Life is a miracle. That the body functions as it does witnesses to God’s genius and creativity. The organs don’t compete with one another but assist each other, just as the body of Christ is meant to do. Your body is a picture of how the church is called to function. We complement each other rather than compete with each other, just like our bodily systems do. Take another breath–and thank God!


Scripture tells us to put all our marbles in the age to come: “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you with the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). We have the new earth to look forward to. The prediction for today may include dark clouds, but tomorrow promises to be sunny.


He is an economist. He doesn’t throw out our failures–He uses them. In His creative genius, everything counts. So there is no room for regret. We repent–and move on, knowing that “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” What a way to live. Regret is a useless emotion. Worse yet, it puts our engine in reverse and keeps us from walking into our God-appointed destiny. It doesn’t get us anywhere except on the road to discouragement. By contrast, we can know assuredly that God uses our bad decisions as well as our good. When Jesus showed up on Resurrection evening, He came to commission, not to complain. The greatest failure in the lives of the disciples was answered with the words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” I want to follow a King like that!


In your best times and in your worst. God is not in a bad mood today. He has not turned His back on you because you turned your back on Him last week. He has a good forgetter. With regard to our sin, the prophet tells us that “He remembers them no more.”


“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). It doesn’t insult me that God has planned specific works in advance, and I get to step into them today and in the days ahead. Call it predestination. Look at the word: you have a destiny that has your name on it–planned ahead of time. God thought about you in advance and has gifted you specifically to do what He has designed for you. That brings peace and a deep sense of fulfillment. Today is not another random day where we throw the dice and see what number comes up. We are living out the purposes of the architect of our soul. Good reason for gratitude.


He is teaching us all to live above the circumstances. We learn to not ride the roller coaster of up and down situations. We live above them, subject to a God whose plan is not conditioned by the weather report. His Word is sure and steadfast. We can count on it–today and tomorrow! Blessed Thanksgiving!



Paul loved unity so much that he confronted disunity when he saw it. Euodia and Syntyche were two strong women who had worked with Paul. He had learned to walk toward tension, not away from it, which people typically do. He confronted it rather than avoiding it.

We don’t know if the sisters were reconciled, but if they were not, don’t blame Paul. He gave it his best shot, exposing the problem for the whole church to know–as well as the church down through the centuries. Paul’s two-verse admonition (Philippians 4:2,3) says much about restoring damaged relationships and making unity a standard:

  1. Confront conflict. Don’t let it grow by choosing not to address it.
  2. Treat broken relationships as serious. If unity convinces the world of the message of the gospel, disunity shows them we can’t get along. The world scoffs because the church is in constant skirmishes with itself. If we say, “Not that big a deal” and let disunity simmer below the surface, the dis-ease of disunity grows. Others will take their cue from a silent leadership and not take it seriously. Pardon me, but you’re singing off key!
  3. Treat the group as more important than the individual, a highly important and oft- neglected truth. If someone on a music team can’t sing but has been on the team for five years and parents are generous supporters, you may think to ignore the issue. Wrong! The well-being of the group overrides the feelings of an individual. Confronting the issue helps honest people work toward harmony. This is needed in the family–and in the church family! Everyone has a part to play. Leaders help people find it.

Wow! How embarrassing! Didn’t Paul care at all for the feelings of Euodia and Syntyche? Looks like he shamed them by going public. These two gals didn’t know their feud would be famous–for two millennia! Had they known, they might have taken their disagreement more seriously. Was Paul right in doing what he did?

Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother…” (Matthew 5:23,24). Right relationships lay a proper foundation for right worship and for strategic evangelism. Disunity taints corporate life. If you want to improve the quality of your worship, strengthen the quality of your relationships (Thank you, Graham Cooke).

Paul was right. The division was serious. These were not new Christians, and they had locked horns. Others were needed to bring them into agreement: “Yes, I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel.” This was not a personal passing issue to overlook. They needed encouragement from the outside to see the seriousness of division and the high priority of unity. The church desperately needs what Paul saw. Make unity a higher priority than personal feelings–and you’ll enjoy the harmony that is created. Guaranteed.


