FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Living on Purpose: Alistair Begg

with Alistair Begg | May 13, 2024
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Curious about what it means to truly live out your faith in today's world? Alistair Begg chats about the Sermon on the Mount and how we can be living with purpose and meaning in our lives--and breaking free from unhealthy cultural norms.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Seeking more purpose in life? Alistair Begg explores the Sermon on the Mount, guiding us on how to find purpose.

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Living on Purpose: Alistair Begg

With Alistair Begg
May 13, 2024
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Alistair: Would you like to be wealthy, or would you like to be poor? Would you like to be happy, or would you like to be sad? Would you like everybody to like you, or would you like to be hated? Anybody's going to sign up for: “Give me the good part.”

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: And Jesus is saying, “No, I'm going to have to explain to you that many of the things that are held out as the key to your existence need to get turned upside down.”

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Well, I have got to say, “I'm so excited! We've got a Buckeye!”

Ann: Yes!

Dave: When was the last time we had somebody from Ohio—

Ann: —a Buckeye?

Dave: —where we’re from?

Ann: —this Buckeye, though, has a unique accent.

Dave: He’s got an Ohio accent. [Laughter] Some of our listeners will recognize this voice. Go ahead, Alistair! Say, “Hello,” in Ohio—

Alistair: —in Ohioan?

Dave: —yes.

Alistair: Well, if I go for Ohio, I have to say, “I'm going to have a bath.” [Laughter]

Dave: “Bath.

Alistair: A “bath.” [Laughter] “I'm going to have a laugh in the bath.” [Laughter]

Dave: So, many of our listeners probably recognize your voice, Alistair Begg. Tell our audience what you've been doing: Parkside in Cleveland.

Alistair: Yes, I'm a pastor by calling. I was ordained as a 26-year-old in Edinburgh, and then, I was in a church on my own for six years. It was from there that I was invited to come to Cleveland, Ohio. When the guy said he was from Cleveland, I had to get an atlas. [Laughter]

Dave: Did you?

Alistair:  Yes, I did. Yes.

Dave: I bet.

Alistair: I had no idea where it was.

Dave: And you still came.

Alistair: And I still came. [Laughter] When I found out—because they were able to pitch it. You know, they had managed to set the Cuyahoga River on fire the year before. [Laughter] The mayor had bankrupted the city. I mean, it had huge appeal—huge appeal! [Laughter]

Dave: They needed the gospel.

Alistair: Yes, there's no doubt about that. Yes.

Dave: How did you meet Susan? You said she's from Michigan.

Alistair: Her father worked for Chrysler International.

Dave: Okay.

Alistair: He came to work in the UK in the ‘60s. I went on a holiday in Switzerland with a bunch of young people from a Christian organization. On that holiday in Switzerland, there were two American girls: a girl called, “Christine,” and another girl called “Kimberly Anne;” Kimberly Anne France. [Laughter] She said it like that, and I've never forgotten her name, just for no other reason than the way she said it.

Anyway, all the people came, basically, from suburban London, and myself and my buddy came from Yorkshire, up in the north. We were invited to go to a reunion in the suburban London area, and we were invited, then, to the home of one of these American girls: Christine's home, in suburban London. She's one of four daughters.

When I got to the home for Sunday lunch, I met two of the other daughters, one of whom was Susan. I was 16; Sue was 13. [Laughter] We sat at lunch like this. I sat opposite her. It was amazing!

Ann: And she was 13?

Alistair: She was 13—

Ann: —and she was still amazing.

Alistair: —it sounds ridiculous. No, she had beautiful eyes. She has lovely eyes.

So, we went out walking in the afternoon. We went to church in the evening. I asked her to ask her mother if I could write letters to her. She came back and said, “Yes, my mother said it’s okay.’”

The next day, we went to Carnaby Street (myself and my buddy). We got a postcard from Carnaby Street. I wrote:

“Dear Susan, It was lovely to meet you yesterday. Please write back to me.”

It was like childhood stuff. That, then, started a letter-writing thing that lasted for seven years, four of them across the Atlantic Ocean because her father was transferred back to the States, and he never checked with me. [Laughter] Quite literally, she went home for summer leave and never came back. No faxes; no phones; no nothing. Just letters—

Ann: —but for seven years—

Dave: —just letters?

