Here’s the best piece of advice I received about a school we were starting. A friend said, “Under-promise and over-perform.” I gave people a sales pitch, and it was ending up better than reality. That is dishonesty, though it doesn’t feel that way. I was just being positive about a good thing.

Jesus is not like me. Surprise!.  He talks about hardships we will need to endure. He warns as much as He encourages. He wants us to know what we are signing up for. He told would-be followers, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).  In other words, get ready for tough times, not a comfortable ride.

We somehow expect that because God is good, so is the future. The Christian life will be like a wonderful vacation. That is not what we are told or sold. Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you,” but we are. And maybe we expect that the better the Christian, the better the deal. The opposite is more often true. Look at Paul and Peter, super-apostles who suffered much and died as martyrs.

We are told to put all our marbles in the age to come. Peter, writing to exiles of the Dispersion about suffering, said, “Set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). He said that our “living hope” is waiting for us in eternity, and it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” us (1:4). Justice comes at the end of the end.

Paul didn’t remind Timothy of all the people who were saved, healed and filled with the Holy Spirit like we pastors often do. He said, “You have observed my teaching, my conduct…my persecutions, my sufferings” (2 Timothy 3:10,11). He promised that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (12). Then he added, “Evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived” (13). Every New Testament writer said that it was going to get worse before it gets better–Jesus, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter.

Do they struggle with pessimism? No, but we do. So we give people the good news and not the “bad” news, which amounts to false hope. We give hype but not reality. And people are surprised that marriage, family, and the Christian life are harder than anticipated. Discouragement sets in because they think something must be wrong with them. Life is harder than it was supposed to be. Like the grandfather said to his grandkids, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if you didn’t expect it to be so easy.”

Dear Christian: life is supposed to be hard. Paul “encouraged” his struggling understudy with these words, “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord…but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Eternity is the payback. We live for what is not yet. So we are not pulled down by hardship. It actually gives us blazing hope! Like a pastor friend preached, “Life is hard, but God is good!”



So, we are told to pray for and submit to our government. That helps it do what it is called to do, keep the peace and punish offenders, so Christians can do what they are called to do–represent the invisible God on earth. And what if government does not do its job?

Government is ordained by God to be a terror to bad conduct. When it is slack in its execution of lawbreakers, lawlessness increases. “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). When protesters are not punished for damaging people and property, other protesters get courageous and do their violent thing. Before too long you have anarchy, literally no government, mob rule. Think Venezuela! Very sad!

Where was the government earlier this month when violent protesters were not apprehended? Call in the national guard. Do not let people break the law without paying. Otherwise, they will break the law in other ways and other places. “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he [government] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

Good government enables us to “lead a peaceful and quiet life” (I Timothy 2:2). Bad government invites crime. If people can do wrong without fear, wrong just got popular. I watched riots in LA streets on TV as a young person. People were breaking windows and running off with stereos and televisions. Where were the marines or the army? When breaking the law becomes entertainment, the government is not doing its job.

Nazi Germany killed the innocent and protected the guilty. Dietrich Bonhoeffer attempted an overthrow of the government. Was he right? Absolutely. Lutherans and Catholics were keeping their mouths shut. By their silence they supported an illegitimate government. They should have risen up, spoken up, and formed an anti-government coalition. Thank God for those who defied the government and provided asylum for Jews, doing what the government was assigned to do but violated, like Corrie ten boom and her Dutch family who provided a hiding place. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that coaches can’t pray or make religious gestures on the field after a game. They went too far. Coaches across the nation should defy the law and exercise their constitutional freedom–to keep our freedoms.

The North Korean government supports one person–the insane president. He has an illegitimate autocracy, “the rule of one.”   When government either does wrong according to the law of God or protects those who do wrong, it must be resisted. At that point “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).  The three men who chose not to bow down to the image of the king said, “Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). Pretty bold. God stood behind their disobedience. The king reversed his decision and gave the un-torched men a promotion.       

Daniel interpreted the vision of the oriental despot, then boldly urged the king: “Break off your sins by practicing righteousness and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed” (Daniel 4:27). Not your normal communication to a dictator. He gave an even stronger word to Balshazzar, reading the script on the wall and telling him that days are numbered and his kingdom was about ended (Daniel 5). We thank God for stable government in America and pray it stays this way.


“Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). God deserves our absolute obedience–now and forever. But we have a double loyalty according to Jesus. We “render to Caesar [government] the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Jesus legitimized the authority of government.

Nations are part of the plan of God for people to live together peacefully. Boundaries have been established by God (Acts 17:26). He loves national identities. The new earth will feature cultural diversity in all its radiance (Revelation 21:24).

Globalism is not in the plan of God, but it seemed to me to be in the plan of the former president. It is the plan of Satan. (So is hyper-nationalism. Think Nazi). Globalism will reach fruition under the antichrist, and by God’s allowance he will succeed–for three and a half years. The King will destroy his plans by His return to earth.

Paul addressed the Christian’s relationship to government in two letters. He wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (I Timothy 2:1-3). As people who carry two passports, we show our allegiance to our earthly state first of all through prayer.  Before Paul instructed Timothy on matters of worship, leadership, eldership, widows, and finances, he exhorted him concerning the priority of prayer for government leaders. Must be important. God help us.

We pray for civil leaders so the gospel can go forth unhindered. Paul saw a great advantage with peace–free movement in the Roman Empire. He used his citizenship when he needed protection from religious leaders (Acts 22:28).

In Paul’s longest doctrinal letter, he again addressed the issue of the state. His opening line: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). How do we function as citizens? By submitting, a word Paul used often when talking about relationships–elders to congregation, husband to wife, parents to children, employer to employee. God exercises His authority in the earth through human authority, and that includes government. Paul saw himself in a place of submission to the government that was serving the purpose of God. Protesters don’t get it.

To be subject includes paying “taxes to whom taxes are due…honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). Is honor due to anyone who happens to be leading? No. The government of North Korea is not a servant of God. The pagan government of Rome was.

God is concerned for the proper ordering of society, not just the church. The function of the government and the church are radically different. The government is commissioned by God to provide safety for its citizens. They bear the sword and execute God’s wrath on wrongdoers (Romans 13:4). Don’t expect the government to support the church, but neither should they attack the church. They should do what they are called to do (keep the peace and punish the rowdies) so that the church can do what it is called to do. Let’s pray for good government!


You were good-looking when we married August 22, 1975. You still are. Your beauty runs deep. Your life is beautiful to watch. I appreciate the way you love your parents, your siblings, children, grandchildren, me. The legacy is moving forward. You have helped to shape children whose lives also speak of beauty. They still enjoy spending time with you, because you are a giver, not a taker. You add to their life. Your girls especially look to you, learn from you, laugh with you, trade stories.

You have added beauty to my life. You have slowed me down. I see more when going twenty miles an hour rather than sixty–and get fewer tickets. I am much better off for having married you. I thought I was a musician, but you have enriched our lives by singing your prayers, singing prophetic words, singing in the car, singing table grace, singing in the Spirit. I get choked up when I hear the solos of a young Karen. It is so beautiful that I cry. God made you a singer–I am the benefactor!

You have added an international component to our family life. You are more Japanese than American. Americans are “those people.” I still enjoy telling people that I married a Japanese. “Funny, she doesn’t look Japanese.”

You have loved your parents well. Go ahead and claim the promise of a long and good life (Ephesians 6:3). You honor them, enjoy them, show gratitude for their sacrificial life, care for them, call them, and pray often for them. They love being around you, because you serve them well, laugh at your dad’s jokes, and appreciate your mom’s grace and kindness.

You give people the gift of time. When I am done in an hour, you are ready to go for two. You don’t watch the clock. You don’t even know what time it is. You use the calendar more than the clock. That makes me proud of you–and nervous when it’s time to board. We haven’t missed a single flight, but we’ve come close! I’m glad you’re not like me–most of the time.

I am amazed that you didn’t complain when I left for church at 7 AM on Sunday mornings–leaving a houseful of kids. I was an idiot. You were a mother. Thank you for the many times you had to put up with my inconsistencies. I thought I was doing right. Wrong! Being religious and being right are often quite different.

Things improved in our life together when I quit trying to change you and began to better love you and appreciate who you were. I am thankful that I have finally learned how to live above offense. (Well, most of the time).

You both root for me and stand up to me. If you are at a different place, I hear about it. Better than stuffing it and taking it out in a different way. Thank you for being truthful, loyal, absolutely trustworthy–and fun.