When my father was close to death, every word counted. He met with his six children one by one to speak life into us. I’ll never forget his words to me. Relatives came, and those who needed an admonition got it. Even the maid dusting his room was challenged to live for eternity.

Last words can be monumental. So what did Jesus say just before going to the cross? He prayed that the family might be one just as He and the Father were, “so that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:20-23). He said it twice for emphasis. If Jesus had unity on his mind, should it be on ours as well?


Paul used the human body to talk about unity: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (I Cor. 12:12). The body does not compete with itself. Like a football team working together under one coach, it operates in unity. Like a well-trained symphony orchestra, each person or part functions in harmony under one conductor. Unity is deeply satisfying.


“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We’ve been singing that song since 1955. How’s it working? Wars have escalated. Unity comes by way of the cross: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:12).

We can’t make it–but we are called to maintain it: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). Humility is needed to walk in unity.


UNITY REQUIRES DIVERSITY. Diversity is essential for harmony, but it must be orchestrated by heaven, not by personal desire. Diversity without direction is disaster. The world wants diversity, but on its terms, and it creates terrible disharmony.  “There are varieties of activities (diversity), but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (unity). To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor. 12:6,7). Imagine an orchestra without a director, each playing the composition his own way without a score. Call it diversity.

UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY, which is leveraged from top-down leadership to restrict personal freedom. In music it is unison–one note. Gets boring after a while. Harmony is more satisfying to the soul. Uniformity is an abusive leader wanting everyone to think and act like him.

DISUNITY IS ADDRESSED. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). We must desire unity so much that we address disunity whenever it appears. We show more concern for the whole than the individual parts. Disunity grows when it is either ignored or called diversity and celebrated. Disharmony ruins the whole song, and the world says, “I don’t know what you’ve got, but I hope I don’t catch it.” (More to come).


Have you noticed? It’s football season–everywhere. Think of the mascots. The Vikings. The Norwegian Lutherans had a liturgy that read, “Spare us from the Vikings.” They were terrorizing. We also have the Timberwolves. Teams usually pick aggressive names, like the Bears, the Lions, the Tigers. Could we use something nicer? How about the Minnesota Lilacs?

Heres one: the Minnesota Lambs. Laughable? Then think of the Son of God, the one through whom and by whom all things were made, the King over all Kings, the Lord over all Lords. When he comes to the earth he created, he comes not as Lord but as Lamb. John saw it: “Behold! The Lamb of God.” Hard to think of an animal more defenseless. He came not to dominate but to die, “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The cross is Jesus at his weakest–and God at his strongest. Foolishness to the wisdom of the world, but wiser than man’s wisdom and stronger than man’s strength. One cannot get more vulnerable than hands stretched out, nailed to a crossbar. There is the helpless Son of God, and there is the power of God unto salvation.

So how do we overcome the enemy, far stronger than any terrorist? By the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). How are we to walk in the world? Jesus said, “I send you out as lambs among the wolves.” Hey, thanks. We’ll get ripped apart. What’s up?

When Paul was Saul, he was aggressive and competitive. He had by his own estimation “advanced beyond [his] contemporaries, so zealous was I for the tradition of my fathers” (Galatians 1:16). But he learned a new way of living. He was given a thorn in the flesh. It was painful, so Paul prayed like he did when others were in pain. It didn’t work. He prayed again–and again. No change. Instead, a word from heaven: “My grace is sufficient for you. For my strength is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul concluded, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” The former all-star didn’t like being weak, but he came to understand how God worked through weakness. It became a strategy for ministry and a way of life. He found that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:16), not in our strength.

We don’t like being weak either, so if we are weak, we may pretend that we are strong. Fake it ‘til we make it, right? We give the appearance of strength, but that doesn’t help us to connect with people. The Pharisees pretended to be holy. In fact they were thieves and murderers, sinners in religious clothes. They had no idea how to walk as lambs. Do you?

So give me a “thumbs up’ if what you read shows appropriate weakness. Andrew, our first-born of six, wrote this email to his siblings a few years back: “I want to head into this New Year with no regrets…One of my biggest regrets is how I have not been gracious toward you…I know many times I have been harsh and I am sorry. I wish I had specific things to point out…I am sad and sorry and ask you to forgive me.   With love, Andrew.”   Way to be weak, Andrew. You helped to change the atmosphere in our home!

