Send comments and questions to:

Surprise, Surprise: Guess Who’s Been Coming To Dinner!

Let me give you one bit of advance notice: this article is not really about an old movie or about the Black history behind it. However, since I love Black history, it seemed a good way to segue into the real subject, which I predict you will find both surprising and fascinating. So, stay with me until I reach the real reason for writing the article.

The 1967 movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, was a very controversial movie in that era, but starred some of the best-known actors of the day: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and also featured Hepburn’s niece, Katharine Houghton. The film is about interracial marriage between blacks and whites, which historically had been illegal in most states of the US, and was still illegal in 17 states when the movie was being filmed, mostly Southern states. However, on June 12, 1967 (two days after Tracy died), laws against such marriages were struck down by the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Loving vs. Virginia. (Shockingly, Alabama became the last state to officially end its unenforceable ban on interracial marriages – in 2000!)

The movie is about a young white woman who has a whirlwind romance with a young, idealistic black physician she met while in Hawaii. The plot centers on her return to her liberal upper-class American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiance to dinner to meet her parents. Although her parents were very broadminded for their day, having taught their daughter to treat blacks and other minorities as equals, they have a difficult time with their daughter’s choice, as do his parents with his choice. The prejudices went both ways, as was quite common in that time period (and not absent in our day).

The movie can be viewed on YouTube, and I encourage you to watch it. It was quite ahead of its time in a number of respects. Not only did it deal with such a controversial subject for that era, but it confronted head-on the stereotypical views of blacks commonly held by probably a majority of the white population (especially in the South). The lead black character played by Sidney Poitier was the most intelligent, best educated, nicest and most moral of the whole cast. He was clearly the hero of the movie. For that cast of characters to have the courage and convictions to have made that movie in those times is both striking and highly commendable. I understand an update has been made that majored in humor, but I haven’t watched it (and won’t). The original classic was serious business, and I shed tears on several occasions when viewing it recently. Watch it if you haven’t or if you haven’t in many years.

Now fast-forward to 2010, the latest year for which I could find related statistics on the subject. Recent studies have shown that 8.4 percent of all current U.S. marriages are interracial, up from 3.2 percent in 1980. Although Hispanics and Asians remained the most likely to marry someone of a different race, the biggest jump since 2008 occurred among blacks. In another recent study, 83 percent of Americans say it is alright for blacks and whites to date each other, up from 48 percent in 1987. As a whole, about 63 percent of those surveyed say it would be fine if a family member were to marry outside their own race. Obviously, tremendous progress has been made since 1967 in the area of racial prejudice, but we still have a long way to go before Martin Luther King’s famous statement is a universal reality:  “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Well, now that we have learned a bit about an old movie and something about black/white romantic relationships and marriages in our present day, what is the real point of this article? Good question with a very interesting answer. As all know who have heard me speak very often, I typically mention my affinity for black people and in fact express fairly regularly my opinion that I must have some black blood in me. I have certain characteristics in common with most blacks that make it highly likely, at least in my mind. My favorite introduction to the concept is found in my oft-repeated statement that “I have too much soul to be a white man!” Of course, by that I mean that I could not be simply 100% white, in spite of my light skin color and Caucasian features.

Not only do I have an affinity for blacks that dates back to my very early years, I have always had a very strong aversion toward watching most racially oriented movies based on the period of time when I was growing up. A few years ago, at a small group leader’s meeting in Phoenix, our Region Leader showed us the movie starring Denzel Washington, “The Great Debaters.” After seeing the movie, I was so emotional that I went outside, sat on a bench for at least 20 minutes and just cried. When I thought I had my emotions back in control, I went back in with the group, and a young black brother just looked at me and asked, “Are you OK?” I just melted into his arms and cried on his shoulder for another few minutes. Later in a discussion time, I discovered that the younger black men were not nearly as affected emotionally by the movie as I was. A part of the difference was simply age, because I lived through the years when racial prejudice was very high and very real in my environment. I have many stories about what I both saw and heard, and so it is not just history with me; it was reality, if only as a pained observer.

During 2011 and the first half of 2012, I worked with the Houston church as much as my schedule allowed (which was quite a lot). We clicked from the beginning, and I fell in love with the church to the point that I dedicated my new book, Dynamic Leadership, to them. During the last six months of my work there, I was an interim lead evangelist, while helping them find a permanent couple to fill the slot, which ended up being Doug and Angella Wens. Likely I referred to the race subject more often in Houston than in other churches, simply because of the larger percentage of Africans and African Americans in the membership than in other churches I have worked with. However, it is a topic that I have addressed consistently for years just about everywhere – both in sermons and in writing. I have a chapter in one of my books about the Big Black Brother’s Club in Boston, a group that became somewhat famous there, or in the minds of some, perhaps infamous! We watched Monday Night Football together, and they voted me black on Monday nights, and all signed a certificate to that effect! These brother brothers still call me fairly regularly to stay in touch, both because they know how much I love them and also because they appreciate me thinking I’m part black, no matter what their personal opinions about the matter may have been.

