What are we signing up to when we become Christians? Perks or persecution. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John did not mislead us. We mislead ourselves. We think it is going to be a piece of cake. I did. Life is harder than I had planned for. So is marriage. Sure would be helpful if mature couples said to young people getting married, “It is going to be really hard. You are going to learn how to die to yourself or a difficult relationship will be even harder.” The couple on the couch thinks, “Not our marriage. We love each other.”

They come in for the thousand-mile checkup and they are not google-eyes–they are glazed, like they have just come from a war zone. The pastor asks them how they are doing, but he already knows: “Not as easy as we anticipated. We discovered that living together can bring out the worst in us. Divorce is the farthest thing from our minds, but we have thought that we wanted to hurt each other a few times. We need help.” Welcome to Marriage 101!

Short-term pain–long-term gain. We tend to choose pleasure over pain. But discipline tells us to opt for pain. Peter had an allergic reaction to it when he first heard it from Jesus. He voted for pleasure. But he discovered through failure that talking about suffering prepared people for the hardships of life, that it would be cruel to talk about the up-side and not the down-side, that addressing hardship enabled people to suffer well and without whining.

Moses chose pain. The devil offered him a princess. He could take his choice as Pharaoh’s prize grandson of any gal in the palace. He was the river baby, the adopted son, now a strong adult. He was offered the riches of the most powerful nation on earth. He grew up near the throne. Must have been a total shock to his grandfather when he said, “Thanks anyway.” Made him angry.

God met with Moses out in the desert and made another offer. Moses would lead two million people on a hike through the wilderness. Never been done before, taking a nation on a seven-hundred mile walk through the desert–without coolers, running water, food, or camping supplies. That’s different. What did God gives him for the job? A stick.

The Bible says that “by faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king [his grandfather?], for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).

How could Moses give up such riches? Because he saw God by faith. Two truths come from his decision:

  1. Sin brings pleasure for a while, but it “fleets”, then turns to cancerous growth. Young adults who consistently choose pleasure over pain are postponing and maybe cancelling their God-appointed destiny. Sin can rob us of our future. Short-term gain means long-term pain.
  2. Short-term pain means long-term gain. Had he chosen riches, he would have  died a rich and miserable man with no lasting legacy. And he would have thrown away a chance to lead a nation into the ways of God and have a legacy that endures for three thousand years. Way to choose well, Moses!


So how thin is the veil separating time and eternity? Do those who have left us see us? Could we send them a message? Or is there no interaction between this life and the next? It can get exciting to think about the possibilities. It can also get weird. We don’t pray to them, but some form of communication is likely. Many worship ancestors and pray to them for success, as if they now have special powers. Digging into the world beyond may put us in touch with the underworld. Satan has a toolbox he uses to bring down the living–accusation, intimidation, temptation, and perhaps the most common–deception. He “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), often through sorcery, the illegitimate use of the non-material world to impact the physical world. Those who naively seek afterlife realities may be dabbling with the devil.

However, the writer of Hebrews spoke about “a great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). He had just referenced saints who had gone before in the Faith Hall of Fame (ch. 11), so the witnesses are those who have passed on to glory. That includes loved ones who put their trust in Jesus. Can they see us? Witnesses are called to testify, not because they think something but because they have seen something. We know that the dead are not dead. Paul said, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they definitely see Him, and most likely others who are there. Happy reunions are probably occurring.

Do they see those still on earth? We know they are aware of some things. Martyrs before the throne ask the Lord when he is going to avenge their blood (Revelation 6:10), so they knew that it had not yet happened. But wouldn’t their knowledge of happenings on the earth give them grief? Not if eternity gives them a transformed perspective of suffering. I believe, thanks to Randy Alcorn’s excellent book, Heaven, that the veil between earth and heaven is thinner than I once thought. That does not mean contacting the dead (necromancy, which is really talking with demons), but it may mean some form of communication.

We had a series at our house church on “Heaven, the Happiest Place on Earth.”  Audrey, one of our members, sent me this story hoping it would give those who have lost loved ones some peace. “My Sister, Tsungie, passed away in December 2001 at the age of 13 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Although we knew she might die at a young age due to her Sickle Cell Anemia, we were devastated. We had prayed that she would live a long and happy life. My parents spent years going from one doctor to another to ensure the best and most affordable medical treatment.