Go the way of the cross. Your weakness matches well with God’s strength.



Abuse is hardest to handle when you had good reason to trust those who abuse you–like parents or pastors. Jesus delivered His strongest words to the spiritual leaders of His day who were fleecing sheep instead of feeding them. Unfortunately, it is common in all kinds of churches. Check out these signs.


Some church leaders don’t mix with others because they consider themselves better. Arrogance plays into abuse: “I need to do what God tells me to do.” And the cronies listen up.  “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  You don’t want to be supporting someone God is coming against. Blind and naive loyalists do.


If you don’t know where the money is going, and a leader doesn’t want to tell you, leave. He has issues. The books should be open to any mature inquiry. If you don’t get answers to financial or other legitimate questions, and your opinion doesn’t count but your offering does, don’t stick around.


Vulnerability releases grace. Hiding behind a reputation releases suspicion. Don’t trust someone who doesn’t respect others enough to walk in the light. Koinonia is not possible with pastors who do not exhibit humility and honesty. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). Fellowship happens with the open and broken.


Abusers have friends. If you are not one of them, you may need another family. This one could be sick unto death. They have their in-groups. You will be glad you’re not in it when you see signs of a sick family system that gives privilege to insiders and scoffs at outsiders.


Jesus taught servant leadership–from the bottom up. Abusers like the view from the top; strong on legalism, weak on grace. They expect things from others they don’t do themselves, and they are blind to their own hypocrisy. Then again, they may know they are hypocrites. But they won’t tell you.


A wolf in sheep’s clothing still acts like a wolf. If you see glaring weaknesses in a spiritual leader, like harshness, anger, or sensuality, you don’t have a worthy shepherd. He needs to deal with his issues and surrender leadership. If he excuses bad habits, don’t you. He doesn’t understand grace, and he will abuse his position.


Independent ministries can be training stations for lone rangers. Find out who your leader is subject to. If he says, “God,” someone should suggest he find a person with skin on. But trying to correct abusers seldom works. They don’t want your opinion. They talk about unity, but they are after uniformity. Unity requires diversity. Uniformity requires keeping your mouth shut. Plenty of healthy churches around. This doesn’t sound like one of them!


“Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

“ABOVE ALL.” Love is the preeminent virtue. Let’s excel in it. “HOLD UNFAILING.”  If you don’t know what to do in a situation, ask, “What would love do?” Paul already told us that “love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8). Hey, I could succeed every time–by loving!

“YOUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.” This is one of 59 “one anothers” in the Bible. Peter directs our love toward people, toward “one another.” Pretty simply–not always easy.

“SINCE LOVE COVERS A MULTITUDE OF SINS.” Peter learned how to live above offense, covering rather than correcting. Some people feel an obligation to uncover the sins of others. Peter recommends the opposite. Unoffendable people are non-judgmental, easy to live with, full of understanding. People who cover sins are full of grace rather than trying to make people feel guilty, like I sometimes did as a young man when preaching.

“He who covers over an offense promotes love…” (Proverbs 17:9). It takes the power of the Spirit to be consistently unoffendable. Solomon also wisely said, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12). One more: “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). People who need to comment on every offense are really busy getting offended. Takes a lot of time to be offended, less time to cover them.

Paul calls us to “lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). To forbear is to endure, refrain from. People who forbear keep their mouth shut. Some open theirs with every grievance. They don’t have a clue about unoffendable love.

Unoffendable Christians

.know that they need forgiveness, so they extend it to others

.show the love of Christ to those who don’t deserve it

.are champions of grace, which makes them fun to be around

.choose to look past peoples’ faults to their future

.put courage in (while others are draining it out)

.know that mercy triumphs over judgment

Jesus was full of grace and truth, but what rubbed off on people was grace: “Of his fulness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Amazing that the Holy One of Israel saw into the depths of the human heart and yet beamed out grace and covered over offenses. Two examples: when the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned, Jesus was declaring, “Neither do I condemn you.” The one Man who could have sent her into a Christ-less eternity lifted guilt and shame with one personal proclamation.