Most of those in my audiences, regardless of their own race, probably think I am just injecting humor in speaking of having black blood in an effort to establish rapport with the black constituency present. The blacks who know me well know that I am not just kidding – I really believe it. In my first speaking visit to Houston back in January of 2009, Ronnie Ricks, one of the elders and himself an African American, may have taken me more seriously than many do because he told me about several services available to test one’s DNA to determine race and ancestry. I very quickly researched the web sites of several of these services in an effort to determine which one seemed to be the most scientifically accurate in their approach. But as I mentioned in my last sermon there back in May of this year, I procrastinated in taking the test, not because of the fee involved of several hundred dollars but because of the fear of disappointment that would accompany finding out that I in fact had no black blood in me.

I did think of a way to deal with the disappointment if that proved to be the case. Our physical bodies come from our parents through the procreation process. However, according to Zechariah 12:1 and Hebrews 12:9, God places our spirits in us directly. Thus, if he decided to place a black man’s spirit in a white man’s body, he certainly could do it, couldn’t he? With this thought in mind, if the DNA test proved that my bloodlines were void of any African blood, I could still believe and state that I had too many black characteristics for it to be mere coincidence. This explanation makes reasonable sense, right?

After we left Houston in May, I did finally get the test done. The company even had a sale and I saved $100 on the fee! The test involves a very thorough process and took a couple of months to complete before they provided the detailed results and explanations. You would have to be more scientifically grounded in that field than I am to fully understand the manual that accompanied the results. Thankfully, the results themselves were easy to understand. So what were the results, you ask? I am of 88% European descent and 12% African.

In looking back at my family tree and what I knew about my ancestors, my best guess is that my paternal great-grandmother is likely the main one who introduced the African American element into our family, and if so, she must have had a very significant percentage of black in her for me to have 12%, although the family kept it hidden with an alternate explanation for her dark skin. She and my great-grandfather were both deceased before I came on the scene, but my oldest uncle said that she was an American Indian (Native American, as current terminology would word it). However, since I had absolutely no Native American ancestry show up on my DNA test, she must have been African American passing as Native American. That was not uncommon in that period of time, due to the intense prejudice against blacks. So that is my best explanation for my African descent, and the 12% fits just about perfectly into that scenario. But who knows, given my crazy Louisiana and Arkansas relative chain, the black blood may have come from several sources. The how of it coming about in those days would most likely have been shamefully sinful if it didn’t come solely from my great-grandmother. That’s the sad part to contemplate.

The important part now, to me at least, is that I have a scientific basis to help explain how a 70 year old white boy raised in the Jim Crow South always had a different spirit toward blacks than most of his contemporaries, and shared many emotional connections that almost demanded that something in his heritage was involved. I also was fortunate that my parents didn’t possess the prejudicial spirit that was definitely present in many others in my extended family. The stark reality is that if my racial profile been known publicly in my early years when the “one drop” rule reigned supreme, I, and at least one of my parents would have been drinking from the water fountains marked “colored” and using public restrooms with the same sign on the door. The list of humiliating indignities and hatred we would have endured would have far exceeded the mere observations we made of others being treated so inhumanely.

I am glad as I write this little article that the atmosphere in which I spent my boyhood has changed significantly. I am not so ignorant as to think it is fixed, and given the sinful human element, it never will be completely cured until and unless sin is cured. And that only occurs in one person at a time when the blood of Jesus purifies and provides a common bloodline of all people who have made Him Lord and Savior. But praise God that much progress has been made in our country overall. Further, I rejoice to be a part of a movement that is about as diverse as any group in the particular geographical area where each congregation is found. Even in Arizona, which is primarily white and Hispanic, our contingent of blacks in the Phoenix church is far larger than in the local population as a whole. In God’s kingdom, it is not the color of one’s skin or racial makeup that matters – it is our hearts and our love for Jesus, one another and the lost.

I once wrote that our goal spiritually in the racial realm is not to be color blind, but rather color aware and color appreciative. Every race and every culture adds something special to the mix. When God made fish and flowers, the amount of variations found are a marvel to behold. When he designed humans, it would have been flat-out weird had he only planned for one color to exist. As it is, he designed us to enjoy similar variations as those found in the rest of his creation with the treasures they contain. I appreciate all races and cultures, and I appreciate that my own composition racially and culturally is basically Heinz 57, and that mixture includes 12% African. So now who’s laughing at old G-Dog and his comments about being a brother brother? I don’t always get the last laugh on my doubters, but I do this time, and I must say that I’m enjoying it immensely!

It will be interesting to see what my friends and family think about my uncovering of some family secrets and having much more than “one drop” of black blood coursing my veins (and heart). And maybe when I am having dinner again with some of you, you will see me in a different way. That is not a concern to me, since I am much like the old cartoon character Popeye, who often said, “I yam what I yam!” And I yam 12% African! What I am concerned about now is that I know for sure when I said hundreds of times that I had too much soul to be a white man, my statement has now been validated scientifically. How ‘bout them apples?!

