God Meant It for Good
February 10, 2008
Eleven years ago one act of betrayal almost destroyed Fellowship Church.
This past Friday morning, I decided to do some paintings. I had not really painted in years. So I was thinking about betrayal and the semiofficial faces of betrayal. And as I put these paintings up, I want you to sort of process this whole subject matter because maybe, just maybe, you’re familiar with the faces of betrayal.
Maybe, just maybe, you can see yourself on one of those canvases. Or maybe you see some emotion. Or maybe you’re looking into the eyes right now of someone who has hurt you deeply.
Maybe you think about an ex spouse, or maybe you’re thinking about a parent or a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt, a son, a daughter, a teacher, a coach. We’ve all been betrayed.
He was betrayed. He was the apple of his father’s eye. He was taken advantage of. He was pushed into a pit. He was bound in chains. He met a couple of common criminals, one made it, the other didn’t. Because of his suffering a nation was saved.
Who am I talking about? Well, a lot of you are going, “I know who you’re talking about, and you’re talking about Joseph because we’ve been discussing Joseph recently around here.” You’re exactly right. I’m talking about Joseph, that Old Testament figure.
But I’m also talking about another man, Jesus. Because Jesus’ and Joseph’s lives sort of intersect. There are a lot of similarities. There are some analogies that need to be lifted off the page of scripture and downloaded into our lives. Think about Jesus. Just for a second think about Joseph. They were both very familiar with people they trusted who suddenly turned on them.
Betrayal happens during those decisive moments, doesn’t it? Think about your life. Think about your existence. When success happens, when you’re blessed, when you’re on the receiving end of the favor of God, usually sniffing around that blessing is a betrayer. A betrayer comes at those crucial moments.
Jesus was celebrating Passover. He was eating the bread and drinking the wine and everybody was having a good time in the upper room. It was the moment of truth. And Jesus knew, he said that his time was drawing near. Time is crucial. The only time we’re assured of is right now. Yet, Jesus was entering the time of the salvation of the world, and that is when the betrayal occurred.
Joseph was what, 17 years old? All of his abilities and talents were colliding. They were intersecting, and he was preparing to do great things. And that is the time his brothers betrayed him. Maybe you can identify with that. It definitely comes at those crucial times.
Also, betrayal comes to those here who actually trust people. Trust is the friend and the foe of betrayal. And betrayal comes at the hands of those closest to us. In other words, your enemies or my enemies can’t betray us. Only those people who are close enough to kiss us.
Jesus was sitting in the upper room, and he looked around at the disciples and he said, “One of you is my betrayer.” If you have your Bibles, turn to the book of John 13:22 because the response of the disciples is so human‑like, “His disciples stared at one another at a loss to know which of them he meant.”
Now, you have to kind of laugh on that because the disciples are thinking, “Man, I’ve betrayed him—so have you—I don’t remember—I saw you betray him.” Jesus said, “One of you is going to betray me.” And then that night in the garden, Judas ran up to Jesus. And Jesus pointed him out, “Here comes my betrayer.” And what did the betrayer do? The betrayer kissed him.
Joseph. What a story! Joseph—betrayed by his brothers, thrown in a pit, his brothers ran to his father and said that he had died. And through a supernatural turn of events, Joseph was elevated to the number two position in Egypt. He was like the man.
A famine struck and his brothers had to travel all the way to Egypt, and they had to go before Joseph—they didn’t recognize him—to ask for food, to buy some grain, and finally Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. And the Bible says that Joseph brought his brothers close—again they were close enough to kiss him—and then he did the reveal. He said, “I’m Joseph. I’m the guy you trashed. I’m the guy you abused. I’m the guy you pushed into the pit. I’m the guy that you stole my robe from.”
His brothers were in shock and awe. They were like, “What?!” Because he had the power at his finger tips to nuke them, to take them out, to seek that sweet revenge—yet, he didn’t.
Isn’t that true about betrayal? Isn’t it true that betrayal comes at the darkest time in your life? Isn’t it true that when you absorb betrayal, when you identify with the faces of betrayal, isn’t it true that it’s so dark? It’s not an accident that Jesus was betrayed at night. Yet, this act of betrayal that Judas was involved in led to the salvation of the world. Because hours later, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, rose again and now we have this light in the midst of darkness.
See this painting right here in the center? See this girl’s eye? Look very closely because I painted a cross in her eye. No matter what you’re going through, remember, if you keep your eyes focused on the cross, you’re going through. It might be dark and it probably is. It might be difficult.