After her death, my mother would often cry alone. Like us all, she missed her deeply. One day  my mother was crying inconsolably and asking herself why such a tragedy had happened. That night my sister appeared to her in a dream and asked her, “Mom, why are you crying? I am happy where I am.” She showed her the white robe she was wearing, surrounded by others wearing the same. Tsungie looked happy, and so did everyone. Since that dream my mother has accepted her death and has had some closure.” How kind of a loving Father to bring about communication to console a grieving mother. He is truly “the God of all comfort.”`


It will allow you to live above offense–in your family, your marriage, your life. Practice it.


His first word from the cross was forgiveness. It kept his heart from crying out for justice. Never  such an unjust crime as was done to the Son of God. We killed a perfect man and let a criminal go free. Christ’s heart could have convulsed with the need for justice.  He chose to operate with the mercy system rather than the merit system. The thief who was railing against him heard those words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them…” At some point they sunk in, and he modified his speech. Forgiveness is powerful; it can change people. He made a request: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). What revelation! He identified in eight words that Jesus was a king, that he ruled over a kingdom, and that he would defy death and live forever.

That request changed his life (the last hours)–and his eternity, because Jesus knew how to forgive. You and I will change people if we learn to be good forgivers. Jesus was not bargaining, saying, “If I overlook this offense, I’ll get something back.” This was unilateral forgiveness, without any need to make a demand for justice. A sense of fairness will keep me from extending forgiveness. Desiring what is fair will limit my ability to show grace. What people need is not our being fair but our being merciful. Jesus forgive the woman caught in adultery. It most likely changed her life. He forgave the woman from Samaria who had five husbands. It revolutionized her life. Whose life might you change through forgiveness? “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Js. 2:13). Let it triumph in your relationships.


His brothers sold him down the river. His next thirteen years were anything but pleasant. He went from servant of Potiphar to slave in prison. Instead of being the honored son in a special coat, he was the overlooked slave in a dungeon. Until he received a PhD from heaven in character and was appointed prime minister of the strongest nation in the world. Rather than seeking vengeance, he forgave his brothers freely, though they lied to him by saying that their father had given a message to Joseph through them to extend forgiveness. Instead of calling them out for deception, he wept at what he heard. Then he said, “Am I in the place of God?” (Gen. 50:19), meaning that getting even is God’s department, not ours. Their terrible injustice was answered with total forgiveness. Then he reinterpreted history, saying, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (20). He too was not operating with the merit system but with the mercy system. He knew how to forgive. I want to forgive like that. Don’t you?


Imagine if God kept record of sins. Picture the reams of paper. Warehouses of files, stored as evidence of our foolish behavior, our shameful thoughts. What if He decided to go public, to expose all of it? The court is in session and the judge enters. The guilty one is offered no lawyer for the defense. Condemnation awaits you.

Breaking the dreadful silence, the judge announces that all evidence against you has been lost. You knew that no one could aid you with the insurmountable charges. Now all documents have been annihilated. Case dismissed! You hear further that the judge himself wiped out the files. You discover that the one you feared is responsible for your release. Strangely, it causes you to fear more, to honor his greatness.

The psalmist cried out, not to a casual friend but pleading for mercy from a holy God. He called from deep within, refusing the solace of the night and unable to silence the piercing arrows of a guilty conscience: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Psalm 130:1,2).


Then the revelation breaks through: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (3,4). Peace replaces anguish. Those who see God as righteous, themselves as sinful, and discover afresh the mercy of God do not take advantage of such kindness. We don’t pull out the forgiveness card every time we step over the line, so we can step over again. His goodness has led us to repentance.

Then his posture changes from crying out in need to waiting in confidence. He uses the word “wait” five times in two verses: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (5,6). How do they wait? Hopefully, expectantly. That is how he positions himself before this gracious God. Anxiety has been replaced by hope, anchoring his soul in the mercy of God rather than the dread of revenge. Those who think God is punishing them for something they did a decade ago may worship a monster, but they won’t love him. The psalmist confidently hopes for what he knows—a rich future with a merciful God.

He grows so confident that he now wants to go public: “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love, and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (7,8). He knows of others oppressed by guilt, weighed down by shame. He proclaims to fellow Israelites that sins do not keep a broken sinner from a merciful God, that God fully redeems us in His love.

We don’t ignore the need to cry out in our sin as if it doesn’t matter. Guilt can drive us crazy, so we go to the one place in the universe where it can be properly disposed. And once again, contrary to our heart that condemns, we find a God who receives—and who relieves us of the tyranny of a criminal sentence. To our amazement, we discover afresh one of the most liberating truths in all the world—God does not keep score! So we don’t need to either!