An Uncommon Peace

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” – Colossians 3:15

What enables us to have such uncommon peace as Christians? Probably the key word is “commonality,” for we share so many essential things in common. But three of these items are unquestionably at the very top of the list of essentials. One is our relationship with God and the nature of that relationship. All of us were baptized into Christ only after the decision to truly make Jesus the Lord of our lives. It was not a selfish decision to simply get saved; it was a selfless decision to surrender our lives in representing him to our fellow man. Therefore, we are intent on imitating him and doing what pleases him. He is, and forever must remain, our top priority of life.

A second essential that ensures peace and unity is based on that decision to make Jesus the Lord of our lives. This decision means that everyone will be discipled, which ensures in turn that a lack of peace simply will not be tolerated. If we have a problem with another disciple, we go to them or they come to us for a resolution. Actually, we should be going to them as they are coming to us, for in Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus says that we should go to the other person if we have offended them, and in Matthew 18:15-16 he says that we should pursue reconciliation if we are the one offended. Hence, we have God’s double indemnity spiritual life insurance policy which guarantees the dividend of our uncommon peace.

The third essential is that disciples also have the same basic mission-—to seek and save the lost. When we are in the battle together, we are not very likely to attack one another. Persecution from a common enemy as we seek to carry out our mission will actually unify us even more if we view and handle it biblically. An all-out commitment to the mission and to discipling is what separates us from mere church goers. The first gives us our purpose in life and the second, the means by which it can be accomplished. If we stay committed to the mission and to discipling, our unity will stay strong. Obviously, if we begin to waver on either, unity will be threatened. We cannot afford to condone any deviation from the unity for which Jesus prayed—and died.

Biblically, the “daily diet” of the healthy disciple consists of the essentials above. We are to spend time in the Word daily (Acts 17:11) and in prayer (Luke 11:1-4), both of which are elements in our relationship with God. We are to share our faith daily (Acts 17:17) and be open with our lives daily with one another (Hebrews 3:12). Therefore, the first warning sign of approaching disunity comes when we as individuals do not have our relationship with God as our top priority. When either the quantity or quality of time with him is compromised, sin will enter and ultimately permeate our spiritual lives.

A second warning sign appears when there is a lack of commitment to and involvement in the mission of evangelism. Paul’s short letter to Philemon makes this remarkable statement: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philemon 1:6). While the context of this verse is likely referring most directly to the sharing of faith and our lives with other Christians, all sharing of our faith builds our faith. Appreciation for our life in Christ grows with our sharing of it. Evangelism is not just to save the souls of the lost; it is designed to keep our own souls saved.

When we are studying the Bible with others, we are reminded of why we became disciples in the first place, our hearts and convictions are strengthened incredibly. We remain excited and thankful about the amazing life that God has given us in Christ. Therefore, if evangelism has become humdrum to us, a burden and not a blessing, a duty and not a desire, we are slipping into the sins described in Revelation 2 and 3: loss of our first love and lukewarmness. If you are not in the mission heart and soul right now, Satan is into his mission with you, heart and soul. Wake up and repent.

A third warning sign is more subtle and deceptive than the other two. It of course ties in to the discipling process. Are we being discipled? Are we consistently seeking advice? Are we being open with what is in our heart of hearts? Do we want to be open with everything? The honest answers to those questions will go a long way in evaluating where we are spiritually. Satan is a master at encouraging us to be partially open, but not to really share our deepest doubts, sins and fears. For God to use us powerfully, we must learn to trust and stay truly open to discipling and God’s Word.

Let us heed the words of Paul, “I appeal to you brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10). A clear focus on the essentials of our faith will produce in us an uncommon peace and a powerful people united in faith.

Another Kind of Adoption

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” —Mark 10:29-30

I needed to go to Philadelphia to help out an old friend. The church leader there, Walter Evans, asked me to speak to one of their ministry groups on Sunday, since I was going to be in town until the next day. We discussed where I was most needed and settled on the campus group. I was pleased, since my personal preference is always to speak to this group—I love their youthful idealism and sharp minds.

However, on that particular day, to be honest, speaking was more of an assignment than a passion, so I did not have high expectations for the service. Thankfully, God did. I was looking forward to seeing my daughter’s husband, Jeff (whom we call our “son by marriage,” not “son-in-law”), who was in town for a wedding. When I arrived, I learned that a groupof the HOPE Youth Corps would also be in attendance.

The service began with enthusiastic singing. My heart started stirring. Thank God for singing. The welcome by the campus ministry leader followed. Although I did not know the brother well at all, I was most impressed and thought to myself, “This is an amazing introduction to a service. I need to steal it!” Then after some other passionate songs, a campus ministry intern began the communion message. As it turned out, he was one of the top college debate team members in the country, and he spoke well. I was moved even more. Thank God for young leaders! He then introduced a campus woman from North Carolina who was to share what the cross had done in her life. I was unprepared for what was about to happen.

As she came up to the microphone, her physical beauty was apparent. Soon her spiritual beauty would be. Something about her voice was unusual, and for a few moments I couldn’t identify why. I had heard similar voice and pronunciation qualities before, and suddenly I realized that Kelly was deaf. She shared about how her physical father had rejected her because she was deaf and therefore imperfect. She went on to share how her stepfather had rejected her and forced Kelly’s mom to choose between her older children from a previous relationship and him (she chose him). She described the heartache, heartbreak and rebellion fostered by such rejection. Toward the end, she shared her conversion experience and closed with a profound but sad statement: she could picture God as Creator, as Savior and even as Husband, but she could not picture him as Father. Her concept of a father was seriously damaged by her life experiences.

