Living in the Land of OZ: Three Ways for the Church to Posture Herself in a Foreign Land

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The influence of Christianity upon Western society seemingly has become a past experiment. As the Enlightenment experience failed—failing to eliminate all societal ills and bring about a human utopia—so too has the “Christian Nation” or Christendom failed. As a result, the church has struggled with this shift—and now find herself, in many ways, confused as to her role and posture in a pluralistic, secular, post-Christian, and skeptical environment. In other words, the church in North America has finally realized they are no longer in Kansas but in the land of OZ (or biblically speaking, in Babylon). And now believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, “What do we do?” 

Believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, What do we do?

In many ways, the North American church in the twenty-first century finds many similarities with the people of God in Jeremiah 29. [The dissimilarity that I must point out is that God was in a covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, whereas America is not.] Jerusalem had fallen. No longer did Israel experience cultural and national hegemony. Now in captivity, Israel experienced life as a sojourner, alien, and minority. They were marginalized. Obviously, many saw their newfound position as difficult, demoralizing, and depressing.

In response to their newfound foreign environment, they had a few options with regards to how they would posture themselves towards the larger culture. First, they could have just faded off as a sub-cultural hermit—sitting and longing for the ‘good ole days’ as they faded into irrelevancy. Second, they could have taken a more antagonistic, resentful, and angry approach, one that was mean-spirited, violent, and intolerant. Second, they could have bashed the Babylonians over the head with the Torah. Third, they could have accommodated the Babylonians—thinking “if we can’t beat ‘em’, join ‘em’.” Or, they had a fourth option—God’s option. They could seek the peace of the city.

Embedded within this Spirit breathed option, there are at least three particular ways the people of God were (and are) called to seek the peace of the pagan land.

1) Live here as if you were living there. We are to live everyday normal lives as if we were living in the homeland. God informs His dazed and confused people to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jer 29:5-6). In other words, God tells them to live here as if they were living there (back at home)—faithfully tilling and cultivating both land and family while they multiplied in the land. Seeking the peace of the foreign land begins by living faithfully as if we are in the homeland. [Keep in mind that for believers today, our “homeland” is the new city where Jesus will have made all things new (Revelation 21).] 

God tells them to live here as if they were living there.

2) Live to bless, not curse. God expresses that His people take up the task of blessing the pagan nation. This is quite remarkable! The people of God were to live as a blessing, praying to the Lord on behalf of the nation as they seek the flourishing of the pagan city. For in the city’s flourishing, God’s people will flourish. While the scope of this article does not permit me the time to dive into the notion of “blessing,” this vision, nevertheless, harkens back to both Genesis 1 where God blesses humanity (Gen 1:28) as well as the prophetic promise God made to Abram, “through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

3) Live faithfully, not forcefully. We are to strive for faithfulness, rather than striving for world change. In this passage, there is nothing about seeking the transformation of the city. God doesn’t ask them to work towards transforming Babylon into a theocentric (Jewish) nation. God doesn’t ask them to transform the Babylonian culture and cultural practices to those that more align with the Torah. While change may very well take place, God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life, as they seek God and the welfare of the pagan city. 

God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life.

In applying this notion to the cultural context of the church today, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I completely agree that the gospel is transformative; the gospel changes individuals, families, cities, and even nations. To a certain degree God did bring change in Babylon through the faithfulness of people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. My point is that the goal for the people of God is faithfulness to God and to His call, work, and mission in the world.

In neither Testament does God ever assign the task to His people of world change or city transformation—forcing people to believe and behave like the people of God. 

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples. We witness and make disciples by working as ambassadors for the kingdom of God, serving as agents of blessing for the city, and inviting people to follow Jesus as their King who is in the construction process of making all things new. In sum, we simply share and show the gospel of King Jesus!

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples.

In closing, may the church today—in finding herself in this foreign land like Dorothy found herself in the land of OZ—seek to live faithful lives reflecting the characteristics, attributes, and signs of God’s kingdom life in our homes, vocations, relationships, and ethics. May churches seek the “welfare” of the foreign city, living as agents of blessing rather than antagonistic, mean-spirited, angry, resentful and defensive agents. And finally, may we take the posture of faithfulness—faithfully calling people to follow Jesus. 

Pre-Clean Before the Deep Clean

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We have decided in the Laxton house to hire someone to clean our home a couple times a month. Given our busy schedules both at work and chauffeuring the kids back and forth from their events, we thought it best to hire someone to help us keep our house clean. 

On the eve before the cleaning person started, my wife frantically goes around barking orders at everybody to clean the house for the “cleaning lady.” I’m sitting and listening to this thinking to myself(because I don’t want to upset momma; because when momma’s not happy, no one is happy), “What? This is crazy! We have to clean the house for the “cleaning” person?” For a man, it didn’t make sense. However, Joannie explained it a little more to me and then it still didn’t make much sense. [Ladies, what can I say…I’m a man.]

This got me thinking about how some Christians communicate (whether unintentionally or intentionally) about “cleaning up” our lives, and how many outside the church view themselves before darkening the doors of a church building or thinking about giving their life over to God. 

Here’s the misconception: We think we need to pre-clean before Christ does a deep clean

Like I said, Christians communicate whether intentionally or unintentionally that there’s some self-effort that goes into cleaning up a person’s life before Christ comes in to do a deep clean. My feeling is that this is unintentional. In other words, churches don’t really know they are doing it. But they do so through their posture. 

The posture of many churches communicates to people that you need to be a certain kind of person to make it here. Your worldview can’t be too crazy. You need to be somewhat moral and decent. You need to use a PG (or at the most PG-13) language. You need to do a little bit of homework so that you can understand a smidgen of what’s going on—since few will do anything to try and reach communicatively where you might be. In short, you need to be somewhat put together. 

Such a posture communicates to “dirty” people that they need to have some things straightened out before Jesus does a deep clean in their life. This kind of posturing frustrates people with already dirty lives. Just like our house, we knew it was dirty. We knew it wasn’t put together. That’s why we “hired” someone to clean it. So, being told to clean it before the professional cleaning person came was frustrating. In essence, we were being told to do something we had yet to do.

