Portraits of a Mature Christian: An aptitude for using the Scriptures properly

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Portraits of a Mature Christian

An aptitude for using the Scriptures properly

When I was about 19 years old I ran across this passage, 1 Corinthians 11:21: “For as
you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry,
another gets drunk.” Shortly after reading that passage, I proudly announced to a
group of friends, “Did you know that the Bible teaches that you should wait for
everyone else to get their food before eating?” They stared at me curiously since I had
made such a grand statement about such a small matter. But none of them knew the
Bible any better than I did so it was difficult for them to critique my unsolicited
knowledge. Later that evening I went back to find the passage I had quoted, and I
checked the context. The passage isn’t really about table manners as much as it is about
manners regarding the Lord’s Supper. I had highjacked the verse and made it say what
I thought it should say. I was embarrassed.

This “highjacking” of God’s Word happens a lot. People look in the Bible to see if they
can make it say what they want it to say instead of what God wants it to say. The result
is confusion and false teaching. God doesn’t want to be misunderstood or have his
words taken out of context any more than we do. In his Word, he says exactly what he
wants us to know. When we change that, we misrepresent him to ourselves and others.
There is too much at stake. Many have lost their eternal salvation because they followed
teachers who used the Bible but who were not really telling what it says. Mature
Christians work hard at handling God’s Word correctly.

The apostle Paul told his young pastor friend Timothy this very same thing. Timothy
was responsible for teaching a lot of people in and around Ephesus. If he misused God’s
Word it would affect many souls. So Paul impressed on Timothy that before teaching he
had to slow down and study God’s Word well, so that he would not misrepresent God
and later become ashamed of it. Look at how Paul said it:
2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be
ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.


1. Why do you think Paul said that when Timothy was teaching he was presenting
himself to God?
God is everywhere and is watching all of us. Imagine if you were teaching American
history about the Civil War and Abe Lincoln were sitting in the room. How would that
change the way you prepared to teach your class? You’d be more careful to speak the
truth and not your own imagination, wouldn’t you? Every Christian who is witnessing for
God is doing so with him in the room. We need to get it right. We are presenting
ourselves to him as his representatives. So, we need to handle his Word the way he
wishes. We will also teach in a more Christlike fashion when we remember that God is
with us while we are teaching.

2. Why is it so important for a Bible teacher to make sure that everything he or she
teaches is truly biblical teaching?
It is important to make sure our teaching is truly biblical because we represent God and
the souls of our listeners are at stake. If we teach them something false it will have tragic
results in their lives. They will miss out on everything God wants for them, and they could
even miss out on salvation if we don’t teach God’s plan of salvation correctly.

3. What exactly does it mean to “correctly handle the word of truth”?
It means to study every passage in its context to see what it was actually saying to the
original readers. It means to properly apply the truth of that passage to our modern
listeners without saying more or less than it was saying to the original readers. It means
keeping in mind the time and place of the passage so we don’t take Old Testament laws
for Israel and make them apply to the church. It means proclaiming the law to convict
sinners and to direct their spiritual life of faith. It means showing the beautiful gospel as
the final solution to all spiritual dilemmas instead of man’s effort and work. It means
keeping law and gospel in their proper places and not mixing them and distorting God’s
truth. It means teaching the stories of the Bible as real stories instead of myths or
allegories. It means letting the supernatural God be who he says he is without trying to
make all that he says and does fit our reason. It means first figuring out what the Bible is
truly saying and then truly saying it the way it was intended.

4. When the truth is handled correctly, what happens for the hearers?
When the Bible is handled correctly it saves souls. It changes lives. It purifies evil and
guilt from their souls. It corrects, rebukes, and trains in righteousness. It makes them into
the people God wants them to be.


1. What are some simple guidelines we can follow to help ourselves understand
God’s Word correctly?
First of all, read an introduction to the book in which you are reading to get the
historical background to the book. Then read the chapter before and after the chapter in
which you are working. Then read the passages right before and after the passage. Then
write out what the passage is saying in your own words and compare it to the passage
itself. Then look for other related passages in Scripture to see if they help you better
understand your passage. Then write down all the modern situations that this passage
could speak to. Finally, ask yourself, “What does this passage teach regarding our Lord
Jesus Christ and the salvation he has won for us?”

2. How does the context before and after a passage help us properly understand the
passage itself?
The context will give you background to your passage. It will help you see the major
subject being treated. You will learn more about the train of thought and the genre of
Scripture in which you are reading. It will help you see what the author was saying
rather than what you want him to be saying. The context will show you the bigger picture
instead of the small idea in the one passage. It will help you avoid saying your own
thoughts instead of God’s.