By this time, tears were spilling down my cheeks and down Jeff’s as well. Most of those young people in the audience were brushing back tears. I quickly wrote down Mark 10:29-30 on a note to Kelly, and offered to “adopt” her as my daughter. God had really moved my heart, and then he used me to move many other hearts during the sermon that followed. The whole experience could only be called a “God thing.” After the lesson Kelly gave me a big hug, and I sensed that God was going to use all of this to do some healing in her.

The idea of being a spiritual dad for young people did not have a welcome beginning in my mind and heart. I had moved to San Diego to lead the church there when I was forty-two years old. One of the young interns asked to talk to me after a staff meeting. He shared that he felt really close to me, almost like I was his dad, and then he asked if he could call me “Dad.” I  replied, “Absolutely not!” I rebelled at the idea of being seen as that old. When I shared the experience with one of the elders there, he gave me a much different perspective. He talked about how many young disciples either do not have living fathers or they have poor relationships with them. He thought that being a dad to them was one of the best roles we could have. In essence, I said that that was fine for him, but not for me! (He was a couple of years older.) The years have shown me just how right he was. Being a dad to many people in the church has been such a joy and honor.

Several years ago, Bryan and Renée (our “natural” children) gave me a ring for Christmas which displays the word “Dad.” They understood that I was not just a dad to them, but to many others. They often ask us to “adopt” some of their friends who need the spiritual love of mom and dad figures. Mark 10 has become one of my favorite passages because it gets at the heart of love in the kingdom—family love, adoptive love.

After the Philadelphia experience, I received a card from Kelly, asking if she could visit us with Theresa and me, if only for a dinner. She had taken the adoption thing seriously. I make the offer on a widespread basis, and some take me up on it in a special way (no doubt those who need it most). Kelly is one of those. She seemed to sense what John the apostle sensed in his relationship with Jesus. He felt totally at ease reclining on Jesus’ bosom (the literal translation of John 13:23) at the Passover meal. He described himself in the same verse as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Do you really think Jesus loved him more than he loved the other disciples? I rather think that Jesus loved all of them more than any of them could come close to grasping. But I do think that John was best at accepting and internalizing Jesus’ love. He perceived at a deeper level what kind of relationship was there for the taking. People like John and Kelly simply claim what is actually available and soak up the love as a result.

Kelly came to visit for a few days, and we shared our story at a workshop for singles. She later visited again for a few days with her younger sister, hoping to influence her by showing her what love in the kingdom is all about. Kelly has become a special daughter to me and Theresa and has found a lodging in our hearts and lives that will outlast this life. Kingdom relationships are closer than mere physical relationships. I may have trouble appreciating some things in the kingdom as much as I should, but the relationships I do understand and appreciate.

I, like untold numbers of others, am the product of a dysfunctional family. When I was younger, I looked for love “in all the wrong places,” as the song says, but now I have discovered the true love of the family of God. He has granted me the high honor of being a dad to his family, and Theresa a mom. And the reason for this is that others might feel his love through us, and through every disciple, as we come to understand what his family is to be to the world and to one another. Then we will be able to lavish on others what he has lavished on us.

If we are not filled to overflowing with gratitude for the family of God, we simply have missed the essence of the gospel. Figure it out, for within these relationships are housed some of the most unbelievable blessings which will ever be known to mankind on this side of eternity.

“Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:34-35)

Another Kind of Adoption — the Story Continues

My article, “Another Kind of Adoption,” was originally written as a chapter in my book, The Power of Gratitude. (Read the article in the Articles section on this web site if you have not read it.) I had met Kelly, the star of the story, in July of 1998 and then wrote the chapter in my book in May of the following year. Therefore, the story was less than a year old when I described how our relationship began, and even though it progressed quickly, much has occurred in the nearly fifteen years since. Kelly was twenty-four years old and single back then; she is now thirty-nine, married with three children. I am writing this article to update you on how God has continued to work in our lives and relationship, and in the process will add in a few details that were not included in the original article.

Kelly is one amazing young woman, who has now earned her doctorate and teaches at the university level. When she and her husband, Kye, decided to start a family, she had her heart set on having twins. Then on a biblical tour of Rome, she decided that she wanted those twins to have their genesis in Rome. In spite of the fact that twins do not run in either her family or Kye’s, she indeed conceived twin boys in that ancient city, one of whom is named Roman. Keep in mind that we are talking about a woman who has been basically deaf since she was a toddler. That’s why it takes words like “amazing” to begin to describe her adequately.

But, let’s run the clock and the story back to that fateful meeting in July of 1998. As stated in the original article, Kelly invited herself to Boston for a visit. She stated on the card she sent me that she knew I was a busy man, but still had to eat, and so asked if she at least could have a meal with me. Talk about being starved for the love of a dad! I wept when I read the card. (I’m weeping now.) So I wrote her back and said, “Just come up and spend a weekend with us,” which she soon did. I set her up on a date with a good young man from MIT, and the four of us went up to the North Side (all Italian) for dinner and hanging-out time.