When churches posture their engagement this way with a lost world that waddles in their dirty sin, they wind up pushing them further away. When the church (even unintentionally) communicates that a dirty world must do some pre-cleaning prior to attending Christian community, they tell them to do something they don’t know how to do and to do something that only Jesus can fully do. 

One of the glories of the story of the Gospel is that “dirty” people found Jesus attractive. They encountered Jesus in all their filth. There was no pre-cleaning that happened. Sure, some were cleaned after encountering Jesus, others left still in their mess. Nevertheless, they encountered Jesus in all their nastiness. 

Dirty people found Jesus attractive.

The church must have a posture where people in all their filth feel safe enough to encounter the glorious Christ. If not, we aren’t as much like Jesus as we imagine. Truthfully, I believe the church, by in large, has a lot of work to do in reimagining such a posture where “unclean” people feel comfortable enough to approach. [Hint: we can start by realizing that we don’t have it all together. We might dress up and play a good part, but we all have our own mess and our own struggles. We call this vulnerability and authenticity. Those two places are a good start in creating a safe environment. Never forget the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is Jesus. It’s not our morality or how we seem to have it all together. It’s simply Jesus!]

Never forget the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is Jesus.

The other thought that’s a misconceptionis when people think they need to clean their life up before coming to God. If I had to guess, this misconception finds its roots in shame. In other words, people are ultimately ashamed of who they are, what they do, and how they feel. They feel they don’t add up. They feel they aren’t enough. They feel defeated. Thus, they feel shame. 

Shame is a powerful deterrent from God. It is what drove Adam and Eve into hiding. Because there’s this innate feeling that we don’t add up to a being that (if He exists) is transcendent. And so the thought goes, if God is real, and He is who He says He is, then I need to get my act together before I come and bask in His presence—much less join His family. 

The overall thrust of this way of thinking is what most religions teach. You work your way out of shame into God’s good graces. In other words, you pre-clean your house before God does the final clean. But, that in no way is the Gospel message. You don’t have to pre-clean your house. You don’t have to tidy up the home of your heart. Jesus comes into the darkest and dirtiest residences and makes them miraculously new.  

You don’t have to tidy up the home of your heart. Jesus comes into the darkest and dirtiest residences and makes them miraculously new.  

Some might come back and say, “That sounds all well and good. But what happens if I make it dirty again.” Truthfully, it’s not “if” you will make a mess again, it’s “when” you make a mess again. What makes the Gospel so unbelievable is that Jesus not only comes to clean the home of your heart, but to make your heart His home. Jesus has covenanted (not contracted) to not only do a deep clean justifying your past, present, and future sin, but to work with you to bring about a sanctifying cleanse where you become more like Him. Over time you will have less and less mess.

What makes the Gospel so unbelievable is that Jesus not only comes to clean the home of your heart, but to make your heart His home.

In closing, I ultimately realized why my wife asking our children to pre-clean before the professional cleaner came. However, when it comes to our lives, I’m grateful that Jesus doesn’t ask us to do some pre-cleaning before He does His deep clean. I’m grateful that Jesus enters into our mess and chaos (regardless of how bad we think it is) and not only cleans it but takes up residence to keep it clean as He leads us to our glorious future home—eternal life with Him in the new city.  

Your Church Might Be A Country Club If…(Part 2)

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In my previous post I began outlining four identifiers that your church might be more like a country club than a church. Once again, I’m not knocking country club memberships. If you are a member of one, I give you permission to sing along with Travis Tritt—loud and proud—“I’m a member of a country club….” [If you are a country music fan, maybe you just got that song stuck in your head for the remainder of the day. You’re welcome!] 

The reason for my posts is that I fear many American believers view the church as a country club. Or at the very least, they practically behave as if the church was indeed a country club. Regardless, viewing the church or behaving as if the church is a country club distorts both the identity and the mission of the church. 

Knowing the characteristics of a country club can help protect the church from becoming or being viewed as such. Here are the remaining four identifiers that your church might be more of a country club that members pay for than the church that Jesus died for.

1—Your church might be a country club if your members worry about public disruption.

One of the benefits of being a member of a country club is that you don’t typically have to worry about the public infringing upon your property. In other words, the members of the club can enjoy the exclusivity of the club’s amenities. They don’t have to vie for tee times, tables in the dining room, the pool, or the tennis courts. In short, they can enjoy their club with minimal crowd or public disruption.

For many churches, and church members, they don’t like crowds—they don’t like newer people coming in and disrupting the way things are. They want their same parking spot for both their car and their rear. In addition, church members may fear more newer people means more newer things. In other words, if the public comes in, they may shape the church house into something they aren’t comfortable with. 

I know what many church members say. They say, “We want to grow and reach new people.” What they really mean, however, is, “We want to grow and reach new people as long as it’s convenient and agreeable for us.” In other words, they are fine as long as the newer people don’t rock the boat or disrupt what they have going on. It’s incumbent to keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for His people to protect their exclusivity, but for His people to proclaim and demonstrate the inclusivity of the gospel—that Jesus is for all mankind. 

2—Your church might be a country club if you view other churches (“clubs”) as competition. 

The last thing you want if you are a club owner—or a club member at that—is people leaving and going down the street to the newer, bigger, and fancier club. In fact, if a club starts losing lots of members to the club down the street, they begin to see them as their big bad competitor. As a result, there tends to be a sour taste towards the “other” club. In addition, there tends to be reactive measures taken by the “losing’ club. Instead of having their own identity and crafting the club accordingly, they copycat the club down the street—thinking such measures will plug the leak. 

Churches should be different. Churches aren’t in competition with one another but are partners in the Great Commission. I believe the reason why many churches and church members see each other as competitors is because for the last thirty years or so, there’s been a lot of swapping going on. Something happens at one church, and people leave to go down the street to the other. Or, another church sprouts up with a “better” band, preacher, children’s ministry, and environment, and people from the “older” church leave to attend the newer. Such a cycle is built upon consumerism which drives competition. 

