School is in session 24-7.  Life is a test, an opportunity to choose God’s way rather than the way of bitterness, unforgiveness, or revenge.  Everything is useful for us, especially the difficult things, because they bring tension, which can produce growth.  We don’t have the right to be wounded when we are afflicted—we have the right to be healed. If you are stabbed and don’t feel it—congratulations; you are dead.  We want Christ-likeness in our lives, but we, like Peter, sometimes prefer the short cut, the pain-free options. There aren’t any. No skipping classes, no mail-order degrees.

We are not responsible for what people do to us, but we are responsible for our responses.  And according to author Charles Swindoll, life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.  You’ve heard it before–God is more concerned about what happens in us than what happens to us.  He is teaching us how to respond to Him rather than react to others.  He is after character, Christ-likeness. That is what will cause the world to pay attention.  The world is looking on and says, “See how they hit one another.” We’re not that impressive–yet.

What kind of person can return good for evil?  One who is…

  • secure in the love of God.
  • filled with the Spirit of grace.  Under the law people were permitted to get even up to a tooth for a tooth. Grace calls us to get good rather than get even.
  • quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
  • caring enough to know the effect of the cause, so doesn’t react to their reaction, knowing the need behind the deed and is therefore merciful.

What kind of person cannot respond in a godly manner to wrong?  Perhaps one who is…

  • too insecure to overlook an offense (Colossians 3:13).
  • wounded and not healed and therefore defensive rather than responsive.
  • full of jealousy or personal ambition (James 3:14,16).

What happens if we react to people rather than responding to God?

We stir up more anger. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).  Reacting to evil intensifies evil. Brace yourself!

We are defiled.  Jesus made clear that we are not defiled by what goes in but by what comes out (Mark 7:17-23).  Unkindness defiles us, regardless of what has been done to us. It is not illegal to suffer wrong, but it is illegal to respond wrongly.

We frustrate the grace of God.  He wants to pour out grace upon us, but if we react in our carnal nature, we shut off heaven’s supply, which is given to the lowly.

We play God.  “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). We try to pay people back because we want to make sure they get what is coming to them. And justice wins over mercy. God is more just than we are, and He will see that justice is carried out.  He doesn’t like it when we assume the prerogatives of deity. He says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20,21).

What happens if we respond in a Christ-like fashion? (Find out in Part 3).


“It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them” (Matthew 25:14).  The question Jesus will ask when he returns is this: “What did you do with what I gave you?” We inherited the devil’s grasp, not the king’s release.  We need a conversion of the heart, so that rather than being owners we are stewards. When I once shared this with my children, nine-year old Karis, said, “What we have is not ours, it is God’s.” Right on, Karis!

Kendy and Joyce Parker took their stewardship literally.  We had been praying for a car because ours was getting old.  The Monday after our van died Joyce showed up at our home and said, “We feel led to give you our van.”  What was theirs became ours! Amazingly, even the Creator who owns it all does not say, “That’s mine.” He is pictured in the parable of the prodigal son as a good father who says, “All that is mine is yours.”  And Jesus, the heir of all, shares his inheritance with his family. The church takes its cue from the head and says, “Whatever you need from me is yours.”

When my wife’s niece moved from Chicago to Seattle, they had a sale, then gave the money to the poor.  Not that they were rich; they just have a heart for needy people. Those who live this way have a power that owners know nothing about, the power of love and release. A priest justified his indifference to the wounded man on the roadside, while an unlikely Samaritan could not pass by.  People like this are using their money to advance the kingdom, not their own cause. They are secure, because they have nothing to lose. They take risks because they are doing it for the King. They don’t go to bed worrying about the stock exchange; they think about the love of God and how well they are cared for. Capitalists can be insecure, because they stand to lose something, while the givers are always winning. Thieves can’t really enjoy their life, because they are trying too hard to find it.  The owners think they are enjoying themselves, but their self-love blocks the way to true joy. Stewards know about love. They give it away, and it is returned just as fast. They are the meek, and they inherit the earth. If you are an owner, pray for deliverance. Start giving away some accumulated goods, and seek the kingdom. Don’t assume if you are a Christian that you are a steward rather than an owner. Here’s a test:

  • What is more important, being comfortable or a comforter?
  • Have you given any big gifts lately?
  • How do you feel generally about victims?  Do you tend to be merciful or judgmental? Are you ever moved to help someone who has been victimized like our roadside friend in the Good Samaritan story?

Robber       What’s yours is mine. Owner.      I am my brother’s combatant.

Religious    What’s mine is mine. Owner.       I am my brother’s competitor.

