So your life isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one you have…

I’m not sure why I titled this blog as I did, but perhaps it captures the feeling more than the content of what I am going to say. I finished reading through the Bible again. A wonderful discipline that I picked up by example from my dad. I have begun to read in Genesis again and, as is my custom, am using a different version to gain another perspective. It will take me a year and half, but who’s in a hurry?

Over half of Genesis is about Jacob; even the huge section about Joseph is about how God preserved Jacob (Israel) in famine and gave his people favor in the eyes of Pharaoh. However, the life of Jacob from beginning to end is about family dysfunction; favoritism, jealousy, abuse in all forms, rejection, hatred, incest, prostitution, to name just a few. Substance abuse is not specifically mentioned like it was with Noah and Lot, but it would not be much of an interpretive stretch to think that the fruit of the vine may have fermented and fomented much of what we see.

The point? Not much is hidden from us about the individual, familial, and generational sins of God’s Covenant people. And not much should surprise us about our own family history and the patterns of generational sin that we may have uncovered or even experienced. You don’t need to pay money to do an Ancestry,com DNA search to reveal that sin runs deep even in the people of God.

The point? The gospel of God’s gracious act of forgiveness through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (God’s Son, but also a descendent of Jacob through Judah) is the only hope we have of dealing with our individual and generational sins. We cannot undo the things we have done or have been done to us, but we no longer need to be defined by these things and consigned to live a “plan B” life. Through a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (daily preaching the gospel to ourselves), we can end patterns of individual sin, forgive others who have sinned against us, and stop the cycle of sin from being passed on to our children and grandchildren. Some of us will need a little extra help in the process and should be encouraged to seek out a Christian counselor. No, our lives won’t be perfect and, yes, we will always have our past, but by God’s grace even our sinful past can be used for His glory and not our shame.

Perhaps a personal example will help clarify what I mean. My mom wrote out some of her painful family remembrances just a few years before she died. It was a 10-page, double-spaced, typewritten document titled, “Where Would I Be Without the Lord?” In this testament she shared about growing up in alcohol-infested family where her parents were in and out of separation so much that she was shipped off to live the first 8 or 9 years of her life with three different aunts. Finally, her mom divorced and remarried another alcoholic (a hotel and bar owner), and mom was brought home to live with 4 step-siblings she had never met. Her mom, my grandmother (Nanny), also had alcohol issues, and would often take her anger out on mom by beating her with a broom and locking her in closets. Unfortunately, Nanny got the same treatment from her husband when he was drunk. Mom described one incident where he dragged Nanny up the stairs by her hair and then threw her back down. I will spare you other awful details.

My mom became a nurse and married my dad when he got out of the Army. My dad had issues of his own, which were also alcohol related. My two sisters and brother were born, and four years before I was born my mom and dad came to believe the gospel applied to them and became followers of Christ; at 34 and 36 respectively. It did not change their past or the things done by them or to them, but it did change the way they interpreted those things and how they chose to respond to them. My mom, in particular, was the most kind and gentle person you could imagine. You would definitely want her for your nurse if you were sick. She was a wonderful mother who never laid a finger on me or any of my siblings. She reversed the curse and ended the cycle of abuse and rejection with which she had lived. She loved and respected her mom throughout the rest of Nanny’s life. Mom also had a chance to reconcile with her own father (who sold her crib for booze) when she requested to take care of him as his nurse in a convalescent home where he was dying. My dad also made a 180 with alcohol and became one of the most ardent evangelists (he was a cop) you would ever want to meet.

This was the family I grew up in. My sisters became believers and married godly men. They each have four children who love Jesus and they have in turn begotten twenty-three grand and great grandchildren. My brother who passed away many years ago chose not to embrace the faith and yet had seven wonderful children who have in turn produced thirteen grand and great grand kids. Finally, Gloria and I have five kids and seven grandchildren.

The point? Fifty-six people (this is not even including the spouses of the children /grandchildren who have married into the McDowell family) whose lives have been directly affected by my parents becoming believers in Jesus and choosing to follow a new direction in life not defined by their past; “to the third and fourth generation.”

So on this Memorial Day, let us remember those who have served our country by giving their lives in sacrifice. Perhaps you have someone in your own family who has paid that price. We would also do well to remember the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross as the price for redeeming us from sin. Our life may not be perfect, but it is the only one we have. By God’s grace let us learn to deal with our sin in the light of Christ’s forgiveness.  Let us also choose not to be defined by our past, but by how God can use it to help others and glorify himself.

