Excerpt Number 7 from my soon to be released book, Overcoming

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My Father’s Mental Illness.

Somewhere in the vicinity of 1967 and 1968 something inside my dad snapped. At the time, people called it a “nervous breakdown.” Later, more clinical descriptions became Dad’s labels, such as “paranoid” and “schizophrenic”. My dad was in and out of the Veterans’ Hospital. During one of the times, my dad was outside the hospital, I experienced one of the saddest and most frightening events of my life.
My father feared to lose my mom in a divorce. Acting upon this fear, he abandoned reason and held my mom against her will in a bathroom in the house. He threatened to kill my mom, but after several hours my mom talked her way out.
The following week, he grabbed me and took me to the bedroom that he and Mom had shared happier times. But this time was different.
Dad didn’t threaten me or hurt me, but he did give me two sleeping pills to swallow without water, and then he told me to calm down and be quiet. After locking the door, he retrieved his favorite handgun from the closet: A World War II German “Lugar” handgun.
Soon the police were on the other side of the door demanding that he give me up and saying something like “come out with your hands where we can see them.”
Very quickly the police ascertained that both my father and his brother were veterans and firefighters with the Minneapolis Fire Department. This afforded some time for my dad to think as the police agreed to stand down out of professional courtesy to a fellow first responder.
Soon after that, my Uncle Bob was talking through the door with my dad, his brother. Bob eventually secured my freedom by removing the bolts from the door and convincing my dad to surrender. The most enduring memory I have from those days was of me that night, sitting at the top of the stairs, weeping, as I watched my dad hauled away in an ambulance and wearing a straight-jacket. I was seven.

“College Days” Excerpt Number 7 from my upcoming book, “Overcoming the Trials of a Lifetime”

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College Days

I began my studies at Stanford University in the Fall of 1979. I was 18 years old.

That first year at Stanford was exciting and life-changing. I was constantly surrounded by both teachers and students who were, putting it simply, brilliant. There was the premed surfer from Orange County, California. There was the space-camp summer scientist majoring in physics. There was the Hawaiian dancer girl who grew up in rural Hawaii, on the “Big Island,” and whose parents were missionaries there. I could go on and on.  Spending too much time thinking about how brilliant my friends and teachers were causing self-doubt because it is only natural that you ask yourself: “what am I doing here with these people?”
I was in a veritable cafeteria of learning experiences, with no limits or bounds. I think Heaven will be something like attending Stanford, except for the political and politically correct stuff.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone else, I found my personal prayer and Bible study habits first wavered and then withered. My efforts to continue in personal fellowship with Christ first began to fail.

Having no car, I was unable to drive myself to church and relied only on the occasional chance to ride with someone else to the driver’s church. This way I visited Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and Peninsula Bible Church (where Ray Stedman was) but because of transportation difficulties was not able to become very active in either. From attending church several times-a- week in high school, I found myself doing well to attend church once per month.

I did get pretty involved in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and also a small organization on campus called the Christian Studies Association (which made me its president). I attended and led on-campus Bible studies, attempted to witness to my dorm mates, and went on retreats.

It was no surprise that outside of the Christian groups, such activities did not win me a lot of friends on campus. I began to feel lonely. Living in dormitories surrounded by non-Christians, I began to want to have more friends, to be more “normal” and not to be such an outsider.

As a sign of things to come, I was asked to be the leader of the InterVarsity chapter at Stanford, but I turned it down because I was concerned the time commitment would adversely affect my grade point average.

                My Thoughts and Theories.

As you would expect, being far from home, unaccountable and surrounded by temptations of the flesh never experienced by me up to that time, I began a period of cycles of sin, guilt, repentance and then sin again, repeatedly in a seemingly endless cycle. A cycle which fatigued my will and soul.

A big part of my problem was guilt. Before I really turned my back on God calling for my life, I’d been on a seemingly endless cycle of sin followed by repentance followed by growth followed by sin followed by repentance. An even larger part of my turning away was that I was just plain tired, exhausted, ready to quit, feeling defeated. I’d hoped God would have used me like Joseph or Calvin or Spurgeon or something, but I was a spiritual failure.

Perhaps if I had returned to any good church where I was reconnected with the fellowship of fellow believers, I might have returned to him sooner. But I was cut off and far away from all my Christian friends and mentors. And no one held me accountable, rebuked me or disciplined me. Accordingly, I strayed further away during those subsequent years and as a result, my heart just got harder and harder.