Another woman may have felt shame when Jesus revealed her brokenness: “You have had five husbands…” By the end of the conversation she was drinking from living water, feeling acceptance from the Prophet of Israel. Her vulnerability back in town brought the single most effective evangelistic campaign of Christ’s earthly ministry, because He chose to “cover a multitude of sins.”

Broken people expect shame when they mess up. They are surprised when grace is extended instead of judgment. It’s hardest (and best) to do with the people we know–parents, siblings, children, bosses, co-workers. What would it be like if both spouses were unoffendable?


…like Jesus. What did the resurrected Christ do when He paid a visit to the disciples, hiding behind locked doors? He could have said, “Way to desert me at my darkest hour.” Instead of a complaint a commission:  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They had lost their “sent,” but Jesus restored it without blasting them. He appeared personally to Peter, not to rebuke but to reinstate. It worked.

Two years before, John the Baptist was arrested for coming against Herod, and he never saw daylight again. Looking at life from a dungeon was difficult, and doubts rose to the surface. Jesus responded not by criticizing His forerunner and friend but by affirming the man who boldly led the charge: “Among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). How kind.

When Jesus was baptized, God spoke from heaven and said, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). It was like the proud Father could not keep silent. At the transfiguration, the Father spoke to the disciples, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). It must have been encouraging to the Son, a man, to hear these thunderous words from the sky. Enabled Him to keep encouraging others.

Christ’s encouragement to people often came during times of tension, when it was most needed. The disciples were grumbling about the woman who wasted the perfume on Jesus. He responded, “She has done a beautiful thing to me…She has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:6-9). Quite a remarkable statement.

Simon, a Pharisee, judged the woman under his breath who crashed the party at his home. And he judged Jesus, who should have known that she was a sinner. Jesus took up the challenge and said, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet…Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).  Ouch! Imagine what that meant to the sinner woman!

When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary, He said, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). I hope Mary didn’t go to Martha later and said, “See, I was right.”

It must have been deeply satisfying after working hard and taking big risks to hear the boss say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). I want to encourage people like Jesus did! Don’t you?  The way you can tell if people need it is to find out if they are breathing. If they are, they need it!






We expect what we are good at, what we have grace for, what God has worked in us. To place it on another person and especially our spouse, is unfair and lacks grace. It turns into a demand. It works with the merit system, not the mercy system. A true servant completes what another person lacks rather than placing unkind expectations upon him or her.

When you say that something is not fair, what you are asking for is justice. And justice operates in a legal system, not in an atmosphere of grace. You end up competing with one another rather than completing one another, the opposite of a Christ-centered marriage. We are called to lay down our lives, not to impose expectations in areas that we function well in.


We are telling our partner to be like us, to perform the way we do. Wait a minute. Don’t opposites attract? Don’t we want someone who is different, who comes to the marriage with strengths that we lack, so we can serve one another, so the other person’s weaknesses can be accommodated because we have the appropriate strengths? But to expect our partner to be like us, to perform as we do–hey, are you sure you want to be married? (Crazy–found myself doing it early in our marriage).

Wouldn’t you rather be the answer to your spouse’s dream than create a nightmare? What does your spouse long for? Does he or she have a dream yet to be fulfilled? What if your strengths were able to facilitate that dream coming true? You would be loved the rest of your life for your kindness. If, on the other hand, your expectation turns into a demand, you are killing the dream– and maybe the marriage. Good luck!


It’s all about you, not the team. You become a victim, not a victor. You can only talk about what you need, what you want, what you deserve (whoa! That is a word for people under the law).

A legal system will deteriorate quickly, because it removes service from the relationship and inserts the law–this is what you must do for me. This is what I need from you. This is how you can make me happy. Can you hear how self-centered that is? Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…” not enjoy himself, coddle himself, or serve himself. Demand is at the opposite end of discipleship. It does not belong in a marriage. That is why I say, “Write down all your expectations, then throw them away.”

Turn civil rights into civil responsibilities. And his or her responsibilities do NOT become your rights. We don’t meet at the table of negotiation and say, “I’ll do this if you will do that.” We simply agree to go the way of the cross. And if our partner is struggling at some point to go that way, we choose to serve even more, to take up our cross rather than demanding that he or she takes up his or hers. It is the Christlike way. And it makes the marriage a romance, like the Romance of the Ages! Grace instead of law, mercy instead of merit!