Church leaders must learn to be secure in who God has called them to be and what He has called them to do. While every church has the same call and task—or the same message and mission—the way they go about enacting them should have flexibility. In other words, church shouldn’t come in a one-size fits all mold. As J.D. Greear expresses, “We are to marry the mission [and the message], and date the method.” Every church must seek the face of God to determine how they are to flesh out their call and task there in their locale. Keep in mind, it may not look like the church down the street. And that’s ok. 

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting there’s nothing to learn from one another. I think there is plenty we can glean from the various models and styles of church. However, the minute we see another church as a competitor and not as family is the minute we Americanize the church’s mission—to be better than the church right down the street. 

The minute we see another church as a competitor and not as family is the minute we Americanize the church’s mission.

3—Your church might be a country club if 99.9% of your programs and events evolve around members.

Have you ever noticed the calendar of a country club? Almost every single event and program is for its membership. There might have been more, but the only event that I saw on the calendar that involved outsiders was the member-guest golf tournament. Like I said, there could have been more, I just didn’t see them. Such a practice shouldn’t be odd though. Should it? The members do pay for the club’s services and amenities. Thus, it would only stand to reason every event and program would revolve around the members.  

Having every event and program revolving around members isn’t a bad thing if implemented at a country club. However, it is detrimental if implemented at a church. The church is a body or organization where the membership doesn’t exist for itself but for those who have yet to join. If churches aren’t intentional, they will find that most of what they do is geared for insiders not outsiders. But if churches will stay true to their Christ-given mission, they will develop their ministries and programs with non-members in mind. If not, they are well on their way to becoming a country club. 

4—Your church might be a country club if you create an environment of becoming before belonging. 

If you are going to belong to a country club, you will have to become of member of that club. It is as simple as that. Sure, some clubs offer you an opportunity to try out the golf course and the kitchen prior to joining. Nevertheless, if you are going to belong and find community at the club, you will first have to become a member. Just out of curiosity, I wonder what would happen if clubs allowed people to belong to the club before they became a member? Perhaps more people would join?

In the church there’s a small debate over the progression of people’s faith and involvement with the church. Do people believe (in Christ), then become (a member of a church), and then belong (to the community)? Do they belong, then believe, and then become? Once again, I don’t believe there is a one-size fits all for every person. However, I do believe the church must be flexible on each person’s process and progression in the faith and involvement with the church. 

Having said that, I do believe churches should be very careful at creating environments that prohibit people from experiencing Christian community before they actually become a Christian. In other words, churches would do well to create safe environments for people to belong before they believe and even become. Just out of curiosity, what kind of impact do you think a church could have if they created safe places for nonmembers (people far from God) to belong as they explored faith, engaged in a Christian community, and witnessed authentic worship? 

Country clubs are places that provide services people pay for, whereas the church is a body of believers providing service for the king who died for them.

In closing, there’s definitely more that could be said with regards to churches behaving more like a country club than what Jesus intended for them. The reality is, country clubs are places that provide services people pay for, whereas the church is a body of believers providing service for the king who died for them. When church leaders and church members keep this at the forefront of their mind, they will be a missional vehicle advancing the good news to a people in desperate need rather than a recreational vehicle enjoying the amenities of a religious club. 

Your Church Might Be A Country Club If… (Part 1)

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I have been involved at three country clubs in my life. The first CC was under my parents’ membership in Covington, TN. The second CC was as an employee serving as the assistant to the golf pro in Canton, GA. The third was at an affordable club I found in Louisville a few years back. Let me just say, I have an affinity for golf!

I’ve also grown up in the church and have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years—serving as a Lead Pastor for the past 12. Let me say, with all her blemishes and imperfections (of which I am a part), I love the church! 

Having been a part of both country clubs and churches—as well as studying the North American landscape—I think for many Christians it’s easy to confuse country club membership with church membership. In this two-part blog, I want to highlight eight identifiers (four in each post) that your church might be a country club.

Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for the church to be a country club. Jesus died and rose again for the church to be a commissioned conduit to take the good news to the ends of the earth! 

With that in mind, here are four identifiers that your church might be a country club.

1—Your church might be a country club if the goal is to keep members happy. 

A country club is a service provider. For many, they provide golfing, swimming, tennis, dining, and entertainment services. Thus, if their services don’t appeal and appease the members, they will soon experience a decrease in membership. As a result, if members complain about the conditions of the locker rooms, the quality of the greens, the attire of the staff, or the taste of the food, country clubs will work to rectify the problem. A club’s future and sustainability is fueled by the satisfaction of the members. 

A church, on the other hand, is a mission vehicle. A church’s goal isn’t to keep members happy consuming a service, but to equip members to be sent out proclaiming and demonstrating good news. However, many churches have been turned into country clubs as they field an onslaught of complaints and suggestions. When churches are crafted into the image of consumers they distort the image of their Savior. 

2—Your church might be a country club if the leaders are seen more like a board of directors.

Many country clubs have a group of people called the board of directors that oversee the activities and effectiveness of the organization. In short, the board is mostly comprised of business people that are mainly concerned with two things: membership happiness and the club’s bottom line. Thus, board of directors are inclined to measure a club’s success based upon the bottom line of bodies and budgets. 

In the New Testament, church leaders were never referred to of as a board of directors, but as apostles, pastors (elders), evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). And these leaders were to equip the members for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Did you catch that? Those who belong to the church are to do work! Gospel work! I don’t know about your club, but I never experienced my club calling for a work day for members to tidy up the property. Members pay others to do the work so that they can enjoy the benefits of the club. 

Church leaders aren’t a board of directors but a body of developers.

Beware, churches that are primarily built on a country club mentality will experience a bottom-line effect when they have leaders that call members to work—getting their hands dirty—for the sake of God’s glory and others’ good. 

3—Your church might be a country club if people with affluence carry all the influence. 

For many, membership to a country club carries a connotation of status and wealth. Our culture is conditioned to treat those of status and wealth differently than those without the position or the deep pockets. I’ve witnessed first-hand how the owner of a multi-million-dollar company received preferential treatment compared to the retiree who drove a UPS truck. It’s not that the retiree was treated poorly, he just didn’t carry the weight the million-dollar business man did. 