I cannot change the past but I can learn from it… 

I will not fear the future because I cannot control it…

I will gladly live in the present, for that is the arena in which my trust in God is displayed and his glory through me is revealed. 


That is not how you spell forbearance; it is not a golf-term. Rather, it is an essential ingredient of walking worthy of Christ and of maintaining the unity of any relationship that God has formed for you. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 4:1, 2 (minus the reference to golf).

 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith you were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love… (ASV)


Forbearance has been variously translated as putting up with, bearing with, tolerating, patience, and long-suffering — you get the idea. I have often read this passage and thought about the words humility, meekness, and forbearance. The other day, however, I was convicted by what I read; especially about forbearance in relationship to those closest to me. I would like quote a passage from Albert Barnes’ commentary (1870) in hopes that you will take some time to read it, think deeply about what he says, and be encouraged by it in your relationships at home and at church:

With all lowliness – Humility; …compare also the following places, where the same Greek word occurs: Philippians 2:3, “in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves;” Colossians 2:18, “in a voluntary humility;” Colossians 2:23; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5. The word does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. The idea is, that humility of mind becomes those who are “called” Ephesians 4:1, and that we walk worthy of that calling when we evince it.

And meekness – Meekness relates to the manner in which we receive injuries. We are to bear them patiently, and not to retaliate, or seek revenge. The meaning here is, that; we adorn the gospel when we show its power in enabling us to bear injuries without anger or a desire of revenge, or with a mild and forgiving spirit; see 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 5:23; Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 3:2; where the same Greek word occurs.

With long-suffering – Bearing patiently with the foibles, faults, and infirmities of others… The virtue here required is that which is to be manifested in our manner of receiving the provocations which we meet with from our brethren. No virtue, perhaps, is more frequently demanded in our contact with others. We do not go far with any fellow-traveler on the journey of life, before we find there is great occasion for its exercise. He has a temperament different from our own. He may be sanguine, or choleric, or melancholy; while we may be just the reverse. He has peculiarities of taste, and habits, and disposition, which differ much from ours. He has his own plans and purposes of life, and his own way and time of doing things. He may be naturally irritable, or he may have been so trained that his modes of speech and conduct differ much from ours. Neighbors have occasion to remark this in their neighbors; friends in their friends; kindred in their kindred; one church-member in another.

A husband and wife … can find enough in each other to embitter life, if they choose to magnify imperfections, and to become irritated at trifles; and there is no friendship that may not be marred in this way, if we will allow it. Hence, if we would have life move on smoothly, we must learn to bear and forbear. We must indulge the friend that we love in the little peculiarities of saying and doing things which may be important to him, but which may be of little moment to us. Like children, we must suffer each one to build his play-house in his own way, and not quarrel with him because he does not think our way the best. All usefulness, and all comfort, may be prevented by an unkind, a sour, a crabbed temper of mind – a mind that can bear with no difference of opinion or temperament. A spirit of fault-finding; an unsatisfied temper; a constant irritability; little inequalities in the look, the temper, or the manner; a brow cloudy and dissatisfied – your husband or your wife cannot tell why – will more than neutralize all the good you can do, and render life anything but a blessing.

It is in such gentle and quiet virtues as meekness and forbearance, that the happiness and usefulness of life consist, far more than in brilliant eloquence, in splendid talent, or illustrious deeds, that shall send the name to future times. It is the bubbling spring which flows gently; the little rivulet which glides through the meadow, and which runs along day and night by the farmhouse, that is useful, rather than the swollen flood or the roaring cataract. Niagara excites our wonder; and we stand amazed at the power and greatness of God there, as he “pours it from his hollow hand.” But one Niagara is enough for a continent or a world; while that same world needs thousands and tens of thousands of silver fountains, and gently flowing rivulets, that shall water every farm, and every meadow, and every garden, and that shall flow on, every day and every night, with their gentle and quiet beauty. So with the acts of our lives. It is not by great deeds only, like those of Howard – not by great sufferings only, like those of the martyrs – that good is to be done; it is by the daily and quiet virtues of life – the Christian temper, the meek forbearance, the spirit of forgiveness in the husband, the wife, the father, the mother, the brother, the sister, the friend, the neighbor – that good is to be done; and in this all may be useful.

“Lord, I pray that I may live worthy of my calling today.”