If it came to defending the faith, arguing evolution vs. creation or any number of other things, I was thoroughly and adequately prepared. No professor or seminar class was my undoing. On the contrary, in classrooms, I regularly spoke out defending my faith and I felt no fear of the non-Christian intellectual academic citadel.

You can prepare your children to face attacks from non-Christian worldviews, but if they’re not prepared to deal with sin, there’s going to be a problem. I don’t mean just being able to resist sin all the time. Sooner or later they’re going to sin, but how will they deal with the consequences and the aftermath of sin?

But I should have known better. God gave me a long leash and there was no fire and brimstone because God relates to his children as their father, not as their judge.


Romans 8:28? Excerpt Number 6 from my upcoming book: Overcoming the Trials of a Lifetime

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Rom. 8.28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

                Entire books have been written about Romans 8:28. This verse about God working everything for good is probably the most frequently quoted verse spoken to those who are suffering and afflicted.

                In some case, the delivery of this message actually fans the fires and is downright hurtful. But the world has many alternatives to Romans 8:28 that are not Biblical and are quoted by mindlessly by meaning-well Christians.

For example, during an ecumenical ceremony honoring those who died on 9/11, the speaker misquoted God’s word by merely saying,” All things work together for good.”

                Several important elements are missing from this misquote: It is God who does the working. It is not a promise for everybody, but only for the called/those who love God. The good that is worked together is God’s good which is according to his purpose. The good in this verse is God’s good, not whatever “good” you desire or describe.

In some cases, we will never know what “good” was the purpose. Deut. 29:29.

Besides misquoting Romans 8:28, we also encounter many lookalikes or worldly substitutes.

Below is a list of some worldly wisdom commonly offered as a substitute for Romans 8:28.

Romans 8:28 Doesn’t Mean:

                 1. ”Every cloud has a silver lining.” The “good” in Romans 8:28 is not in the things themselves. It is in their divine purpose. It is in the plan God has for the things.

                 2. ”Things just have a way of working themselves out for the best.” Romans 8:28 is not about benevolent fate. It’s about a personal God who takes care of those who love him.

                 3. ”If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” Romans 8:28 is not a command, it’s a promise. The good that God purposes in the lives of the called is not dependent on human efforts.

                 4. ”God helps those who help themselves.” God’s promise in Romans 8:28 is unconditional and applies to those who are called and love God, not those who are self-reliant.

                 5. ”Trust God but keep your gunpowder dry.” There are no exceptions or surprises for God. He works all things together for his good purposes.

                6. ”Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” We can be assured that the things in our lives truly work for good, even if they appear not to.

                7. When imagining Gods plan for our lives or when struggling with the issues of God’s sovereignty being used selectively to ensure that only those who love God and are called according to his purpose will benefit. Especially before loading the debate and argument guns, it is very advisable to take a moment to worship God and remind ourselves of just how much above our understanding God truly is.
                No illustration I could ever conceive would do justice to the vastness of the universe, let alone God its Creator.

Dead Sea Scrolls Expedition Excerpt Number 5 from my upcoming book, Overcoming the trials of a lifetime.

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                Dead Sea Scrolls Expedition.

                After my time in Greece, I went to Israel and had a few adventures with my traveling companion, Todd. The two most notable adventures were in the desert at the Qumran caves and in Jerusalem, at Hezekiah’s tunnel. I thought “Maybe there are more Dead Sea Scrolls out there to be found.” Why not?

                Todd and I went to a fancy rest stop kind of place down by the Dead Sea where there’s a big panel window and you can see the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947-1948. You can identify the caves if you stand in a certain place and look through a window. They were only about a half a mile from where we were standing.

                When I was in the desert sun my eyes were dilated and was squinting because the Sun was so very bright. So, I went into the cave that was dark, as dark as dark could be. I stood there in the dark so that my eyes would adjust.

                It was an easy decision, really, since we knew that we would never be so close to the Qumran caves in our lifetimes. Soon I was out there climbing a cliff and I go into one of the caves. No flashlight, no ropes, no first aid kit. What was I thinking? Soon I was out there climbing a cliff and I go into one of the caves. What was I thinking?

                When my eyes adjusted, I found myself nose-to-nose with an upside-down face of a vampire bat. I ran out of the cave screaming, and that was the end of my Dead Sea Scrolls expedition.

Salvation and Calling: Excerpt No. 4 from my upcoming book, Overcoming the Trials of a Lifetime.

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I was born again at home in Dallas, Texas and sometime in 1973.

I was twelve years old.

