HANG IN THERE WITH PRAYER (part 1)

 

Our second child, Naomi (39) suffers from epileptic seizures. We have prayed twenty-five years for healing. We will continue until we see results. Wish I were this persistent with other needs.

 

Jesus tells us when to quit praying—when we get the answer! Only two stories give us the main point from the get-go: The Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Pharisee and Tax Collector. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).  The disciples had already asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). He gave them a model prayer (The Lord’s Prayer), then encouraged persistent prayer by telling about a desperate midnight host who was given a volley of negative answers but went home with the bread. In the parable about the widow, Jesus is again teaching persistence.

 

Two characters–four short verses:

A widow.  We know nothing about the widow’s character, only about her need for justice. Widows and children are pictures of dependence and need. They are often taken advantage of. Widows have little recourse, no means to leverage a favorable position. Jesus told this parable knowing two things about us: our weakness and our temptation to quit praying and give up.

 

Passionate prayer is fueled by need, and great need means desperation. How badly you want an answer drives persistence. “If it be your will, please heal me” would be at one end of the spectrum. “I will not take ‘no’ for answer” would come at the other end. Jesus shows an overwhelming bias for the latter. The midnight guest received four “no’s” from his friend who had already gone to bed. A Canaanite woman received the same number of negative responses. Neither gave up. Nor did the widow back off because of a disinterested man on the bench.

 

A judge. He “neither feared God nor cared about men” (v. 2). Some people who don’t fear God still like people. Some love God but can’t stand humanity. And some have a problem at both ends, not the person we would want representing us in court.

 

Jesus could have told a story about a judge just like His Father. For the sake of contrast, He told about a judge with two major faults. He was, however, confronted with a persistent widow.  She went to someone who held the authority she lacked. The judge could not have cared less. The only reason he gave in was that she didn’t. Jesus was saying, “Pray like that widow persisted!”

 

Jesus often used contrasts to make His point, two very different sons, two opposite sisters, two contrasting pray-ers (a Pharisee and a tax collector). He is saying that if a persistent widow can get an uncaring judge to support her, persistence with a caring Judge in heaven who loves justice and cares for His chosen ones will work all the more. Jesus affirms that God “will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:8).

 

Jesus is telling us something important about the Father and about ourselves. Sometimes God does not answer our prayers immediately that He intends to answer ultimately. In order to teach us endurance, especially in the last days, He wants us to learn to ask and keep on asking. If He answered every prayer instantly, it would not grow the kind of faith that we need in the end times (part 2 coming).

HOW TO DISCIPLINE WITH LOVE

Parents: when you correct your children, correct with content, not with tone. People who hear your tone and not your content should not be able to detect that you are upset. If they do, you are not correcting properly. Using tone, like extra volume or a strident quality is an attempt to change through means other than content. God does not do this.

 

When we correct with volume or quality of voice, It brings shame through our contorted voice. We don’t talk with friends that way. We are beating them up with our voice. When our kids get to us, we need to back off. Otherwise, we will be building resentment without knowing it. If they come back at us with the tone we give to them, they are echoing our bad behavior, and it easily escalates. What we wanted was a momentary correction and we got an argument, and our tone was to blame. We need the correction more than the kids.

 

Paul told Timothy to be gentle with those who opposed him. He was not to come with dominating voice as if to say, “I am in charge.” He was to come in a voice of meekness to match the character of Christ. We know whether we have learned the gentleness of Christ when it is time to correct our children for misbehavior that annoys us. If our demeanor changes, we are sacrificing content, and it will not get the same effect. Disciplining in love is purposeful, not punitive (that is, to punish rather than correct). We should be attempting to correct the behavior rather than shaming the child and beating him down with our yelling.

