Treasure in a Clay Pot ~ Mark S. Mitchell

This is Chapter 8 ~ Treasure in a Clay Pot of a series called Portrait of Integrity by Mark S. Mitchell.  It is about Pastor Ray Stedman and his four daughters who all grew up in the turbulent times of the 60’s and 70’s, rebelling against their Christian roots in order to fit in with society. I think you will find this account encouraging, knowing once again you are not alone in this trial, but to see what the Lord accomplishes through the suffering of these parents of prodigals, and the faith and the joy of “the homecoming”.

Treasure in a Clay Pot by Mark S. Mitchell

Ray Stedman was not just a pastor; he was also a husband and a father. And during the sixties, the two-story Stedman home on Wellsbury Way in Palo Alto bustled with the busy lives of his four daughters: Sheila, born in 1948; Susan in 1950; Linda in 1954; and Laurie in 1962.

Because of his own experiences as a child–abandoned by his father, emotionally distanced from his troubled mother, and adopted by his loving aunt and uncle–Ray was devoted to his wife and daughters. Yet these childhood experiences and their resulting emotional effect on his life also ill-equipped him to deal with many of the demands of being a husband and father. Ray tended to be emotionally disconnected with the women in his home. Consequently, it was in the family arena, more than anywhere else, where Ray experienced the truth of the New Covenant–that God’s strength could be perfected only in his own weakness.

In many ways, the Stedmans were a typical suburban family of their day. They lived in a comfortable home, their daughters attended decent schools, they enjoyed family vacations, and they endured the normal squabbles associated with seven people and three generations living under the same roof (Elaine’s mother lived with them until her death in 1983.) But it was the underlying foundation of God’s love and truth that held the family together.

Good Times as a Family

RAY’S DAUGHTERS HAVE ESPECIALLY fond memories of camping trips with their father. Because of her weak back, Elaine usually did not participate in these adventures, and with good reason. It was never enough for Ray to simply find a convenient campsite with all the usual amenities. Instead, he drove a borrowed Jeep or Land Rover off-road to the highest lake or remotest river in the area. Ray loved to scare the girls by making his own roads up the side of a mountain or driving as close as possible to the edge of a cliff. During the night, as the girls snuggled in their sleeping bags, Ray would playfully scratch on the outside of the tent and growl like a bear. (Susan and Linda Stedman, interviews by author, July 14, 2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.)

Ray’s sense of humor took various forms. On one camping trip, he stood shaving with his electric razor plugged into a tree that looked as if it might have been struck by lightning. He convinced the girls that if they ever found a tree that had been hit by lightning, they could stick an electrical plug into it and get electricity. Ray collapsed with laughter when, on their next camping trip, Susan announced she was bringing her curling iron to plug into one of those trees! (Ibid.)

Ray’s love of adventure and risk was revealed clearly during these outings. His daughters remember him as fearless, possessing an unshakable faith that no matter how bad a situation became, everything would somehow work out. And Ray always seemed able to escape tough situations unscathed. On one occasion he took Elaine and Laurie out in a small boat on San Francisco Bay on a Sunday afternoon. In the middle of the bay, the motor hit bottom, severing the shear pin and leaving them powerless. The wind blew so hard that their small paddles proved useless. They wondered where they would end up, and if they would ever get back in time for the Sunday evening service. It was not uncommon for people adrift in the middle of the bay to spend the night on the mud flats! Finally, the direction of the wind changed and pushed them back close to the west shore, where Elaine’s brother picked them up in time to make it to church. To the girls, this was just another example that their father could escape any situation. (Laurie Stedman, interview by author, July 15, 2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.)

Ray’s daughters also remember their father’s love for music. Ray was not a musician, but he loved music and he taught his daughters to appreciate good music. Unfortunately, this did not keep Ray from singing Scottish songs and cowboy tunes in an off-key voice at the top of his lungs. Together the Stedman family sang everything from hymns to songs they learned on their favorite television program, Sing Along with Mitch. Ray’s love for music deeply influenced Susan, and she was accepted into the Wheaton Conservatory of Music after high school. (Susan, Linda, and Laurie Stedman, interviews by author.)

Ray’s unpredictable ways carried over into his spending habits. While Elaine was very frugal, Ray was an impulsive buyer. When he wanted something, he rarely shopped around or waited for a bargain, but would race to a store and buy it. Ray was also extremely generous and enjoyed purchasing impractical gifts for his family. Valentine’s Day was often an occasion for him to get red roses for Elaine and new dresses for the girls. Ray had exquisite taste, and they were never disappointed with the gifts he chose for them. (Ibid.)