Going back to the car after dinner, Theresa was walking and talking with Kelly’s date, and I was talking with Kelly. She was looking at me with lights in her eyes, like a kid in a candy store, or as if she had somehow entered into a fairy tale. I told her something like this:  “Kelly, whatever love you are feeling from me now (and I hope she was feeling all that was there), multiply it several million times, and you will be starting to get the picture of how much God loves you.” You recall that her communion message was that she could see God as a Creator or a Judge, but not as a Father. Well, it was some weekend, as you can imagine.

She came back a second time with her sister, hoping we could influence her, and on that trip, I think we spoke at a Single’s Service and shared “our” story. We’ve come a long way together since then. She came a third time to introduce us to Kye, to whom she was engaged or about to become engaged. Our next time together was at their wedding in Savannah. She told me that since I was her dad, she wanted her step-dad to walk her only half way down the aisle, and then have me take her from there, and then perform the wedding. She also wanted Theresa to share some thoughts for them in the ceremony – all of which we did.  It was a beautiful day in a beautiful setting. As I was waiting in the garden where it was to be held, someone came for me and said Kelly wanted to see me upstairs in the Bride’s Room. She, the bridesmaids and her Mom were all fully dressed and ready, but as I entered the room, “Butterfly Kisses” started playing and Kelly came over to me for a father/daughter dance in front of that small, but special audience.

That girl is so far down in my heart she couldn’t find her way out if she wanted to (and, of course, she would never want to). But to me, here is perhaps the biggest shocker of all. Several years after our relationship began, her biological father (who had rejected her earlier because of her not being “normal”) got in touch with her and wanted to get with her, to which she agreed. He expressed regret about not being there for her when she was growing up and wanted to have a relationship with her now. She told him that she was fine with having an adult relationship with him, but that she couldn’t go back to being a little girl again and make up for all of those missed years. Then she added the kicker. She said, “Gary (I think that’s his name), as I said, I’m happy to have an adult relationship with you, but to be honest, I don’t need an emotional relationship with you as a dad. I have that with Gordon.”

Knowing the longing that adopted kids and others in similar situations to Kelly’s have to connect with their biological parents, this one blew me away – totally! I still find it almost unbelievable that I could be the chosen one for such an exalted role. Kelly is as much of a daughter as anyone could possibly be, bloodlines notwithstanding. She is probably more like me in character and personality than anyone I know, which can only be one of those “God things.”

So those are the highlights of the continuing story. Pretty good ones, wouldn’t you say? Sadly, there have been long periods when I haven’t stayed in touch with Kelly very well. I recall writing her once (probably more than once) and apologizing for being a poor dad to her by not keeping up with her better. (That has been one of my weaknesses in the past with loved ones.) In reply to my apology, Kelly said, “Dad, you were there for me when I needed you most. We’re good.”  I don’t deserve that kind of love, but it has helped me repent – with her and others.

Something over a year ago, I was teaching a Texas staff training session in Dallas while working with the Houston church, and Kelly and Kye were in San Antonio visiting his family and their church friends there. I flew down for a day to see her. She and Kye took me out for lunch when I arrived, and then he went back to visit his relatives, while Kelly and I sat in a Starbucks outside seating area and talked for hours. (I have to fine-tune my feminine side for such lengthy conversations!) Not long before we moved to California, Kelly visited us in Phoenix for a few days, and we had another one or two dad and daughter times at Starbucks (her favorite coffee place, being a Seattle resident!). She is now planning a trip to visit us in California at our new home. Thankfully, Kye is always willing to keep the kids when she spends time with us because he understands the importance of her being with her adopted dad.

And so the story continues with Kelly, as Jesus’ perspective about his church being true family continues to be fulfilled in our relationship.

Mark 3:31-35

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 10:29-30

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”


Spirituality and Money—A Vital Connection


1.   As your elders and ministry staff, we are thankful for every member of the congregation, and want to do our best to help you grow more and more into the image of Christ − for that is the will of God for all of us.

2.   At our last all-church service (8-26-07), a letter from the Board of Directors and the eldership was read which reflected a downward trend in contributions that will certainly have adverse effects on the church if the trend is not reversed.

3.   It is important to remember that our budget was originally set by our present giving level at the time, and it is also important to remember that a budget is not necessarily what we should or could be giving.

4.   Therefore, while meeting the budget does keep us financially solvent as an organization, it does not alone give us the complete picture of our spiritual health in financial matters.

5.   We have two primary concerns that we want to share with you today:  one, the need for each member of the Body to do his or her fair share as a part of our church family; and two, for each member to view and use their money in accordance with biblical principles.  On the first point, note what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:13:  “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.”

6.   In other words, each member should be giving a biblically reasonable and righteous amount, based on their income.  Those who don’t give in this manner increase the burden on their fellow Christians, and in effect, are expecting others to carry the load that they should be carrying themselves.