We have had a really rich life–to this point. At 73 and 68, this is the oldest we’ve been so far. I have this crazy feeling that it’s going to get even better. Fasten your seat belt. I think we’re in for an exciting ride. Happy 42nd anniversary, dearest Karen! Thankful that you said yes–through the tears.                    

Much love to you,  Paul



We have many friends who are waiting. We pray for ten couples who are more than eager to have a child. Some have waited a long time and are losing hope. One has given up. I met with one of these couples recently. Waiting can tamper with two important pictures: how we view ourselves and how we view God. I asked her if waiting had changed her outlook of herself. She answered, “Not now, but it did for a while.”

Haunting thoughts have time to germinate in a restless soul: maybe I wouldn’t be a good mother. Perhaps I don’t have what it takes. Or we transfer the shame to heaven: maybe God is not as faithful as we thought. Maybe He does have favorites, and I don’t happen to be one of them. Maybe He is testing us by not giving us children. Maybe He has disqualified us because of something we did earlier in life. Questions bombard young adults in the waiting room. We feel unprotected, and Satan opens fire. In our weaker moments, we agree with his assault.

My friend said that she has made it through the worst of it. She is now at a place of relative peace. They are thinking of foster children, still with the expectation of having their own as well.

Other friends are hopeful of being married. The clock keeps ticking, and it reminds them of the inner biological clock. Time could run out. Doesn’t God see? Doesn’t He care? Why is He singling me out? Why do five friends get married and I stay single and sad? What is wrong with me? Am I diseased? Am I not beautiful? Do I not have what it takes? I thought I did. I think I do. But no one is budging.

Delay is not denial, but it feels like it. Would it be easier to wait if we knew that the promise would be fulfilled at the end of the time period?  Yes, but what if time runs out and still no child, no husband, no job, no future. I want to believe that God sees me and cares, but in my troubled times I doubt it.

In our anxious waiting, we read the words of David and feel that he understands: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy says, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken” (Psalm 13:1-4).

We feel understood. Someone in the Bible who had a heart for God felt the way we feel. We are being validated. We are not alone and we are not crazy. Maybe we are being heard. Perhaps the answer is on the way.

David concludes his “how long” Psalm with confident words: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” With you, too!


After some dry weeks, the rain in July and August has been refreshing. The grass and the garden soaked it up. We sing, “Open the floodgates of heaven; let it rain, let it rain!” We are praying that God would answer this prayer for our church, city, state, country, and the nations of the world. He has certainly done it in the past. Think Nineveh. After the preaching of Jonah, God brought conviction upon all the people from the king on down.

Jesus said, “When he [the Spirit of truth] comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The king knew that he and all his people were under the judgment of a holy God. How? The Spirit convinced this pagan ruler. We will meet him and his people in heaven (Matt. 11:42). God could do that in a moment in other cities of the world–Tokyo, Mexico City, Moscow, San Francisco, Dubai.

He will do His part. We have two primary responsibilities:

  1. talking to God about people, and
  2. talking to people about God.

Most have a stronger focus on one than the other. Daniel Nash was a powerful intercessor for Charles Finney. Daniel arrived two weeks early and plowed up the ground through prayer to prepare it to receive rain. Finney the preacher relied so much on Daniel the pray-er that when Daniel died, Finney left revival preaching and went back to pastoring.

Peggy and Christine didn’t talk much to people about God, but they spent long hours talking to God about people. Peggy was 84 and blind; Christine was 82 and crippled. They seldom left their little cabin home.  But they were convinced through prayer that God was bringing revival to their Hebrides Islands west of Scotland. They urged their pastor to send for Duncan Campbell. He came for two weeks–and stayed for two years. It poured down rain from 1949 to 53. Heaven credits two elderly invalids with calling faithfully on God and cooperating with Him to bring revival rain.

Two truths:


How marvelous is that. We team up with God. We do our part–prayer and proclamation, and He does His part–convicting and convincing. Persistent prayer by parents and grandparents of long-haired, pot-smoking hippies brought a powerful revival in the early 1970’s to more than 100,000 young adults in the Jesus People Revival. The epicenter of that downpour was a few miles from my home–Calvary Chapel. Meanwhile, urgent prayer by students at Asbury College in 1969 and 70 brought a sweeping revival on their campus, starting on February 3, 1970. That downpour spread around the country as they sent out teams on weekends. I remember hearing about it as a student in seminary.