               My brother Karl had found Christ while in high school and was visiting us in Dallas while on leave from the Army during the very end of the Vietnam war. He explained to me how I was a sinner in need of God’s mercy, how Christ died for me and would save me from my sins and eternal punishment if only I’d believe and place my trust in him. My heart had been readied by God to listen and understand this simple witness, but I didn’t immediately accept Christ.

                After several discussions with my brother, I remember one time being alone in the house. I got down on my knees in the hallway right outside my bedroom door, and I prayed to God asking him to forgive me for my sins and to save me.

             Salvation in the New Testament is not merely about that one day in the past when you were “saved“. It’s about being saved continually throughout your life. It’s about waiting and trusting that upon our death we will be truly and finally saved from sin, saved not just from the penalty of sin but from its power over us. Eternal security is not about feeling secure in our salvation. It’s about needing God to persevere with us, while trusting that God will keep his promise and that we will, in fact, do so. Sanctification is not about observing the past progress; it’s keeping one’s mind on how much more progress is necessary.

                Therefore, let us not merely thank God for having saved us one day in the past. Let us thank God for saving us each and every day! Let us feel the need to be saved that day, notwithstanding any assurance of salvation that we understand.  Let us thank God for saving us that same day we’re thanking Him for it.  Let us thank God for saving us tomorrow because we know that even by tomorrow, we will once again fall short; it’s our old nature.

           Karl gave me a New Testament in the “Good News for Modern Man translation, and I devoured it like a starving person at a dinner table. Karl also gave me several comic book tracts and Navigator booklets with comic book descriptions of the Christian life– how I should walk and grow in the Christian life. God’s Holy Spirit motivated me to try to grow fast in the Christian faith.

                After my prompt devouring the Good News New Testament, Karl gave me his own copy of the Scofield Reference Bible, and he encouraged me to read 10 chapters per day. I, however, thought the Bible was a book, so I just read it front to back like I would have read any other book.

               I attended Believers Chapel in Dallas.    Believers Chapel is a church that allows the free exercise of gifts during a spontaneous Sunday evening Lord’s Supper service. At this service, any member of the congregation is free to stand up and share, exhort, sing, or teach, as the Spirit so moves. It was at these services that I first began to preach.

                One Sunday evening I stood up in front of the congregation and preached for about 15 minutes from my notes about what God meant to me as a father in light of my not having a human father. I believe my primary text was a Simon and Garfunkel song which I quoted extensively. The “sermon” was well received by the congregation and several of the elders encouraged me to speak again. I was

                Soon I was almost a regular Sunday evening preacher, standing up and expositing about some Biblical text or theme that was meaningful about once a month. Although I felt that I had a gift and was being moved by the Spirit to preach, I took these sermons very seriously and put the great study time into them, carefully followed an outline and even practiced them in front of a mirror on Sunday afternoons.

                One time, not funny for me at the time, but funny in retrospect, I was preaching about the importance of a Christian education. I guess I went on too long, and before I was finished another member of the congregation arose and said, “While Brother Randy finishes, let’s all stand and sing Hymn no. such and such. “I was quite shocked, but more shocked when the senior pastor immediately arose and said, “No, let him finish.“ What an experience!

                I believed the congregation and elders of Believers Chapel recognized me as having a gift and the elders encouraged me to consider the ministry as my vocational calling. I too was convinced that I would go into the ministry and that this was my true calling. No one anticipated what would happen when I went off to college in the Fall of 1979.



Wander in the Woods: Excerpt No. 3 from my upcoming book, Overcoming the Trials of a Lifetime

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                Wander in the Woods.

                When I was about five or maybe six years old, my family went on a camping vacation in a national park. The campsite was very interesting to me. I was particularly impressed with the long and large culvert that spanned the road above as sort of a magical tunnel.

                Beyond the culvert, there was a parking lot with several rows of cars and it was connected to the campsite area only by the culvert. Our family had a pickup truck parked in the lot and a camper trailer parked at the campsite.

                My three older brothers decided we should all go for a hike to explore the park, but with our mom and dad remaining at the campsite. So, I, being 5 years younger than my nearest in age brother, took up the tail end of the hike, trying hard to keep up. Sooner rather than later I became tired of the hike.

                My protests calling us to take it a little bit easier and give me a chance to rest were unheeded. So, not surprisingly for those who know me, I decided to take my own rest and return the way we came. The trek through the woods in the opposite direction from my brother’s path didn’t seem all that difficult.