 

God’s still small voice says, “I love you” and “that was wrong” with the same volume and intensity of love. It makes us want to change and be like Him. He corrected us not out of annoyance but out of the desire that we take on His qualities of love, gentleness, and righteousness. Sometimes the correction of a parent comes because a child is interrupting them from their cooking or TV watching or book reading. The tone says, “I am upset. You are to blame for making me upset. If it wasn’t for you, I could keep doing what I am doing, but now I have to put my good book down and come over and break up a fight. See what you have done. How unkind!” We have just quit serving our child by giving him the needed discipline. We are serving ourselves by telling him to quiet down. Our actions are betraying our intentions, inappropriately applied because we were inconvenienced.

 

Discipline is done for a child, not to a child. (I think I heard that first from Larry Christenson). We are training them. It is our gift to them to help them grow up. Children are immature, and we are God’s instruments to bring them to maturity, not show them how immature we are by our raised volume and unkind words. Children who grow up thinking they are an inconvenience will resent us and what we stand for. They will take opposite beliefs to spite us.

 

If your child instinctively hugs you after a spanking, you were doing it right. You are helping him  want to obey. He is repentant and tender. It did not bring shame or anger; it brought affection.  (A blog about spanking coming).

KAREN AND PAUL TO YOUNG SINGLES

 

What did we do to build a strong relationship while dating?

  • We consulted with mature people, mentors,  parents, elders of our church. We wanted people to speak into our lives. Some couples may feel that their relationship is their private matter. Neither true nor wise. People we loved prayed for us and with us. We invited them into the discussion about a possible future together. Marriage was a new thing–we needed help.

 

  • We talked about how we would express the physical side of our relationship. We didn’t let it take over the relationship and derail it. It had a place. We walked in accountability with people we respected. We did not arouse love until its time—marriage. In that way we built trust that continues to this day. Worth building during the dating period. Trust compromised is sometimes difficult to rebuild. We talked honestly about what we would and would not do. And we walked in the light with mentors. (Guys, if you struggle with porn, expose it. Don’t carry it into marriage).

 

  • We did not spend a lot of time together. We limited ourselves to two times a week. We were looking to our future in which we would be together the rest of our lives. We didn’t need to be together every night to prove our love. That can put pressure on the proper growth of a relationship. We both lived in community, and we honored our household commitments. The purpose of engagement is to agree together that you will meet each other at the altar and live together “until death parts us.” It does not and should not mean that you double the amount of time you spend together. You may need to double your time at work, or with your mentor, or getting a house ready.

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  • We did not spend any time together late at night. We did not put ourselves in situations where it would be easy to compromise our guidelines, like alone in an apartment. Familiarity breeds intimacy. That is for marriage. When we kissed, our feet didn’t leave the floor and our hands didn’t wander. It was not easy to hold to these commitments, but because we had asked for the help of others, we knew that we would be sharing with them if we stepped over the line. Walking in the light does not mean walking in perfection. It means exposing the darkness so you don’t live there.

 

  • One month of our short engagement (two months and two weeks) was spent away from each other. It is a good way to develop creativity in love’s expression. Couples who must be apart don’t need to panic. Historically, the man was gone the whole engagement period getting the house ready. Remember–Jesus the Bridegroom left to prepare a place for us.

 

  • We prayed for each other and with each other, but not until we knew we were in love and were heading to the altar. People who get overly spiritual too soon can also get physical too soon.

 

  • Neither Karen nor I put all our marbles as single people in the marriage basket. Of course, we wanted to get married. But we managed as single people to find our joy in God. We knew that He was the center. Try not to make marriage the answer to your misery, or you might put pressure on your spouse.. May you find your life in Christ more than sufficient. As St. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ.”

8 WAYS TO BE A BETTER DAD

1 “Father” and “friend” are two different words. Kids need a dad. Let children their age be their friend. They need someone to bring order in the house (eating together, communicating, doing chores, having family devotions). Fathers who do not do these things should not be surprised if there is more chaos than peace in the home.

2 Be a child first. You are a son of the Father. The more you understand sonship, the better you will get fatherhood. The closer you are to the Father, the better you will father your children.We have been adopted into God’s family, chosen by the Creator, and we will always belong. We will never be alone, never without purpose, never without a future. Translate those realities to your children.