I’ve also witnessed first-hand in the church world how status and wealth can get one a prominent place of influence in the church. Never mind the person of affluence swims in a theological, missional, and spiritual kiddie-pool. Yet, because of the influence his affluence provides him, he is able to bend the ears of the board of directors (leaders), which ultimately gives direction to the bent of the church.   

Affluence should not be a factor for giving one influence in the church. People that should be given a voice and weight are those who exhibit an authentic and deep abiding love for Jesus and His mission.

Success in business doesn’t mean maturity in mission. 

4—Your church might be a country club if the membership is homogenous. 

There’s seldom diversity in club members. Most members are cut from the same piece of cloth. They live in the same area, go to the same schools, dress the same way, vote for the same political party, etc. In short, most country clubs are set up for homogeneity. 

The church, however, was birthed for diversity. With the mission to create a peoplefrom all peoples, Jesus envisioned a diverse church—a third race as some have expressed. Therefore, churches should be about engaging, reaching, and cultivating the diversity represented in the community around them. Therefore, churches should experience racial, cultural, socio-economic, political, and to some extent denominational diversity. In doing so, the church demonstrates the in-breaking reign of God to unite a people from all peoples through the blood of the Lamb! 

In closing, I’m for both country clubs and churches. Given my affinity for golf, I understand the benefits and environments of country clubs. Given my love for Jesus and having studied His affection and mission for the church, I understand who the church is and what the church is to do. But the two entities are entirely different! A church isn’t a country club, and a country club isn’t a church. 

Kiss of Death

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I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the Star Wars multiple times. No, better yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen each episode. In fact, if I’m doing some work—whether reading or writing—I’ll put on one of the episodes in the background. 

My favorite moment in recent episodes comes in Episode VII, The Force Awakens, when Han Solo and Chewbacca enter the narrative. Oh, talk about nostalgia! As we catch up with Han, we learn that he and Leia were married and had a son, Ben Solo. But the dark side twisted Ben’s mind and he became known as Kylo Ren. 

As you could imagine, Han is devasted by his son’s choice and seeks to “save” Kylo Ren by convincing him to turn from the dark side. If you’ve seen the movie, it is a very dramatic scene in which Han aims to penetrate the heart of his son. Just when you think that Han had persuaded him, Kylo Ren thrusts his red light-saber into the heart of Han. Their eyes lock one last time, and then Han falls off the ledge into the dark abyss. 

BETRAYAL! We cringe every time we see it. Not only do we cringe, but our hearts skip a beat when we see it. It doesn’t matter if it is fictional or real. 

Probably the greatest reason why we cringe at betrayal is because we’ve experienced it at some level—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe it was from a parent who deserted you, a family member who abused you, a sibling who stole from you, a spouse who cheated on you, a friend who lied about you, a boss who terminated you, a believer who wronged you, or a church that abandoned you.  

I’ve experienced betrayal multiple times, even within the context of church. Regardless of where it comes from, betrayal is never easy to accept and digest. Betrayal is like a kiss of death—especially since the hurtful and painful blow comes from someone who has been relationally and lovingly close. 

While most of us have experienced a kiss of death, there is one who experienced the greatest kiss of death—the greatest act of betrayal—in the history of the world. His name was Jesus. Jesus’ experienced the kiss of death by a close associate, Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. And when leading the guards to the place where Jesus was, Judas approached Jesus, embraced Him, and gave Him a kiss. And the rest is history. Jesus is then arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified. 

Whether you are a follow of Jesus or not, such a betrayal is hard to comprehend. Why would Judas do such a thing? Why would he turn his back on someone so good? So loving? So kind? So humble? So miraculous? Did he really despise Jesus that much? Did he really need money that bad? 

While we could focus on the “why” all day long, I believe that it is more helpful to focus on the outcome. In other words, rather than zooming in on Judas as to why he betrayed Jesus, I think it’s more beneficial to concentrate on how Jesus responded and what ultimately transpired days later in the life of Jesus.   

When we look at Judas’ betrayal in the totality of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, we come away with this main principle: 

The kiss of death brought the breath of life.

In other words, Judas’ betrayal eventually brought about the death of Jesus, but Jesus’ death and resurrection would bring about life for the world. 

For the remainder of this post, I want to look at this principle from four different angles so that we can feel its gravitas.  

Angle 1: Judas’ Betrayal is Part of a Larger Story

Guess who wasn’t surprised by Judas’ betrayal? Jesus. During the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus divulged that one of the twelve would betray Him—knowing it would be Judas. In addition, some scholars believe that the Old Testament forecasts that the Messiah would be betrayed. In short, Jesus knew that the pathway to the cross went through the town of betrayal. 

Just because Jesus knew that the pathway of obedience involved betrayal doesn’t lessen the pain of being wounded by a close associate. However, while the pain is real, the perspective is essential. Jesus understood betrayal as part of a larger story that God was writing. Therefore, He could trust the Father who was the author of humanity’s story. Judas’ action didn’t get by the pen of God, it was actually going to be used for the purposes of God. 

Remember: Betrayal isn’t the story of your life, it’s part of the story that God is writing for your life. 

Angle 2: What Judas Meant for Bad, God Used for Good

This angle is very similar to the angle taught by Joseph in Genesis 50 when he graciously expressed to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20). Likewise, Judas meant to harm Jesus by handing him over to the authorities in an effort to pad his pockets with silver. However, what he meant for evil in ending a life, God planned to use for eternity to provide the means of [eternal] life. 

Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested, beaten, and nailed to the cross. But Jesus’ pain wasn’t wasted—the pain of both the betrayal and the execution. In fact, His pain became the world’s provision. Never underestimate the plan, purposes, and power of God of how He can use the pain you experience from a betrayal.  

Remember: The pain caused by your betrayal—however demented and evil it was— can become someone else’s provision. 

Angle 3: The Outcome of the Betrayal Doesn’t have to Define One’s Identity 

Think about the outcome of Judas’ betrayal on Jesus. Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested and condemned as a sinner and criminal. But that is not who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and a criminal. Jesus was the Son of God, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus knew who He was and what He had been called to do on planet earth. Nothing that Judas did—no matter where it landed Him—could taint Jesus identity.