Alistair: —for four years; for four years—

Ann: —four years.

Alistair: So, she was 16. Then, we met up with each other—managed a way to figure this out and met up with each other—at Explo72. It was her folks who had introduced me to Campus Crusade [for Christ]. As a result of that, these American fellows who were in the London area said, “Why don't you come to this big thing in Dallas?”

So, then I tried to inveigle a way where she would go to Dallas—and I hadn't seen her for 14 months! We met in the Adolphus Hotel. I remember, she came down the stairs in the Adolphus Hotel, and I thought, “Man, I have got to keep this thing going, big time!” [Laughter]

Then I had to go away and write for another whole year, and then another. It gives me chills, thinking about it even now. I mean, we've been married for 48 years.

Dave: How many of those years have you been in ministry—the whole time?

Alistair: The whole—yes? Two years as an assistant; forty-six years in the seat. So, yes, the whole time.

Dave: I was thinking: talk about marriage and ministry.

Ann: We've been married 44 years—

Alistair: —yes.

Ann: —and we've been in ministry the whole time.

Dave: —from the very beginning. And there have been some highs and some real lows.

Alistair: Yes, yes.

Dave:  I don't think ministry is that much different than a businessman or other, but there's some uniqueness to it.

Alistair: Sure.

Dave: Has that been a struggle? Has that been—?

Alistair: Well, you know, I wouldn't write “struggle” over it. Maybe “challenge.” Various challenges, various times. Looking back on it, I could keep myself awake at night thinking of the things that I assumed would be true for Sue when she comes from America to Scotland, to Edinburgh, as a 20-year-old girl. And I'm 23: I'm not exactly ancient, and slotting into the role that was given me there as the assistant to the pastor.

Sue is shy by nature; so, she would beg me for the car keys when the service was over so that she wouldn't have to stand and engage in conversation with all these people. To my shame, I told her, “No, no. You're not getting the car keys. This is part of the deal.”

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: That wasn't really smart on my part. She hasn't held it over my head, but as you grow and mature and look back, you realize, “Golly, if I could get a second try at this, I'm not sure I would have”—

Dave: —yes.

Alistair: —"I wouldn't have done it like that.”

We just completed 40 years. They had a special event for us. They interviewed us, and she was lovely in the interview; but we got home that night, and we were lying in bed, and she goes, “You know, that was no good. There are so many things that I need to say to this congregation that I never had a chance to say tonight.”

I said, “Okay, what do you want to do?” She said, “I'm going to write a letter.”

So, she writes this letter and sends it out over the system in an e-mail. It's an interesting letter to read, actually, because it's very, very endearing. It's as good an insight into her psyche as there is anywhere about ministry together. Because, in the role that you and I have played, our wives subjugate themselves to so much—

Dave: —yes.

Alistair:  —for our benefit—

Dave: —right.

Alistair: —not in relationship to our ego, but just in terms of the way the thing works. Just like in any other area of life, that relationship—unless it works at home, it doesn't work. The basic things of, “I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Can we try that again?” Those kinds of lines have marked 48 years of marriage.

Dave: Yes, right. I know that—I don't know if it's true in your marriage, but I know—in our marriage, Ann has felt at times that the congregation got the best of me. And even timewise,—

Alistair: —sure.

Dave: —a lot of me. I would come home sort of fried, and not give the best at home to her or to our boys, and now our grandkids.

Alistair: Yes.

Dave: Right?

Ann: I think that women can feel that. I think men can feel it, too, that the outer world gets the best of us.

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: But I'm still enthralled with her e-mail.

Alistair: Oh, yes?

Ann: With Sue’s; that she would take the time to express what she really felt,—

Alistair: —yes.

Ann: —and I bet that was incredibly endearing.

Alistair: Well, I think the congregation—yes! She got more press out of that than I got out of [Laughter] standing in the pulpit for 40 years. I should have written a letter.

Dave: [Laughter] Yes, exactly!

Alistair: How come you wrote a letter? [Laughter] I didn't get a letter.

Dave: Let's talk about—you've been preaching for years, and you're on Truth for Life as they take your sermons and put them on there, so a lot of people know you. The book we're going to talk about today is your study. I'm guessing this was, maybe, a series that you did?

Alistair: It was.