3 Understand vulnerability. I wish all fathers could have a meeting like we had a few years ago. It started with Andrew writing an email to his siblings, acknowledging his shortcomings as an elder brother. It continued when Gabriel, second brother in line, asking forgiveness of his siblings for sometimes arguing and joking. The atmosphere in the air led to a meeting that changed the way we did life at our house. When parents are vulnerable, they release grace into the air, making it easier for their children to share their struggles and failures. I wish my dad and I had talked more about hard issues. Dads, how about asking your kids to share with you where you have failed them as a father?

4 Serve your wife. The children will know if you are laying down your life or primarily going after a career. If the kids see that you are not in unity, they will play one off against the other. Unity at the top brings unity to the family. The best marriage advice I received came from Jesus, not about marriage–about life: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It took me a long time to learn how to lay down my life, but when I got it, things changed. Marriage is not about doing your own thing.

5 Discipline with love. The discipline that comes from heaven is deliberate, not reactionary, and is given to strengthen character, purposeful rather than punitive. God doesn’t go from a 2 to a 7 in ten seconds. He is slow to anger. You don’t ever need to raise your voice. My dad didn’t–ever. We grew up knowing we were loved and cherished.

6 Be present. Many children have father wounds because of absentee fathers who have convinced their children that the job environment is more important than the home environment. They seem to say to the wife, “You raise the kids; I will raise the money.” Family does not work that way. We worship a Father who is the most accessible person in the universe. “I called–He answered.” Be available to your children and especially in their times of greatest joy and greatest sorrow.

7 Emotions matter. You want more than the facts. Find out how your kids are feeling about you, life, school, themselves, God, the opposite sex. Probe. Where are they struggling, hurting, questioning? What are they afraid of, hoping for? Wish I had done more of that.

8 Focus more on identity than behavior. If you focus primarily on behavior, you will not get the behavior that you are desiring. My dad said often, “Remember who you are.” Identity drives destiny!

IS PATRIOTISM A GOOD THING?

Here’s my answer: yes and no!

YES

When I heard that an American had won a gold in Korea, I was happy. Elated? No. I’d probably be as glad if some underdog from Zimbabwe had won. Healthy patriotism, not overdrawn, probably helps us fulfill Paul’s admonition to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” (I Timothy 2:2), a duty incumbent upon Christian citizens of a nation. So we pray for our leaders whether they are to our liking or not, just as Paul did.

It’s normal to appreciate the culture of one’s country. Culture is an expression of a nation’s art forms, like dance or music. National boundaries are God-given (Acts 17:26), and we will see the best of culture in the new earth (Revelation 22:24-26). Just as it is natural to appreciate one’s family of origin more than the neighbor’s, it is also understandable to meet someone from the States in Uzbekistan and feel a connection. We are brothers in a national sense. We don’t stop and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” together, but we are fellow Americans, and it feels good. We have some things in common. We express our patriotism by pledging allegiance to our nation or voting for the candidates of our choice without letting it tamper with our highest allegiance.

NO

Patriotism to the extreme morphs into nationalism, the demonic side of love for country. Think Nazi. Ultimately, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We bow the knee only to the King! Jesus gave no time to the zealots and their desire to throw off the Romans, though He did bring one on as a disciple. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world…” (John 18:36). So in that absolute sense, Christians are a-political. Our highest loyalty is to the King over all kings and the Lord over all lords. If government tries to interfere with our submission to the King, “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).

However, that can be taken to an extreme. I know some Christians who are hiding out in the hills of Kentucky (literally), who do not pay taxes because they consider it idolatry. Wrong. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). And Paul said to pay “taxes to whom taxes are owed…honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). That honor, surprisingly, even included a pagan emperor (I Peter 2:17). So we do the dance between turning patriotism into an idol or turning other-worldliness into gross disobedience.

Healthy patriotism and love one one’s country is downplayed by globalization, an international outlook, political and economic. God answered the first attempt of total globalization, the tower of Babel, by dispersing “them from there over the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:8). National identity is God’s idea, and it is likely to have an expression in eternity.

