When Our Children Don’t Succeed

All of us who have children want them to succeed in life. We become overjoyed when they do, and we proudly tell others of their accomplishments. Their success reflects upon us. In a very real sense, we regard their success as our success.

What if they don’t succeed? What if their accomplishments are few, or worse, what if they fail and become burdens to our family and to society? Whose fault is it? Most parents tend to blame themselves. They spend endless hours asking themselves where they went wrong and where they failed God, not always able to arrive at solid conclusions.

May I offer a word of comfort to such parents: God the Father is the most perfect of parents, but all of His children (you and me) are abject failures in His sight. Is it possible that God the Father does not judge us as parents on whether our children succeed in life but on the way we live out His love and grace toward them? None of us will ever have a perfect family this side of heaven. So what is God looking for?

Christian family counselor Emmerson Eggerichs suggests a worthy biblical model for a good parent in the father of the prodigal son and his ungrateful older brother. In their own ways, both sons are miserable failures.

In this parable, Jesus clearly wants us to imitate the father’s grace toward his sinful sons. Throughout this parable, the father demonstrates remarkable patience in the face of outrageous behaviors and attitudes. As we study this parable, we become amazed that the father does not disown both of them for their insulting and ungrateful ways.

The father in Jesus’ parable represents God Himself. This means that to become successful parents, we must learn to first love God even more than we love our children. When we learn to love God first, we soon become overwhelmed by His grace. When we see the powerful grace of God working in our own sinful lives, we begin to take a different attitude toward our children and their failures. We begin to see them from God’s perspective.

Rather than see (and even resent) our wayward children as imperfect reflections of ourselves, we begin to think of them in the way that God regards us. Rather than judging or even rejecting our children, we begin to show them the same grace of God that He has displayed toward us. Like the prodigal son, some of our wayward children may return “home,” humble and repentant and ready to serve God and their fellow man.

Even if our children do not return, we will have the peace of knowing we succeeded in demonstrating the grace of God toward them.

Let us all learn to become overwhelmed by the grace of God. Let that growing experience of His grace make us the best parents. It will also help us to submit to our husbands, give ourselves to our wives, and do things that encourage rather than discourage our children. It will also make our gospel message more credible to a world filled with failure.

God’s grace helps us to accept others’ failures when we see how God receives us in spite of our failures.

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Do You Truly Know Him?

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached, “What this world needs more than anything else is personal knowledge of the true character of God. Our basic problem is a profound ignorance of God’s character.”

If anything, those words are truer today than ever before—a profound ignorance of the character of God. Tragically, this is true even in many churches that call themselves “Christian.”

Too many Christians have bought into the lie that God is a creation of our psychological state, and that we can pick and choose what parts of God we like and leave out whatever makes us feel uncomfortable. Too many Christians have bought into the lie that religion begins and ends with ourselves, that God is about “meeting my needs and the needs of my family.”

The names of God in the Bible do not allow us this fantasy. God’s names in the Bible do not result from philosophical speculation but are the names God gives to Himself. They reveal His true being. They shatter our ignorance. They remind us that He makes us, we don’t make Him.

God reveals who He is through His names because He wants us to experience Him. He wants us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” God is always greater than what we think of Him. If we are attracted to the God of love and grace, we must also experience the holy and righteous God who hates and judges our sin. We must also experience the God who demands our total submission to Him. In our present culture, these truths cause discomfort even in the church.

When we adapt God to our own desires and dreams, we cannot experience a true relationship with Him. True relationship with anyone is impossible with fantasies about that person, even more so with God. Whenever we leave something out of God’s character, we experience less of Him, not more. We know less of His love and grace. We know less of His power. In the end, He becomes remote and impotent to us, and we trust Him less, not more.

In today’s world, a remote God is the last thing we need. With all its confusion and turmoil, the world looms large, and God appears small and ineffective even to many Christians, unable to help them overcome daily problems of raising families, deal with health issues, find hope in turbulent electoral politics, face the prospect of death.

God is pleased to reveal hundreds of names of Himself in the Bible. The multiplicity of God’s names in scripture reveal how great He really is—and how little we truly know Him. The multiplicity of His names also demonstrate God’s continuing and patient invitation to us to know Him better.

When we allow Him to surround and embrace us with who He really is, and not who we want Him to be, we discover joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the midst of war, opportunities in the midst of obstacles, accomplishment in the midst of mundane toil.

The multiplicity of God’s names speak of the greatness of God. Let us proclaim this great God to a fragmented world and anticipate His promise of that day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

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God Introduces Himself

God introduces Himself . . . This fact makes the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ different from any other religion.