3. List as many passages that you can think of that have been taken out of their
This is a personal journal of your own experiences. Think back over all the discussions
you have had with friends and family over Scripture. What passages have been misused?
Lots of times people inappropriately apply Old Testament Jewish laws to modern
Christians when some of those laws were meant to become obsolete when Jesus came.
Others will try to find license to sin by twisting a passage or by teaching from the silence
of Scripture. Still others make the Word more of a rulebook than a testimony to God’s
grace in Christ. If you discuss your list with others, it will be a fruitful conversation.

4. Take a passage of Scripture and study it well in its context. Then write a devotion
about that passage and send it in an e-mail to your friends and family. Ask them to
respond by telling what they learned from it.

If you study the context around a passage and then the passage itself you will get to know
what it is saying. Then you can apply it to others. In your devotion make sure you
introduce the passage by giving its background first and then by presenting its truth and
then by applying its truth to our lives. Follow that order, and people will be able to see
your train of thought coming out of God’s Word, and they will grow in faith because of
your efforts.

Related Scripture passages
Isaiah 8:20
Hebrews 4:12
John 8:31-32
1 Peter 4:11
2 Corinthians 4:2
2 Peter 1:19
2 Peter 3:16

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © April 2010 reprinted with permission.

Portraits of a Mature Christian


Portraits of a Mature Christian

A mature Christian has a deep trust in the power of Jesus’ gospel.
Donald W. Patterson

An elderly gentleman took his grandson into the workshop to make a birdhouse. After
measuring the boards Grandpa put one in the vice, started a half inch cut at the place he
had marked, and handed the saw to his little subcontractor. The boy bit his lip and
began sawing back and forth with all his might. Suddenly, his wild strokes made the
saw bind up and bend sharply to one side. Grandpa smiled, wrapped his hands around
the boy’s, and said, “You don’t need to work so hard. Trust the saw to do the work for
you.” Together they sawed slowly and gently. Then Grandpa let go, and the boy kept
cutting as the saw sailed right through the wood. “Trust the saw to do the work,” he
kept telling himself.

Often we Christians are like that little boy. Making rules and New Year’s resolutions
for ourselves often produces quick changes, but they lack the power to help us
persevere. We end up feeling guiltier than before. “How to” programs often fail to
propel us after the newness has worn off. Instead we must learn to trust the Lord’s
“saw” to do the work it was designed to do. His saw is the gospel of Jesus’ love for us.
Once learned, it becomes a strong force that works through us to make us capable of
doing great things.

Many of Paul’s letters are sprinkled with insights into how the gospel enlightens us
and fills us with the power to conquer sinful habits, overcome the chains of guilt, and
free us to love the unlovable. Mature Christians learn to trust the gospel of Jesus to
work through them instead of pushing so hard with human strength. The passage from
Titus can help us discover how the gospel of Jesus is a power we can trust to transform
us and make us eager to do good works for God.

Titus 2:11-14:
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope –the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to what is good.


1. What does Paul say the gospel teaches us? How does it do that?
The gospel teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. It does this by freeing
not only from the guilt of our sins but the desire to sin. When we come to faith in God who loved us so much that he gave us his Son to cleanse us from our sins, we actually don’t want to sin like we used to. Instead we want to remain clean because we like it. We also love him so much we want to do what makes him happy. It is not a fear of breaking rules and reaping the consequences that motivates us. Instead it is the power of love for God that works within us.
2. According to verse 14, what did Jesus redeem us from? What did he redeem us
for? He redeemed us from all wickedness that held us like slaves. He redeemed us for living a pure life for him as we are eager to do what is good.
3. What picture in the verb “redeem” helps us understand that being saved includes
having our status as a weak sinner changed into a powerful free saint?
In this passage, to be redeemed means to be purchased from a slave master by someone who
pays a ransom for you. God is saying that Jesus spent his own blood to win our release from sins and the guilt and death they earn for us. Once he has purchased us, he takes us to himself and makes us his children. We are no longer slaves but real family members. As family members and heirs of his estate on earth and in heaven we have a new status. We do not have to be ruled by sin any longer. We are free to live for God.
4. Compare Romans 6:1-14 to this passage. What role does our baptism play in our
ability to do good works for God? When we were baptized the power of our old Adam died and the resurrected Lord Jesus came to live in our hearts. Because he is in our lives we can ask him at any moment to help us say “No” to a temptation, and he will give us the strength to resist it. He also empowers us to do good things for God by the power of his love working in our lives. If we ever feel weak and doubt that he is there for us, we need only to remember that we have been baptized, which assures us that the Spirit of Christ is in us.
5. Explain how the gospel makes us eager to good works. Before we learn the good news that God loved us so much that he died for us, we see God as a stern judge who will some day condemn us in our sins. But when we realize that although he could have judged us that he instead took that very judgment upon himself, we fall in love with him. Then we want to give back to him our love and devotion. He gives us direction through his Word as to the ways he wants us to show that devotion. We eagerly do our best to fulfill his wishes from a heart that wants to and does not feel compelled by guilt or shame.