I know firsthand how betrayal can lead to an unpleasant outcome and the unpleasant emotions that go with it. Whether the betrayal led to abuse, abandonment, embarrassment, termination, etc., it’s easy to believe that you are a loser, something is wrong with you, you aren’t good enough, or that you are damaged goods. In other words, it’s easy to define yourself by the outcome of the betrayal. However, may we never forget that the outcome doesn’t have to define who we are but is an opportunity to declare whose we are. 

Remember: Your identity is in Jesus. 

Angle 4: Betrayal Doesn’t have to End with Harboring Bitterness but with Releasing Forgiveness

The last angle really is a culmination of the previous angles. Since Jesus understood Judas’ action was part of a larger story in which he (Judas) wasn’t the author; since Jesus knew that God would work good from Judas’ bad; since Jesus’ identity was in the Father not any outcome Judas’ actions brought about; Jesus could then release forgiveness rather than harbor bitterness. 

From the cross Jesus uttered the words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Scholars debate the direct object of Jesus’ forgiveness who had ignorantly participated in His crucifixion. Without delving into the debate, it is certainly an option that Judas was part of the ignorant who participated in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution. If so, Jesus paved the way for Judas’ to receive forgiveness. However, Judas never received the forgiveness Jesus offered since he was so stricken with grief and depression that he committed suicide. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t consumed with vengeance, wrath, bitterness, anger, and hostility towards those who wronged—nor betrayed—Him. He lavished upon such with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Remember: Bitterness is a cancer that eats at your heart, whereas forgiveness releases healing. 

In closing, everyone at some point in his or her life has experienced the act of betrayal. Depending on the nature of the betrayal—the who and what—will determine the severity of the hurt and pain. The closer the betrayer is to the wounded and the more damage inflicted by them—like Kylo Ren killing his father Han Solo—will make the act of betrayal feel more like a kiss of death. However, as we have briefly seen in and through Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the kiss of death can bring about the breath of life. 

If you are dealing with a betrayal, no matter how painful it is, regardless of the outcome of the betrayal, Jesus can work in and through you to bring about life—not only for you but for those God places in your path.

Sexual Depravity in the Church

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Disgusted…Outraged…Grieved. Those words describe the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 when he addresses news about sexual misconduct happening within the church at Corinth and how the church dealt with it. The situation Paul addressed involved a man sleeping with his father’s wife—which would make her his step-mother! 

It seems that Paul couldn’t believe what his ears heard. A so-called professing believer sleeping with his father’s wife and the church failing to confront him. This was so taboo in the 1st-Century pagan world that Paul states, “[This kind of sexual immorality] is not even tolerated among the Gentiles.” In other words, the pagan Gentile community would not even put up with this, yet the church failed—up to that point—to do anything. 

It is sad to say, but the church has been rocked by sex scandals since her inception. In fact, prior to the birth of the church, we see a plethora of sex scandals in the Old Testament Scriptures involving the people of God. So, the sex scandals involving televangelists over thirty years ago and the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church and now the Southern Baptist Convention shouldn’t necessarily surprise us. In short, sex scandals find their way into every kind of church and denomination. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t numb ourselves to the depravity that exists within the church. 

When hearing news of such sinful behavior, the people of God should be filled with both disgust and grief. But more than an emotional and spiritual response, the people of God should also respond with actions that deal with the sin and in cases of abuse protect the innocent and vulnerable. Southern Baptists are learning that the hard way. 

It’s not enough to shake our heads in disgust and disapproval; it’s not enough to repent and grieve at the sin within. Action must be taken to authoritatively express such behavior is not befitting of the people of God as well as to defend the weak and vulnerable that are susceptible to sexual predators that are wolves among sheep. 

I’m grateful for the leadership of J.D. Greear, current President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He recently released “10 calls of action for the SBC”. I believe these ten action items are a good start to authoritatively express that such sexual activity is not befitting of the people of God and that as the people of God we will take steps to ensure the protection of children and the vulnerable. 

While the “10 calls of action for the SBC” is an institutional step for the SBC, I believe every local church bears the responsibility in taking personal action in such matters—regardless of church polity or governance. Paul, when addressing the church in Corinth, didn’t tell them to wait for a denominational head to make some recommendations for how they can deal with such sinful believers. No, Paul told them they had the responsibility to take action. 

In these few verses in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul provides —at the very least—a description for how church leaders and believers should engage and respond to such horrid news in their faith community. Paul’s exhortation outlines at least four steps local churches—regardless of church structure, polity, or governance—can take today to authoritatively express such sinful behavior (particularly in sexual abuse cases) is not befitting of the people of God and to proactively work towards the protection of children and the vulnerable?

Be Rational

How many of us have uttered some kind of version of these words, “This would never happen to…?” Maybe you’ve said, “My wife and I would never get a divorce; My children would never do this; I couldn’t imagine my neighbor going all homicidal maniac on people.” The list could go on and on. But the point is, we don’t want to think that deep depravity can happen around us—not to mention even through us. 

Churches cannot afford to be ostriches with their head stuck in the sand. They must be rational when it comes to this area. Sexual abuse, sexual misconduct can happen in their faith community.

Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, people who have been part of God’s faith family have descended into the depths of sexual immorality.

Being rational about such matters allows churches to be responsible in dealing with such matters. 

Be Educational

I remember the day I turned 15, I couldn’t wait to arrive at the local DMV to get my learners permit. But before I received my learner’s permit license, I had to pass a test. Guess what? I failed. To get the license I had to pass the test. Truth be known, I didn’t study for the test. I thought I could wing it and pass. Boy was I wrong. Being humbled by my failure, I went home and studied. And being educated made all the difference. 

The church in recent days and years has been humbled by their failure in the area of sexual abuse.

This failure has led to a fractured trust in the institutional nature of the church, which directly effects our missional mandate.

In our humbled position may we seek to be educated on the basics of what we need to know with regards to sexual abuse so that we can earn the right to be trusted once again. 

This doesn’t mean church leaders and members need to become specialists in this area, but they should learn the basics of how to handle an allegation, minister to survivors of sexual abuse, and handle situations where sex offenders attend or join a church. Being educated on the basics prepares us to be able to pass the tests when they come. 

