“Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:28). Jacob grew up with a father wound, coming in second to a brother who hunted and had hair on his chest–from birth! Jacob was a mama’s boy. He got over it, but he almost killed himself in the process. In a time of great crisis he had it out with God, persisted in prayer, and his name was changed from Yacov (heel) to Israel (a prince who prevailed).

When he became a father of twelve boys, he should have known better than to pick favorites. Hurt people hurt people, and Jacob wounded ten sons by choosing a favorite. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of the other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:3,4).

Jacob didn’t do Joseph a favor. His brothers took vengeance on Dad by almost killing little brother, choosing instead to make money off him by selling him as a slave. A wound comes from people we have a right to trust (father, mother, sibling, pastor), and they violate that trust.

Victims live with “if onlys.” If only they had not sent me down the river. If only Potiphar had not believed his wife. If only the butler had not forgotten about me.” Joseph determined instead to take each difficulty as it came and make the most of it. And he lived free from the wounds inflicted by his brothers, finally forgiving them with the powerful words, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Victims who chose not to be victimized by their suffering often become the redeemers of those who have hurt them. Think Jesus!

King David was a better fighter than a father, and it affected his son Absalom. When Absalom killed his half-brother in revenge for violating his sister, he fled home. Even after David was comforted in the loss of Amnon, he did not bring about the return of Absalom until Joab urged him to do so. When Absalom finally returned, David ignored him. Had he healed the wound by receiving his son back into his heart and home, he might have saved his son from death and his own heart from awful grief. But he, like many fathers, seemed immobilized, and he took no action to repair the rift. It almost cost him the throne, and it did mean a bitter end for Absalom, so full of potential, so winsome, so charming, and so full of hatred for a man who loved God and who loved women, but didn’t know how to love his own son. When David heard the news that Absalom was dead, he cried, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). He died of dart wounds, but he really died of a father wound.

Maybe you suffer from a father wound. I encourage you to get prayer ministry and to believe in a loving Father for healing, even if it takes a while. Email pa@harvestcommunities for “Healing From A Father Wound.”


It is an end in itself. Everything else is a means—including prayer, Bible study, and missions. There is something “wasteful” about worship that can make people committed to getting things done nervous.

Worship is loving God back, and extravagance is appropriate with love. When I fell in love with Karen, my sisters could tell it was the real thing, because I started spending money. Love calls for that kind of playfulness and abandon.

We’re going to be worshiping for all eternity. Some may feel like the disciples, who reacted to the gift of love from Mary with, “Why such waste?” Worship exceeds the boundaries of economy and utility. It often goes outside the lines of decorum and dignity, at least as measured by the cold and calculating heart. But as the Westminster Confession clarifies, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Sounds playful to me.

The reason the Church has had difficulty with dance is that it lost its playfulness. We have majored in reverence and minored in celebration. Sometimes it isn’t even in the curriculum. So when we hear the call to “praise him with timbrel and dance” (Psalm 150:4), we pass over holy writ as if it were not writ for us.

The psalmist urges worshippers, “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre!” (Psalm 149:3). Now, listen to the next verse tell us why: “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people…” (4). We celebrate because God does.

Little kids, bless their hearts,delight the playful heart of God. I was in my pastor’s robe in the first pew, ready to preach. During the opening songs, my daughter Karis, then five and raised to celebrate in church, began to dance with my stole. I wasn’t ready for that much freedom and almost told her to stop. Wisdom barely won out over self-consciousness.

Worship is sometimes compared to the intimacy of husband and wife, surely the invention of a playful God. Read the Song of Solomon if you need to grow in playfulness with your mate or your Maker. The Bible is a love story from cover to cover. It begins with a walk and ends with a wedding, not the conception of a dispassionate God with a stick. His heart is expressed in the father of the prodigal who told his angry son, “We had to celebrate. ” There is a divine compulsion to rejoice with the kids!

This God of extravagance loved His world and called it good. When it was invaded by sin, He continued to love it–so much so that He sent His only Son to rescue humanity. And what was He like–this God-man? Full to the brim with joy and playfulness. The writer of Hebrews tells us that He was the happiest man who ever lived (1:9). His exuberance consistently got Him into trouble with the all too sober Pharisees. Jesus no doubt had a demon. They complained: “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Those more committed to duty than delight,who are formed more by rules than relationships, are uncomfortable with celebration.

But Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, also had His serious side. Joyfulness presupposes sorrow, as day presupposes night. Playfulness does not deny the sorrows of life. In fact, people who cannot play have a more difficult time holding to their faith in times of trial. They tend to take themselves more seriously than they take God. Jesus told His disciples four times that He was going to suffer and die, but they weren’t listening.

Psychologists tell us that playfulness is one mark of emotionally healthy people. Neurotics have a difficult time with spontaneous play. So do guilty sinners. The grace of God sets us free to play. We who have a good work ethic also need a play ethic, and the One to give it to us is a playful God–and His Son Jesus.

Perhaps you need more playfulness—in giving, in worship, in loving, in sharing the faith. Legalism resists playfulness, but grace opens the door. The Son returns–and the party begins. May you walk in the extravagant grace of a loving Father who celebrates you. Take your cue from Him—and play!


I was taking Israel, then seven, to “Toys R Us.” I asked jokingly, “What is it about kids? They love toys.”
He answered, “Kids are playful.”
“And what about adults?” I inquired.
“They go to meetings.” (I think I’d rather be a kid.)

I’ve come to the conviction that one side of God’s character is playfulness. Consider the following four statements. First…

Creation is the idea of a playful God. He didn’t create out of need. Creation is the overflow of His abundant joy in Himself. John Piper says that “in creation God ‘went public’…All his works are simply the spillover of his infinite exuberance for his own excellence” (The Pleasures of God, p. 44,45.) Listen to God describing His greatness to Job, speaking about when “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Picture it! Hear it!

In 1989, two Harvard astronomers discovered what has been called the “Great Wall”, a string of galaxies stretching hundreds of millions of light years across the known universe. If one light year is just less than six trillion miles, imagine the vastness. He made more than enough stars, and the psalmist says that He has named them all! God spiraled them out, and the angels applauded with excitement.

I appreciate the poem of Thomas Gray, called “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” It describes flowers on the ocean floor and in the desert, seen by no one but the Creator God, who delights in the beauty of His handiwork:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Listen to God reflect on His creation. He finishes a day’s work and says, “Oh, good!” Then He breathes life into Adam and says, “Very good!” God is taking delight in His creation, especially those most like Himself.

Karen and I have six children. We chose this many because the dishes were piling up and the lawn was growing long. We needed someone to do our work. Not really. Children were the outcome of our love for one another.

And so with God. His purpose was not utilitarian. Love was the motive. Paul says that “He predestined us in love unto adoption…” (Ephesians 1:5). He has angels to work for Him. We also work, but unlike the angels, we call God “Father.” And God, who is eternally a Father, chose to create people, who bring joy to His Father heart. And like Israel said, “Kids are playful.”

Heaven is also the idea of a playful God. Think of it—an eternity of bliss. Non-stop celebrating. Incessant, undiminished joy. That might be difficult for type A’s. Some people might feeling like calling a committee meeting after a few billion years.

Jesus had heaven on His mind as He walked in the shadow of the cross. Listen to His invitation to the faithful: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). Heaven satisfies the joy of a playful, extravagantly loving God. Moments later Jesus describes an awesome judgment scene. We hear the King saying, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). God has been waiting from the inauguration of history to show His children His lavish love. Now we have the down-payment. Heaven is the delivery of the full inheritance, and it will take an eternity for the complete disclosure: “…that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Part II next.


Karen and I work with young adults. They hear a variety of voices. We want them to hear ours. We also want to see many more marriages.

• Give yourself to God. It’s a great way to prepare for marriage. To find the right mate, focus on being the right mate. If you are putting all your marbles in the marriage basket, you’re off your marbles.

• If you are at point A, ask a B question, not an E question. The Christian life is described as a walk. You get to point E by first going to point B. An appropriate question: “God, I’m interested in Marsha. Unless I hear “no,” I’m going for it.” Passivity is like paralysis.

• Stick with plan A. Don’t settle for plan B. You may feel that you are not that special to God, that your past has disqualified you from plan A. Ever heard of the blood?

• Keep your morals high. If a friend requires you to loosen up, drop your friend. Know what gives God pleasure, not your friend.