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: Well, [it] at least comes from that. Hopefully, it's a little clearer than the sermons. [Laughter]

Ann: So, Alistair, why The Sermon on the Plain, instead of The Sermon on the Mount?

Alistair: Well, because—

Dave: —that sort of bugged her. I’ve just got to be honest.

Alistair: —yes, I know.

Ann: —I was [wondering],—

Dave: —she’s [asking], “What—

Ann: —“Why’s it on The Plain?”—

Dave: —is that?”

Ann: —"Why didn't he do The Mount?”

Alistair: Well, because I did it from Luke.

Ann: Yes.

Alistair: And in Luke, it's on the plain.

Ann: Why did you decide to do [it], because most people say,—

Dave: —Matthew.

Ann: —“Sermon on the Mount.” They're going to—exegete that.

Alistair: Well, partly, because the Sermon on the Plain is slightly shorter. No, the answer to that is, actually, I did the entire book of Luke.

Ann: Okay.

Alistair: So, this was just one piece—

Ann: —that makes sense.

Alistair: —that, when it went on the broadcast, the folks at Truth for Life were surprised at how much interest there was in that particular series of sermons. That, then, led to somebody saying, “Well, perhaps that ought to be written down.” So, that's how it came about.

Dave: Yes. So, as you think about the Sermon on the Mount (the Sermon on the Plain), —

Alistair: —yes.

Dave: —talk to us about it; because it's a pivotal moment in Jesus' Ministry.

Alistair: Yes, well, a couple of things: one is that it’s so wonderful, in as much as Jesus is saying, “If you want to know what life is really supposed to be about; if you want to understand being My disciple, then listen carefully to what I'm about to say.” That's if you like the wonderfully uplifting side of it. [Laughter]

The other side of it is I found it phenomenally daunting to preach it, because we must first preach the sermons to ourselves before we preach them to anyone else. People say to me, “That was pretty hard to listen to.” I say, “You only listened to it once. [Laughter] I preached it three times; plus, it took me a long time to get there.”

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: So, don't imagine that I'm sitting up on a box somewhere, talking about stuff that doesn't impact me. And I have found, both in preaching it and then, after we finally did this book, I said to everybody: “I feel, when I read this material now, as though I stood on a rake, and the handle came up and smacked me right on the nose.”

Ann: Is that what you meant before we started? You said, “This is a tough little book.”

Alistair: Yes, yes; because what Jesus has to say about—well, I mean, the whole idea: would you like to be wealthy, or would you like to be poor? Would you like to be happy, or would you like to be sad? Would you like everybody to like you, or would you like to be hated? [Laughter] Anybody's going to sign up for: “Give me the good part.”

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: And Jesus is saying, “No, I'm going to have to explain to you that many of the things that are held out as the key to your existence need to get turned upside down. You need to realize the challenge that's involved in this, and not because it's diminishing, in any way, the experience; but because it's an opportunity, in a very straightforward way, when people say, “What does it mean that Jesus is the King of a Kingdom? And if you're going to tell me that He's your King, and He's not my King, then apart from you just telling me that, what is it about your life that is going to explain to me that having a King makes a difference? Or about your congregation?”

A church that has decided, for example, “We're a kind of political animal.” That's dangerous.

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: Because actually, we have a King called “Jesus,” and our program is about a Kingdom that is very different and challenges many of the foundations of so much that's going on. So, all of that stuff! All of that, and more maybe besides.

Dave: Yes. As you think about it, we could start with where you start in the book: “blessed.” Explain “blessed.”

Alistair: Yes; “happy”—

Dave: —“blessed are the poor”—

Ann: —yes.

Alistair: —Happy.

Dave: —"for [theirs] is the Kingdom of God.”

Alistair: Yes.

Dave: What in the world is Jesus trying to get at?

Alistair: Well, I start off the book by saying, “Advertisers—that's how they work: ‘Do you want to have a happy life? Come to us’.”

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: Politicians do the same thing.

Dave: Right.

Alistair: “If you vote for me, then it's all going to be terrific.” And Jesus says, “If you follow Me, it's going to get really tough.” [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: So, the idea of being fortunate, being privileged, being happy, being blessed is what Jesus is talking about. You take, for example, the notion of being hated. Nobody wants to be hated; but remember Jesus, when He says in His High Priestly prayer, in John 17: “Father, I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them.”