In all other religions, a celebrated philosopher, teacher or prophet tries to introduce us to God. But humanity’s ideas about God, no matter how seemingly noble and high-minded, always fall short. We always reduce God to something less than Who He is because that is what sinners always do—they fall short. We are all idolaters.

This is a constant danger for all of us, even if we call ourselves evangelical Christians. We all have this tendency to simplify God, to make Him less offensive, to reduce Him to the most common denominator so as to include as many people as possible within the fold. I constantly must watch this tendency in myself.

As sinners, we tend to become attracted to the spectacular, to the “big show.” The people who witnessed Jesus’ earthly ministry exclaimed at His miracles and followed after Him to see what He would do next. But later, they shouted out, “Crucify Him!” Amazement at Jesus’ miracles does not translate into falling at His feet and crying out, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

As sinners, we naturally like an easy-going God of love who forgives us (i.e., winks an eye at sin) and fulfills our every wish and dream. Many false prophets today, who call themselves “Christians,” promise this false god and attract multitudes. This god is tame and controllable, like a domesticated cat. He is also powerless to save anybody.

All of these deadly tendencies are why we desperately need God to tell us who He really is.

We know God best by how God introduces Himself to us in the Bible through such names as I AM WHO I AM and ELOHIM. God reveals Himself in many such names throughout the Bible.

In his book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby lists more than 350 ways God introduces Himself to us through His names. These names God gives to Himself reveal His character, not only as a God of love, but as pure and righteous, a hater of sin, with no beginning and end, three-in-one and one-in-three, unchangeable, everlasting, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, King of kings–and utterly holy.

I AM WHO I AM dies a humiliating and unspeakable death, and promises to come back as judge to separate the sheep from the goats. No simple God here, and multitudes don’t want Him. They don’t want this holy God over whom they lose all control because He is in control, not them. Little do they know, He is the only God who can truly help them.

This is the God we are called to proclaim to the world around us. Through Jesus Christ, I AM WHO I AM is the only God who can save us from our small ideas and even smaller power. He is the only God who can redeem and transform our lives, give us a glimpse into the future, and create a New Heaven and a New Earth.

When God introduces Himself to us, we had better accept Him for Who He really is, not the domesticated fantasy He is not. Our eternal destinies (and the world’s) depend upon it.

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God is the Owner

“Stewardship is another term for fundraising.”

How many times have you heard or thought that? This common misconception permeates our culture, even in the church, but it is heresy of the worst sort.

“Stewardship” comes from the Greek word, oikenomous, from which we derive our words, “economy” and “economics.” Originally, it referred to someone who managed a household. He did not own the household, but held it in trust for the owner. As Christians, our owner is God. We are to maintain and manage our “household” on His terms, not ours.

Our “household” contains all that makes up who we are and have, and the environment in which He places us, all of which He owns. We are not the owners but the managers of our abilities, gifts, talents, money, time—and our salvation.

Stewardship is another word for ministry, and ministry is another word for service. Both “ministry” and “service” come from the same Hebrew and Greek words. Stewards are servants used by others for their purposes. True Christians are “on call” by God for His purposes, not our own. His purposes always involve us and the redemption of the lost, of renewal and restoration, and re-creation.

Servants obey the orders of their master, but we serve a Master who has already proven His service to us. We do not serve a tyrant but One who has already served us beyond the call of duty. When we were sinners, Christ died for us. He took the form of a bondservant (Philippians 2:7) when He put aside His glory and came from glory as one of us.

As Christians, to become a “steward” is another way of saying, “Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This servant attitude includes such qualities as encouragement, consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and compassion, a spirit of unity, oneness of purpose, humility of spirit, looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4).

Paul responded to Jesus’ servanthood by saying, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

In other words, stewardship means more than just how we use our money (although it includes that). It is a way of life. It involves our whole beings in relationship to Jesus Christ and others in the light of how He has served us, as individuals and as the church. It is using our lives and experiences to serve His purposes for this world and for the New Heaven and New Earth.

Stewardship means learning to see where we are now and where we would have been apart from His foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying and glorifying us through Christ (Romans 8:28-30). Stewardship is our response to the staggering realization that out of His pure mercy and grace alone, we are part of His royal family.

There are no small people in God’s royal family. If you are part of His family, whatever your gifts and life experiences, you have a strategic place as God’s steward. Someone has said, “[A city] can manage quite well for a long time without a mayor, but we can’t manage many days without garbage collectors.”

Whether you are a mayor, a garbage collector, or something else, others are depending upon your service and ministry right now. Don’t let them—or Him—down.