• Keep believing in God, even with difficulties. This does not mean that you hide your feelings from God or close friends. Being transparent allows you to live with hope. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Tell Him that you agree. The fact that you are not married says one and only one thing about you, that you are—single!

• Give yourself away. People who are living for themselves are not as attractive as people living for others. Happiness is found in God—not in marriage. Take advantage of your single status. Don’t grab anything with skin on. Many married people are miserable.

• If you see yourself married, God does, too. The single life is meant for those called to it. If you don’t think you are, you aren’t.

• Demystify the guidance process. Don’t worry about finding “God’s perfect will.” That might put stress on you and make you think that you could make the wrong choice. Look for the special mate that you can love. Waiting for “God’s best” might mean waiting a long time.

• Let God heal you. The process of moving from single life to marriage often includes wounding. Keep your spirit open to God by forgiving people who hurt you, who give you advice that you don’t want, or who give the impression that married people are automatically more mature. Don’t expect marriage to solve problems—it intensifies them. Work on your issues now and get healing prayer.

• Check out values. The most important thing to find out about prospective mates is their values. Those are often hidden in a dating relationship. A guy sweeps a girl off her feet with his charm and generosity. She had better find out if he can hold down a job.

• Advantages of the single life: a) Greater potential for single-mindedness. b) Good historical tradition for singles. c) Restraint helps bring maturity. d) Freedom and independence. Disadvantages: a) Living singly is not the norm in Scripture nor society. b) Stigma attached to living singly. c) Need to deal with many potential feelings (loneliness, self-pity, jealousy, resentment, insecurity).

• Questions to help you evaluate potential mates:
• Do they share my strongest convictions? Are life styles compatible?
• Do they treat their family and my family with respect?
• Are they committed without question to the will of God? Do they listen to God and can they hear Him? (Don’t think they will change when you marry them).
• Can I live with their values? Do I know them, how they handle money, how they work, how they treat children? Have I known them enough to see their values?

• A word to young men: The Bible says that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Prov. 18:22). Finding means looking.

God has proved able down through the centuries to bring together a man and a woman. And He can do it for you as well. Our prayers are with you that God will demonstrate His love for you in this important area as well and lead you into a satisfying married life!


That is what Billy Graham answered when asked years ago, “What is the number one problem in the world?” Good response. We know it firsthand in America. Think Dallas. St. Paul. And weep. Torched cities and demonstrations prove that freeing the slaves did not settle the issue. First Nation people, then Blacks in the South, then Japanese Americans in World War II. Gangs in big cities are divided along racial lines, and national feuds persist on American soil.

Our statue of liberty declares with silent lips, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

They have come by the millions, perhaps 30 million. Thank God for America. No country on earth has approached this record. We have done a remarkable job of inviting the nations. And yet racial tension continues to rip us apart.

Europeans are discovering the joys and struggles of opening their doors to the masses, mainly now Muslems. Refugees are fleeing for their lives in many places of the world because of racial hatred. Millions have been slaughtered for one reason: wrong race. Think ethnic cleansing.

Jews and Samaritans were distant cousins who hated each other. When the Northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, they brought in Gentiles who intermarried and produced a half-breed Jew, disqualifying them from the religious life of chosen people in the eyes of the purebreds. The animosity went both ways (Luke 9:52f).

Jesus didn’t accept their assessment. Rather than bypassing their region and taking the much longer Jordan River Valley route, He went right through Samaria on His way to Galilee, much to the discomfort of the disciples. John added this personal postscript, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). He even spoke with a Samaritan woman (two strikes against Him) and introduced Himself as her Messiah. They would not have considered her worthy of salvation. One of the big issues was the Jerusalem temple vs. the temple at Mount Gerizim, which Samaritans still sacrifice on to this day. It is possibly the smallest people group in the world—about 250.

Jesus pressed the issue by evangelizing there, and “many of the citizens of Samaria believed in him” (39). Jewish leaders called Jesus “a Samaritan and demon-possessed,” the worst they could come up with (John 8:48). When a scribe asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He told a story about “The Good Samaritan,” an oxymoron to Jews. Jesus highlighted the lone leper out of ten who returned to give thanks—a Samaritan. When Jesus commissioned the disciples before take-off, He included Samaria among target places (Acts 1:8). Some grimaced.

