Esau’s Regret

Jacob, Esau, and the Lost Art of Deferred Gratification

I recently preached on “The 3 Success Secrets of a Scoundrel,” and you can hear the entire message at The message was based on the life of Jacob, a man who ended up highly favored by God, though he was quite a schemer along the way.

Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, are featured in one of the most intriguing passages in the Bible: “Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:2-3). Why would God love the deceiver Jacob in such a way? And what was there about Esau that the Lord hated?

Of course, today’s politically correct view of God is that He couldn’t possibly “hate” anyone. He’s a God of “unconditional love,” isn’t He? That is a deep subject indeed, but it’s not the focus of this article. Instead, I want to examine a central differences between Jacob and his brother Esau: deferred gratification.

You see, Esau was technically the older of the twins, so he had a legal right to a double portion of their father’s inheritance. But, in an impulsive moment, he sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34).

We can learn a lot from Jacob and Esau about the choices we make. Jacob was far from perfect, but he passionately pursued his inheritance and ended up valuing the things God valued. He was willing to persist in wrestling with God all night if that’s what it took to receive the blessing (Genesis 32:24-31).

Esau, in contrast, was only concerned about satisfying his immediate desires and needs. He could care less about the long-term consequences of his choices. Like so many today, he “lived for the moment” and hoped to clean up the mess later.

As a nation, we face this same crossroads. Will we choose the path of Jacob or the path of Esau? When we select our political leaders, the choice should NOT be who will give us the best life in 2013. No, the real issue, if we are wise, must be a long-term perspective: Who will set us on the path to a better country 20 or 30 years from now? What policies will lead to a better life for our children and grandchildren?

Many voters are concluding that they made an impulsive decision four years ago. It felt good at the time, yet now they are feeling regret. Esau felt this way too, and he wasn’t allowed to reverse his downward course (Hebrews 12:14-17).

However, by God’s grace, America gets to choose again. Which candidate and philosophy will pave the way to a better nation decades from now?

The choice is yours. The choice is mine. The choice is our nation’s. The consequences will be profound.


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John Wesley Meets Twitter World

I’ve been haunted lately by an old quote attributed to John Wesley, the famed English preacher and founder of Methodism:

“Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon the earth.”

My angst over this quote probably began when I entered the world of Twitter and began a daily count of my followers @BestBibleTweets. In just a week or so, I had gained more than 100 “followers,” yet somehow the world wasn’t shaking like Wesley described.

Another milestone came when I realized I had the same number of Twitter followers as the number of church members we had in the church I pastored in Ohio many years ago. It had taken our church an entire decade to reach that number of followers, but I did it on Twitter in slightly more than a month.

Yet the world still wasn’t shaking.

More milestones would soon follow, until I had thousands of Twitter followers in less than six months. I was certainly proud of my accomplishments…but still the world wasn’t shaking.

I forgot to mention that I also have more than 500 contacts on LinkedIn and almost 500 friends on Facebook. That’s cool, but I still find myself troubled by Wesley’s quote.

I can almost imagine Wesley appearing to me in a dream some night…

“Jim, how many disciples are you leading in the ways of Christ?” he might ask.

“Brother Wesley,” I would tell him, “I now have thousands of people following me on Twitter @BestBibleTweets and hundreds of friends reading my posts on Facebook.”

“Very impressive, Jim!” Wesley might say. “I sure wish I’d had technology like that to mold disciples in my generation. But tell me, are your followers truly growing in the grace and holiness of the Lord? Are you able to hold them accountable to the teachings of the Word? And are these ‘followers’ of yours bold in their faith and winning souls to Christ?”

Hmmm… How would I respond to such a troubling question? And how would YOU respond if Wesley inquired about your disciples?

Although I don’t plan to give up on the world of Twitter and Facebook, I’ve concluded that I would trade it all for just 100 people who “feared nothing but sin and desired nothing but God.” For as much as I love my Twitter flock, they are no substitute for true disciples. Nor can my Facebook friends match the level of face-to-face friendships God wants me to have.