7.   This practice is clearly not what Paul calls “equality.”  Each of us needs to ask ourselves if we are doing our part in supporting the work of the Phoenix church.

8.   The second point is a much more serious one − that of being righteous in our view and use of money generally.

9.   For about a year, we have been made aware by our administrator that the number of checks for both our weekly contributions and our Special Contribution does not reflect well the number of our members.

10. Although many of our members gave generously to the Special Contribution, a number evidently did not give anything, except perhaps their normal weekly contribution.  As a result, we are about $40,000 below our goal for the Special.

11. As stated, the same observation can be made about the ratio of members and checks being given in our regular weekly contributions.  This situation does not meet the equality standard or other biblical principles of giving.

12. Our concern is that some members are falling prey to Satan’s plan to choke them out spiritually.  Consider what Jesus said in Mark 4:18-19:  “ Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

13. A cursory reading of Luke’s Gospel alone will demonstrate clearly the emphasis Jesus placed on how we view and use money − an emphasis that we have to take seriously.

14. Due to this concern about materialism and the underlying sin of greed it represents, we wanted to share a lesson with you and ask you to study it out and pray about it, and then let us help you as you determine your possible need for help.

15. Perhaps there are situations of financial crises about which we are unaware and want to be helping you with.

16. But perhaps the reasons are more related to the heart sins of materialism and greed, and therefore those thus involved need spiritual counsel and guidance.

17. At any rate, we as your shepherds and leaders cannot fail to address spiritual issues as potentially serious as this one is.  With that in mind, please open your minds and hearts to the following material, as you listen very carefully and prayerfully.


I.      Key New Testament Passages About Greed and Materialism

Mark 4:18-19

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; [19] but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 7:20-23

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ [21] For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, [22] greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. [23] All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ “

Luke 11:39-42

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? [41] But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. [42] “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” [14] Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” [15] Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [16] And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. [17] He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ [18] “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ [20] “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ [21] “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 16:9-15

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. [10] “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. [11] So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? [12] And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? [13] “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” [14] The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. [15] He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

Romans 1:29-32

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, [30] slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; [31] they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. [32] Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– [10] not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. [11] But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders [10] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:3-7

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. [4] Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. [5] For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. [7] Therefore do not be partners with them.

Colossians 3:5-6

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. [6] Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

1 Timothy 6:9-11

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. [10] For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. [11] But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. [18] Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. [19] In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

II.    Practical Applications From Biblical Passages

A.   Wealth is deceitful (Mark 4:19) − how does it deceive?

1.   Primarily in fooling us into thinking that possessions will make us happy.

2.   Also, in fooling us into thinking that we can love God and love material things at the same time (which Jesus denied strongly in Luke 16:13).

3.   Therefore, Satan is anxious to provide us with many rationalizations for materialism.

4.   Perhaps this is why God clearly identifies greed with “idolatry” in Colossians 3:6 − he doesn’t want us to miss the bottom line.  Many sins have been called idolatry in various sermons, but in this passage, greed is clearly identified as idolatry.  Idolatry is alive and well in the church today, sad to say.

5.   The popular “health and wealth” gospel has made quite an impact in our religious society, as shown by the popularity of books about how to be successful (i.e., make more money, get rich).  Their thin veneer of spiritual terminology doesn’t change the multiple biblical errors and ungodly worldviews taught therein.

6.   When you combine these factors listed below, you begin to get the big picture of how deceived we can become in God’s sight, and what has affected us thusly:

a.    A general lack of teaching on the subject of spirituality and money.

b.    The effects of “pulling back” over the last few years.

c.    The “Health and Wealth” gospel viewpoint of even very religious people around us.

d.    The “ups and downs” of the housing market in Phoenix in the past couple of years has likely caused some to focus too much of their thinking on money made or lost.

B.   The presence of materialism and greed says that God is not enough for us.  Read Hebrews 13:5-6:  “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ [6] So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

C.   Failure to view and use money spiritually limits the spiritual blessings God will give us (which can affect us and our families in ways we may not fully understand).

1.   Luke 16:11:  “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

2.   2 Corinthians 9:6-11:  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. [7] Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. [8] And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. [9] As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ [10] Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. [11] You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

3.   There is an unmistakable correlation between giving financially and being blessed spiritually, and the converse is also true − failing to give financially limits our blessings spiritually (and possibly financially as well).  Another way of saying the latter is that we are limiting the blessings we and our family might otherwise receive (and surely we and our families need all the blessings we can get!).

D.   Giving our money for God’s work is called a “grace” − a spiritual quality.  2 Corinthians 8:7: “But just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us–see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

E.    Greed is shown to be a very serious biblical issue by its inclusion in sin lists.

1.   It is listed with all of these sins in the various sin lists in the passages noted above:  evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly, wickedness, evil, depravity, murder, strife, gossip, hating God, insolence, boastful, inventing ways doing evil, disobedience to parents, senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless, idolatry, drunkenness, swindling, adultery, male prostitution, homosexuality, sexual impurity, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, lust, and evil desires.

2.   No wonder God said in Colossians 3:6:  “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”

F.    Finally, greed is shown to be very serious because it is a sin which can lead to church discipline (disfellowship).