Righteous   What’s mine is yours. Steward.   I am my brother’s keeper.


WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE.  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” (Lk.10:30).  The outlook of a thief:  If I can get it, I will. The robber is not his brother’s keeper; he’s his enemy.  They give abuse and shame. They take honor and peace and virginity. And they manage to muffle guilt and regret.

.WHAT’S MINE IS MINE.  “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Lk.10:31,32). Why didn’t these religious people stop?  Because they said, “What is mine is mine, my time, my money, my future. It does not belong to you.”  They were religious but not righteous. They heard the commandment to love God, but they didn’t love people. Therefore, they didn’t love God.

These are the capitalists in the world. We are going after things—and more things.  We bow the knee to the god of gold and seek to accumulate. The religious leaders insulated themselves from real need, a terrible deception.  Capitalism ultimately doesn’t work because of human nature. What we possess possesses us, and we embrace a money morality. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Actually, I am my brother’s competitor. That is a three-year old’s philosophy, but it is amazing how many people buy into it, and I do mean “buy”. I am not anti-American.  Given the condition of the human heart, capitalism is a realistic economic system. But the early church existed for a time with an outlook that looked more like communism. One problem of capitalism is that I don’t make a good owner.  I begin to worship possessions. God is the only true owner: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps.24:1).

WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS.  “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’” (Lk.10:33-35).  The Samaritan was responsibility to care for his brother. Why? Because he was a steward, not an owner. A steward manages what belongs to someone else. If the Creator owns it all, we are managers. The issue is not how much we can accumulate but how much we can care for as stewards of God’s riches.

Stewards are not clutching it, they are caring for it.  You know you are a steward if…

  • You get as excited about giving to a mission in China as getting a jacuzzi.
  • You wish you had more money to give away.
  • You see a need and you have a hard time not meeting it.
  • You get an inheritance and think first about whom you are going to help. Part 2 next!


I have one in my study. I look at it many times a day. It helps me pray, show gratitude, and stay focused. I asked as a boy why our cross was empty and the Catholics had Jesus on it. I was told that we believed in the resurrection. (Hmm. So did they). Paul believed in the resurrection. He also said, “I have determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). Why?


“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18).  “And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).


Christ not only died for me; he died with me. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in thee Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be done away with, that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).


Paul said, “I die every day” (I Cor. 15:31). Many think that death is a once-for-all experience at the cross. I had expectations going into marriage that didn’t help me a bit, expectations of what Karen would do for me. I now tell young couples heading into marriage, “Write down your expectations, then burn them.” Expectations create entitlement. As one person said, “They are resentments in the making.” Marriages are filled with victims who have unwritten hopes pinned on their spouse that remain unfulfilled. They are like demands with words written on them, “Pay up.” And they are giving their spouse the power to make them miserable, a right we should never give to another human being. When I gave up my expectations and instead died to myself as Christ did for his Bride (Ephesians 5:25), our marriage grew stronger. I told my sons, “Never use the “s” word–’submit.’ Die instead!” It works. Dying to ourselves and serving others demonstrates love–as Christ did.

When I look at the cross, it not only reminds me what Christ did for me, evoking thanksgiving, but it reminds me what I am called to do every day, evoking commitment. Jesus didn’t die so I could have an easy life. He died so I could suffer well. Peter wrote, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps…He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (I Peter 2:21,24). I am looking at the crucifix now as I write this. It gives me love for the unparalleled work of Christ on the cross. It also gives me courage–to die!


We’ve heard about standing up for our rights. We know the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing such freedoms as speech, assembly, and press. I am thankful for a well-crafted constitution and for inalienable rights as a citizen of America. But because each right has corresponding responsibilities, let us look at our mandates from heaven as people who carry two passports. Those surrendered to the King take responsibilities more seriously than rights. We live as citizens of a foreign kingdom, here for only a brief time.  We obey the following commands:


“First of all then (sounds important), I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (I Tim. 2:1-3). Much of the talk about our government does not please God. I wish that I had prayed more for President Obama instead of criticizing him. I was not pleasing the Lord. The BEST way to impact government is to pray for it. James said that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (1:20).  What does? Prayer, especially corporate prayer in public worship What if even a fourth of our churches obeyed this? We would see a radical change in government!


Scripture calls us to give “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). We might say, “Right, and honor is not due some of our leaders.” Peter doesn’t let us off the hook. He says, “Honor everyone,” and that includes those in the other party. He goes on: “Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (I Peter 2:17), even though Nero was not honorable. We honor the office, if not the person holding it.


Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Peter echoes Paul’s outlook: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (I Peter 2:13,14). What if we disagree with the leaders?  Peter and Paul did not agree with much of what Nero did as emperor in Rome during the decade of the 60’s. Nero was responsible for the death of them both. And yet they called for submission.


Peter writes, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (2:15). Our example will win more than our exhortation. We speak with our life more than our lips. Who we are brings the credit of heaven rather than what we say. Too many words are flying around these days. Character is convincing–like honesty, integrity, humility, and love. God help us!


What are we signing up to when we become Christians? Perks or persecution. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John did not mislead us. We mislead ourselves. We think it is going to be a piece of cake. I did. Life is harder than I had planned for. So is marriage. Sure would be helpful if mature couples said to young people getting married, “It is going to be really hard. You are going to learn how to die to yourself or a difficult relationship will be even harder.” The couple on the couch thinks, “Not our marriage. We love each other.”

They come in for the thousand-mile checkup and they are not google-eyes–they are glazed, like they have just come from a war zone. The pastor asks them how they are doing, but he already knows: “Not as easy as we anticipated. We discovered that living together can bring out the worst in us. Divorce is the farthest thing from our minds, but we have thought that we wanted to hurt each other a few times. We need help.” Welcome to Marriage 101!

Short-term pain–long-term gain. We tend to choose pleasure over pain. But discipline tells us to opt for pain. Peter had an allergic reaction to it when he first heard it from Jesus. He voted for pleasure. But he discovered through failure that talking about suffering prepared people for the hardships of life, that it would be cruel to talk about the up-side and not the down-side, that addressing hardship enabled people to suffer well and without whining.

Moses chose pain. The devil offered him a princess. He could take his choice as Pharaoh’s prize grandson of any gal in the palace. He was the river baby, the adopted son, now a strong adult. He was offered the riches of the most powerful nation on earth. He grew up near the throne. Must have been a total shock to his grandfather when he said, “Thanks anyway.” Made him angry.

God met with Moses out in the desert and made another offer. Moses would lead two million people on a hike through the wilderness. Never been done before, taking a nation on a seven-hundred mile walk through the desert–without coolers, running water, food, or camping supplies. That’s different. What did God gives him for the job? A stick.

The Bible says that “by faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king [his grandfather?], for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).

How could Moses give up such riches? Because he saw God by faith. Two truths come from his decision:

  1. Sin brings pleasure for a while, but it “fleets”, then turns to cancerous growth. Young adults who consistently choose pleasure over pain are postponing and maybe cancelling their God-appointed destiny. Sin can rob us of our future. Short-term gain means long-term pain.
  2. Short-term pain means long-term gain. Had he chosen riches, he would have  died a rich and miserable man with no lasting legacy. And he would have thrown away a chance to lead a nation into the ways of God and have a legacy that endures for three thousand years. Way to choose well, Moses!


John writes that “they overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony, and they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12;11). We overcome the same way. Many good people are taken down. Sad to see. They were running a good race, and they got tripped up by the lure of sexual pleasure, the desire for riches, the glory of fame–and they left the race for the world. Or discouragement set in and slowly took them out of the competition.

Demas was doing well. He was a part of Paul’s apostolic band, referenced three times in Paul’s letters, with such notables as Luke. But Paul writes that “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:11). I’ve seen it with really good people.

Will you be overcome? Not if you learn to overcome the enemy by:


Walking in the light brings two things: “We have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Christians on a hunt for pleasure begin to walk in the dark, saying all the while that they are in the light, deceiving others–and themselves. They sell out a rich inheritance for a bowl of cold stew. Christians bent on fighting the fight of faith keep short accounts, confess their sins to God and to people, and keep their consciences clear. Satan has no answer to the blood.Those, however, who keep secrets about personal pleasure spend their time in the darkness, Satan’s realm, and they get chewed up, no matter how strong they think they are.


We are tested through our life just as the heroes of Scripture were. When they passed, as Joseph consistently did, the test became their testimony. They praise the faithfulness of God to keep His word and give them the destiny promised. Joseph became the second most powerful person in the world–one test at a time. He consistently passed, and the faithfulness of God was matched by the faithfulness of a young slave with a heart of integrity. Hear the word of his testimony: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). No desire for revenge, no unforgiveness clogging the arteries, no sense of victimization for all the suffering he had gone through, just thanksgiving to God that he overcame. You can to. Turn tests that come your way into a testimony by trusting a loving Father to bring you through.