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Monica’s Prayers

Monica's-PrayersEach believer in Christ is called to do great and mighty things for God. To say, “I am just a small and insignificant person” shows lack of faith and insults God to think He cannot work through you.

The name of “Monica” is remembered for the lasting influence she had upon her son, Augustine. A Christian woman of the 4th century, she was called by God to pray him into the Kingdom. It doesn’t sound like much of a calling—to pray for a single person—but Monica did not waver in her commitment because she knew God had placed this upon her.

Augustine was not a promising prospect. Highly intelligent, he was also lazy, a lover of pleasure and sensuality. Monica tried to teach him to pray, but he twisted her intentions by praying, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” He took a lover and had a son out of wedlock, and he did many other things that broke Monica’s heart, but she never stopped praying for her son with many tears.

One day, as Augustine tells it himself, he heard a childlike voice say to him, “Take up and read.” He saw this as a divine command to open the Bible and read the first thing he saw. When he opened the Bible, he found himself in the Book of Romans, and his eyes fell upon these words:

“…not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision of the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13-14).

These short words struck him as a summary of his own life and a call to commit his life to Jesus Christ. It came as a word from the Holy Spirit. From this moment on, Augustine became a new man in Christ.

In coming days, Augustine became one of the most prolific and influential Christian thinkers and writers of all time, influencing Protestants and Catholics alike. Martin Luther and John Calvin were strongly indebted to him. His influence helped to end slavery in Europe. He helped to lay early Christian foundations for later scientific learning and research.

Augustine gave credit for his transformation to the faithful prayers of his mother, Monica, who never gave up on him even in his darkest days. In the end, Monica’s prayers not only influenced her son’s life but also generations of believers and of human society around the world.

Monica’s story and that of her son, Augustine, teach all of us the power of our influence, and how it may even change generations not yet born. God is glorified when we put ourselves into His hands. God told Jeremiah, “Call unto me, and I will answer and do great and mighty things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). God’s invitation to Jeremiah is also His invitation to us.

In dark days like our own, God especially loves to work His greatest works, through people willing for Him to use them.

All major revivals and awakenings begin in dark days when nameless people, known only to God, cry out to Him. The most influential people in the world are those not paralyzed by the times but energized by them because they anticipate His victory and their part in helping to make it happen.

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We Are Not Powerless

Not-PowerlessToday, millions of people feel alienated from society. To feel alienated is to feel excluded and powerless. Right now, Christians are coming under increasing attack. We are told we live in a “post-Christian generation.” Christians and Christian values are mocked as backward, stupid and harmful.

In the past, Christians have influenced society in dark days. In many ways, they have helped to reduce illiteracy, increase freedom, free slaves and addictions, helped children, increase scientific knowledge and invent new devices to improve life. Persecuted Christians held civilization together after the Roman Empire deteriorated and collapsed.

Do Christians have any influence in our world today? Is the 2nd coming of Christ our only hope? “We are not powerless…” said John Stott, “What we are, rather, is often lazy and shortsighted and unbelieving and disobedient to the commission of Jesus.”

John Stott, English preacher, author, and influential evangelical leader was named by Time magazine as one of the “100 most influential people of the world.” He has offered four ways by which the average Christian can influence this generation for Christ:

  1. Prayer. Most people dismiss prayer as a psychological device, but serious, Spirit-led prayer is the creative power of God to accomplish humanly impossible things for God’s kingdom and glory. Most people do not pray with power or seriousness. Even when we pray, we still act as if everything depends upon us. True prayers of faith move God to move mountains, including spiritually dull and rebellious cultures.
  2. Truth. All truth is God’s truth, never the devil’s truth. All lies are the devil’s lies. Writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” The world needs more Christians who can effectively communicate Bible truth through words, art, literature, science and every other part of life. All truth vindicates the Bible, and the wise Christian who advocates the truth changes lives and society.
  3. Example. We help others see the advantages of Christian values by the way we live, work, raise our families and help others. Our example should present a clear difference between Christian and world values. Jesus tells us that when people see our good deeds, “they will glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). A complaint of many people is that they see no difference between a professed Christian’s life and that of anyone else’s.
  4. Group solidarity. Jesus began His ministry with only 12 dedicated men filled with the Holy Spirit, yet those 12 men’s influence changed the world, even in their own day. God has not changed. Robert Belair of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University has said, “The quality of a whole culture may be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.”

All major revivals, awakenings and evangelism explosions begin in dark days when people get on their knees and cry out to God. Our crises become God’s opportunities to act in great and mighty ways. The most influential people in the world are those who are not paralyzed by the times but energized by them because they anticipate His victory and their part in helping to make it happen.