                There were trails to follow and even the occasional sign, though at age five I was unable to read the signs. It was already late in the day when I came upon a parking lot. Soon to be back with Mom and Dad in time for supper, I thought, not knowing whether or when my brothers turned back or even if they had noticed I was no longer with them.

                The trouble was it was the wrong parking lot.

                There was no family pickup, no culvert and no parents cooking dinner. What was I to do? Well, I wasn’t going to give up so easily, so I climbed an embankment to get a good look around. Spanning the horizon, I noticed in the distance another campsite. Could this be our campsite… the one with the culvert? Well, I was getting hungry, so I determined to make a beeline directly to the camp I’d spotted.

                But I forgot about an important thing: the sun was setting. It wasn’t about to go dark immediately, so I could make it, I said to myself. Well, you already know what happened. Very soon I was lost in a forest and in the darkness. Like nearly everyone who gets lost in the forest, I found myself going in circles. Perhaps I didn’t know I was going in circles until I was told I was later.

                But it was clear I was by myself in the forest when apparently the whole campground was searching the woods for a trace of the missing six- year old.

                My mom must have had many scenarios going through her head. Could he have been snatched? Could there be a bear? Or is he just lost out there in the dark forest?

                Then I remembered what my dad, the boy scout, had told me and all my brothers. He said if you ever get lost and it’s a dark night, let the stars guide, well one star in particular – the North Star.

                My dad had said that the North Star always maintained a position that was due north, so it could be followed. This prevented one from walking in circles even if the destination was not north. Thankfully, my dad had also shown me how to find the North Star (it had to do with the stars of the Big and Little Dippers, as I recall).
                I followed the North Star and soon found a dirt road, so I followed that until I was picked up by park rangers and returned to my family–still just in time for dinner.  I understand also that my brothers were severely disciplined by our dad.

                My thoughts and Views.

Now in retrospect, I am not sure the angles of the stars and the north indications of the North Star would actually have been of that much help to me in the small space of the forest where I had gone missing. I also don’t remember being afraid, and I wasn’t missing very long—not long enough to be famous like that girl that fell into a well or even when Tom Sawyer got lost in the cave.

                But does it matter? I believe God refreshed my memory about the North Star with the result that I believed I was being guided by the star and, so believing, I walked in a straight line until I met the road. It didn’t need to be complicated. God wasn’t done with me yet.

Three Truths About Joy: Excerpt 02 from My Upcoming Book: Overcoming the Trials of a Lifetime

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                As I began reading and studying what the Bible says about joy, I was blown away by my first three observations.

1: God Wants You to be Joyful.

                The first principle I learned from that study was that God wants you to have joy in your life. On more than one occasion, Jesus said the purpose of the words he had spoken, is to bring full and complete joy to his disciples. Disciples? That means you and me.

                I would think that if Jesus was on your side and you wanted happiness, then that’s a pretty good chance you can have it if you ask for it[1].

                Then he says he’s going to give you what you ask of him, according to his will. He just said he wants you to be happy. That’s his will. Does he say that you will get everything you want, and your happiness will come from that? No. That’s the world’s definition.

                The Apostle John makes the same points in 1 John 1:4 where he said, “we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” See 1 John 1:4 saying God wants you to have complete joy. The writings John had in mind is the Bible.

                Paul prays for us in Romans 15:13, ”May the God of hope fill you with all joy.” He wants you to have real joy. Remember Jesus spoke, and John wrote so that your joy would be full.

                 Therefore, when you are suffering or in pain, when you have experienced a financial set back, or when your marriage or family in jeopardy, in each case above you should turn to the word of God for comfort amidst your afflictions, turn for comfort for your soul to be found in the Bible, especially the Psalms.

2: True Joy Comes from God, not Circumstances.

                The second principle was that joy has nothing to do with your circumstances and everything to do with your relationship with God.

                Note how Paul describes his circumstances in 2 Corinthians 7:4-5

 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 

And again, he writes in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,  for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

                Some of you already know this principle intuitively, because you have seen plenty of the corollary: people who have no pain yet seem to be devoid of joy. Even people who have every circumstance lined up like ducks in a row can whine and complain and generally see the dark side of every cloud.

3: You Can Be Joyful in Your Trial or Suffering.

                The third principle was that joy can come to you while you are right smack dab in the middle of a trial. In other words, joy and pain can be felt at the same time! The presence of real genuine pain does not negate the presence of real genuine joy. Here it is clear, one can have joy during the affliction or trial, not just after the suffering is past.