SHORT-TERM PAIN…

Can you finish the phrase?  I just had a total knee replacement for the second time (I have two knees, so I don’t plan to do anymore). This round is a struggle. I was bearing down on my swollen knee, and a family member said, “Don’t do that. You’ll hurt yourself.” To which I replied, “Hospital people told me to do it, and you’re right–it hurts.”

When I go for my “required” walks in the hall, the first steps are painful. The knee wants to settle in with status quo (state as is). But what we’re going for is flexibility. Getting there hurts. If I don’t do the sometimes painful physical therapy, the knee will decide that we are settling for less than it is capable of.

I wouldn’t mind pain if it didn’t hurt so much. My preference is to not do the exercises. I’d rather lie in bed and groan once in a while. I need a long-term vision for the PT (and for life). People have coached me by saying from experience, “It’s all in the PT.” I would like to tell them, “But you don’t understand–PT hurts.” They went through it, so they do understand. They know that it will hurt much more in six months when I try to make my knee do what it should do, and it can’t, because I went the no-pain route.

I sometimes see pastors avoiding conflict. It hurts. Conflict is the light on the dashboard, saying that something needs to be dealt with. The light does not fix the problem; it only alerts me to the problem. How foolish if I put my hand on the dashboard to cover the light because I don’t like what it is saying. I must see the light as my friend, letting me know that I have business. I once tried to ignore the light telling me that the engine was hot. I figured I could get to the top of the hill and coast. Wrong. I didn’t drive the car home. It was towed. Cost me much more to ignore it than to deal with the problem.

Like I said it another blog: short-term pain–long-term gain. The opposite is also true. Avoid the conflict and it becomes a disaster. Deal with the conflict and learn how to live successfully. There may be fallout, but less than by avoiding it. Peter warns us not to be surprised at the trials that come our way, but we often do: “I thought it was going to be easier.” Jesus told us, “In the world you will have tribulation…”

So I am doing the exercises with a heavily swelled knee. The pain is actually my clue that something good is happening. Interesting. Sometimes we interpret pain as the absence of God. Maybe He is closest to us in our pain. Just as I got correction for causing pain to my knee, some “friends” who don’t understand may encourage you out of pain–the very thing you need to become all God wants you to.

When we get to the point where we can thank God for the pain that is stretching our spiritual muscles, we are posturing ourselves for long-term gain. Hey, I think I’m getting it. Back to the exercises. Ouch!

SO WHY FAST?

3 REASONS NOT TO

To impress others. God hates religious flesh.  Some are tempted to think that they are doing something religious, as if God will be impressed. Jesus warned against making one’s fasting obvious.  Those who do so get what they want–the approval of others (Matthew 6:16-18). Abstinence is meant to humble us (Deuteronomy 8:3). Heaven was not listening when the Pharisee “stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men…I fast twice a week…'” (Luke 18:11,12).

To manipulate God. Fasting is meant to open us to God’s design, not our desire. The people of Israel once complained, “Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (Isaiah 58:3). True fasting bends us rather than demanding that God bend to us.

To stop being civil. Disciplines carried out in the flesh can make us mean, rigid, or judgmental. Isaiah had strong rebuke for people who fasted, yet continued to oppress their workers. They abstained “only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist” (Isaiah 58:3,4). Those who fast should watch their motives.

7 REASONS FOR FASTING

To intensify prayer efforts. Hannah and Anna were two women who prayed with fasting. Both rejoiced as God answered. Prayer is often interrupted by the duties of life. In fasting, we give ourselves to God in a concerted way.

To receive guidance. God led the Israelites to victory after they had fasted for guidance. Daniel received understanding about Israel’s future.  Barnabas and Saul were thrust into mission work after fasting. Elders were appointed in the churches they had founded through prayer and fasting.  Arthur Wallis writes in God’s Chosen Fast, “Not a tea-meeting but a consecration fast marked the first missionary valedictory….Where are the churches today in which leaders are set apart in a solemn season of prayer and fasting?”  