I recently had a good talk with Andrew, number one son. I asked him if raising kids was easier or harder than he thought it would be. He said he was a better parent before he got married and had kids. Children in the house made parenting more difficult. But he said, “I have mantras that help me manage.”


   Parents need to relax. They are going to get it–hopefully soon than later. Doesn’t happen all at once. If everything is a big deal, prepare to raise anxious children. It is good for parents to remind themselves, “This will probably be a small matter by tomorrow.” That helps Dad and Mom from taking every issue to the Supreme Court. Remember–responding beats reacting.


      They are on loan for a few years before they launch out and attempt to do what we are trying to do–and sometimes failing. They will probably do it better than we did. God gives us children to raise us. They teach us more than we teach them. Should we let them know?


      I keep thinking, “I’m a bad parent. I am not getting it.” Hey, I am in process just like my children. I’ve never done this before. Call it on-the-job training–we learn as we go. We didn’t get a trial run before the real deal. We sometimes say really stupid things, like, “If you do that again…” or “One more time and…” Get a grip, Dad. You’ll get it right sooner or later, probably later. And the kids will forgive you if are vulnerable.


     Everything is not a ten. I don’t want to stay in reaction mode. I create issues by making everything an issue. Kids do not learn primarily from discipline. They grow from loving parents creating an environment in which they can grow and learn and make good decisions. If you make everything a battle, your home will be a war-zone. It needs to be a happy place, light and joyful.  How would you describe the environment of your home? Basically positive, happy, peaceful, light, friendly? Some environments are quiet, non-communicative, on your own.


   They will get this potty-training down easily by the time they are ten. We only have them for about eighteen years. They will be out of the house before long, and then they will be missed. (Really?) So treasure the moment and know it will not last. Knee-jerk reactions are usually wrong. Parents need time-outs more than kids. Too many emotional responses. Relax! Trust God for your kids. He’s a good Father!


In part 1, I said that in order to be filled, we desire, we pray, and we relax. Then…

We receive. The Christian life is more about receiving than doing. Children do that well. Jesus one day thanked the Father for hiding things from the wise and prudent and revealing them to little children (Matt. 11:25).  Reason is not opposed to revelation, but it is not the same as revelation. People who compare how they are trying to receive the Spirit with how their friend did are not acting like children. Nor are those who analyze the words and sounds coming out of their mouths and wonder if they are truly speaking in tongues.

To be on the receiving end of a gift does not mean that we remain passive. If someone hands you an envelope and says, “This is for you,” you take it and open it. The Bible says that we receive  “by faith.” So we assume the outlook of a child rather than the scrutinizing mindset of an adult. How do children receive? Simply, openly, confidently, and without a battery of doubts.

Manifestations are accepted. We don’t produce or prohibit them. They are one way that the Spirit may work. After Jesus spoke peace to the fearful disciples, “he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). The disciples most likely did not say, “This is weird. Why did he do that?” Weeks later, the Spirit blew down from heaven and sat on each of them like a fireball. We can’t pull off manifestations, so we don’t try. And we don’t get weird by shoving or shaking—but by receiving. If we shake or fall or laugh, we don’t think that we are suddenly more mature. Otherwise, we would start trying to make things happen rather than letting things happen.

It would be foolish to make a pattern out of manifestations. Cornelius didn’t say to Peter, “Aren’t you supposed to breathe on us?” We are not looking for formulas. We are living by faith and submitting to the Lord, the Spirit. Some may think the Holy Spirit is not dramatic enough and need to push someone, so it looks like God is on the move. Bad idea!

We step in the water. Faith always does something. “By faith Noah…built an ark to save his family” (Heb. 11:7). “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea” (29). Had the priests east of the Jordan said, “We’re not stepping into the water until it parts, “ they would have waited a long time! To step may mean opening your mouth and speaking out a word of prophecy, or it may mean offering up unintelligible sounds. After the disciples were filled with the Spirit, we are told that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). They opened their mouths and spoke. The Spirit gave them the language, but they had to exercise their vocal chords and let the words out. Exercising any gift is a divine-human partnership. We prophesy “according to our faith” (Romans 12:6). When we pray for the sick, we extend our hand and offer a prayer or declaration of faith.

So do we need to ask for the Spirit to receive the Spirit? Sometimes. Jesus encouraged us to ask (Luke 11:13), but sometimes the Spirit comes when we surrender. I’ve heard people say, “We’re not supposed to do anything to receive the Spirit.” That could be true in some instances, but in other situations they are praying or surrendering or receiving the laying on of hands with someone else praying on their behalf. My suggestion to people desperate for the Spirit: ask and keep on asking, surrender and keep on surrendering! Come, Holy Spirit!