Lord, we want to be world-shaking believers, able to raise up fully devoted followers who can cover the earth with Your glory!

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Restoring the Church’s ‘Upper Room’

A friend recently told me a story about renovations being done to the upstairs of an elderly woman’s house. The reconstruction project had proven more costly than expected, resulting in considerable friction among her children, who presumably will inherit the house and their mother’s remaining assets someday.

This was a casual conversation about a very real situation. But it contained significant prophetic lessons for the state of the church in America.

As the story unfolded, I found myself asking a number of intriguing questions, and the answers lead us to important principles about the kind of renovations needed in the body of Christ today.

Why Renovate the Upstairs First?

This woman lives in an old, stately house. A visitor might conclude that it’s in fairly good repair, but most of the decorations and accessories are quite dated.

Usually a visitor would only see the main floor of this house, which raises the first question: Why not invest the time and money to renovate the first floor instead of the upstairs? After all, the upstairs would rarely be seen by the public. And I know this would be our family’s priorities if we did renovations—we would concentrate on the most visible areas.

But you see, the church has an “upper room,” and from God’s perspective nothing is more important. As my friend’s story unfolded, in my mind’s eye I could see a house that was clean and fit for use on the main floor, but it had an upstairs filled with cobwebs, dust, and debris.

Sadly, this too often is the situation in the church today. We care about what is seen by the visitors (i.e., “seekers” and unchurched people), but we don’t realize the crucial importance of restoring the upper room—the place where we find intimacy with God and are filled with His world-shaking power.

So we typically renovate the main floor first. Giving great attention to a visitor’s “worship experience,” we focus on having friendly greeters, good lighting, an awesome sound system, stunning video effects, and a stage production that most rock stars would envy.

Let me be the first to say that I’m not particularly against such things in themselves. In many churches, the main floor needs some renovation. The old organ music isn’t helping to reach many new people, and the pews and overall décor clearly have a “dated” look.

But what should be our first priority? When the first floor becomes our obsession and the upper room is neglected, we aren’t putting first things first. To the extent that we succeed at all, we will fall into the dismal trap of “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Of course, there are some truly successful churches that give the upper room its proper place and also reach out to seekers with excellent music and preaching. Yet many new church plants simply try to mimic the first floor worship experiences of these effective churches, without investing in the upper room power.

Is It Worth the Cost?

In my friend’s story, the cost overruns had caused conflicts among the woman’s children. It was a very expensive project, and one could well question whether it was worth it.

Here again, there’s a prophetic lesson. When a woman anointed Jesus with costly spices before His death, the disciples asked this very same question: “Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8) After all, there certainly could have been better use for this extravagant expenditure: “This fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor” (v. 9).

In essence, the disciples were saying, “Jesus doesn’t really need this lavish display of affection. Instead of wasting it on Him, we should be reaching out to the poor—the seekers and those are lost.” There was a certain logic to their argument, for they knew Jesus had a great passion for the least and the lost. They probably thought He would commend them for their perspective.

But Jesus startled them with this surprising rebuke: “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (v. 13). In other words, true worship—upper room style—was a key ingredient for genuine gospel outreach! Jesus wanted people to remember this woman’s act “wherever this gospel is preached.”

While trying to impress people with our amazing technology and “sound and light show,” we must never forget the most important feature of an authentic church: the presence of Jesus! (Matthew 18:20) In the end, that’s all we really have to offer (Exodus 33:15-16).

When we truly worship Him as our first priority, something incredible happens in the spiritual atmosphere: “The house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (John 12:3). Notice that the WHOLE house was filled—not just the upper room. When we set our hearts on worshiping Jesus in the upper room, the aroma will surely fill the downstairs too.

So Why Not Make the Whole House an Upper Room?

There’s an urgent need for the church to renovate its experience of the upper room. The cobwebs are many, and the power is running low in most congregations today.

However, some well-meaning believers have taken this message to an unhealthy extreme. Realizing the vital importance of the upper room, they’ve surmised that nothing else is of much value.