You could be lonely or whatever, with bitterness and anger swirling around you. You keep your eyes on Jesus and you’ll see that light in the darkness and it will get brighter and brighter. Scripture says it will illuminate a path in our darkness to lead us to greatness. Our great God can and will and wants to even use those moments of betrayal in our lives, the darkness in our lives, to take us to a new level of living.
I think it’s interesting to notice something else about betrayal as we see the analogies between the lives of Joseph and Jesus. Betrayal doesn’t necessarily need to end that relationship. Now, sometimes it does. Sometimes when someone betrays you, the relationship is over and I understand that and so do you.
Yet, if you look at the life of Jesus, you read for example Judas. Anytime Judas is mentioned in the New Testament, it says, “Judas the one who betrayed Jesus,” “Judas, the betrayer.” The other disciples—what do they do at Christ’s deepest point of need? They bolted.
I guess you could say they betrayed Jesus, too, didn’t they? When you read about Thomas, when you read about Simon Peter, when you read about John, it doesn’t say, “The betrayer, John,” “The betrayer, Simon Peter,” “The betrayer, Thomas.” It doesn’t say that. Why? Because the other eleven turned back to Jesus. They came back.
Joseph, man this guy had some crazy forgiveness, didn’t he? His brothers, when they saw the reveal, when they saw they were locking eyes with the guy they had betrayed, they expected to be wiped out. Joseph, though, had forgiven them. Preemptive forgiveness. He had released them.
Unforgiveness can undermine your life. Jesus said this in Luke 23:34 as he was suspended between Heaven and Earth on the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Joseph said, in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me,” he was talking to his brothers. “But God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
ILLUS: Several years ago, I was filling my car up with gas. I saw a guy walking a Doberman. I saw him walk the Doberman across the busy intersection, across the parking lot. I watched him tie the Doberman up to a park bench outside the convenient store. I watched him walk in to get something to drink.
The Doberman got startled. He ran toward the traffic. He had such torque that he jerked the entire park bench up by its supports and was dragging this bench across the area that led to the busy freeway.
Sparks were flying, and I was thinking, “Oh man, I’m going to see a horrible accident. This dog is going to get killed; I’m going to see a wreck.” This Doberman dodged the cars. These cars were stopped, and I watched him weave in and out of the cars while dragging this park bench. He was swinging it to the left and right.
He whacked two cars, just messed them up. People began to scream and squall, “Get the dog, get the dog.” His master from the convenient store heard commotion, ran outside, saw what was happening, chased the dog down, grabbed the leash, unleashed the leash from the park bench and led the dog to safety.
We’re a lot like that Doberman. Don’t act like you’re not. What do we do? We’re leashed up to unforgiveness. We’re dragging this bench around; it’s going back and forth.
Who is sitting on your park bench? Someone way back there in the past? Someone who messed you around in school? Someone who dropped that comment at the office? A family member? A spouse?
Maybe the person’s dead, and you’re still just slinging them around on your park bench. Who is that? Because the collateral damage is colossal when we’re leashed up to unforgiveness.
Jesus is like that dog’s master. He is chasing you down and chasing me down. We can’t outrun him; he’s too quick, he loves us too much, he’s too fast, he’s on us. And if we allow him, he’ll unleash unforgiveness because unleashing unforgiveness is unbelievable.
Let me talk to the believers here. If you’re a believer, do you know what that means? It simply means you’ve been reconciled to God through Christ, and you have received that. You don’t deserve that nor do I. You have received that because right before Jesus died, he said, “It is finished.”
The deal has been done, the work of forgiveness has been secured and the price has been paid. We either receive that or we don’t. If we received it, the New Testament writer said we have received and we have the ministry of reconciliation.
In other words, because I have been reconciled to God through Christ— watch this now—I should quickly forgive others. That’s right. All I have to do is look at the cross and keep my eyes on the cross, and I should quickly forgive my spouse, quickly forgive my kids, quickly forgive my coworkers, quickly forgive the teacher, quickly forgive the police officer, quickly forgive whatever whenever whoever. Because I’ve been reconciled to God through Christ.
But here is what is so interesting about it: you’ll rarely feel like it. I hope you know that. Don’t even sit there and think you’ll feel like forgiving your spouse, or the teacher, or your friend, or your coworker, or the person who lied about you, or the person who betrayed you, or the person who stabbed you in the back, or the person who took advantage of you, or the person who abused you, or the person who shared that confidential information. You’re not going to feel like it.