If somebody wants to take that and say, “Oh, I suppose all we have to be is obnoxious, and then nobody will like us.” Jesus is not talking about that talk at all.

Dave: Right, right.

Alistair: He's talking about the fact that, in the present climate, for example, if you say that there's only a man, and there's only a woman, and the only place for human sexual relationships is in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship between a man and a woman, get ready to be hated.

Dave: Yes.

Alistair: That's what He's talking about: “If you're going to bow under My Kingship, then you're going to have to live with the ramifications of that.”

Now, that's not an invitation for us to go out and be argumentative or unkind, but it is a reminder to us that there is a radical difference [in] following Jesus. And I think part of the challenge in cultural Christianity, no matter where it shows up—whether it's in Scotland in that form or in America—we get really comfortable with baptizing some of the things that Jesus is turning on their head. And we said, “No, that's all part of the deal, especially if you're healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Dave: Yes, yes.

Ann: So, you're saying, too, that as we looked at the Scripture, and it says, “Blessed are you;” you're saying, “happy?”

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: Happy.

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: “You’re happy.” Usually, as believers, we [say], “We're not talking about happiness,”—

Alistair: —right.

Ann: —“we're talking about joy.”

Alistair: Right; okay.

Ann: And there's a difference.

Alistair: Well, yes, that's right. We think of happiness as “depending on what happens.”

Ann: Yes.

Alistair: But in actual fact, blessed means “how happy are we!” And that happiness is joy. It's not a happiness that comes to us because of our social status, or because of our well-being, or because—

Ann: —or circumstances.

Alistair: — of our circumstances, [or] because we're not dealing with any challenges. No, it's a happiness that is found, even in the midst of those things, which is what makes it so distinctive, and at the same time, so challenging.

I don't know how many congregations you go to, and you say, “This is a happy place here.” I think there are some places you go and say, “This is a smug place. These people are kind of smug.”

Ann: What do you mean by that? They what?

Alistair: They exude a notion of: “We know. We've got it together.”

Ann: Yes.

Alistair: Okay, well, you might want to watch that, and you might want to consider what that feels like for somebody who has just walked in, who has made a royal wreck of their life, and they're not remotely close to the idea of self-sufficiency. Are they going to feel able to speak, to tell you the truth, about themselves? Only if there's a vulnerability about the congregation that says, “We are a gathering of people who are sinners that have been brought under the Lordship and Kingship of Jesus. This is like one gigantic O.R.” Not “OR.” What do you call it here?

Dave and Ann: “E.R.”

Alistair: Yes, there is a gigantic ER. Yes. People want to say, “No, the church is like a gymnasium.” Well, maybe there's a gymnasium section over there, but there is also a section over here that’s another section like a geriatric hospital. [Laughter] And then there's the emergency room. But all God's sheep are diseased sheep. So, somehow or another, that has to be part of the ethos of the thing so that people realize, “Okay, I get this. You guys are not saying [that] you've got it buttoned down. You're saying that Jesus has got it buttoned down.”

Ann: Yes.

Alistair: That's a big difference.

Dave: Yes. And I think, when you use the word smug, a lot of unchurched people would say [that] that's what they feel in the community of believers; sort of a smugness, sort of a judgment.

Alistair: Yes.

Dave: You wonder if they feel that, even in a Christian home? [When] they walk in your family room, do they feel that you're happy, blessed,—

Alistair: —right.

Dave: —even as you're poor in spirit?

Alistair: Right?

Dave: Or do they feel like, “They're better than me. They think they're better than me.”

Alistair: Yes.

Dave: Jesus' sermon here is—

Alistair: —yes—

Dave: —such a picture—

Alistair: —He's tackling that!

Dave: —of this is what it could and should look like.

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: Well, it's really—we're always keeping in mind the grace of the gospel.

Alistair: Yes, exactly.

Ann: Because when we're there, we're all broken. And yet, because of the grace of the gospel,—

Alistair: —that’s right!

Ann: —we are just like everybody, but we're saved by grace.

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: I remember (I've shared this story before), I had just given my life to Jesus as a 16-year-old. I had never read the Bible. I had never gone to church, and I'm reading it [thinking], “This is the most amazing news!” I had never known how to get to heaven, and so, my mind was blown. I didn't know any other Christians, but I was reading and reading and reading. I started going to church by myself, and I remember taking this big Bible, and I took it to school every day, and I'm reading it. Then I remember taking it into a study hall. [Do you] remember study halls? Do they even have those anymore?