So we pray, “I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds. In our day renew it“ (Habakkuk 3:2). “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6). This refrain occurs three times in Psalm 80: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”  The weather forecasters are calling for heavy rain. I’m praying for it and expecting it! What about you?


I find myself presently dealing with six marriages on the rocks. Some have hope, others lost it. Two have used the “d” word. I am trying to believe for them, when they are unable to believe for themselves. Rebuilding a broken marriage is no piece of cake. Takes work that some find daunting.

On the other side of the fence are single people who desperately want to be married. “Desperately” may not be a strong enough word. They look at couples enjoying life, having kids, doing the fun things families do, like going on vacations or watching a movie together. They know that they are meant to be married. Ouch. I tell singles, afraid that they may have the the gift of celibacy, “If you want to be married, you don’t have it.” Celibacy is for people who are called to it and rejoice in it (maybe).

So what I say to people on both sides of the fence: Life is not found in marriage or in the single life. People who are sad but know that once they get married all that will change could be in for a surprise. Singles who put all their marbles in the marriage basket better not leave them there if they get married. It would be too oppressive for their spouse.

I encourage engaged couples to write down their five biggest expectations for marriage, then throw them away. All too easy for an expectation to become a silent (or vocal) mandate for the partner: “You must do this for me to be happily married.” Rather than writing down expectations, try this: “Here are the five things I will do for you to make this marriage thrive.” A lifetime guarantee accompanies that posturing.

Not that I don’t understand the struggle of a single person desiring a spouse, a family, a legacy. But I still say, “Center your life on God. Be the best single person you can be. Paul regards it as a preferable station in life for people who want to have influence with others. The two most prominent people in the Bible were single. I know some single people who would make wonderful spouses but who chose to give their life away–like many missionaries have done.

They are champions, and their joy in eternity will mask any disappointment they may have felt in this life. They denied themselves, took up their cross, and followed Jesus. Instead of living in painful regret for what they didn’t have, they poured their life out and influenced many, something they probably could not have done the same way as married people. Paul writes like he understands: “Those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (I Cor. 7:28).

Likewise, I understand why marriage takes work. I failed as a young married man to give proper understanding to a young mother attempting to raise children with a religious husband. She forgave me. So Karen and I fight for marriages. God is a healing God. Bottom line: wherever you are, whatever you are–center your life in God.


The strongest words on marriage in the Bible come from Jesus. He was coming under attack from leaders looking for loopholes. They didn’t find any. Here’s what Jesus said: “’Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Matthew 19:4-6).  

Haven’t you read…?  Who can know God’s thoughts and ways? Those who can read. The Pharisees were ignoring the first two chapters in the Bible. The life God offers is not meant for the spiritually elite. It’s for readers, humble enough to recognize the Creator behind the creation. Want to know how God defines marriage? Want to know the perimeters of sex? Ask someone at the U. of MN? No.  Read the Book!

At the beginning… Christ’s outlook was not some new idea. It started when God called stars into being.  “At the beginning” means that the love of a man and woman is rooted in history. It’s not the latest idea. A young couple joins countless men and women who are doing marriage God’s way. The song, “I did it my way,” has nothing to do with life in God.

The Creator made them male and female.  Jesus takes us back to Genesis 1: “Go God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (27). Every human is created to reflect the likeness of God. And because God’s image is reflected differently from a woman than a man, their union causes God’s image to shine with even greater luster.  

The Bible says that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. If that is not your understanding, God still loves you. But the creator of the human race gets to decide what marriage is.

For this cause…God works on purpose. Creation reflects intelligent design, whether examining a Minnesota dragonfly or thinking about a billion galaxies. God has purpose in keeping a man and woman together for a lifetime. It builds a strong church and impacts society. Destroy the family and annihilate the culture.

And the two will become one flesh.  Sex is God’s idea. Embrace it God’s way and enjoy. Outside of marriage sex disorients and destroys. God’s first command, “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:28), comes to a man and a woman, committed for life.  Sex is for procreation and recreation.

What God has joined together…What if love wanes?  Behind our love stands the sovereign purposes of God. He protects this first institution of the race. When half the marriages are ending, we need God’s plan. A couple is committed not until love ends but until life ends—because God stands above the marriage!