The culture says, “If you feel it, it’s real. Wait to feel it.”
Well, I could wait my entire life and I would never feel like forgiving the people who hurt me. You’re not going to feel it, baby. Man, you’re not going to feel it. You’ve got to do it. Because nowhere in Scripture—and I have written an entire book on this—but nowhere in Scripture are you going to see that God wants us to be happy. It’s not in Scripture.
And if I hear that again from someone, “You know, God just wants me to be happy,” no he doesn’t. You know what God wants? God wants something deeper than that. God wants us to be obedient. What’s going to follow obedience? What’s on the heels of obedience? Outrageous, contagious joy. And that’s simply happiness on steroids; that’s what it is.
But if you wait to feel like, “Okay, I’m ready to release them,” you’re not going to do it. We do it, then the joy will occur; then we’ll have the freedom.
“Well man, what if the person doesn’t receive the forgiveness?” You know what? That’s between them and God, but we’re called to release.
Joseph did that. And even through betrayal what happened? An entire nation was saved. Jesus did that ultimately and perfectly on the cross. He rose again. And because of that, our salvation is secured. This is amazing, amazing stuff, betrayal. The beautiful side of betrayal. God can use even betrayal to take all of us to a new level of living if we focus on Jesus.
ILLUS: Well, let’s fast forward the clock several thousand years ahead from Joseph and Jesus. Because eleven years ago, at Fellowship Church, one act of betrayal almost destroyed what God was doing. I have never shared this story publicly. I have shared it to just a couple of people in a couple of confidential situations. Yet, I really felt a leading when I began to prepare for this series to tell you about this situation. So, please understand and hear my heart when I share this with you.
Fellowship Church began 17 years ago in a small office complex with about 150 people. That’s when it officially started. And we were like this nomadic church; we moved from rented facilities to other rented facilities. We met in a theater, we met in an arts complex, we met in a high school. And our offices and everything was leased and rented.
Some young families began to join Fellowship Church. And when we hit around 250 people, there was this young couple who really caught the eye of a lot of us because they were so energetic, positive, serving and helping. And we watched this guy just do some great things at Fellowship Church for years and years.
One day he came to me and said, “You know what Ed, I really feel a leading to go into ministry.” We talked about it, we prayed about it and we brought this guy on staff. And at the time our staff was very small.
The Resolution Trust Corporation was dumping a lot of real estate. We heard about this monstrous track in Grapevine and in Coppell. We heard about this track of land where the Tarrant County line and the Dallas County line split the property. But we couldn’t afford it; yet, we began to bid for this land.
And some of you real estate people know what I’m talking about. It was a sealed bid type scenario. The government chose us, so we had the opportunity to put a down payment on the land. The land cost about $2.5 million, and we put a down payment down. We barely had enough money to do it. We owed $1.875 million on 160 acres.
A year later, without any marketing, without a sign on the property, we sold 22 of the 160 for $1.875 million. Now, don’t even sit there and tell me that God is not in the real estate business! I hope you’re not even entertaining that thought.
So all of the sudden, we own this land free and clear. So, we began to build. We began talk about designing, and we met with architects, contractors and things. Our church was growing so much that we thought, “Okay, we need to build a worship center that seats over 4,000 people, and we need to will these big children’s ministries.” But there was one problem. We could not afford it.
So talking to our board—and at the time, we had some great people on our board; a guy who was an ivy league graduate, another person who owned numerous hotels and businesses, and another one who had a law firm. So we had all of these consultants and people in who had built all over the world.
We were talking about it, and we decided to ratchet everything back to kind of a smaller building. So this building was for 2,800 people, and the children’s building was a smaller building. We were preparing to build, and everybody is excited, and we were like, “Let’s go for it and do it!” And everything was projected.
Then this guy that I have been describing to you that everyone trusted, who was so kind, who was such a phenomenal Christian, came into my office just in the embryonic stages of building. He was weeping, and he showed me a letter.
He said, “Ed, you won’t believe this. A relative in my family, who loves Fellowship Church, a very wealthy man who lives in Fort Worth, has just given us a multimillion dollar gift.”
He showed me the letter and the wire transfer, and I was like, “Wow! Unbelievable. Multimillions!” I started crying. And our staff, we were celebrating. Everybody was high‑fiving, all the board of directors; it was just a God moment.