So these very spiritual Christians have tried to turn the downstairs part of the house into an upper room. Since the upper room is so crucial, they argue, why not turn the whole house into a “house of prayer”?

While this indeed sounds spiritual, it’s basically moving the pendulum from one imbalance to another. Yes, Jesus wants His house to be a “house of prayer,” but He never wants us to forget the second part of our assignment: We must be “a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS” (Mark 11:17). In other words, the prayers and praises in the upper room are always supposed to be linked to our mission to preach the gospel.

If we turn the “public” floor of the house into an upper room, it’s no longer truly public. We’ve lost our place for visitors or seekers to come, because we’ve taken away their point of access. In effect, we’ve eliminated the outer court of the Temple and told people to come directly into the Holy of Holies.

Of course, I’ve heard all the arguments that the church must be a super-spiritual place where believers come to meet with God—and the evangelism will come later, after we’ve soaked in His presence for an extended period. While this concept sounds appealing, I’ve found that, too often, the evangelism never actually comes. We’re basking in our upper room day after day, but never taking the presence of God with us to the streets and the marketplace.


Satan loves imbalance. Sometimes he even lets “good” things happen unopposed, if they are good but ineffective.

Unless connected to the upper room, an effort to reach seekers will ultimately end in frustration. But an upper room not connected to outreach a lost and needy world will ultimately become a self-absorbed delusion.

No matter which side of the pendulum you’re presently on, it’s time to regain balance and true impact. As for the early disciples, so with us: It was after they worshiped Him that He gave them the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The two cannot be separated if we are to succeed in filling the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Habakkuk 2:14).

Are you ready for renovation? Then let’s start in the upper room, as the early church did. But let’s not be content until our renovations rock the whole world.



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Money Really DOES Grow on Trees

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Perhaps this was drilled into you by a parent who wouldn’t spend money to take you to the amusement park…a boss who said he couldn’t give you a raise…a pastor who claimed there was no money for a certain outreach…or a politician who didn’t want to fund your favorite program.

But this old saying is completely wrong. And I can prove it.

If you’ve spent any time around churches, you’re probably familiar with Malachi 3:8-12, a famous Scripture passage on tithing and financial stewardship. God says His people had robbed Him of the tithes and offerings He was expecting. As a result of their unbelief and disobedience, they had forfeited His intended blessings and put themselves under a curse.

Contrary to how preachers sometimes use this passage, it isn’t meant just to hammer people for failing to tithe. The much bigger objective is to encourage us about God’s desire to abundantly bless us if we follow His instructions: “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in!” (v. 10 NLT)

Think of it: God doesn’t merely want to bless you with enough provision to pay your bills or put food on the table. He wants to give you more than enough for your own needs, so that your life can overflow and become a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2, Psalm 23:5).

However, even if you’ve caught this Biblical vision for overflowing abundance, you may find yourself puzzled in how to attain it. In all likelihood, that’s because you’ve missed God’s typical mechanism for giving you this kind of prosperity.

Maybe you thought His promise meant you could expect to see money dropping from the sky, much the same as how the Israelites received their daily manna. So you watched and waited, but you were dismayed to find that this unusual type of supernatural provision rarely comes. And like many other well-meaning believers, you may even have concluded that God’s promises simply aren’t true.

Sadly, the Israelites in Malachi’s day had arrived at this very same, very misguided conclusion: “What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands…?” (v. 14) Something had gone tragically wrong in their perspective—but perhaps you can relate.

You see, instead of dropping His provisions from the sky, the Lord most often wants to bless something we’ve planted on the earth. Yet we’re likely to miss it if we’re looking in the wrong place.

So what does this have to do with money “growing on trees”? Take a look at what God says: “Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe” (v. 11).

There’s a crucial point here—something we often miss in all the talk about tithing and sowing seeds into God’s kingdom. In order to experience overflowing abundance, we ordinarily will need to plant a tree, a vineyard, or some crops that the Lord can bless on the earth. While this may be a literal farm or orchard, more likely it will be some kind of fruit-bearing (and money-producing) idea or business venture.