1. Verse 14 says Jesus made us his very own. Explain to a close friend what it
means to you to be Jesus’ very own. To be his very own is to be owned by Jesus in his very heart. It means to be very special to him and to be watched over, guided, and improved by him. Jesus calls us brothers and children in his home. When we meditate on this one thought, we will feel secure and significant no matter what is happening to us our little corner of the world.
2. List eight people from the Bible who were eager to do good for God without
pressure from rules? Here are some: Abraham, Joseph with Potiphar’s wife, Joshua, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, the apostles John and Paul.
3. How does dwelling on God’s love help you to love someone who makes it hard
for you to love him or her? The power to love the unlovable never depends on them to earn our love through good behavior, although that’s what seems logical. The power to love is the power to love unconditionally because of who we are not because of who others are. When we realize this about God that he loved us even though we are so evil and selfish by nature we touch a love that is supernatural and that overcomes our natural instincts to love conditionally. As we focus on Jesus’ free and faithful love from the cross we will be Christ centered, and from
that center we will draw the strength to be like him and love others the way he does. He
will love others through us much like the grandfather in my opening story. His words and
hands became the wisdom and strength of the little grandson’s ability to saw the board

Other Scriptures verses on this topic
● Mark 5:18-20
● Luke 19:8
● Galatians 2:20–5:26
● Ephesians 2:10
● Romans 6–8.

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © December 2009 reprinted with permission.

The life of a believer gives us an example of noble Christian character.

The life of a believer gives us an example of noble Christian character.

I love the little verse 1 Corinthians 1:26: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” Paul was bringing the Corinthians down a notch because they were becoming conceited in their newfound faith in Christ.

But I like the verse for a different reason. It makes me think of the “not many” Christians I have met who actually are noble and wise in God’s eyes, even though they weren’t in the eyes of the world.

Elaine Poldrack is one of those “not many noble” Christians. Elaine grew up in a modest Texas town called Taylor, just a short distance northeast of Austin. Her family had enough means to hire household help—think of the movie “The Help.” Elaine married early, and God blessed her with a wonderful marriage to a church leader, Nelson, for 60 plus years. She taught high school biology for many years. She and Nelson reared two wonderful children. Elaine had a rich, beautiful Southern accent. She was the first person to answer the phone when I was assigned as her pastor 25 years ago. What a breath of fresh air for my Southern ears!

But frankly, it wasn’t really any of those blessings, great as they are, that makes me classify Elaine as one of the “not many noble” Christians about whom Paul was talking about. Three things make me see Elaine as a noble Christian.

First, she treated every person she met as an aristocrat worthy of her utmost respect, even those people cut from roughhewn lumber. Anyone who interacted with Elaine felt their own worth increase just by the gentle and respectful way she treated them.

Second, Elaine made Christ the center of her heart and life. She prayerfully attended worship and Bible class and made thoughtful comments about the Word of God she was hearing. She had a personal devotional life.

When I had my first call to another congregation, Elaine called me up and carefully told me how Jesus had used me to bless her life. Then she prayed with me over the phone, asking God to give me wisdom and freedom to make the right choice. Later when we moved out of our old sanctuary, Elaine humbly asked if she could have one of the old hymn boards. She proudly hung it in her kitchen. She would put signs in the slots to match the seasons of the church year. This way she preached Christ to family and guests. At Easter, the words “He is risen!” graced the hymn board. Every Valentine’s Day she would hand write about 25 to 30 greeting cards with Jesus’ love or words laced into her messages and send them to friends.

Elaine deeply respected our church leadership; she wanted to help the men of our church as they led the flock. In the last five years of her life she sent all the elders a weekly e-mail that told them which church members were ailing or needing visits. She reminded them of member’s birthdays and anniversaries. She even bought the elders cards so they could send them to members.