Be Practical

I’m a simple, down-to-earth, practical guy. I never much cared for the complexities of calculus. I just wanted to know the simple steps to take to arrive at the answer. Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that everything can be condensed into simplicity, especially in complex and messy waters such as sexual abuse and misconduct. However, I believe there are couple of practical steps churches can take to protect the vulnerable and prevent sexual predators from attacking.

First, churches need to strengthen their hiring policies and procedures. Having been a lead pastor, I’ve been amazed at the lack of calls I’ve received from sister churches hiring staff members that worked for me. In the last church I served, I had four staff members transition to new assignments, and only one church reached out to me to discuss the staff member. 

I’m sure most people realize that prospective employees only put references down that will give them a good recommendation. Therefore, churches must go deeper to find out more information about a person. For example, if a church is hiring a person to be the Student Minister, wouldn’t it be a good practice to talk with a couple of adult leaders and even parents from the previous church? 

Second, churches need to delegate at least one, if not a few, people in their fellowship to be special advocates for sexual abuse victims and survivors. These special advocates would minister and serve the victims and survivors in three primary ways: (1) be the contact for someone who needs to make an allegation, 2) be someone a victim or survivor could trust, and 3) journey with the victim or survivor through their darkness so that they do not feel alone. 

Be Biblical

The last, and most important, step local churches can take in authoritatively expressing the sinful nature of such behavior and proactively working towards the protection of children and the vulnerable—and thus preventing sexual predators from attacking—is to be biblical. 

First, deal with public sin publicly. For this article, I don’t have the time nor space to address the various degrees of sin and when to practice church discipline, but church leaders should never sweep public sin under the rug. In each of the cases where the Apostle Paul addresses public sin that shames the name of Christ, he talks about handing them over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20).

The goal of such discipline is to expose sin, demonstrate God’s judgment against sin, save the soul of the offender, protect the church’s holiness, and be a good gospel witness. 

Second, exercise wisdom and discernment when desiring to be redemptive and restorative. I understand churches who want to be redemptive and restorative to those who’ve either faced sexual abuse allegations or have been tried and convicted of sexual abuse. But to hire or place leaders with a tainted past in similar environments in which they failed isn’t redemptive or restorative, it is reckless. Moreover, to hire or place leaders with a tainted past in similar environments without disclosing their past to the appropriate people is not only reckless, it is criminally negligent. It is incumbent upon leaders in the church to be wise, discerning, and above reproach. 

Third, seek to be places and people that are invitational safe havens—especially for children and the vulnerable. Jesus exclaimed, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them…” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus also uttered, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

Over the past 2000 years many have answered Jesus’ invitation to come to Him and join His kingdom and God’s family. The church is the vehicle by which Jesus continues to extend His invitation. But if churches become people and places that aren’t trusted, then we will fail at our mission mandate.

JD Greear expressed, “If we don’t get this right, our churches will not be a safe place for the lost.” 

In closing, these are not the end-all-be-all steps that churches should take. I’m sure there are many more. Truthfully, there’s a lot of work to be done by the church in this area. However, churches must be willing to make huge commitments to taking small steps. 

It’s simply not enough to be sickened and grieved by such sinful behavior. But, as the Apostle Paul exhorted the Church in Corinth, we must proactively do something about it. When the church meets their emotional response with action steps, they will create systems and cultures that deter predators and protect children and the vulnerable, and thus be healthy missional vehicles that advance the good news of Jesus.  

Lead·er·ship (/ˈlēdərˌSHip/)

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I’ve been in leadership positions almost all my life. Leadership, for me, dates back to youth sports. However, over the past nineteen years my leadership has been concentrated in two main areas: leading ministry in the local church and leading my family at home. 

While it is my desire to continue to grow as a leader, I felt compelled to put some thoughts down as to what God has taught me about leadership through my understanding of the Bible, the leaders I’ve served under, the books I’ve read, the podcasts I’ve listened to, and the practical experiences of leading. 

There are so many leaders who have offered their own definitions of leadership. Now I don’t know what makes one qualified to give their definition of leadership, but I’ve put some thought into it over the years and I’ve come up with my own. My definition is based more upon an image embedded within the word “leadership”. In short, my simple definition of leadership is: one who leads a ship

Let me expound on my simple definition. Leadership is the action of leading a ship (a person, group of people, or an organization) from point A to point B in a manner that glorifies God, so that the contents of the ship can arrive safely and be used to bring blessing and flourishing to the world.  

By this definition, there are at least 10 things we can learn about leadership. 