Ray’s generosity also translated into hospitality. “We would always have a big meal after church,” remembers Laurie, “and my parents would always invite somebody home who looked like they didn’t have anyplace to go. Usually it was my dad who invited someone. If it was getting close to the time to leave the church, I would remind my dad to invite somebody. I loved having people over. I looked forward to that. We would also have people over on Sunday evenings after church.” (Laurie Stedman, interview.) As a result, a variety of characters came through their doors, and many stayed for more than a meal. When J. Vernon McGee preached at PBC, he stayed with the Stedmans, and the girls have never forgotten his bright colored pajamas. As mentioned earlier, Luis Palau stayed with the family for two months when he first came to the United States in 1960, and his Latin sense of humor brightened their home. When former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver professed to becoming a Christian, Ray opened both his church and his home to him and his family, precipitating a media frenzy in the Stedman front yard. (Ibid.)

Ray and Elaine also created an atmosphere in which learning and thinking were highly valued. Ray prized reading so much that he paid his daughters to read books, including the Bible. When the girls were teenagers, he asked them to present him with a written outline of his sermon after they had listened to him preach. Although they resented it at the time, they say, it taught them to think logically–a skill they used in school and later in their careers. Ray also loved to play chess, and he rarely lost. When he was not beating a fellow staff member or the computer, he played with his daughters, often giving them a handicap so they had a chance to win. (Susan and Linda Stedman, interviews by author.)

But one of the greatest legacies Ray left his daughters was the model of a strong marriage that lasted forty-seven years. Though Ray and Elaine were reserved in their outward expressions of love for each other, their commitment to each other was unquestioned. Every morning when Ray was home, he and Elaine began their day together at the breakfast nook, reading from a devotional book and praying for the family. Ray and Elaine were partners in every sense, freeing each other for the work God had for each of them and thus allowing the Lord to use them in a deeper way.(Elaine Stedman, interview by author, July 15,2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.) Ray’s one-sided authoritarianism, which characterized their early years of marriage, eventually mellowed into servant leadership. As the years passed, their marriage became even more of a mutual partnership as Ray recognized Elaine’s tremendous gifts. This truly came to the fore in 1975 when Elaine distinguished herself as an author with her book, A Woman’s Worth. When Ray read the manuscript, he was stunned and delighted by Elaine’s insight and encouraged her to use the gifts God had given her in both speaking and writing.

The deep warmth and love between Ray and Elaine is reflected in many of Ray’s letters to her when he was away from home, speaking or teaching. In October 1968, he wrote to her from an airplane en route to Saigon: ”

All day my thoughts have been running back to twenty-three years ago in Honolulu. Sometimes it seems very close in time, and other times it seems worlds away. I’m grateful for this almost quarter-of-a-century the Lord has given us together, for our family and friends, and the ministry we have shared. By nature we both tend to be reticent about our feelings but I think it’s appropriate on this day to tell you I love you very much and feel the Lord has fulfilled all His promise of marital happiness which lay unfolded on that wedding day so long ago. You have done well as a wife and mother and now that we see our first-born about to leave the family nest for good it is good to realize that the years ahead will be different but not empty. (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Stedman, October 22,1968.)

Troubled Waters

DESPITE THE FOUNDATION OF love in the Stedman home, through the years the family experienced some great heartache. At different periods of time, each of Ray and Elaine’s daughters went through a significant season of rebellion; at times the relationship between Ray and his daughters was strained or even fractured. Because of Ray’s visibility, and his and Elaine’s deep mutual desire for their daughters to follow Christ, these periods of family discord caused them tremendous pain.

Several factors probably contributed to the difficulties in the Stedman home, and one major factor was Ray’s devotion to his ministry. Like most evangelical leaders of his generation, Ray traveled extensively, seldom counting the cost to his family. “Billy Graham said that if there was one thing he would have done differently, it would have been to spend more time with his family,” says Elaine, reflecting back to those times. “I think Ray really felt that way too. But that was the way that we were trained to think about ministry; that ministry was first and the family came in wherever they fit in. We both thought that way, so we did not object to it. It was tough though. The hardest things that happened with the girls happened when he was gone.” (Elaine Stedman, interview by Wade Whitcomb, November 17-18, 1994, Grants Pass, Ore., transcript.)