Now, all of a sudden we have this surplus. We can now go for the big kahuna. Forget 2,800 seats; let’s go to 4,000! Forget small children’s facilities; let’s just go for the big one!
So that is what we began to do. Right here, we just blew this thing up to over 4,000 seats. So, we start the building.
Now let me stop for a second because this always surprises people. I think sometimes people think that Fellowship Church is this rich church, like we have some fat cats throwing some major cheddar our way like millions of dollars. Sorry to rain on your parade. You know, in the history of Fellowship Church, let me see, we have been going on for 17 years, we have only had one person give a gift over a million dollars, and that was over two years.
That’s the biggest gift we have ever had. And when I share that with leaders, they say, “Wow, you mean you live in the land of multi-squillionaires, in Dallas/Fort Worth, and you’ve never had anyone give more than a million dollars?” No. If you want to, I’ll be down front after this service.
So anyway, we start building and everything is going great. But suddenly the gladness turned to sadness because Lisa’s father died suddenly of a heart condition during all of this. So our family flew to Columbia, South Carolina. I had to do the funeral, which was the hardest speaking assignment I’ve ever had in my life.
We were standing in the funeral home and someone brought in this huge arrangement of flowers. I mean the person could barely walk, he put the arrangement down, and we thought, “Who in the world would give something this big?”
I opened the envelope, and sure enough it was from this multimillion dollar donor who wanted to remain anonymous. You see, that was the thing. He didn’t want anyone to know he had given this multimillion dollar gift except for me, a few staff members and some board members. I didn’t advertise that. We don’t advertise what people donate to Fellowship Church. We’re not like that. We don’t put people’s names in lights and say, “You gave this and you gave that.” We don’t do that.
So, a great note from this donor said, “Ed and Lisa we are praying for your family. We love you so much. God has blessed us in so many ways and we’re just continuing to think about the great things that God is going to do. Thank you for allowing us to donate to your ministry.”
It meant so much to us. I mean, for this multimillion dollar donor to take the time to be that sensitive to do that, it was phenomenal.
After the funeral we came back home. Now that summer was supposed to be Lisa’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and we planned to get together in Panama City. We had rented several condos. The whole family was going to celebrate the 50‑year anniversary. Obviously, because her father died, we didn’t do that.
So this guy on our staff came to Lisa and me after we returned from the funeral and said, “You know? My father has an awesome beach house on the Texas coast, and he knows what has happened because I told him. And he wants you guys to use it. So take your mom down there, and your family can come in from South Carolina, and you guys just use it.”
And we said, “Man, we have a lot of people. Is this house big enough?” He said, “Oh, yes.” He sent Lisa and me the floor plans and the whole nine. So we’re getting ready to drive down to Galveston. We had the suburban packed full of groceries and everything was ready.
And right before we left on the trip, we get a call from this staff member who says, “I have some bad news for you. A maid left the water running on the second floor and flooded the entire house.” And we were like, “Wow, okay.” So we changed the arrangements, and everybody just came out here and hung out with us.
It was a very, very interesting summer. I found myself a little while later at our beach retreat. I do a lot of speaking there with our students, and I took my family down there. I was getting ready to speak five times over the next several days.
I woke up early one morning and began to pray and just think about what I was going to talk about that night. And all of the sudden, I felt this wave come over me—I know it was the Holy Spirit of God—this wave that things were not right. I began just to think about this staff member who was very involved with the construction and with the financial area of our church.
And I began to just have some serious questions and doubts. And it seemed so weird because I totally trusted him. I mean, with everything. So I shared this with Lisa and another staff member who was down there and they began to confirm what I was thinking.
So, I picked the phone up—and I felt weird doing this—I called this guy and I said, “Hey, I know you might think this is crazy, you know we just expanded the worship center from 2800 to 4000, we’re building that. We’re getting ready to break ground on this huge children’s facility.”
“But before we break ground on the big, monster children’s facilities, show me the money. I want to see it. I know I have seen the wire transfer, I have seen the letter. But I want to see the account. We need to talk to our bankers and make sure the multimillions are in the bank.”
I was on this phone call with this gentleman for over 8 hours that day. He could not come up with the account or the money. We called our legal counsel in, our board members, and finally I said, “You know what? It’s late. Tomorrow we’re going to go down to the bank. I’ll fly in and we’re going to meet with our bankers.”
This guy kept telling me, “I would never lie. The money’s in the account; I swear to you my relative has given it to Fellowship Church. I would never lie. I swear to you. I would never do anything to hurt the church.”