However, too many Christians are so spiritual that they’ve failed to do this. Even if they tithe and sow financial seeds into churches or ministries, they’ve never cultivated any crops God can bless on the earth. He wants to abundantly bless them, but they’ve given Him nothing tangible to work with.

If you’re in serious financial need today, my heart goes out to you. I know what that feels like, and it’s not fun.

But instead of getting mad at God for not providing, I encourage you to stop and pray. Ask the Lord what mechanism He wants to use to bless you. Is there an investment He’s leading you to make…a business He wants you to start…an amazing creative idea He wants you to copyright or patent?

Money really does grow on trees, but only if you plant and cultivate the trees! The result can be incredible, not only blessing you and your family, but also leading to a life of widespread influence and impact: “Then all nations will call you blessed” (v. 12). People will notice, and God will be glorified.

So go ahead and plant your tree—a tree that that will bear fruit and blessings for many months and years to come.



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Breaking the Piper’s Spell

For several years, America has been under what Romans 11:8 calls “a spirit of stupor.” More on that in a minute, but first a story…

You’ve probably heard the old German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. When the town of Hamelin was suffering from a terrible rat infestation, a charismatic man dressed in multicolored clothing appeared, claiming to have a solution. The desperate townspeople gladly promised to pay him for his services, and the man proceeded to play a musical pipe to lure the rats into a river, where they drowned.

Despite this success, the mayor of the town refused to pay the piper the full amount of money due. The piper angrily left the town, vowing to return and seek revenge.

Sure enough, the piper came back, this time when the townspeople were in church. He played his pipe again, but not to lure away the rats. The seductive sound of his music drew the children of Hamelin out of their town and into a cave, and they were never seen again.

Why has this story endured for so many centuries? Because we’ve all experienced some version of its plot: The guy hired to fix one problem ends up creating other problems that are even worse.

We see this in the Biblical story of the woman who suffered with a hemorrhage for 12 years. We’re told that she “had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:25-34). Notice that this poor woman (1) suffered at the hands of the very ones who were supposedly trying to help her, (2) spent all her money on worthless cures, and (3) ended up getting worse instead of better.

And it’s also crucial to notice that this woman apparently persisted—for 12 long years—in a treatment plan that actually made her situation worse. No doubt, her worthless (or evil) doctors assured her that improvement was right around the corner. “Just stay the course,” they advised her. “We’re surely making progress.”

You see, there are Pied Pipers everywhere. Politicians, financial planners, sports coaches—we’ve all heard the “stay the course” message when it made no logical sense at all.

That brings us back to “the spirit of stupor.” Romans 11:8 says this unfortunate condition came from God Himself, a judgment for people’s idolatry, hardness of heart, and failure to seek His ways. Those overcome by this spirit had “eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear.”

Our English word “stupor” comes from the Latin stupure, meaning “insensible.” Dictionaries define it as “a lack of critical cognitive function, where a sufferer only responds to stimuli such as pain” … “suspension or great diminishing of sensibility, such as the effect of narcotics or intoxicants (e.g., a drunken stupor)” … “mental apathy.”

Just as a person usually needs several drinks to become inebriated, America’s stupor didn’t happen all at once. The Pied Piper spirit began to weave its seductive web decades ago, but its tune surely came to a crescendo with the intoxicating rhetoric and promises of 2008.

If you see this as strictly a matter of party affiliation you’ve completely missed the point. There are Pied Pipers on all sides of the political spectrum. We have to address the spiritual roots of many people’s trancelike political preferences. The stupor is, after all, a “spirit”—something that must ultimately be broken through prayer, fasting, and spiritual warfare.

Have you ever tried to persuade a drunken person to follow any kind of sensible path? Good luck on that. First, the intoxicated person must sober up and come to his senses.

In the same way, God graciously wants to return America to “sobriety” and sensibility. Prayer is a powerful thing, and the curse of spiritual stupor can be broken. But time is running out, and our children’s future depends on it. We must boldly cry out to awaken those still mesmerized by the piper’s seductive spell, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14).