1.   Read 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 again (quoted above already).

2.   How should we define greed − and how does it show up in our lives?

a.    Admittedly, defining greed in practical, identifiable terms is not an easy matter, and materialism’s definition is influenced considerably by our culture and environment.

b.    We could say that it shows up when someone is dishonest in gaining more money − which would be true.

c.    However, dishonesty is mentioned separately by the terms “theft,” “deceit,” and “swindling” in the above passages.

d.    Therefore, for Christians, one good indicator of greed is a comparison of our level of income and wealth to our level of giving financially to the church.

e.    Note that wealth may be quite different from income.

(1) Proverbs 3:9:  “Honor the Lord with your wealth.”

(2) Considering the possessions most of us have, the reality is that there is a lot of “wealth” in the church, even if it’s not direct income.

III.  Elder’s Concerns and Actions

A.   Nearly three years ago, the elders asked everyone to indicate on the Membership Pledge sheet what their weekly giving amount would be.  We did that to not only be able to set a reasonable budget, but to help our members examine their own hearts and how they actually were giving.

B.   Here are the excerpts from that Pledge, the last two of which relate to giving:

I want to be under the care and oversight of the Elders and so I commit to the following:

1.     I am committed to be part of a house church or other designated small group in order to practice the “one another” “each other” teachings of the NT.

2.     I am committed to attendance at regularly scheduled Sunday and midweek services, and at any other special services that the elders ask each member to attend.

3.     I am committed to giving sacrificially to support God’s work in Phoenix and in other locations where it is decided (by the Elders) that we as a church should help.

4.     In order to enable the elders and the Board of Directors to accurately plan a budget, I pledge to give financially in the amount of _______________ per week on average.

C.   We believe that the elders have both the right and the obligation to evaluate the spirituality of our members (which includes their finances), since God holds them accountable for the flock under their care (Hebrews 13:17).  We also believe that those staff members who lead at the Region level also share this right and obligation.

D.   One thing that likely happened during the past several years is that some members began by questioning how money contributed to the church was spent, cut back on their giving, and now have committed that money to fulfill that “desire for other things” mentioned in Mark 4:19.  Now many are over-extended, and guess what suffers?

E.    Those who have cut back are in essence expecting their brothers and sisters in the church to cover what they are not giving, which shows a lack of love toward others who are making some sacrifices to give righteously.  That is neither righteous before God nor fair to others in our spiritual family.


1.   Therefore, as mentioned in the Introduction above, we are going to try and help our members who appear to be limited in their giving to the church to see how we might help.

2.   If there are financial crises of which we are unaware, we want to be able to help financially as needed.

3.   If there are heart crises involved, we want to help in a spiritual way.

4.   Considering the gravity of this sin in God’s sight, we believe that we have an obligation to explore the reasons behind very limited amounts of giving in individual cases.

5.   To be absolutely clear − it is not about the money; it is about the spirituality involved.  God knows that our money and our hearts are usually very closely connected, for Jesus said:  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

6.   Our desire as your shepherds and leaders is that your heart and your treasure are in the right place, and this passage makes it clear that the path to spirituality includes putting our treasure in the right place.

7.   Please study out this lesson and the passages within it, and let us help you as you determine how you may need help.  Thank you very much!  We love you very much.

 —Gordon Ferguson (August 2007)

Beatitudes of Parenting

In this present age, any well-meaning parent is more than a little concerned about how their children are going to turn out as adults. Parenting has not been easy in any age, but in our current setting, the challenge can seem insurmountable. Thank God for the principles outlined in his Word! No matter how formidable the task may appear, God’s ways still work. Rest assured that the message of Proverbs 22:6 remains true: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Many helpful principles could be shared, but to keep the article both brief and practical, let’s look at four key “beatitudes” of parenting.

Be Spiritual
Children know their parents, and know them well. They are quite aware of just how spiritually motivated you really are. Our children were in their teens when we were first seriously discipled in our marriage and family. Theresa and I made it a practice of sharing very openly with our children about what we were learning and changing about ourselves as individuals and as mates and parents. Even though our children have been away from home now for years, and have families of their own, we still share our struggles and desires to grow with them by phone. Our consistent emphasis on growing spiritually has done much to encourage the same in them. As has been said, attitudes are more caught than taught.

Be spiritual in what you talk about in the home. An old joke in my former church stated that most members had “fried preacher” and “roasted elder” for Sunday lunch! Sadly, that was often true, and more sadly, it is too often true even in our churches. After our daughter, Renee, was grown, she made an amazing statement in a marriage workshop class our whole family was doing together. She stated that she never remembered Theresa and me being negative about our schedules and schedule changes. Her memory may have been too kind, but I’m thankful that she remembers her time with us in that way.  How about you? How positive are you in talking about the church and its leaders?