It was Philip the deacon, ordained as a table server like Stephen, who brought the good news to these rejects. “So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:7). Some must have remembered the visit Jesus paid a few years before. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them” (14). “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (17). On the way home Peter and John preached “the gospel in many Samaritan villages” (25). John had only a year or two before wanted to cast down fire and torch the place. The answer to racial tension is not found in politics but in the Gospel of God and the power of the Spirit. Peter and John let Samaritans know, “You belong in the family!” So much for racial tension!

“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it” (Revelation 21:24). Sounds like the best of culture in the new earth. And Samaritan culture will be represented, thanks to Philip, Peter, John—and Jesus!



He can look back, see God’s faithfulness, and apply it to struggles peculiar to age. He grabs onto the anchor of hope, when the body does not respond like it used to, when he’s being used in different ways than when he was young. He revels in the riches and acknowledges that life is never without its hardships.


Two times the psalmist reviews God’s goodness in being his refuge, his safe place. But he still needs it: “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness. Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go” (3). Trust has prevailed, but anxieties still surface to rob his peace, so he goes to his Source. He returns to his beginning to draw strength: “From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb” (6).


He asks God not to forsake him or cast him off when he is old. It might suggest that he is experiencing that from people who may no longer consider him an asset. Old people fear being a liability to their loved ones. But he is fighting fiercer battles and cannot settle back and rest: “For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.’ Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me’” (11, 12).


He does not allow the worries and the fight for his life to get an upper hand: “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long… (14,15).


Then he realizes a predominant mandate of age: “When when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (18). The elderly have stories of God’s goodness and provision that can link the generations and pass on to grandchildren the unsurpassed ways of a faithful God. They understand well that suffering remains a portion of our life throughout, but it neither overwhelms or destroys us. They are valuable witnesses to those running their race. With a more sedentary life, they feel less useful than the active, with bodies and minds that slow them down. The younger must urge them to tell the stories that link us with the past, helping the youth to walk into their future.


This psalm combines reality and vulnerability: “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again” (20, 21). A positive outlook that does not address problems feels shallow and comfortless. We draw strength from this old man, as he gives us both grace and truth.
He closes by grabbing his guitar to celebrate the livelong steadfastness of God. No one but a senior could write a psalm like this. You might want to read the full psalm and thank God for elders in your life, and especially those with grace to testify to the unwavering love of the Father.



..pray like an unknown Greek woman. She did it right. Jesus responds to the faith of parents for their children. A remarkable unnamed Gentile with towering faith can teach us how to bring our kids to Jesus. Do not be offended by Him. He marvels at two things–great faith, and the lack of it. Let him marvel at your faith.


“Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came, and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.


“First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’


Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’  She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone” (Mark 7:24-30).


SHE CAME. If you come, you get more than if you don’t come. Don’t say, “Others need Jesus more than us.” You don’t find that kind of reasoning in the Scripture. Some never come. They just wish that Jesus would do more.


SHE KNELT.  She sees something about Jesus that required lowliness. She called him “Lord” three times (see Matthew 15). She does not come with pride or presumption, as if Jesus owes her something. God does not owe us anything. He is a debtor to no man.


SHE ASKED BELIEVING. It can be hard to believe for our children. It hurts us as parents to see them hurt. Sometimes prayers are complaints or expressions of doubt rather than faith. This woman stated the problem accurately and asked Jesus to fix it. We sometimes do everything but ask.


SHE PERSISTED WHEN JESUS HESITATED. How do you interpret the silence of God? It is easy to get discouraged and quit. When she was called a dog, she gave a positive interpretation to the apparent insult rather than being offended and leaving. She would not give up. She was not a victim, easily hurt by wrong words and stalking off in anger.


SHE SAW THE GREATNESS OF CHRIST.  The woman with the issue of blood only needed the hem of his garment. This Gentile only needed crumbs. She didn’t expect special treatment, simply attention for a deeply sick daughter. Her humble and undaunted faith impressed Jesus greatly. Let Him be impressed by yours.
You have an invitation to come. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’” (Revelation 22:17). Jesus knows His Father well and says, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.”