To deliver the captives.  Fasting has the power to “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).  Jesus prescribed fasting to deliver people possessed by demons (Mark 9:29).  Could it be that there are desperate people in our churches waiting until brothers and sisters fast for their release?

To avert judgment.  In the time of Jonah, a fast proclaimed from Nineveh’s throne turned back the hand of divine wrath.  Two proclamations of fasting in Joel’s prophecies were followed with a promise of God’s outpoured Spirit.

To seek help.  National fasts in Israel brought the intervention of God without exception.  They helped bring victory to Samuel and the Israelites, deliverance to Jehoshaphat from the Moabites, protection under Ezra, and salvation under Esther, when God reversed an anti-Semitic decree.

To express grief.  “Blessed are those who mourn…”  Fasting fits more with mourning than merriment. We, like Nehemiah, identify with the sorrow of God’s people and the world. David, Ezra, and Nehemiah all fasted with mourning.

To pursue holiness. Paul says, “Train yourself to be godly” (I Timothy 4:7).  Fasting is one way to do that. It opens the spirit to the Lord, because it quiets the flesh, often screaming for attention.  Whatever is flesh-denying can be character-forming. Hey, Lent is a good time to learn.

HOW TO WALK IN THE LIGHT!

So I once told my son whom I was mentoring, “If you want to be an overcomer, call me right when something happens that you are not proud of, and even better, when you are being tempted. When I hear fourteen hours later, the shame has taken hold of your soul. You need to hear the word of forgiveness soon and then make a fresh commitment not to do it again. That’s called ‘walking in the light.’ Darkness is damaging. Light is aggressive; it destroys darkness.”

If Satan can get us to step into the dark, he tries to keep us there so he can beat us up for a while. He rules over “this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). There is not a shred of light in him, so everything he says is a lie. If we get back into the light, we find out what freedom is. As light and truth go together, darkness and lies stick together. Stay in the darkness, and you will be bombarded with lies:

“You are stupid for doing that. You are a miserable Christian.”

“You’ll never get victory over this sin, because you are a wimp.”

“Don’t even try to walk in the light, because they will be ashamed of you.”

“They don’t want to know anyway, because they are almost as bad a sinner as you are.”

“Sin isn’t that harmful. You can get forgiveness and forget about it.”

The Liar says that if we come into the light, we will get shame. Wrong! The shame is lifted and the blood is applied–immediately: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

I was traveling through Eastern Europe after a year of study in Israel. I came across a team from Operation Mobilization and decided to join them. The leader asked, “Do you want to walk in the light together?” I said, “Yes,” not knowing what he meant. So he said, “I want to be accountable to someone for the way I live. I don’t want any secrets. If I start flirting, you will know about it. If I give in to temptation, I will let you know.” Sounded good to me. I responded, “And I’ll do the same.”

Satan is incapable of living in the light. We managed to keep our word to one another on that trip, and I learned an important truth that has stayed with me since that experience as a twenty-five year-old. An accountability partner is not the police. Just the opposite. We need a friend to lift shame and invite us to receive the grace of forgiveness when we have stepped over the line. The quicker that action is taken the less likely we will wallow in the darkness, beat ourselves up, and get pummeled by an unmerciful devil. We sometimes feel like we need to stay there and punish ourselves for a while. Wrong! Jesus paid the price. Ours is to apply the blood and go free. I’ve had a close friend and an older mentor for decades to help me walk in the light. Give it a try!

LEGACY

  1. a gift of property, especially personal property, as money or a will.  2. anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.

On January 31, 2018 at 10:57 AM, I wrote this to our children and their spouses:

“I pray for your children by name almost daily. Bless you for raising them to love God. If you think we have fun family times, imagine what it will be when they grow up close to their cousins. There is not a word to describe what that kind of fellowship and fun will be. I pray that there will not be one who will depart from the faith, not one who gives in to the lies of the devil. Each generation will only accelerate the anointing…

What about when they have kids twenty and thirty years from now. I probably won’t be hitting the road as much, so Mom and I will have even more time to enjoy them, sing, play the piano. ‘Do not be weary in well-doing, for in due season you will reap if you do not give up’ (Galatians 5:9). What Mom and I had in both our families has gained momentum in yours. It will gain even more in each succeeding generation, IF (big if) you are faithful in raising them as you are doing, passing the baton, and continuing to stay in touch and pray.