Early the next morning I received the most devastating and brutal phone call I have ever received. It was the staff member that so many trusted.
He said, “Ed, I lied about the money. I made the donor up. I lied about the beach house. None of it is true.”
My head was spinning. I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Here, at the time, our small church was putting everything on the table to build a building of epic proportions. Our board was together, our staff was together, our church was together, and I was talking to a betrayer, evil incarnate.
And I found myself saying, “You know, thank you for being honest with me. We want to help you because you are sick.” And then I said, “I forgive you and hung up the phone.”
I have never seen this guy or talked to him since. And here is what is so wacky about it. Our accountants came in the next day—and we worked with one of the major accounting firms around—not one dime was missing.
I still cannot explain to you the whats and the whys and the hows of this whole situation. But you know what I do know? The devil was trying to take down Fellowship Church.
I looked at Lisa and I said, “Lisa, this is it. All the work, all the prayers, all of the sacrifices, down the tubes because of a betrayer.”
And you know what my wife said? She said, “Honey, God has called us to build his church. And if it doesn’t happen here, we’ll start over and do it again.”
I’m so thankful I married a ladder and not an adder, aren’t you? What great words.
So here we are, man, we’re in a tight situation. We’re in a difficult situation. Now we owe millions and millions and millions of dollars that we don’t have. We don’t have any multi-squillionaire people just dropping millions on us. What do we do?
Well, this building had to go on, 4300 seats. Our children’s building, we put the brakes on. And some of you who have been here for a long time remember that when we moved into this building in 1998, the children’s facilities weren’t even done. We had to have the children meeting outside for several months because of betrayal. The reason today we have the modular buildings out there for our preschool is because of betrayal.
But here is what I have learned; you don’t betray God’s church. You don’t mess around with God’s church. You don’t trash God’s church. You’re not disloyal to God’s church. God is always going to construct his church. That’s why Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
So even in the darkest hour; even when it seemed like the curtains for Fellowship Church were closed, thousands and thousands of people began to attend, they began to join.
I’m talking about average, everyday meat and potato people began to bring their money and offerings. And we ended up paying, after several years, for this facility. So what Satan wanted to tear apart, what this guy meant for harm, God used it for good.
Think about this, what if we had only built 2800 seats? A lot of you would not even be saved. A lot of you would not even be here. A lot of your marriages would not be intact and families would not be focused and single adults would not have direction, if we had only built 2800 seats. So what this guy meant for harm, God’s used for good.
Think about what has happened because of this act of betrayal. Think about the thousands and thousands who have met Jesus Christ. We’re doing five services here; we have a campus in south Florida; we have a campus downtown; we have a campus in Plano; and we have a campus in Fort Worth. We have helped build a church in Maceio, Brazil. We’re sending them over $300 thousand dollars to help the impoverished and the neighboring areas.
Our television ministry goes around the world. Just the other day I ran into a guy who is a rugby star for the South African team, and he says his team watches our show every single week. I think about the camp we’re constructing right now.
So again, what Satan wanted to destroy; what Satan wanted to totally tear apart, God has used it for greatness.
But you know, to this day—I mean I will just tell you about myself—to this day, I still don’t trust people like I used to. I wish I could tell you that I do, but I don’t. And I still kind of find myself doing the push-back because that act of betrayal hurt me, my family, the staff, and our board of directors so deeply. I have never seen anyone lie as great as this guy. Never, ever, ever.
I wanted to take the guy behind this church and beat the fool out of him. That’s what I wanted to do. But I have released him. And many times when I start thinking about it—because it’s very emotional just for me to share this story—I have to remind myself, “You know what? I have released him. I have forgiven him.” I don’t like him. But I have released him, and I pray for him. So it’s just staggering to think about the beautiful side of betrayal.
One act of betrayal in Joseph’s life led to the salvation of a nation.
One act of betrayal, and Jesus died on the cross for our sin and rose again; and we have salvation.
And one act of betrayal has helped build this phenomenal church.
So notice once again the faces of betrayal. Do you see yourself in any of those expressions? I pray that you have your eyes on Jesus because no matter what you’re going through, by his grace and power, remember you’re going through. No matter if you feel like you’re about to break down, you keep your eyes focused on him, and he will break you out to a whole new level of living. Betrayal. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Betrayal. It’s the story of the life of Joseph, of Jesus, and of this great church, as well.