In my 25 years as her pastor, Elaine took on two other big projects at church. She wrote a history of the congregation for both the 25th and 40th anniversaries, and she also wrote a manual for people to use when making arrangements for their own funeral. She constantly was busy making encouraging phone calls and sending e-mails and handwritten notes. I can’t remember how many times I would find an interesting religious article lying on my desk that Elaine had cut from the paper. What a noble Christian!

However, the final and most telling reason Elaine is among the “not many noble” Christians, in my mind, has to do with the way she handled a major cross in her life. For more than 44 years, she suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. All of that ministry I described above sprang from a heart healed by Jesus and a body left to suffer terrible pain. All those handwritten letters and notes were etched in beautiful script by hands that ached and burned. The hours sitting and listening to the Word of God were accompanied by terrible back pain. Pain was her constant chaperone, but Jesus was her constant help.

As the years passed, her hands, feet, legs, and back gave in to the pain. She could have flooded our lives with litanies about her trials. But instead, she chose to focus on us and not herself. In her mind, God was always good because he had given his Son for her, and she wanted others to know him. Near the end, I timidly asked her if she doubted God’s love because of her suffering. In a respectful but low, serious, voice, she said, “Never.”

Elaine was able to stay in her home with her family until the very last few months of her life. But even while she was in the retirement home, she found a way to proclaim Christ. She helped arrange for a small Bible study group from our church. They were invited to come to the retirement center and meet with her and a few of her new friends. She wanted them to hear about Jesus too. Her location had changed but not her mission.

At the end, her skin was paper thin. Just being moved from bed to chair inflicted terrible flesh wounds that had to be dressed daily. On one of my last visits, I sat with her as her wound specialist gently dressed her arms and legs. As he was working, she kept pulling us together in conversation because she was worried about his soul. Previously, he had confessed to her that he had fallen out of faith in Christ. Each day that he came she dressed his heart while he dressed her body. “Not many noble!”

Elaine is now one of the great cloud of witnesses talked about in Hebrews: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1). When I think of her, I picture Elaine sitting in the grandstands watching the rest of us run the race. I think of her endurance, her respect for others, and her faith in our Savior who has given her a place in those stands.

Just thinking of her, I want to respect others more completely, encourage friends and family more purely, and ignore my troubles more bravely. I want to throw off the sin that so easily entangles me and run my race in honor of our Creator and Redeemer just as she did.

I will never see myself as one of the “not many noble” Christians. But thanks to Elaine, I know what one looks like, and I will aspire to be like her to the glory of God and the good of his church. I think others she touched will too!


Donald Patterson, pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas, is president of the South Central District. Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © January 2017 reprinted with permission.

Believers in Christ have a deep peace, but living as a Christian in this world is a struggle.

When Paul and Barnabas passed back through Asia Minor where they had spread the gospel in their first missionary journey, they reminded the new Christians, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Surely becoming a Christian is a great joy. For the first time in your life you feel loved, forgiven, and right with God through the grace of your Savior. Nothing can compare with the freedom of faith! But the apostles were telling these new Christians that becoming a Christian in a world led by Satan puts us at war with him on several fronts.

When I think of this truth it reminds me of a dear Christian friend, Denise Hunt. She is a beautiful Jamaican woman whom the Lord moved to the neighborhood next to our church. Denise is extremely extraverted, energetic, infectious, and downright charming. On the island of Jamaica, she is a celebrity. You can google her name and read all about her. But before she visited our church, she did not have the peace of Christ that passes understanding. For her, all faith—even the Christian faith—was a work of her own heart. She struggled; she wanted to be worthy. She had been taught a lot of good Christian moralism, but very little grace.

But she came to church, and she listened. She studied, prayed, and strained to understand. Hours of discussion with our pastoral team eventually paid off. One day, when she was praying, she realized deep in her soul that Jesus really did love her, that he alone died for her, and that there was nothing she could do to earn such love or deserve it. She trusted God’s promises in the gospel. It has changed her life for an eternity.

Now this ambassador of Jamaican fitness and entertainment is also an ambassador of the gospel. She wants everyone to know the peace of Christ right here and right now. She began to take territory from Satan as she shared Jesus with family and friends. That’s when life got a little tougher. Her struggle to believe morphed into a struggle to share the faith.