…let not man separate. God puts up His two hands at a wedding and says, “I am making them one. Stay out!”  Marriage needs to be protected from people who will use puny excuses to break it apart. We are keeping our marriage together for ourselves and for the preservation of society.



We often feel powerless. Then take a look at the power of God. He shows His power in…

HIS FREEDOM. “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3).  The Lord said to Abraham after he and his elderly wife laughed at the thought of having a baby, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). Gabriel told Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke l:37).  Any impossibilities challenging you? They don’t challenge the Almighty.

CREATION. “…by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).  “Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary…” (Isaiah 40:28). Good to know.

NATURE.  He is the one who “makes Lebanon to skip like a calf” [an earthquake?], whose voice “breaks the cedars,” “flashes forth flames of fire [lightning], and “shakes the wilderness.” Fireworks!

PRESERVATION.  The Son sustains “all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). God asked Job regarding His power of preservation, “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb…when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther?’” (Job 38:8-11).

COMMAND OF THE ARMY OF HEAVEN. The psalmist wrote about our warrior God: “Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle” (Ps. 24:8). Angels, powerful servants of God, join in praising His strength: “Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones [angels], ascribe to the Lord glory and strength” (Psalm 29:1). Attention!

SALVATION. “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm…and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10). The gospel is “the power of God for salvation…” (Romans 1:16). Impressive!

The Old Testament refers often to two great acts of power: the creation and the exodus. In the New Testament, God’s power centers in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul prays that we might know “the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10).

RESTRAINT OF EVIL. Kings and rulers chafe under the divine restraint.  But “the one enthroned in heaven laughs” (Psalm 2:4).  When evil blossoms forth as a sign of the curtain call of history, twenty-four elders will say, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign” (Revelation 11:17).

JUDGMENT.  St. John of the Apocalypse continues, “The nations were angry; and your wrath has come” (11:18).  Jesus is returning in “power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30) and His name will be vindicated in his judgment of all humanity.


He never abuses it. His power has not tainted His character. Our words can carry the freight of shame or guilt. By contrast, “every word of God is flawless” (Prov. 30:5).

He gives power to the powerless. Mary praised the God who “has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Luke l:5l,52). Let us praise the power of God!


The disciples failed that much–in one chapter.  Kids make messes. That is part of what they do–naturally. Then they grow up. When the disciples got it, they really got it. So will you! Don’t be discouraged when you mess up, but grow from it. Failures are not final if you learn from them. This was their debut. Jesus “sent them out to proclaim the kingdom and to heal” (Luke 9:2). But…


Jesus had plans to feed the multitude–they didn’t. “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people” (Luke 9:13). Philip even got out his calculator to prove it couldn’t happen (John 6:7).They knew how much they lacked, not how much Jesus had. And even after Jesus fed the crowd, they still didn’t have faith the next time around. Jesus marveled at two things–great faith and the lack of it. Upgrade your faith monitor!


“‘Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’–not knowing what he said” (Luke 9:33). Peter, if you don’t know what to say–don’t! He was comparing Jesus to these two great men. When they disappeared, it was time for the Father to speak, and He knew what to say: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” The Son of God dwarfs all other heroes. Listen!


Jesus didn’t say, “I understand; this is a tough one.” He said, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (9:41). Jesus expects a fight with the darkness and knows we can win it. Believe–and go for it!


“And they were afraid to ask him…” (45). Jesus spoke about his suffering and death many times, and it went over their heads. They were thinking glory, not gory. Peter was even bold enough to rebuke Jesus for speaking about death: “This shall never happen to you,” because Peter didn’t want it to happen to himself. But it did–and he was ready for it!


They were in the presence of greatness, and they were still trying to climb the ladder. Jesus had to remind them that “he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (48). It’s not how high you can get but how low you can go!


Call it sectarianism: our group is better than yours. “I am of Apollos.” Jesus encouraged them to be inclusive rather than exclusive. An embrace works better than a stiff-arm. “The one who is not against you is for you” (50).


Judgment is not the first thing that comes to mind for Jesus in the face of rejection. It is for some of his followers. God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked…” (Ez. 33:11). Mercy wins over judgment. Sure hope you learn well when you mess up. (Thank you, Dave Heinrich, for the insights that led to this study!)