I googled it. We had them in our kitchen–lots of them! Put out little bottle-cap mixtures of powdered sugar and boric acid. They are attracted to the sugar and contaminated by the acid. They carry it back to their village under the house. If we only kill the thirty that scurried to the darkness when I lifted the cutting board, we haven’t dealt with the other five hundred who are reproducing more ants. What they don’t know is that they spread the poison that eliminates the tribe.

So I told Joe, whom I mentor, about the ants. In his closing prayer he said, “Father, keep us from being lured by sugar and getting poisoned by a plan of the enemy, and not only endangering ourselves but those we connect with.” Amen, Joe!

My friend’s perceptive prayer revealed three lessons:

1. Satan operates through deception. He doesn’t tell us what he is doing. He hopes to trick us as I was tricking the ants. What he doesn’t want us to realize is that “the wages of sin is death”–every time. There are not some sins that are safe; sin is dangerous. Period. The father who wonders why his Christian daughter ran away from home with a creep was deceived into thinking that he was needed more at work in the evenings than eating and having fun with his family. The sin of neglect planted seeds of destruction that  shredded his family. Satan won.

2. Sin is pleasurable–for a moment.  Moses wisely chose “abuse with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). This Scripture says two things about sin: a) It is pleasurable, and b) the pleasure does not last. It “fleets.” Moses could have had his choice of any princess at the palace. He was the adopted grandson of the richest king in the world. He didn’t fall for the trap. It would have eliminated him from being one of the most powerful and influential people to ever walk the planet. The ability to entice the ants leads to their demise. Way to resist, Moses!

3. Winning means warring. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood,” but we wrestle. We put up a fight, and though it is not physical, it can be an all-out war. The minefield is the mind. The stronger we say “yes” to the love of God with consistency, the more convincing will be our “no” against the onslaught of the enemy, which often looks like immediate pleasure. Moses was given the lure, but he was able to say a convincing “no.” What a winner!

The plan worked. The carpenter ants are mostly gone. Yay! Dear young adult, dear retired man: do not let the strong attraction of sin take you out–and maybe others with you. Fight the fight of faith. Short-term pain means long-term gain. It was true for Moses–and it is true for you! A young Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose!”


You choose the one you think is hardest to obey.

“Be holy in all your conduct” (I Peter 1:15). He expands it by saying, “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (16, quoted from Leviticus 11:44). In other words, “Be like God.” Okay, I’ll give it my best shot.

“Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). Anything?  I get tripped up, and before I even realize it, I am worrying. I learned it early in life. So did you. We did it five thousand times by the time we were ten. How do I unlearn what is so much a part of my life? I know how to worry without even thinking.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:1). I could handle, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes.” “Always” takes it to the unattainable. Not always sure I want to rejoice always. Don’t I need a little time once in a while to be grouchy? “Always” is totally unreasonable. (Maybe that’s why it’s in the Book).

“Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Right! I can imitate my father, who was a gentle man. I can imitate my mother who was always gracious to people. But to imitate the Creator, that’s a tough one. He is kind to people who curse in His face. He waters their garden and shines the sun on their backyard party.

Did I omit one of your favorite impossibilities? How about, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Really? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Yeah, right! The opposite of our natural inclination. Here’s a tough one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Try that out for a day.  Or “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). Waiting is easy–when we want to.

Here’s the point:  Every command is impossible. Would God command us to do something that we don’t need Him to accomplish? Then He would be teaching us independence rather than submission. James said powerfully, “Submit to God.” The only way we can keep His commands is by submitting ourselves to Him and relying on the strength of the Spirit within. They cannot happen apart from the powerful working of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Christian life is a supernatural life. It is simply not doable in the natural. No other religion incorporates grace. They are all “do it yourself” religions. Christianity demands the divine. Sad that sometimes people get the idea that we are supposed to pull this off by will power. How frustrating can you get! It’s laughable; go ahead–be like God. These commands run absolutely opposite our human inclination. But our good God reproduces Himself in us, enabling us to obey and do the impossible. Call it grace–from start to finish!