We’ve all been there. We live on the island of faith where Jesus feeds and waters our soul in his oasis of love and truth. And we see restless souls passing our island like dark, pirate ships filled with people trying to pillage the world for treasure that cannot satisfy the soul’s craving. So, we beg them to come and taste the gospel with us. Not everyone takes us up on it. Instead, they even might argue with us, reject us, or insult our sincere trust in a God who both confronts and forgives at the same time. Denise has religious friends who challenge her about the idea that Baptism saves or that Christ’s body and blood for forgiveness are really present in the Lord’s Supper. For her, Baptism seals her identity as a forgiven child of God. She knows all of her sins are washed away. She won’t let the devil guilt her. When she goes to the Lord’s Supper she knows she touches Jesus in a miraculous way. She attributes her overall wellness to the Lord’s Supper as much as to her exercise and diet. She has unbelieving friends who snicker at her vehement testimony about Christ and his sacraments. They are people she cares about, and it hurts that they reject the love of Christ. In addition, she faces the daily attraction to return to the world where she was very good at getting attention, praise, and admiration. Sound familiar? Her struggle is our struggle.

Recently, Denise joined us at the WELS South Central District Grow Conference, a conference that brings together pastors, teachers, and lay leaders to grow in God’s Word and in their various roles within the church. There she had more epiphanies. She gained new spiritual ammo to defend herself against the temptation to envy others and their lot in life. She still talks about how Jesus has custom-made her cross to bear for his name. As Denise will tell you, the cross every Christian has is unique to them. While our crosses are all different, they come from our faith in what Christ has done on his cross. By his sacrifice we are freed from guilt and fear; we have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Trusting in his cross we take up our own crosses and endure ridicule and hardship.


Denise is not just defending herself with the gospel. She is using it to claim territory that Satan once ruled. Through the Holy Spirit, her mother, Angela, and her sister Sasha have come to faith in Christ, trusting God’s pure grace. It’s fun to watch Jesus pluck people out of the devil’s grasp and firmly establish them in his body. Denise and her family are changing the congregation too. They are boldly different than our monocultural heritage. They challenge our thinking, awaken excitement in our Sunday morning worship and Bible class, and push us to challenge all of our assumptions about people and culture. As a pastor, I am deeply refreshed and happily improved by their presence.

When Paul and Barnabas told those baby Christians in Asia Minor that they would have struggles as they entered the kingdom, they weren’t talking specifically about struggles in the church. But becoming part of a church that originated in a different culture is a big struggle for Denise. She will often say, “I just don’t get it! Uhhhhhh!” And she asks, “Why can’t we do that?” or “Why does this church stand for this or that?” My old filters for discussing truth and practice are shattered as I struggle to see the world from her perspective and learn what she thinks, feels, and understands. It’s a great adventure. God is using Denise and her family to change us just as he used us to change them. Jesus works that way. As members of the body of Christ hang in there with each other with durable love and grace, we morph into a something new and better without giving up any truth. But it’s a struggle. Jesus helps us with that too.

When I see Denise, I think of Paul’s words in Philippians: “You will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (2:15,16). For years Denise Hunt was just a star on the silver screen on the island of Jamaica. Now she is a star that shines on God’s screen for the world to see.

Donald Patterson, president of the South Central District, is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © May 2017 reprinted with permission.

What hangs in your heart?

Like a lot of pastor's I have a cross collection.  It's a fine way for my friends and family to share the central message of Christ and our faith with me.  I have fond memories when I look at each one and remember the person who gave it to me and why. 

One large cross hangs in the middle of the collection.  It was given to me by a dear friend with whom I have a very deep connection in the faith.  The cross is made of rough pine and has no ornamental value.  But it bears a shiny sword that hangs in the middle of the cross.  In Ephesians 6 Paul tells us to arm ourselves for battle against the devil and his demons by putting on the different central truths of the faith like armor.  The only offensive weapon in his list is the word of God which he calls "the sword of the Spirit."  What a clear message that sends.  The gospel of Christ is the the sword that kills the devil who tempts us to hate God and question his love.  The cross is of Christ cuts that enemy down! The word about the cross slaughters the guilt that so easily debilitates us too.  

The word of God that holds as it's central message "Christ crucified for us" is the sword God has put in our hands to defeat all the unbelief and wickedness that would otherwise ruin our lives.  

When I look at this cross bearing a shiny sword I think in my heart of my friend and her deep attraction to the word of God and I think about the reminder she has given me to faithfully fight with God's sword for the good of his flock and my own salvation. It hangs on my study wall but it also hangs in my heart.  

What hangs in your heart?  

Who is in YOUR corner?