The Holy Spirit is a person, with intellect, desires, and emotions. We can communicate with him; he hears our prayers. He knows our heart, our feelings, our hopes. He is not a force; he is a divine being. He can be loved, praised, and obeyed. He can also be grieved, resisted, insulted, and blasphemed.

A car does not run without an engine; a Christian does not live without the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the agent of the new birth and of the entire life that follows. He produces in us the character of Christ (fruit) and the ministry of Christ (gifts). He teaches, guides, convicts, encourages, empowers, comforts, and equips. The Spirit is the power behind the New Covenant—from start to finish. Then how are we filled with the Spirit?  We do not follow five easy steps. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a machine. Every experience of the Spirit is different, as the book of Acts makes clear. The Scriptures give us no automatic way but offer principles to follow and examples to learn from.

We desire. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Curiosity is insufficient motivation to enter or go deeper into the life of the Spirit. Desperation sometimes precedes appropriation, while passivity kills spiritual passion. Paul said, “Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (I Cor. 14:1), and that would apply equally well for all aspects of the Spirit’s work. Hungry people say, “There’s more,” while people who have had enough stop eating. The Laodiceans said, “I need nothing” (Rev. 3:17), and all they received from Jesus was a rebuke. The Pharisee who “prayed to himself” didn’t need anything, while the tax collector cried out for mercy, and his prayer was heard. If you are satisfied with where you are, that is where you will stay. Wonderfully, our longings work in tandem with the purposes of God.

We pray. Pentecost occurred at the end of a ten-day prayer meeting. Jesus had told them that they were to wait until they were “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They translated waiting not as immobility but as heartfelt praying. It was while praying that Jesus was filled with the Spirit (Luke 3:21). It was after Cornelius and Peter were both praying that God brought them together and poured out the Spirit upon a room full of seekers (Acts 10). And it was while the apostles were praying that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). The Greek word for “pray” literally means “to ask.” People who pray are needy. Prayer is the language of dependence. Satisfied people don’t pray; broken and needy people like the tax collector pray, as the Upper Room crowd of 120 did.

We relax. We don’t put ourselves in the position of having to conjure up God’s presence. We are creatures, not the Creator, children, not the Father. After the death of Jesus, the disciples on Sunday evening shuddered behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). The first word the resurrected Christ brought them was, “Peace be with you.” Apparently, one time was insufficient, because he said it again (21). This prepared them to receive the Holy Spirit that he was about to give them. An outlook of peace prepares us to appropriate the Spirit of peace. (How we receive comes in part 2).


And a war worth winning. Some guys have been at it for years and are saying, “I doubt it.” I connect with men who have learned as I have that walking in the light liberates. My first experience of this came when I was traveling through Europe after two years of seminary. I connected with an Operation Mobilization Team. The director asked if I wanted to walk in the light with him. Good idea. I just didn’t know what he meant. He said that he gets tempted to take a second look or a third, to focus on body parts, to think about it as he crashes at night. He said, “That’s not what I want,” and I’ll let you know on a daily basis how I am doing. Sounded like a decent idea. I agreed to do the same, because I was facing similar battles. I was amazed at how well it worked–as long as I stayed in the light. When I chose to hide, I had little power to overcome.

Since then I found out why. Jesus said that some “loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). He later announced, “He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Paul wrote, “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). And John proclaimed, “God is light, and in him is no darkness” (I John 1:5). We are commanded to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). Darkness is where things hide–and grow, like mold–and sin. We are told to “have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11). We are fighting against “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  For false teachers, the “gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” (2 P. 2:17; Jude 13). So if we choose the darkness, we are camping in Satan’s domain. He rules there. No wonder we can’t win in the dark. Good news–God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Paul gives us a statement of identity, that we “are not in darkness” (I Thess. 5:4,5). Peter reminds us that God called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 P. 2:9).

However, Satan lies to us and says that if we come into the light, we will receive shame and rejection. John promises just the opposite: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. And the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:17). Interesting. Instead of shame–forgiveness. Instead of rejection–fellowship, koinonia, the sharing of our lives with one another.

When we learn appropriate vulnerability by walking in the light and confessing our weakness, our struggles, our defeats, we receive just what we need. Satan is a liar and the Father of lies. In other words, lies are born out of connecting with him and walking in his territory. I am delighted to say that men I have been privileged to mentor have been discovering the glorious power of light, just as Scripture promised. Maybe you are next to experience this life-changing truth!