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Pray for Persecuted Christians

India-ChurchAround the world, in many ways, the gospel of Jesus Christ is under assault. With recent headlines, we tend to equate this with Islamic attacks upon Christians in the Middle East and Africa, but the enemy wars against Jesus Christ everywhere and in many ways. This includes India.

Open Doors International reports that the Word Watch List of persecuted Christians, based upon the number of attacks between November 1, 2012 and March 31, 2014, places India at #8 of the top 10 nations undergoing the heaviest persecution of Christians. That list was made up before the accession of a BJP majority in India’s parliamentary election of May 2014.

Since that election, the number of incidents involving persecution of Christians has increased at least 55% under the fascistic BJP government of Narendra Modi. The goal of the BJP and its af liates is to unite India under a Hindu religion and culture. They encourage violence against Christians, and many misguided people comply. Persecution takes place in every state of India.

Persecution comes in many forms. BJP-controlled governments enforce anti-conversion laws. Mobs raid churches, beating and killing church members, burning Bibles, raping women, erecting Hindu idols. Some villages forbid Christians from earning a living and using village wells. Policemen arrest Christians on false charges. Spies enter churches to monitor Christian activities. Christian children are seized and indoctrinated into Hinduism.

All of this comes just as the Spirit of God continues to enlarge the scope of the gospel in India through IGO and other like-minded ministries. In the past year, IGO has made great strides in Odisha, Darjeeling and Mizoram in addition to our main training center at India Bible College and Seminary. God gives us new opportunities to enlarge our witness through ministries that uplift those in poverty—schools in the slums, sewing ministries to women, and others.

God continues to enlarge His harvest force in all these places, and to give us new means to communicate the gospel to greater numbers of people. But we must always engage in spiritual battle with an enemy who will not give up though one day he must lose.

At the heart of opposition to the gospel is a spiritual enemy who darkens sinful hearts with lies. Paul, who experienced persecution many times, warns us that we struggle “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” As we engage the enemy on our knees in prayer, we will gain the victory even as the early church gained the victory.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in India’s persecuted church. Let us “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3). Let us also pray that God continues to bring opportunities our way in the midst of trials and opens the door for an unprecedented Great Awakening.

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Work & Witness

2016-01-Work-and-WitnessHow do we make our work into our witness for Christ? Whatever your work, as long as it is honorable, you can make it an act of worship and witness to others even if that work seems unrelated to faith.

Brother Lawrence was a 17th century French layman who worked alongside monks. He was not a monk himself, but he cooked meals and washed dishes for them. In his humble activities, he learned to do more for Christ than most ministers and priests.

What he learned is recorded in a small book known to millions as The Practice of the Presence of God. This tiny and simple book has application to all of us, whatever our callings in life and reveals how we can make our work, no matter how humble and unlikely, into mighty acts of worship before God. What does Brother Lawrence teach us?

Regard your work and your worship as one. All honorable work comes from God. Therefore, we must not regard some kinds of work as holy and others as not. Brother Lawrence said that the most common business (he washed dishes) could become a means of experiencing and acting out the love of God. We do not have to do great things, he said. We need only do them for God. God Himself will give them value and make them speak to others.

“I prostrate myself in worship before Him who has given me grace to work,” he says. “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer.”

Do for God’s sake what you do for your own. “It is enough for me to pick up a straw from the ground for the love of God,” he said. Instead of striving to do a great work, strive to have the proper heart about your work, and that will give your work eternal value. Remember that you are not just working alongside men, you are also working alongside God. Learn to do even the simplest things for the sole purpose of pleasing God.

Develop simple, daily habits to unite your work and faith. Learning to integrate faith and work is not a simple task, Brother Lawrence admitted. It took him years to do this, after many failures. But he learned to adopt simple and daily habits of faith, trust and humility before God.

Every day, he evaluated himself to see if he succeeded. He did not trouble himself over his mistakes but persisted, knowing God would patiently help him.

Let your godly attitudes about daily work change your character. Another person wrote of Brother Lawrence, “His very countenance was edifying, such a sweet and calm devotion appearing in it as could not but affect the beholders…He was never hasting nor loitering, but did everything in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit.”

Brother Lawrence knew tranquility of spirit because he learned to fully experience God in even the mundane parts of his life. Because he gave his all to God, God spoke through Him of His glory to the world around him. Today, 325 years later, through Brother Lawrence’s faithfulness to God in little things, his work and witness have influenced millions for Christ.

This is the essence of work and witness, and God makes it available to all of us.