Today, March 8 marks the 46th anniversary of what was called the fight of the 20th century.  Joe Frazier defended his heavy weight title against Muhammed Ali.  Maybe it was the fight of the century.  Joe Frazier won by decision after 15 grueling rounds.  But now both men have passed away.  They have met their maker.  The fight they had that night along with all of their other fights are irrelevant. 
Jesus’ fight for us will never be irrelevant.  It was the fight of eternity.  He won that fight for Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali.  He won for us too.  Now, we can meet our maker with confidence and peace because Jesus entered the ring and won. #Jesusfights #temptation #jesusfightsthedevil #fightoffaith

At Home You Don’t Have to Live with Your Past

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.   “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.  “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

– Luke 15:11-32

A few years back I was intrigued by a man named, Chris, who coached my son’s basketball team. He is an incredible father to his son and daughter but he is also a great mentor for all the boys on his team. He befriended every parent too. I was so intrigued by his depth of character that I had to get a closer look to learn what made him tick. Behind every special leader there is a great story. So, I invited him to lunch. Over fried fish and chips he told me how he had been reared by a single mom in a small east Texas town. His father didn’t stick around to help rear him. Chris had to learn how to be a man by watching other men closely. Later in in our talk he pulled back the curtain that men so often use to hide the back stage of their lives. He said, “I reconnected with my real father about ten years ago when he moved to this area. He reached out by telephone to try to start a relationship with me. I drove over to his house and rang the doorbell. When my father stepped out on the porch I laid the groundwork for our relationship. I told him, ‘If we are going to have any relationship at all, we start right here and now and we don’t live in the past. I forgive you for never being there for me and I don’t want you to have to explain it or to blame anything on my mother. I don’t want to hear about her faults either. I just want to start with a clean slate.’”

From that day forward, Chris and his dad developed a close bond that gave them a wonderful ten years together. But Chris wanted me to know something else. He said, “None of the boys on my basketball team know this but right now my father is dying in the local hospital. He and I are very close and so after work and then basketball practice, I go to see him every night to spend time with him. I don’t want to lose any more time than I already have. He always asks me why the son he never was there for is now there for him. It’s because I forgave him.” Do you see what Chris did? He created a place in his heart for his dad by forgiving and refusing to ever bring up the past. That made it easy for his father to step in and step up. What Chris did as an adult son, too many fathers are clueless about. As the leader in your house you are to create a home where your wife and children don’t have to live with their past.

In all of the places outside our home our past follows us like a trailer packed with heavy trash. Think about it! Our driving record and criminal record both follow us for life. Our workplaces do “performance reviews” that are kept on file for the length of our careers. Worldly friends hold us accountable by leaving us over stupid sinful, mistakes we’ve made. Schools keep meticulous records on behavioral issues. The list is endless. Sadly, so many families follow suit because the fatherly leader wasn’t there to teach and model forgiveness. Or, even though he was there, he didn’t understand and believe that home is a place where you don’t have to live with your past. God designed the family so that once a mistake or sin is confronted, apologized for and forgiven, then your sin is expunged from the family record. Your relationship and place in the family is based on grace not your performance, no matter how badly you have messed up. This allows you to move forward in every family relationship without having to constantly earn love or make up for your sins. If we must earn love or make up for our sins then relationships amount to nothing more than a job. They are work. Family relationships are supposed to be made easy by grace. The concept isn’t new. It isn’t even a satellite truth orbiting out on the edge of Christian teaching.

Grace and forgiveness are the heart and soul of what Christianity is. In fact, Jesus taught his generation what Chris taught his dad; forgiveness gives us a new foundation on which to build a relationship. Take a look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15. It’s printed above. The younger son was a selfish brat who took half of what his father had earned and squandered it on nothing but trashy entertainment. He disdained the father and his hard work by wasting every bit of it. The hurt that causes a father runs deep. But what did the father focus on? He focused on the fact that the younger son was still his son. He loved him as his own flesh and blood and not as an employee. Jesus was showing us what God is like. He is our father who focuses on us as his child, instead of letting our sins give us an identity in his mind. How can he do that? Well, his only begotten Son freed him from having to think about our sins. Jesus paid for all of them. That frees the father to love us without thinking about justice. All of our mistakes have been made right. All of them.

In Jesus’ parable the father runs out to love and forgive his son long before he apologizes, because he just wants his son back. God put our sins on the cross long before we apologize so when he sees us turn toward his home he’s free “emotionally” to run out to welcome us. God forgives our sin and welcomes us home each time we come crawling back. He just wants us back. Once we are back, he doesn’t want to bring up the past any longer. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) If he did, it would prevent him from having our whole heart. Instead, he wins us over when we understand how freely we have been forgiven. What’s more, since we know that we don’t have to live with our past, we like to hang around God. His love is a safe place. We are in a constant state of starting over.