Alistair: I think, maybe?

Dave: They'd better.

Ann: But I took it, and my friend was right across from me. So, I take my Bible; I open it; I have it underlined; I [say], “Read that!” [Laughter] She looks at it, and she just pushes it back. [I say], “No! Read this.”

I had already been talking to her. [I] told her, “I have the answer! This is how we get to heaven. It's not how good we are. It's grace! God died for us.”

So, finally, I underlined another. I [said], “Read this one.” This is a girl I had known for years. She's far from God; I was far from God. Then, she looks at me with this [expression of], “You're the most annoying person.” She takes a handful of the pages of the Bible, and she rips them out. She crinkles them up in a ball,—

Alistair: —wow!

Ann: —and she goes to the trash can and throws them out.

Alistair: Oh, wow.

Ann: I was devastated.

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: And I didn't say anything. I almost cried. Well, it was like [crying], “That's—that’s my Bible. That’s the Bible!” [Laughter]

I went home, and I was so devastated. I remember getting on my knees, as this little 16-year-old, and [praying], “Lord, I did it wrong. It's such Good News!”

Alistair: Right.

Ann: “I want to tell everybody! I'm so sorry. I must be doing it wrong. I must be messing up.”

So, I was reading that day in Luke, and I had never read this before; but when I came to [Luke 6:22], “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day. Leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”

It was the first time I was [thinking], “Yes! Yes! [Laughter] I'm in—I'm in the same place as the prophets of old. Okay, Lord. They might have reviled me in public, but I didn't do it wrong. I can be, ‘Blessed are you who are reviled for My Name's sake’.”

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: For some of us, when we're going through those deep, hard things—much deeper than what I've been through—that's a good word.

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: But sometimes, as you said, there’s some stuff that’s in here [Laughter] that’s hard.

Alistair: Yes.

Ann: Maybe we can get to those things tomorrow.

Dave: Well, you have got to say what happened years later with Carolyn.

Ann: Yes. Years later, I was in college. I think, actually, we were married. It was several years later. She came to my house—we were home, visiting my parents, and she came to my house. She knocked on the door, and she said, “Hey, remember when you were trying to tell me about Jesus? I'm wondering if you could tell me that again?”

Alistair: Oh, is that right?

Ann: And she ended up praying—

Alistair: —wonderful.

Ann: —and gave her life to Jesus.

Alistair: Yes. There you go.

Ann: And so, here I thought I had failed—

Alistair: —yes.

Ann: —and we never know the seeds that God plants.

Alistair: That's right. The entrance of God's Word brings light.

Ann: Yes.

Shelby: I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Alistair Begg on FamilyLife Today. It's been such a great conversation with Alistair today. If you want to hear more from him, he's written a book called The Christian Manifesto. It's about Jesus's life-changing words from The Sermon on the Plain. It really helps you to embrace a counterintuitive and countercultural lifestyle, guided by kindness, compassion, and the Holy Spirit, which is such a refreshing change of pace in our culture today.

You can get a copy of Alistair Begg's book, The Christian Manifesto, by going online to Or you can give us a call and request your copy at 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

We are in the middle of the month of May, and the cool thing about this month is that, anytime you give and become a monthly partner with FamilyLife, every donation that you give will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000. That means if you become a monthly partner of $100, it actually becomes $200 a month. It happens all month long, so don't miss your opportunity to go online right now to and click on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page.

When you do, we're going to send you a copy of Chris and Elizabeth McKinney’s book called Neighborhoods Reimagined. They were with us last week, and it really talks about what it means to be a good neighbor, and how you can build a community in your neighborhood. Again, we're going to send you a copy of that book when you become a monthly partner. In addition to that, you're going to become a part of our new online community, and [you can] be a part of the conversation happening here at FamilyLife, including a live Facebook event with the Wilsons and me on June 5th for all monthly partners.

You can go online to and click on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page to become a monthly partner. Or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Now, coming up tomorrow, Alistair Begg is back with the Wilsons to explore the power of words, judging others, and effective communication. I think I could use help in all three of those areas. So, that's coming up tomorrow, and we hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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