                In Colossians 1:9-12 Paul prays for us:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for allendurance and patience with joy,  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

                Paul is asking for me to have power so that I may have endurance and patience. Do you think he’s talking about going through a trial? Sounds to me like he’s talking about a trial. But Paul is not praying for you to just get through the trial. He is praying that you’re going to be joyful during and amid the trial! That’s a whole another ballgame. He doesn’t just want you to survive the trial, he wants you to be joyful in the trial.

                Peter makes the same point in 1 Peter 1:6-8:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory

                In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul writes, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” John also speaks of the same principle of joy arising out of affliction in John 16:20: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” See 1 John 1:4.[2]

                God is nice. He is not mean. He’s not making you go through those trials to hurt you. God is promising us that his purpose for you is for you to have full joy, even in this life. True joy comes from God even when the circumstances are unfavorable, harsh, harmful, or just plain bad. The presence of real genuine pain does not negate the presence of real genuine joy.

                About financial setbacks, Hebrews 10:34 says, “. for you had compassion on those in the prison and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” That’s amazing. The fact that the Hebrews had their joy in abundance and overflowing while experiencing extreme poverty iscrucial to comprehend: their joy came while they were in poverty, not because their poverty had ended. In fact, Hebrews 10:34 makes it clear they were getting poorer when they had joy.

                God is not saying you won’t have your property plundered. He’s saying even if your property is plundered you can still be joyful. He’s praying that you’ll be joyful in your trial. He isn’t praying for the trial to end.

                See something unexpected is going on here. It is because the affliction is real. The person really lost their job. The person really got sick. The loved one really did die. Those are real things that really hurt. The affliction is real. How can that be when the trial stinks and it’s real, very real? – I’m not telling you your affliction is not real.

                Joy comes despite and without respect to the circumstances, but the joy is just as real as the affliction. And it is. It’s from God.

[1] See. e.g. Romans 14:16-17.

[2] See also John 17:13.

Happy Wives Happy Lives: Excerpt 01 from my upcoming book, “Overcoming”


Overcoming the Trials of a Lifetime

Finding Meaning and Joy in the midst of Afflictions, Illness, and Hardships

Happy Wives Happy Lives

People today have become convinced that their own personal happiness is the be all and end all. That it is the most important thing.

We live in a country that promises us an “inalienable right” to the “pursuit of happiness.” You know the problem starts with what the world promises. We think we have a guaranteed undeniable right to be happy. It’s right in the Declaration of Independence.

People are given the counsel like this – you can’t help other people until you find your own happiness. Then after you found your own happiness you can share it with others. Heard that before? Or how about this one – “the only important thing is how you feel about yourself.” That’s not the only important thing, is it?

According to modern dictionaries, “joy” is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. The world defines “happy” as the feeling experienced when one’s wishes are met. Interestingly, the world says that joy is happiness and they are synonyms.

The world’s understanding of happiness and joy is that you have it when you get what you want. When you get what you want, you’re happy, and if you’re not getting what you want, you’re unhappy. It’s like we’ve all grown up into these big adult bodies and we’re still just a bunch of little toddlers.

If you start off with that kind of definition, you’re going nowhere real fast. Based on the world’s definition, this is what people will sound like.

  • “I’ll be happy when I buy that new car.”
  • “I’ll be happy when I get that promotion.”
  • “I’ll be happy if we can have another child.”
  • “I’ll be happy if we never have any more children.”

This getting whatever you desire isn’t going to happen, so, if we are rational at all, we curb our expectations. My parents taught me about the defense mechanism: if you want something badly you won’t get it, and so you needed to lower expectations to avoid disappointment.

If the circumstances are the reason for you for getting joy, you’re going to lose. It isn’t going to happen. Joy isn’t going to happen if it’s based on circumstances. We Christians have the same set of circumstances as non-Christians do. Even if you get what you want, you could lose it the next day.  It’s easy to see the world is setting you up for frustration and disappointment. It’s promising your happiness based on your getting what you want.

These two views of joy and happiness are just messed up. These definitions apply to screaming toddlers who are not getting their way, not to people, saved or not, who have even an inkling of how to live in a world where you seldom get your way or where one can even lose the things and people held most dearly.

God’s kingdom is all about righteousness, peace, and joy and not about escaping earthy suffering or acquiring everything you want.

More to come in future posts

Finding Joy in Chronic Pain and Illness

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Attached are the slides from my seminar last Sunday at Christ Fellowship, McKinney Texas.




Slides from Finding Joy Despite Circumstances

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Attached are the slides from my  message at Cross Connection on Sunday.


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