Many fathers wonder why their sons don’t want to be with them very much as they get older. It might be the allure of the exciting new world out there for them. It could be that they are being like the prodigal son before he repented. But sometimes it’s because the dad is not like the father in the parable. Instead, he reminds his son of his failures far too often. The son in Jesus’ parable knew his father was a gracious and forgiving man. That’s why he had courage to go home when he had reached the end of his rope. Many fathers act more like the older brother than like the father in the parable. The older brother was stuck on the enormity of the cost of his brother’s sins. He couldn’t see his brother as a family member. He saw him as a terrible family employee. He was blind to the fact that he even treated himself like an employee and his father like a boss. He had robbed himself of a real grace based relationship too.

If you are having a hard time not viewing your son in the light of all of his sins, don’t be surprised if he won’t stick around to share his life with you. It hurts too much for him to do that. If he does stick around, he might turn out like that older brother, living under rules and family policies like your family is some sort of corporation. He won’t be too forgiving of you either. His love for you will be conditional. You don’t want that any more than he does.

Sons already have an obsession for their father’s approval. They unconsciously weigh every day whether or not their dad loves and respects them. When a father doesn’t forgive and often brings up the sins of the past, he can make his son lose hope that he will ever experience what he longs for, that is, a safe place with his dad where he doesn’t have to live with his past.

So, why would a father struggle to forgive his son and refuse to remind him of his failings? Here’s the reason: Either he is weak in his Christian faith or he has no faith in Jesus at all.

It’s just that simple. How do we know this is true? Because when we understand Christ and how he has won for us full and free forgiveness from our terrible sins against his father, then we live in a state of unconditional forgiveness. We understand forgiveness. We believe in forgiveness. And we share forgiveness. A forgiving father will refuse to hold the failings of a son or daughter over them.

So, what about you? Do you remind your son of what he has done wrong long after it has been dealt with? When the family gathers around on special occasions do you parade his faults out on stage for everyone to remember? Do you make his faults an object of humor to get a laugh from your siblings and cousins or close friends? Do you keep seething about how much his mistakes have cost you? Jesus never does that to you. That’s why you feel so close and safe with him. Give your son the same place in your life. If you’ve reminded him of sins long past, chose a quiet moment to apologize to him and ask for forgiveness. It’ll turn his world upside down in a good way. He will see in you what God is like and his faith in God will grow as you model God for him.

Oh, and don’t forget this one thing: Your son knows you aren’t God. So, don’t try to be God in your own mind. You are a fallible dad. You are forgiven. God loves you like he loves your son. In God’s mind you are not the “screw up” dad. You are his child too. He has forgiven you for being a crummy father also. Now, forgive yourself. Dust yourself off and get back in the game of creating a home where your son doesn’t have to live with his past.

Pain is Gain

Excerpt from Don Patterson's upcoming book on raising boys. 

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:7-11


Why do sugar cane farmers set their entire crop on fire right before they harvest it?  It’s because burning the leaves off of sugar cane has several benefits.  First, it increases the sugar production of the cane.  Secondly, it improves the quality of the sugar in the stalks.  Thirdly, it reduces production time and costs by 25-30%.  Those are some significant benefits.  When you see a sugar cane field burning it looks like a natural disaster.  It’s not.  It is a refining process that makes the cane better.  God refines us like sugar cane farmers refine their fields.  He “burns off “ unwanted leaves and refines attitudes deep in our souls.  It never seems joyful for the present.  It always feels like a disaster when you are going through it, but later it yields a much greater blessing than you could ever imagine. (Hebrews 12)


Do you remember Joseph in the Old Testament?  His story is in Genesis.  He was the eleventh and favorite son of Jacob.  His father gave him a nice new coat of many expensive colors that his brothers never got.  God favored him with dreams about a day in the future when his whole family would bow to him as the leader.  He foolishly rubbed the coat and the dreams in his brother’s faces.  They hated him for it.  And from that day forward they made his life a living hell.  First, they threatened to kill him way out in the wilderness.  Then they sold him to traveling slave traders hoping that he’d live out his life as a piece of property instead of a proprietor over their destinies.  They smeared his coat of many colors in goat’s blood and showed it to their dad.  He never went and looked for Joseph assuming he was dead.  


