWins
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.
Continue reading That Time God Told a Man to Kill His Only Son
“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!
Continue reading 3 False Sources of Confidence in Ministry Leadership
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.
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.