As I have told you, I pray for the great-grandchildren who don’t exist yet, the children of your children… If all of them are loving God and each other, it will be quite a tribe of Christ-honoring people. Let the vision of the legacy keep you from burning out. One of the best words to describe raising God-fearing children is the word “hard.” Anxious moments (did I do the right thing?), sad moments (when they did the wrong thing), fearful moments (when they say “goodbye” and you’re not sure if they are ready). One day you will launch yours with tears of joy, thankful that God gave you the grace needed to give them what they require to live the same way you lived, walking in His ways.”

Why did I write this? Because seeing the big picture helps us to endure the whining, the kickback, the resistance. Karen and I got it. They are getting it, too. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” He could have said, “In the family…” You don’t get as much if you want to be the friend of your child, if you back them rather than the teacher, if you let them get away with stuff, because it is easier than making a big deal out of it.

When my kids said that they worked harder than the kids down the street, I had one answer. I asked, “Do you know why you work harder than the kids down the street.” “No, why?” “Because you don’t live down the street.” Rather than trying to make them feel important or be popular, I said, “Don’t think you are hot stuff. Hang with kids no one else wants to be with, and you’ll get the favor of heaven.”

We are encouraging our children to think generationally: “Even 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” (Ps. 71:18).

GLAD I VOTED FOR TRUMP!

HE IS APPOINTING GOOD JUDGES, those with pro-life and pro-family values. He brought Neil Gorsuch onto the Supreme Court, a great move for the future of America.

HE IS MAKING GREAT DECISIONS REGARDING TAXES. I have long regarded some forms of taxation, like the income tax, as unjust. Hey, he agrees. He is making progress on changing inequitable tax laws.

HE IS PROUD OF AMERICA. President Obama seemed more interested in globalism than Americanism. He did not encourage patriotism, nor did he go out of way to encourage the military. President Trump supports our troops and says so publicly.  He wants to take better care of our veterans. He speaks with optimism about America. Obama was cautious to the point of being critical. He would sometimes side with those who were ripping into America rather than supporting it. President Trump is not afraid to be patriotic, and that strikes a positive chord with people who love our land and pray for our leaders. Did I like His SOTU speech? Very much. I was proud of him for being himself, for being bold, tender, patriotic, and God-honoring.

HE IS BOLD, a positive quality. Sometimes “bold” turns into “brash,” as it can for President Trump, and then it is not a strength. He knew he would not be popular in the United Nations when he chose to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, supporting it as the capital of Israel. He did what was right, not what was popular. I affirm that courage. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had promised before their election to transfer the embassy but chose not to when in office.

HE IS A BUSINESSMAN. Abraham Lincoln said that we needed more non-professionals in government. Trump has made some great moves to clean up the bureaucracy. Do we need it? Ask a doctor how much time is spent filling out papers. Or a school teacher. Liberal politicians want more government control, and it has been squeezing the life out of America. They did it in California and ruined the state. Trump is attempting to deregulate the system. Good for him. The economy is booming. He is helping to set businesses free from government restrictions.

HE BELIEVES IN PRAYER. Members of Donald Trump’s cabinet are gathering weekly for Bible study and prayer. He sometimes closes messages by referring to God. Good for him and Malania.

Am I proud of everything he does? No, but I am far more proud of what he is doing than what the predecessor was doing or what Hillary Clinton would have been doing. I wish he was better at bringing the two sides together. He often polarizes rather than uniting. He is not an Abraham Lincoln, who knew how to wisely use those who disagreed with him. He is not a Ronald Reagan, who as a conservative won the respect from many liberals in Congress. I hope he can grow as a unifying statesman. He has some excellent people around him, like Vice President Pence. Partially because of his past and also because he is sometimes a loose cannon, he probably won’t become an icon, but I say, “So far, so good!”