Maybe being in love isn’t enough…

Bing in loveI do lots of marriage and pre-marriage counselling, as well as being a blessed veteran of 43 years of marriage. One of the startling observations that I have made is that our culture has blindly accepted the notion that romantic love and sexual chemistry is the major measure of selecting a mate. We feel something “special” for one another, we seem to be happy, we are pretty compatible; so let’s get married.

I was struck by an illustration I read of a pastor counselling a woman who was in a serious relationship with a man, but was wondering if she should break it off. She had been married twice before and thought that this was the guy. She told the pastor that her man was being unfaithful to her and emotionally abusive; the same traits evidenced by her previous husbands. “So why are you still in this relationship?” the pastor asked. Are you ready for this? She said, “Because I’m in love with him. I genuinely and deeply love him.” What would you say to her?

Here is what the pastor said: “Were you in love with your first husband?” She replied, “Yes, and I was devastated when he cheated on me and left.” The pastor continued, “Were you in love with your second husband?” She said, “Yes, it was different, I think, because he fed some ego needs, but of course, I was in love with him.” Then the pastor gently said, “Maybe feeling like you’re in love with someone isn’t enough of a reason for you to get married. Maybe you need to set the bar higher and find something more.” And then he said, “Just because you’re ‘in love’ with someone doesn’t mean you should seriously consider marrying them.”

This episode was found in a book I have been reading; “The Sacred Search” by Gary Thomas. This is a great book for those who are single and seriously thinking about marriage someday, or soon. Thomas finishes this section by asking us to consider that “romantic attraction, as wonderful and as emotionally intoxicating as it can be, can actually lead you astray as much as it can help you. I’m not talking it down; ‘connecting’ with someone at that level is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it, revel in it, even write a song about it if you want, but don’t bet your life on it.”

This is solid counsel. I have observed many couples who had the “chemistry,” but had issues that everyone could see. Yet, because they “felt” so intensely about each other they were blind to these issues and were willing to risk a future generation on their romantic attraction. Perhaps this is what is meant by the saying “love is blind”.

By the way, next week I would like to share what I think should be the basis for deciding to get married. Stay tuned…

A Family Tragedy … 2

www-St-Takla-org--20-David-weeping-over-the-death-of-AbsalomOne of the most tragic portions of the Old Testament is found in 2 Samuel 18:33, “And the king (David) was deeply moved (upon hearing his son Absalom had been killed) and went up to the chamber above the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” Last week I asked you to think about what the key issue was that if properly addressed might have prevented this tragic family situation? Many of you responded very perceptively and I think that most of you noted it was because David did not deal properly with the rape of Tamar—in fact, he did not deal with it at all. He was not only the King but also the Judge of Israel and yet, he did not do justly. Amnon was not confronted, nor was he made to take responsibility for his deed.

Absalom was not only angry at his half-brother Amnon for the rape of his sister, but also angry at David for his lack of justice. While Absalom’s murder of Amnon two years later cannot be justified, it can be understood. Once again King David made a terrible mistake and allowed a crime to go unpunished, because it was committed by a member of his own family. David did not carry out God’s justice for disobedience to his laws and commandments and allowed his ambivalent family relations to get in the way of conducting righteous leadership.

Absalom returned to Jerusalem and two years later demanded to see his father David. “Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” Absalom essentially sought a full pardon, but showed no sign of repentance. He believed his father would not put him to death. When he went in to see the king “he bowed down with his face to the ground. And the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam 14:32). King David indulgently forgave his son and gave him a semblance of reconciliation with the royal family, but totally ignored the need for repentance and justice. David was not authorized to pardon his son because of his conflict of interest. A court of impartial judges should have dealt with the matter.

These mistakes in godly leadership eventually led to the fulfillment of the curse Nathan pronounced on David years earlier for his sin with Bathsheba. 2 Sam. 12:10-12, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.’” Does this mean that all of this tragedy was inevitable as a punishment, or did it mean that God knew David’s heart (just like he knew Pharaoh’s) and he knew the outcome? I think the latter. If David was half as concerned with his family, and sought God’s wisdom for it as much as he was about beating up on the Philistines, he could have prevented this tragedy. It could be argued that Absalom might have rebelled anyway, but it wouldn’t have been justified (in his mind, at least) by his father’s indulgent passivity.

A general application of all this is certainly the importance of dealing with issues as they arise. Don’t let them fester or else they might create complexities that seem overwhelming and impossible with which to deal. The other take away is meant particularly for fathers. If you were as passive and detached in your job or ministries as you are in your family, where would you be right now in your employment? Might I suggest you would be unemployed or without a ministry? Turn your heart and your attention towards home. May you weep for your children now, so you won’t need to weep for them later.