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The 3 Cs of Good Leadership

I’m convinced that nearly everyone can be a leader of something or someone. First, we’re called to exercise self-discipline and leadership over our own life. Then we may learn to wield leadership in our family as we provide a good example and wise direction for our children. And many of us have some degree of leadership responsibility in our job or business.

However, just because most people are called to some form of leadership, that certainly doesn’t mean everyone will be a good leader. In fact, excellent leaders have been extremely rare throughout human history.

Although there are many valid ways to define the qualities that make for an effective leader, three traits provide a helpful spectrum to analyze why some leaders are more successful than others: Character, Competence and Charisma. Few leaders possess a full measure of each of these, and sometimes it’s amazing how much a leader can accomplish despite severe deficiencies in one of these three areas.

My focus on this blog post is Presidential leadership, but this is just meant to be illustrative of the issue. The 3-C leadership grid can be applied to leaders in any sphere of activity, from politics or the military to churches or nonprofit organizations. And I hope you’ll take some time to apply these to your own leadership level today.

If you look at this list of the past 10 American Presidents, how would you rate them in terms of their character, competence and charisma?

     Barack Obama
     George W. Bush
     Bill Clinton
     George H.W. Bush
     Ronald Reagan
     Jimmy Carter
     Gerald Ford
     Richard Nixon
     Lyndon Johnson
     John Kennedy

Of course, your rating system may be skewed by whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Independent. But try to be objective. What do you discover about leadership from an examination of these national leaders, whose administrations spanned a period of 52 years?

Some of our Presidents have had severe character flaws. They were womanizers, liars or narcissists. In the case of Richard Nixon, he lost his presidency because of the lies and cover-ups of Watergate. But in other cases, the character flaws seemed only speed bumps on the road to overall success. Remember Bill Clinton philosophizing about the mean of “is” while trying to cover up his lies about the fling with Monica Lewinsky? Yet many people consider him a Presidential rock star today.

Other Presidents struggled with competence, even though they may have been highly successful in their careers before assuming the presidency. Maybe you’ve heard of the Peter Principle, the theory that people often are promoted multiple times, until they finally reach a level of responsibility beyond their abilities.

And some Presidents, of course, have excelled in charisma. Kennedy, Reagan and Obama come to mind, but Clinton definitely has had his moments too. So, arguably, fewer than half of the most recent Presidents were highly charismatic. That may seem surprising. And if you guess I value character and competence over charisma, you are right.

However, that doesn’t mean charisma is of no value to effective leadership. Quite the contrary. People aren’t influenced by leaders based on character and competence alone. In order to reach maximum impact, leaders must exude a convincing confidence in their vision for the future. Reagan ran for reelection on the basis that he had sparked “morning in America.” He constantly reaffirmed his confidence that America was a shining city on a hill, the best hope for peace and freedom around the world.

Yes, charisma is an extremely helpful attribute for a leader. But charisma also is the most dangerous of the “3 Cs.” Attila the Hun, Napoleon and Hitler all had charismatic personalities. They displayed an uncanny ability to persuade people to follow their lead, possibly because their charisma was mixed with a high degree of competence. However, these men also were diabolical, power-hungry egomaniacs. Although they succeeded in getting numerous people to follow their lead, they were leading their flock in totally the wrong direction.

So how does the Character-Competence-Charisma triad apply to the current Presidential election? The analysis can begin with the Republican contenders during the primaries. Some, like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, had unquestionably solid character, but voters weren’t persuaded that they also had the necessary degree of competence and charisma. Other candidates, like Newt Gingrich, clearly had experience, competence and a firm grasp of the issues, but his past marital indiscretions raised insurmountable character issues in the minds of many voters. And some of the candidates just didn’t seem to have enough charisma to be the leader of the country and the free world.

So now we have a choice between Obama and Romney and a variety of small-party candidates no one ever hears about. It’s pretty clear who’s winning the charisma battle, but what about the other leadership traits, character and competence? And remember: Just because a leader is effective in getting people to follow him, that doesn’t mean he is going in the right direction.


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