Another factor was the spirit of the time and place in which Ray and Elaine raised their daughters. During the sixties, traditional Christian morality was not only questioned but mocked, and nowhere was this more evident than at Cubberly High School in Palo Alto, which was known as the local center of the hippie movement with all the attendant activities: antiwar protests, drugs, and sexual experimentation. Ray’s three older daughters all attended Cubberly, and Linda remembers that the students basically took over the school. “During those days at Cubberly there were groups of people smoking pot in the parking lot with no intervention. Most teachers simply avoided the area. The bathrooms were filled with cigarette smoke during breaks. Many students had some sort of venereal disease. Students seemed to be protesting everything they could think of.” (Linda Stedman, interview.) Being Ray Stedman’s daughters, the girls felt pressure to conform to their parents’ standards and the church culture of which they were a part. At the same time, they desperately wanted to fit in and “be normal” in a school environment that could not have been more different from their home and church.

It is ironic that a church that became a haven for the Jesus People was the very place Ray’s daughters felt they could not be themselves and work through their struggles as normal teenagers. But in the sixties, the evangelical culture in general and PBC in particular were not always as accepting as they would later become in the Body Life services in the early seventies. Both PBC and Ray Stedman experienced a process of maturation in this regard. But for much of the sixties, PBC was a typical evangelical church and Ray was a strict pastor and father. “Dad would not allow me to date a non-Christian,” recalls Sheila, “and so I was limited to the guys at church, which didn’t appeal to me much. . . . I wasn’t allowed to go to school dances, or any movie not created by Disney, and of course never a secular party.” (Sheila Stedman, letter to author, August 26, 2002.)

And without doubt, people in the church expected more from them than from other young people. “They got some pretty hard knocks,” says Elaine. “Things that really derailed them. I don’t think Laurie [the youngest] did, because after Body Life, things changed so much at PBC. It was a different atmosphere and a different way of looking at things. But before that it was very traditional and more was expected of them. People would say things like, ‘How could you do that when you have such wonderful parents?’ But the girls knew their parents! They knew we were just people.” (Elaine Stedman, interview.)

Another factor was that although Ray was always affectionate with his girls, one of his weaknesses as a father was his inability to relate to them on an emotional level. Elaine believes this was a handicap inherited from his upbringing. “He loved his kids. But because they were girls, he felt awkward with them at times. He didn’t quite know how to handle their emotional outbursts. . . . He did not understand the female. He did not grow up with females. He had two brothers. He had two male cousins. He didn’t relate well to his mother at all. He didn’t have a close relationship with his aunt. . . . It was a good relationship, . . . But there was no closeness, no real intimate sharing. He never learned that kind of sharing and intimacy of communication.” (Ibid.)

Susan, Ray’s second daughter, agrees. “The one thing I felt was most lacking from my dad was an ability to relate to me emotionally. He was so mental, and so logical, that anything that operated on the emotional level would just throw him. He had a real hard time with that. . . . And I think part of that might have been from his childhood, and his mother being so overemotional.” (Susan Stedman, interview.)

Ray’s weakness in this area made it especially difficult for him to talk with his daughters about the temptations they were experiencing. Sheila remembers wanting to talk with her dad about her struggles, but feeling unable to do so. “I was always seeking approval from him, so I decided it wasn’t safe to tell him of my dilemma. I wanted badly to tell him, but the few times I tried he would tell me it was wrong to think that Ray and that it hurt him to hear such things. I think that was the biggest ‘wart’ with Dad back then because he unknowingly blocked me from sharing my pain and kept me from being honest with him.” (Sheila Stedman, letter.)

Linda recalls that her father himself often would react emotionally and resort to bribes. “He tried to send me off to L’Abri in Switzerland in order to bribe me not to get married.” (Linda Stedman, interview.) Ray once even threatened to leave the ministry. “Dad made the mistake of threatening to leave the ministry because of me,” recalls Sheila, “so the guilt was piled on and I felt I had to escape even more.” (Sheila Stedman, letter.)

What Ray’s daughters did not know was that the threat to leave the ministry was anything but a bluff More than once Ray doubted his own fitness for the ministry enough that he actually approached the PBC elders about resigning. He felt he was no longer qualified to serve if his children were out of control. But the elders convinced him that since the daughter in question was already out of the house, he should not take responsibility for her actions. In one particularly moving meeting, all the elders shared communion and prayed for Ray. This event, and particularly Ray’s transparency and integrity, left a deep impression on several of the elders.(Jim Heaton, interview by author, March 15, 2001, Gleneden Beach, Ore., tape recording.)