Joseph was sold again to a military ruler named Potiphar.  God blessed Joseph with favor in Potiphar’s mind but not with freedom.  God kept “burning” Joseph’s field.  It seemed wherever he went there was someone bent on his destruction.  Potiphar’s wife wanted him as a sex slave.  Joseph wanted to remain a slave for God.  One day she grabbed his coat to pull him into bed.  He did what 99 % of all young virile men in the world would not do.  He left his coat in her hands and ran out of the house in faithful fear.  She was so angry she wanted him to die.  When Potiphar came home she told him that Joseph tried to rape her.  Potiphar didn’t kill Joseph but he made him lower than a slave.  He threw him in prison.  Ancient Egyptian prisons were the most despicable places on earth.  Things happened there that no one wants to talk or hear about.  But God blessed Joseph.  He was so favored in jail that he got to carry the keys as a trustee.  Then one time Pharaoh’s two highest servants got thrown into prison where Joseph was.  They were terrified that they might soon be executed.  One night they both had dreams.  When they asked Joseph what he thought of the dreams, God gave him the interpretation.  He told the baker-servant that he would be executed in three days.  He told the cup-bearer he would be restored to service to Pharaoh after those same three days.  Joseph begged the cup-bearer to remember him when he got back to the palace and to get him out of that terrible prison.  In his own mind, Joseph was the most unjustly punished person in Egypt!  But once again, another human being was used by God to “burn” Joseph’s field.  The cup-bearer forgot about Joseph for two years.  That is, until Pharaoh had dreams that troubled him.  Everyone was troubled when Pharaoh was troubled.  Because when Pharaoh was troubled heads rolled.  That’s when the cup-bearer remembered Joseph.  he said to Pharaoh, “I remember this guy in prison that God has blessed to interpret dreams.  Pharaoh had Joseph brought to the palace and after he interpreted his dreams, Pharaoh elevated Joseph to the highest office in the land.  


For years God had been “burning” Joseph’s fields. But now he was blessed, positioned and refined to be a blessing to millions of people.  All that “burning” made sense at the end of the story but not in the middle.  Life doesn’t add up in the middle because not all the addends are there.  We have to wait on the Lord.  No one likes to wait, not even Joseph.    


As the Pharaoh’s highest leader Joseph lead an amazing agricultural campaign.  Under him the Egyptians gathered and stored grain for seven years.  It was enough grain to feed the entire civilized world for a long time!  When the seven years of drought followed the seven good years, then the entire middle eastern world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph.  And so there came his brothers, begging for him to sell them grain, bowing down to him just as his childhood dreams had pictured.  But they didn’t recognize Joseph.  


So, what did the “refined” Joseph do?  Did he rub it in?  Did he get even?  Did he take revenge?  No!  He couldn’t.  He had been changed.  Instead, he forgave and he gave.  In that way Joseph became the most explicit example of Christ like love that we see in the Old Testament.  But it all came from his “burning fields.”  God “burns” our fields to position us for greater blessings and to refine us to be a greater blessing than we are right now.  Young men need to learn this or they stay childish like Joseph’s brothers for their entire lives.  Their dads are in a good place to teach them, that is, if their dads understand this truth in their own lives.  


Do you remember a time in your life when God “burned” your field?  Remember the deep pain you felt, how disappointed you were?  It’s easy to be so traumatized by the pain of past experiences that we forget about all the blessings that come from them.  If you haven’t stopped to count any of the blessings, you won’t be ready to use your life as a teaching moment in the life of your son.  He needs you to be ready to reframe his situation when his field is “burning.”  What if, when your son is hurting over his “burning field” you pulled up next to him and asked if you could share with him a story from your life that he has never heard?  What if you told him the reason you haven’t talked about it up till then was because it hurt too much?  But then, what if you pulled up the sleeve over your heart and showed him the scar by telling the story.  When you told it, you were honest about how deeply you hurt and how you hope you never have to hurt like that again.  What if, you made sure that you told him one or even two big ‘”take aways” you got from that experience?  


Do you know what that talk would do?  It would teach your son that life hurts.  It would teach him that God allows it to hurt to refine the man inside of him.  It would give him hope that he would live through his “burning” and that someday he’d not only see the blessings but would be able to tell someone else, maybe his son or daughter what our had God taught him.  It would teach him to be vulnerable by the way you shared your hurt with him.  Girls don’t have any trouble being vulnerable but boys are lied to at a very early age.  They are told that boys aren’t supposed to cry.  They hear that they aren’t supposed to cry.  But they interpret it as “they aren’t supposed to feel and be vulnerable.”  But you, as his father, as the one who holds his heart in your hands, if you show that life hurts and that it good to let it hurt as you look to God for what good he will bring from it – then you will be rearing a man that not many people get to see.  You will help God create another Joseph for the generation following you.  


Make it your aim to live with your son during his dark times.  Show him that you live in the same trench, in the same cataclysmic struggle to understand life that he does.  Show him that God is good even when he “burns” our field of dreams!   Help him become the man God wants all of us to be.