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Jesus Loves the Children

Jesus Christ came into the world as a helpless child. That says everything about the importance of children to God. During His ministry, Jesus attracted children, and He enjoyed their company. He exploded with indignation when His disciples treated children as pests and drove them away.

IGO Boy 2015 BChildren especially have the right to hear and see Jesus in their own parents. It is understandable how non-Christian parents would ignore this. But do we believers, including pastors, evangelists and church leaders, inadvertently quench the Holy Spirit in our children and withhold them from vital relationships with Christ

Parents have high expectations for their children, but do our noble expectations match gifts and personalities God has given them? Do we frustrate our children’s walk with Christ by creating doubts in their minds about whom God made them to be?

Do our own lives reflect childlike humility that Jesus praises? A child instinctively feels the crush of parental pride even if they have no words for it. Children know we aren’t perfect. Do we willingly admit when we are wrong? Do we model humble and repentant attitudes so they more easily reflect the same before their heavenly Father?

If you want to test your humility, ask your children, especially your older ones, about your mistakes in raising them. Let them speak without intimidation or interruption. Be sure to ask forgiveness of them and of God. It will bring healing to all.

Do your children often see you pray, read your Bible and apply what you have read? Do they hear you pray for great things? Do you speak to your children of your faith, including your struggles? Your children may not understand all your faith struggles, but do you try to communicate in ways that will encourage them when they inevitably ask hard questions?

Do you understand the Bible so well that you regularly teach your children the great doctrines with simplicity and accuracy? Children have strong spiritual instincts, and they absorb great truths if taught on their level. Some of our best prayer warriors are young children.

If you teach a child just 15 minutes a day in the things of the Lord, you will give them the equivalent of half a Master of Divinity degree by the time they graduate from high school. You will also give them valuable lessons of life and faith that can never be measured in time.

As believers in Christ, we do well to stand for the rights of children forced to work, sell their bodies and sacrifice their educations and futures for adults who view them as commodities or extensions of themselves. Standing for children’s rights is the way of Jesus, and it also opens receptive young lives to the Good News.

While we defend their rights, let us not hinder our own children’s walks with God. God will heal us when we repent of our failures in raising them. In so doing, we will speak of children’s rights with greater authority and bear more fruit.

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“Subdue” the Earth

Earth-02When God created man in His image, He mandated him to “subdue” the earth. What does “subdue” mean in today’s world?

Everywhere, it seems, human society faces dangers of air and water pollution, destruction of rainforests, animal, fish and plant species, resulting in poverty and disease for millions. A recent National Geographic article describes an ecological horror in Africa where poachers destroy 30,000 African elephants a year to supply their tusks to an illegal ivory market in China. They kill anyone who tries to stop them. Is this what God meant by “subdue”?

Nearly fifty years ago, American history Professor Lynn White said, “We shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the Christian [italics mine] axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.” Dr. White represents many secular ecologists convinced that belief in the Bible caused today’s ecological crisis.

God could not have meant what Professor White thinks He meant. He created the earth in all its complexity. He declared it “good,” independent of its usefulness to human beings. God has compassion upon all He makes (Revelation 4:11).

When He assigned humanity to care for creation, they were, at that time, without sin. He intended them to care for creation as He would care for it Himself. Those who seek to become great in the kingdom of God must become servants of all. That means to serve both humans and the environment He has created.

When God commanded humanity to “subdue” the earth, He did not command the first humans to selfishly exploit the earth for profit but to treat it as benevolent rulers. Benevolence toward His creation reflects His image in us.

The Fall produced not only hostility toward God but also toward His creation. The environment became an instrument to serve our own ends independent of God’s intent.

Today, most corporations still care little about stewardship, even if it destroys the environment and the lives and livelihoods of others. Many are servants of greed rather than servants of God, and millions pay the price, even with their lives. “Subdue” has come to mean “exploit,” but that was never God’s intent.

Jesus Christ came into the world He created, not just to redeem fallen humanity but to redeem all creation (Romans 8:21). His kingdom is already at work in our fallen and polluted world, and we who are called by His name are called to become His agents in renewal.

One of those avenues of renewal is care for His created world. Environmental exploitation and human poverty go together. As believers in Christ, we care for others by caring for the environment in which they live. We help needy and exploited people to recover their water supplies, fish stock, soil and other resources destroyed by exploiters. In so doing, we echo Jesus’ concern for the oppressed.

While we help others to recover from ecological destruction, we also open doors for the Good News of Christ who will ultimately and perfectly redeem all His creation.

Ecology and missions go together. God did not separate Himself from His creation but came into the world to participate in our lives and redeem His world. We must follow the pattern of Jesus, and like Him, depend upon the Holy Spirit to help us.

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