  • Leadership begins with yourself. No one can effectively lead others until they have learned to lead themselves. If you cannot navigate yourself from point A to point B, what makes you think you can navigate others? Those who lead others have effectively led (and are leading) themselves. 
  • Leadership is purposeful. In other words, there’s got to be a reason (or reasons) why you want to lead yourself (and others) from point A to point B. If there’s no reason or purpose, there’s a good chance there will be no sustaining motivation. This is why I chose to define leadership as leading “a ship from point A to point B in a manner that glorifies God….” The glory of God lays the foundation and purpose for how and where I lead. Leaders who lead the ship well keep the purpose (i.e., the mission) close to the heart and soul of those they lead.  
  • Leadership transpires on all kinds and sizes of ships. Like point one, leadership can be the size of a one-man boat (or jet-ski). It can also be the size of a fishing boat for five—to fit your family. Or, it can be a cruise-liner taking hundreds and thousands from point A to point B. The kind of ship will determine the destination in which you lead your ship. The size of the ship will determine how many you will need in servicing the ship to reach its destination. If you don’t know what kind of ship you are leading, nor the size of ship you believe you could be, you’ll have difficulty determining and navigating the direction of your ship. 
  • Leadership is about going where you or others have not been. As of now I’m training for a half Ironman. I’ve never competed before in a triathlon. In fact, until recently I’ve never swam long distances or owned a road bike. Nevertheless, I’m training for one. To help me better understand training for a triathlon, I have met with my neighbor who has competed in a full Ironman. I’ve also avidly read books and articles by other triathletes. Such people are leading me from point A to point B—a destination that I’ve never been before. Most people you lead have never been to where you want to take them. That’s why it’s vital to cast constant vision of the “WHY,” “WHAT,” and “SO WHAT” of the ship (organization).  
  • Leadership is about recruiting and training a crew for the mission. Depending on the size and scope of the ship (organization), leaders will need to understand who and what they will need to lead the ship from point A to point B. In other words, leaders understand they can’t do everything—nor should they. Therefore, effective leaders recruit, train, develop, and empower others for their role and tasks within the organization. 
  • Leadership is about strategic navigation. I’ve been on my fair share of smaller boats, pontoons, and cruise-liners. There’s strategy in navigating a boat. Whether through a host of other boats, wakes, or storms, those captaining the boat need to know about the etiquette and best practices of boat navigation. They also need to know what kind of waters they are on. A leader who fails to understand strategic navigation through various elements and obstacles increases the likelihood of sinking (or at least damaging) the ship rather than sailing the ship to its destination. In short, effective leaders know strategically how they will navigate the contextual waters as they guide the ship from point A to point B. 
  • Leadership is anchored in servant humility. In short, leadership isn’t about the leader. First, and foremost, leadership is about the purpose. For the most part, in any organization the purpose will far outlast the leader. Second, it is about those you are leading. The fulfillment of the purpose is directly tied to the leader’s effectiveness in empowering and equipping people to do the work. Third, it is about those that will be impacted and influenced as you lead your organization to fulfill its purpose. Thus, great leaders will think less about themselves as they busy themselves serving others!
  • Leadership is about making the tough and courageous calls. We’ve all heard the cliché, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks!” Leaders are where they are because they can (or should be able to) make the tough decisions. There are many elements that can threaten the safety and direction of the ship and thus the overall purpose and mission of the organization. Therefore, leaders—through wisdom, discernment, counsel, and boldness—know when they need to stand their ground, know when they have to let people go, as well as know when they have to push through the fear, insecurities, and timidity of those who are afraid of going where they’ve never been. 
  • Leadership is about sacrifice. Taking people or an organization from point A to point B is a weighty task. Just think, leaders have the responsibility of leading people to accomplish a mission that ultimately impacts and influences others. Thus, effective leaders feel the weight of their responsibility. As such, they work vigorously learning and growing in their life and field, setting the example for the organization, and entering in the life of those they lead in an effort to enhance them as people and team members. 
  • Leadership is about multiplication. Even the biggest boats in the world have limitations—in both their size and scope. Therefore, there is great need for more boats. More boats mean more leaders. Great leaders ultimately multiply who they are. In fact, the greatest leaders multiply other leaders and thus create a fleet of ships that carry a part of the mission and purpose of the organization. Leaders who fail to multiply cap the capacity of their ship. 

In closing, if you are a captain of a sports team, a stay-at-home mom, a pastor, a small group leader, a small business owner, a shift supervisor, or the President of the United States, you are leading a ship. So, how’s your ship? 

Listening is an A.R.T.

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As I was taking my eldest son to school this morning, I asked him “if he learned anything from the message yesterday?” He replied that he did, to which I eagerly asked, “What did you learn?” Then I got the preteen recording, “I don’t know!” I’m learning a lot at this phase of parenting, but I’m pretty sure it meant, “I don’t want to talk about it dad, so can you just leave me alone?” But being the stubborn yet loving father I am, we talked out what the weekend message was about.

My conversation with my son got the wheels turning for a follow up to a blog I wrote a few weeks back titled, “Preaching is an A.R.T.” Now I would like to write one titled, “Listening is an A.R.T.”

For most churches, the bulk of the time set aside for the corporate worship gathering is the message. It is expected that the pastor is ready to deliver a biblically-sound, attention-keeping, and culturally-applicable talk. In short, it is expected that the pastor has come prepared to deliver. And I understand this completely.

But here’s a question for all my brothers and sisters and other church leaders who aren’t the main teacher on the weekends: Do you come prepared to the weekend corporate gatherings to listen and receive a word from your Father? Just as there is a burden for pastors/teachers to deliver the teaching of the Word of God, there is also a burden for believers to listen and receive the teaching of the Word. As I want to come and give God and the church my best, I desire that everyone come and give God and the church their best. Both are an A.R.T.

As I’ve explained how preaching is an A.R.T. (in a prior blog post), let me explain what I mean that listening is an A.R.T.

A—Attune your heart to God. The psalmist exclaims, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Ps 122:1). There was joy in the psalmist’s heart in anticipating going to the house of the Lord to worship. Attuning one’s heart to God prior to corporate worship is setting one’s focus on what they are anticipating to experience once they get there.

Corporate worship is about gathering with the people of God to meet with God.

If I am to go to a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert, I’m going to set my heart on hearing them and being part of their show. If I am to go to Disney World, I’m going to set my heart on seeing and experiencing Mickey Mouse and all that entails. In the same way, if I’m supposed to be gathering together with my brothers and sisters and meeting with God, then I should be setting my heart on seeing, experiencing, anticipating, and meeting with Him. I think a reason why some leave corporate worship empty, dissatisfied, and disappointed is because they attuned their heart for consumption not consecration. This leads me to my next point.

R—Resist being a Critic. If you attune your heart for consumption not consecration you will see yourself as a consumer and thus a critic. I understand we live in a consumeristic culture. When we go to a restaurant, we expect to order something specific off the menu. If that specific item comes out any other way than what we like, we have a tendency to either send it back or voice our displeasure to a manager for our poor experience. Although our bellies may be full when we leave, our hearts our empty because it wasn’t quite the experience we enjoyed.

For a little over a decade I lived as a consumer and thus a critic in the corporate worship gatherings I attended when I wasn’t the one preaching. Because I was so “learned,” instead of listening to what the preacher/pastor was saying I was making mental notes of what he said that he could say better as well as what he didn’t say that he should have. As you could imagine, I would leave empty because I was so disappointed with what I had just experienced. It wasn’t until I resisted being a critic of preachers and seeing myself as a child in need of hearing from the Father that I began to hear God speak. In other words, I started to hear from God when I changed the way I viewed and attended corporate worship.

Corporate worship wasn’t about me going to critique someone, but it was about me going to hear from someone—my heavenly FATHER.

