A place for your pastoral regrets

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A place for your pastoral regrets

November 3, 2022 -

A Moses-like silhouette stands on a mountain with both arms upraised © By kichigin19 /stock.adobe.com

A Moses-like silhouette stands on a mountain with both arms upraised © By kichigin19 /stock.adobe.com

A Moses-like silhouette stands on a mountain with both arms upraised © By kichigin19 /stock.adobe.com

Recently, I traveled to Jordan for the first time.

Jordan borders Israel to the east. It is famous for a number of reasons, not the least being its 1994 peace agreement with Israel.

For movie lovers, you may recall that scenes from some famous movies were filmed in the Jordanian desert, e.g., The Martian, the Star Wars saga, and the early Indiana Jones trilogy.

My trip included a tour of Petra. The magnificent rock formations and mountain carvings are as famous as they are dramatic. For Jordanians and others in the region, visiting Petra is akin to Americans touring the Grand Canyon.

The spiritual highlight for me was my time on Mount Nebo, just north of Petra. From Pisgah Peak, 3,300 feet above sea level, you can see Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives about thirty miles to the west. The site is marked by a beautiful church with frescos dating to the fourth century.

It was in these mountains and somewhere on this peak that Moses took his last breaths on earth until he visited briefly with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in northern Israel.

God’s words to Moses before his death

Deuteronomy 34 tells the end of his great life of faith, service, and leadership in just twelve verses. Here are the first four:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it” (Deuteronomy 34:1–4 NIV).

Moses learned and then lived that the God of Israel was the one true God. His life is remembered today and serves as an inspiration to many in ministry because he allowed the God of creation and grace to be his King.

Even in his death we can see it.

Moses’ faith and obedience

You have likely heard the axiom that “everything rises and falls on leadership.”

I think I first heard it from one of my best mentors. In some ways it’s true; in others it’s not. Moses was a great leader—not a perfect ministry leader because there are none. The more he focused and followed the God who called him the better things were, but that didn’t always mean they were easy.

God and Moses had a unique relationship. Moses was called for a transformational purpose in the plan of God, to lead Israel out of slavery and to a new homeland. The grand purpose of God was accomplished, but some of the smaller purposes for individuals, groups, and even Moses were not.

When Moses had fulfilled the purposes God had for him, God told him it was time for the end. He commanded Moses to come up Mount Nebo so he could die. Moses obeyed. This too was an act of faith. Most of us run away from death as far and as fast as we can.

Moses listened and climbed.

Anticipate the next hill

On top of Mount Nebo, God kept his promise to let Moses see the reality of the promised land. From Dan in the North to the desert Negev in the south and west to the Mediterranean, God enabled Moses to see it all as the future home of the nation of Israel.

One duty and privilege of leadership is to see things first before the people you are leading. Pastor Steve Stroope taught me decades ago that leaders are called to anticipate the next hill in God’s purpose and to prepare a plan for how to climb it.

It’s called vision and vision casting.

God also reminded Moses that he was caught up in an even bigger vision God was implementing. The new homeland was not first God’s promise to Moses and his generation. The promise was first a word of grace and generosity to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If we listen well enough and see in faith, we realize that all that God promises is connected to a grand narrative. Moses, you, your church, and me are a part of a bigger story.

“But you will not”

When the vision tour of the promised land was over, God spoke words to Moses that must have been hard to hear again: “But you will not cross over into it.”

As his life ended, Moses was confronted with perhaps his greatest regret. He’d disobeyed God at a key point of leadership.

Recorded in Numbers 20, Moses struck a rock instead of speaking to it as God had directed. In doing so, Moses forfeited the privilege of bringing the people into the land. The penalty for his disobedience seems harsh given the larger scope of Moses’ life, but God is never wrong.

If we live by faith, his discipline may at times hurt, but he will never harm us. See Hebrews 12. Our call-out culture could learn a few things about the difference between hurt and harm.

Take your regrets to God

Can you imagine God’s great promise mingled with your greatest pain of regret?

That likely hits home with every pastor. We all live in the tension of God’s promise and our regrets.

The great truth is this: when Jesus is your king, you can trust him with your regrets and the things that flow from them, even death. We will have to learn these lessons of discipline, lament, and change, but all of it is God’s grace.

As a native Texan, country music has always been a part of my musical tastes. I know I’m not speaking for everyone, but I do have a pastor friend who did a series of sermons called “The Gospel according to Country Music.” You may not be up for that!

Kenny Chesney is one of my preferred artists. The refrain of his song “A Lot of Things Different” says, “People say they wouldn’t change a thing even if they could, oh but I would. Oh I, I’d done a lot of things different.”

As we say in Texas, “I resemble that remark.”

What regrets do you need to put in his hands again today?

I think we all have them, and God’s grace is good enough and big enough to handle them.

I can’t say I like everything about this statement from Oswald Chambers, but it is profound for me to ponder: “He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son, as if to say, ‘Enter into fellowship with Me; arise and shine.’ If God can accomplish His purposes in this world through a broken heart, then why not thank Him for breaking yours?”

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