Also, be spiritual in your marriage. When Sam and Geri Laing once spoke in Boston to parents of teens, I was surprised at how much they emphasized this point. A poor marriage example damages children in many ways, including their view of whether God’s principles bring happiness or not. Please take this one seriously. Once our daughter as a teen was considering seriously whether she wanted to remain a disciple, and the telling point in that decision was our marriage. She told her mom that she wanted a marriage like we had and knew that she would never have one like ours outside the kingdom. Praise God that Theresa and I have worked so hard to keep our marriage exciting and growing over the years since we became disciples! Now Bryan and Renee have their own marriages, and our example of striving to keep growing has been a very important part of their view of marriages generally.

How you handle conflicts with your mate, how free each of you are with each other to freely express your opinions and hurts sets the tone for the openness or lack thereof on the part of your children. If you don’t respect your mate, the kids will not either, and they won’t respect their mates once they marry. Build a spiritual atmosphere in the home by having consistent spiritual talks, quiet times and discipleship times with your children. It will pay huge dividends in time and in eternity.

Be Humble
Humility is one of the qualities that God loves and rewards most, and nowhere is this quality more important than in the family. Read these Scriptures carefully: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).  God opposes the proud and so do others, especially our own children!

Be humble about your sins. An old adage says that people cannot see your humility until you allow them to see your humanity (though your own vulnerable sharing of same). I remember counseling a couple whose teen said of them:  “mother can never be wrong; dad apologizes very quickly but doesn’t change.” Sadly, some parents never say “I’m wrong; I’m sorry; please forgive me.” When we became disciples, we started asking our children consistently what they saw in our lives that needed to change, what we have done to hurt them and what we needed to apologize for. We still do this periodically just to make sure our example is what it should be and to make sure that even something small is unresolved between us.

Be humble in seeking the evaluation and help of other disciples regarding your family dynamics. When we first became a part of a discipling ministry, we were so grateful for the help of the young singles that discipled our children. We made them a part of our family, and often asked them what they were seeing in our family dynamics that needed to change. Of course, we were able to help them in the ways that they needed help on a maturity level.

Ask spiritually mature couples to come in to help evaluate your relationship and family atmosphere. I remember on several occasions having others in to help us work out impasses between us and our children. In order to do this, you will have to be humble enough to avoid becoming uptight about how your children may make you look. We can put undue pressures on them, to make us appear a certain way. We can try to live our lives through them, which is a way of rejecting who they are as persons. Humble out and get help—lots of it. It has been my experience in counseling families that most married couples are more defensive about their parenting roles than about their marriage roles. Please fight that prideful tendency and just be humble. The dividends will be wonderful.

Be Calm
Raising children, especially through the preteen and teen years, is at times like walking through a mine field! Remaining calm is the only way to avoid unexpected explosions! Emotions begat similar emotions—whether calm or the opposite. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Read 2 Timothy 2:23-26 carefully and thoughtfully. Thankfully, I came to a conviction about remaining calm at all costs when Renee was still in High School. It was very difficult, since that had not been my pattern in parenting through many years. Yet, it worked wonders in both of us. Renee followed my example and learned to communicate with me with reasoned calmness, in spite of the emotions inside that were trying to come out in worldly ways.

At times when dealing with sensitive subjects, Theresa chose to write the children letters, which helped lower the emotional challenges. We worked as a team by deciding which of us might be the best one for a certain type talk with them. While the one chosen carried the conversation, the other simply prayed. We have learned to keep our emotions in check and to act rather than react. Our children have imitated this and are now doing a much better job of relating to their young children than I did to them when they were young. My regrets are being replaced by the joy of seeing worldly cycles broken by God’s power.

Be a Friend
Being a friend to your children means that you listen much more then you talk, and you especially fight the natural impulse to lecture. “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). The most important parenting principle is to disciple the heart, not simply the behavior. Before you can disciple the heart, you must know what is in it. To find that out, you have to establish and maintain an atmosphere of openness in which the child can feel safe enough to express their honest feelings to you without fear of negative reaction from you. Hence, listen not lecture.

Find the right time for each child, the time when they will more naturally be talkative. When Bryan came home from school, he was a typical male in that works were few.  However, at night around bedtime, he would talk if we were there to listen. Renee, on the other hand, walked in the door after school talking profusely. So, we had to make time to listen when they were most prone to want to talk. Children need times just to hang out with you—help them with their homework; have special fun times to build memories. Above all, have faith in them. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t give up on them, no matter what difficult stages they may be going through. Once when Theresa was struggling with faith that she could be effective evangelistically, Renee (when still a teen) gave her a mustard seed of faith. Theresa shared the same with her through the years, helping her to stay in the spiritually battle.

Being a friend means that you give “sandwich” type corrections – the challenges are encompassed on either side with compliments and encouragements. Paul followed this pattern repeatedly in his letters. Friendship to children also means that you allow them to have choices that are age appropriate. Failure to do this ultimately results in rebellion. Your job as a parent is to gradually replace your “parent” hat with a “friend” hat. Without question, the most rewarding stage of parenthood is when your children are grown and all of you say (and feel) that you are the best of friends. By God’s grace and forgiveness, our children’s grace and forgiveness, we can all enjoy that if we follow the above “beatitudes” of parenting.  The Golden Rule of parenting is to love and train your children as you want God to treat you. Let’s do it, and give God all the credit when he blesses our families!

—Gordon Ferguson (November 2001)