T—Take notes on the Message. I hear the argument all the time, “Our culture’s attention span continues to decrease,” therefore we need to have shorter sermons. In all honesty, I don’t think sermon length is necessarily the issue. But here’s what I do know. There are a lot of things in our culture that keep the attention of people. Two to four-hour ball games. Two-hour movies. My kids can sit for hours on end—if my wife and I let them—and play video games. Thus, the problem when it comes to listening to talks, messages, or sermons (or whatever you want to call them) isn’t a length problem, it is an engagement problem.

Think about it this way. If you go to a movie that you don’t care for, you are more inclined to be disengaged. Therefore, if you had a long week and are tired, you might find yourself dosing off in that particular movie. Or what if a friend invites you to see a ballgame, but the team you are really interested in isn’t playing. As a result, you don’t necessarily mind being late to the game. You don’t mind going to the concession stand during important plays. In short, your lack of interest leads to a lack of engagement.

Therefore, I believe shorter sermons aren’t necessarily the answer for disengaged people. It doesn’t matter how short or long the message is, disengaged people will be disengaged. Thus, the answer to the A.R.T. of listening—and thus engagement—is note taking. If a small business owner had the opportunity to sit down with Jeff Bezos for 45-minutes or more to talk about business and leadership, I bet they would bring something to jot down notes.

Corporate worship is an opportunity for God’s people to hear from God via one of His shepherds.

Regardless of how flawed or even how unqualified you may think the person is, God can use earthen vessels to deliver divine messages. If God can use a donkey to communicate, He sure can use people. In short, when it comes to taking notes remember this:

Consumers don’t write down what is said, learners do.

In closing, if you find yourself like my son, listening to a message but walking away not really knowing what you learned, then you might want to make some slight adjustments in how you view corporate worship gatherings. Start attuning your heart to God prior to the worship gathering. Tell God you’re eager and hungry to hear from Him. Ask God to speak through your pastor. Come with great anticipation and expectation to meet with God—not necessarily get your “needs” met. Resist the temptation to be critical. You’re not there to consume, but to listen and learn. Last, take notes. Note taking keeps one engaged and ready to highlight a word that the Father may want them to hear. The reality is, listening just like preaching is an A.R.T.

Thanksgiving; Giving Thanks

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This morning, I whip into Starbucks before staff meeting to get me my usual Venti Dark Roast Coffee. Interestingly, instead of Starbucks brewing the “Thanksgiving” blend, they were brewing the “Christmas” blend. I thought that was unusual seeing-as-all it was Thanksgiving week; but, hey, what do I know. As I ordered my Venti Dark Roast Christmas blend coffee, the barista comes back and hands me the coffee to which I respond and say, “Thanks.”

After this exchange, it got me thinking about this whole idea of thanks, thanksgiving, or giving thanks. My “thanks” was a cultural mannerism that I and others use to be polite. But I got to thinking, was I really giving her thanks for my coffee? How could I be thankful for someone doing what I was entitled for them to do? That coffee was mine! I paid for it. Therefore, I felt I was owed the barista to give me my coffee.

Here’s the principle I believe God whispered in my ear:

You cannot truly give thanks if you believe you are entitled to what you give thanks for.

In other words, if you believe you are entitled to something or have earned something, then it is difficult—quite near impossible—for you to be truly thankful for it.

I believe we live in an entitlement culture. [To be clear: the entitlement culture is not just reserved for millennials. This type of culture spans generations.] People think they are entitled and owed certain things. Take my kids for instance. They believe they are entitled to play the gaming system as long as they want. They think dinner at the house should be menu-style as opposed to what momma is cooking. They consider bedtimes to be optional. Thus, when we allow them to play their video games for two hours, when we cook them a nice homecooked meal, or when we send them to bed with a mattress, covers, and pillows they aren’t grateful nor thankful because they feel owed or entitled to these things.

This brings me to the meaning of thanksgiving or giving thanks—something that this week’s holiday is all about. But to truly understand what thanksgiving or giving thanks means, we have to understand its two sides—particularly from the biblical viewpoint. And if we fail to understand the two sides, then our thanksgiving will either be missing, misdirected, or misunderstood.

The two sides to thanksgiving (or giving thanks) is confession and praise. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are two words that are translated into English as “thanks.” First, the word “Towdah” is mostly connected with offerings (sacrifices) of thanksgiving; and, second, the word “Yadah” )not to be confused with Yoda) is mostly associated with praise.

It may be helpful to think of “confession” as that idea tied to who we are and what we deserve, while the idea of “praise” is tied to what we got and how we should respond. Both “confession” and “praise” is inextricably linked to both the concepts of mercy and grace. I’ve heard mercy described as God withholding what we dodeserve, and grace being described as “Gods. Riches. At. Christ’s. Expense”—or God giving us what we do notdeserve.

Therefore, if we are going to practice true thanksgiving (or giving thanks) we must realize who we are and what we deserve.

As believers, the Bible teaches that we are rebels who committed treason against the King of Glory. We attempted to rob God of His glory and of His throne. As a result, we shattered His image on our life. In addition, we damaged His created order. What God created good, we ruined and turned to bad. As such, we deserve to be judged, sentenced, and executed. We deserve no good thing! That should be our confession!

However, God did not give man what he deserved. He did not order a judgement, a sentence, or an execution—punishments and consequences yes; but not a condemning sentence or execution—He lavished them with a Father’s love! He pursued them, promised them redemption, and properly clothed them. What God gave man and continues to give man—both through general and specific revelation—is grace!

Every good thing we have in life has been generously dispensed from the gracious hand of the Father. And the ultimate good that has been lavished on us is the sacrificial, atoning, and substitutional death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In short, as depraved, rebellious, and sinful human beings, we deserve, we are entitled to, we are owed no good thing. That’s our confession. However, our praise is that in God’s mercy and grace—which is ultimately realized in Jesus Christ—we have something to praise, worship, and supremely thank God for. My prayer for this Thanksgiving is that I will (and hopefully you will too) truly give thanks to the Lord for every good thing that I have for I deserve no good thing! As the psalmist says:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving (towdah); go into his courts with praise. Give thanks (yadah) to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation (Ps 100:4–5).

Happy Thanksgiving!