A Family Tragedy…

absalom-2 As a pastor, I have learned that I cannot fix people who come to me for counseling. It was a turning point in my ministry to realize this and that only God can correct the problems of the human heart. However, I still wish I had the ability to do something that I know is even more impossible. I wish I could go back to that very moment in my counselee’s life when things began to unravel and have them address that situation properly. I was reminded of this earlier this week when I was reading the tragic story of David and his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-18.

One of David’s many sons, Amnon, lusted after his half-sister Tamar and raped her. She was disgraced. She was no longer a virgin and no man would want to marry her. When her brother Absalom found out about it, he remained silent and “spoke neither good nor bad” to Amnon. When David heard what happened he was furious, but never took any action

Prince Absalom (for he was next in line for the throne) took his sister in and cared for; “So Tamar lived a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house” (2 Sam 13:20). He even named one of his daughters after her to cheer her up. Absalom hated Amnon, and this hatred festered for two years until he hatched a plan to have Ammon killed by some of his servants while attending a party at his house. Then he fled the country; a refugee from his father’s kingdom for three years. Now David had lost both of his sons and was grieved. His servant Joab knew how David longed to be with Absalom again and devised a plan for his return. Joab resorted to trickery and deception to get what he wanted.

David relented and sent for Absalom to return to Jerusalem, but he was not allowed to see David’s face again nor enter his house. David was torn between love and anger over his son’s behavior and his ambivalence was shown by just not dealing with the situation. Maybe you have a relationship like that. Your relative lives on the other side of town, but haven’t spoken in years because of unresolved issues.

Two more years went by (so that was seven years after the Tamar affair; five years after the murder of Amnon) and David still refused to see Absalom. Finally, Absalom forced the issue with Joab who got him an appointment to see his father. Here is what the Bible records about their long awaited meeting: “So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam 14:33). That’s it? Well at least it was something, but what did it accomplish? How deep was Absalom’s repentance? I would say that he bowed down on the outside but he was standing ramrod straight with defiance in his heart. The very next verse details the beginning of his conspiracy to steal the kingdom from his father, which ends in the terrible tragedy of Absalom’s death and a heartbroken father crying out in grief. Where did it all begin? If we could go back and address the key issue, what would it have been?

I have my thoughts on the matter, which I will tell you next week. I’d like you to think about it too. Go back over the text again. What was the key issue that if properly addressed may have prevented this tragic family situation? Maybe you can let me know what you think.

Meet our new grandson…

ChristianThis is my new grandson, Christian MacGregor McDowell. See if you can tell whether he is a Bear’s fan or not. My wife and I are here in the Baltimore area visiting his mom and dad and big brother and meeting him for the first time. He is beautiful, however, he keeps falling asleep every time I talk to him. I’ve noticed a lot of people tend to do that when I speak. O well…

We learned something about Christian just after he was born that will certainly change his life forever. He has what is known as a biotin deficiency, which is present in one out of 160,000 newborns. He is actually missing an enzyme that recycles biotin and therefore needs to take a biotin supplement, which is a part of the Vitamin B complex sometimes known as Vitamin H. All B vitamins help the body to convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is used to produce energy. These B complex vitamins, also help the body metabolize fats and protein. B complex vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver. They also help the nervous system function properly.

However, Christian needs to take a daily dose for the rest of his life. If he doesn’t, there is a chance of a hearing deficiency, vision issues, seizures, and other consequences. If he does take the supplement, he can lead a normal life without any major difficulty. Apparently, the condition is hereditary, and when both parents are “carriers” there is a one in four chance that their children will have the deficiency. A simple blood test will reveal if one is a carrier.

All this talk about chance makes me nervous since I believe that God is sovereign and does not leave things to chance. God’s creation is purposeful and, though pervaded by sin and disease, it still has meaning and significance and will accomplish the good ends that God has ordained. This means that for the God-lover, we believe that all things work together for the good (Rom 8:28-30) in spite of our deficiencies and DNA mutations.

I pray that God will use my new little Christian to grow up to love the Lord Jesus and to image his character. Perhaps his deficiency will help him to lean on his God and he will be used to help others to do the same who perhaps have a faith-deficiency. I also pray for my son and daughter-in-law that they will have great wisdom and patience as they care for and guide Christian in his physical, emotional, and spiritual development.