For Joseph and for every follower of God, the issues is not live or die, but obey or not obey. Threaten this kind of person with death and you get nowhere, because he is not clinging to His life; he is clinging to his Lord. Paul put it this way: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). How do you take someone down who cannot be scared by death itself. The choice to obey regardless sets you free from the threat of harm or the fear of retaliation. Christ-followers deny themselves and take up their cross–the place of death. What an overcoming life! I try to practice this in my marriage and my ministry. Join me.


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!


That’s meant for medieval mystics. They had no earthly possessions, ate a meager diet, and  had none of the pleasures we know about. “Deny yourself” fits their mentality better than ours. We have family and work relationships. We honor one another and expect to be treated in kind. When that does not happen, a bell goes off. Someone is crossing a line. I have a right to be listened to, valued for my contribution.

Picture Jesus on his way to the cross, being devalued, ridiculed, spit up, whipped, mocked. He had said to would-be followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We easily criticize the millennials for their entitlement mentality. We often embrace the same outlook if we are disrespected, ignored, or criticized, as if we deserve better treatment. Jesus didn’t.

To go the way of the cross is to embrace pain and maybe mistreatment. It means to be overlooked when you thought you would be admired. Those who learn how to accept this road as normal Christianity are the holiest people on earth–and therefore the happiest. Joy comes most fully to those who don’t aim for it, who learn to choose short-term pain for long-term gain, who don’t say they deserve more than what Jesus got, who know they are aliens here and at home in the new earth, who embrace Peter’s word that we rejoice in the coming kingdom, “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials” (I Peter 1:6). Marriage problems escalate because we thought it was going to be easier than this.

Self-denial is not only meant for desert monks but for contagious Christians. It’s for people who desire a marriage twenty degrees above average, who would like to transform their workplace from a smog-infested atmosphere of negativism into a pleasant environment for friends.

People who don’t know how to deny themselves

.are taking themselves too seriously

.ride the up and down roller coaster of living by their circumstances

.take up offenses on a regular basis


People who have learned to deny themselves

.are hard to offend

.don’t feel entitled to having things go their way

.consider a hard day a really good day


It took the disciples several years to get it. Once they got it, they lived that way–and died that way. Thank God for their examples of how to really live. Andrew, our oldest, named his son Elliot to remind his family that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” People who deny themselves stick out, like Phil and Margaret, Karen’s parents, who have lived this way most of their life. Rubbed off on Karen, and by God’s good grace it is finding expression in our kids. I told them, “Serve. Don’t expect to be served. When you go to your friend’s, do the dishes. Servants have responsibilities, not rights. Accept your responsibilities without claiming your rights, and happiness sneaks up on you.” So go ahead–deny yourself!



Not a big deal because of the cross, right? Wrong! Big deal because of the cross. Sin put Him there. Jesus “ever lives to intercede for us.” How does He pray? That we will be like Him, loving righteousness and hating iniquity. Bottom line of the intricate Old Testament sacrificial system: sin is serious and the Lamb will deal with it.


Many are casual, thinking sin’s not serious, not that serious. For instance, too many think that sleeping together before marriage is not that bad because Jesus is forgiving. The blood of Jesus covers sin that we uncover. It does not cover the sin of the proud, the self-centered, the willful. They are on their own.


Christians casual about sin…

will not walk into their God-appointed destiny;

will not impact the kingdom of God;

will not please Jesus;

will choose happiness over holiness, and

will potentially crash, bringing shame to Christ.


Sin is never dealt with lightly in the Bible. If you agree, do two things:





Ask God to help you to see them as He does, something that could separate you from Him, for time and for eternity. You may hear some preachers say that sin does not separate us from God because He is gracious. When young people have asked me if I think they have committed the unforgivable sin, I answer no, because they are concerned about it. One who isn’t would likely have a hardened heart. A Christian that sins willfully and without confessing is in danger of hardening his heart.


But didn’t Paul say that NOTHING would separate us from the love of God? Yes, but look at the context. He wrote that Christ died “in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…To set the mind on the flesh is death” (Romans 8:4-6). “The wages of sin is death”–always. Every sin has the seed of death in it. If Bill Graham decides to test the law of gravity in a plane five miles up, he will find out by falling. If he decided to live in the flesh, he would fall.


Paul goes on to say, talking to believers, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (12,13). It is those people who will discover the holding power of God’s love.



We don’t deal with sin by focusing on it. Tried that as a teen–didn’t work. We focus on Jesus and the cross, where sin was dealt with. We are changed by what we believe and behold. So as we behold Jesus and believe that He crushed sin at the cross, we live victorious over sin. We confess it in order to leave it and not think about it. Great idea!