Time is a gift. I thank God for it regularly. He gives us all the time we need today to accomplish what He assigns to us. The more we appreciate this treasure the better we will use it. Time is our servant, not our lord. We control time; it does not control us.

People who say, “I don’t have enough time,” may be wrong. They should say instead, “I have time to do what God wants me to do.” God would not give us tasks that are impossible to complete. If they are not doable, it is because we have taken on too much or are misusing the time allotted to us.

Time is like money; it makes a great servant and a terrible lord. When time rules over us, it abuses us, just like money. When we use money in appropriate ways, to pay the bills, to bless people in need, to give to our church, we are taking charge of our finances. When we make it our lord by worshiping it or hoarding it, we get imprisoned, manipulated, controlled by it. The same with time.

Interesting–the person who says, “I don’t have enough time” often ends up misusing time, wasting it, not getting the things done he had planned. He fulfills his own words, and he proves that he doesn’t have enough time by squandering some. The person who says, “I thank God for the time He has given me today,”  is at peace, and he discovers that God’s management of the universe is effective, because he too is ruling over his schedule rather than let it rule him. He takes charge of his day, his assignments, his finances. What is not finished is rolled over into a new day.

I think of the people in my former church whose lives were always on overload. They didn’t have good boundaries, so they took on more than they should have. They complained of having too much to do and not enough time to do it, which kept them from doing what they could do more effectively. Lack of peace also meant lack of concentration and efficiency. They might have learned it from their parents, who modeled for them, “This is the way life is. It is stressful–all the time. People expect too much from me, and I never have enough time to do what I want to do.” It is passed on “successfully” from generation to generation, an outlook foreign to the Scriptures but all too common.

Some even think that being overly busy shows spirituality. Wrong!  Picture God today ruling over His universe. Jesus said that He works daily because His Father does as well (John 5:17). He rules with peace and efficiency, not with stress. We are to take our queue from a restful Ruler and live the same way, using time and money to serve us well. We have what we need to get the job done. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin” (Matthew 6:28). “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).


We did a great job with our kids–except when we didn’t, which was too much of the time. I’d like to say that we had few glitches along the way, but our children would laugh.


  1. We had people living in our home from the get-go. Hey, we don’t recommend it. We should have concentrated more on our children, but we were a community, and until we moved to Minnesota, the extended family ate with us. Kids need focus. The extra crowd deflected the attention that could have been on our children.
  2. We did not mentor them. Wish I knew then what I walk in now. Everyone needs a coach, someone to look after them, encourage them, ask questions, guide them along the way. Of course, we did this, but not nearly enough. I take that job seriously now, both with our adult children and with the men I mentor.
  3. We did not do home-school well. We needed to have helped them more. They were too much on their own. We failed in some ways with their education.
  4. We did not learn vulnerability soon enough, not until they had all started their own families, and it came first through Andrew our firstborn, not me. Now I am vulnerable, and it serves me well in mentoring.


  1. We disciplined them in love. Some exceptions, but I don’t remember ever disciplining them with my voice or in anger. Spankings were sometimes tender moments.
  2. We ate and prayed together. Attendance was required. They took turns at dinner picking the subject for discussion out of the jar. Erikka told me recently, “The reasons we all like to get together now is that you made us eat together and read the Bible together.” Devotions at 7 AM. Everyone came. We sang together. That carried over into singing together at the Holy Spirit Conference occasionally and sometimes at other places where I was speaking. Several continue to share in worship leadership.
  3. We had high-powered vacations. Much fun, great unity, trips to an island in Canada (thanks to generous friends), a camp in Montana, DC, California, the North Shore. We still go there together and spend three days hiking, playing games, & riding four-wheelers with grandchildren.
  4. We laughed a lot. When the kids were young, Karis and Mom listened to the Moody Bible Institute every morning, but we howled at what Karis at age five incorrectly called it: Moody Instanta Bible Toot. Karen listened to radio programs with most of them, some daily like Elizabeth Elliot, others like Odyssey weekly, concluding with the Saturday morning march with pots and pans.
  5. Church was a non-negotiable. It stuck. They not only share in leadership but are all part of a small group (I think).
  6. We told them they were here to serve, not to be served. They tended to be popular, and I said, “Hang with the kids who are rejects, and you’ll have God on your side. He is near the brokenhearted.”
  7. We didn’t always solve their problems. Sometimes we asked them how they were going to solve them.

All our kids are doing better than how we did at their age. We are thankful that they have not adopted our failures but have learned from them.