One can’t help but wonder about the role of the Christian’s adversary in all of this. Scripture says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NASB). Luis Palau believes that many of the difficulties in the Stedman home were the result of spiritual warfare.(Luis Palau, interview by author, September 9, 2002, by telephone, tape recording.) Although Ray never publicly spoke about his daughters’ experiences, his book Spiritual Warfare reflects many of the insights he must have first applied to his own battles.

Remember this–the aim, the goal of Satan in all this clever stratagem, by which he has kept the human race in bondage through these hundreds of centuries, is to destroy, to ruin, to make waste. That is his purpose toward you and me. A young man I know, who had been raised in church, though he is only twenty-one years old, has already become a mental and physical wreck. Why? Because he has turned aside from the truth and followed the philosophy of Satan. Satan is accomplishing his aim, destroying this life which God loves. That is what he is attempting to do with US. (See Ray’s message Spiritual Warfare), Chapter 3: “The Strategy of Satan.”)

But as with so many of Satan’s tactics, they backfired when it came to Ray. “I really believe that Satan’s favorite inroad to attacking Dad’s ministry was through his daughters,” says Linda. “However, I think our rebellion challenged and strengthened Dad’s faith more than any other events in his life. It brought him to his knees time after time.” (Linda Stedman, e-mail to author, September 1,2002.)

Internalizing the New Covenant

IT WAS ON HIS knees, because of his sense of inadequacy as a father, that what Ray called the New Covenant became more than just a doctrine to him. In 1975 he wrote Authentic Christianity as a clear explanation of that covenant, the essence of which is that Christians are vessels designed to contain the life of Jesus.

But the Christian is more than an empty vessel. He has something within or, more accurately, Someone within. We have a treasure in our clay pot! And more than a treasure–a transcendent power! That is humanity as God intended it to be. The clay pot is not much in itself, but it holds an inestimable treasure, beyond price, and a transcendent power, greater than any other power known to humanity. (See Ray’s book Authentic Christianity> [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Discovery House Publishers, 1996], 122.)

Ray had come to learn that the life of Jesus dwelling in the believer would not exempt him from experiencing hardship and heartache. Indeed, it was these experiences that allowed for the experience and demonstration of the life of Christ within:

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest misconceptions held by many is that being a Christian means that life should suddenly smooth out, mysterious bridges will appear over all chasms, the winds of fate will be tempered, and all difficulties will disappear. No, Christianity is not membership in some red-carpet club. All the problems and pressures of life remain, or are even intensified. Christians must face life in the raw, just as any pagan will. The purpose of the Christian life is not to escape dangers and difficulties but to demonstrate a different way of handling them. There must be trouble, or there can be no demonstration. (Ibid., 125.)

When Ray wrote, “There must be trouble, or there can be no demonstration,” he wrote out of his own life experience. Out of his personal sense of inadequacy and failure as a father Ray learned that “the surpassing greatness of the power” was indeed from God and not from himself Out of his own trouble at home came a demonstration of the life of Christ within.

Because of his suffering, Ray became a softer and more empathetic and “human” pastor and father. When he spoke of believers simply being “cracked pots” who held a treasure inside, people knew that he spoke out of his own brokenness. He became more compassionate, tender, and patient with those who strayed. People on his staff and in his church saw the change, as did his family.

Susan views her own rebellious years as a way of knocking Ray off the pedestal she and so many others had placed him on. “When I went through those rebellious years, I had to knock him down; and he was way up there, so the fall was pretty hard for him and for me…. It’s taken me all these years to know my father as a human being, and accept him as a human being, and I don’t ever want to put him on that pedestal again. Because it wasn’t where he wanted to be, and it wasn’t his place to be there, and I just love him so much more now that I know him as a human being and accept him for who he really is.” (Susan Stedman, interview.)

And when his daughters began to experience the consequences of poor choices and needed help, they found their father–and their mother–waiting with open arms. “Over and over again. . . I pushed my parents to the limit,” says Laurie. “But I always felt like they loved me. I never felt rejection. . . . There was always forgiveness.” (Laurie Stedman, interview.) Each daughter experienced this forgiveness and has her own story to tell of a special “homecoming” with her father, when he became the channel of God’s grace to her.

“Dad and Mom were so supportive through the years,” Linda remembers. “In 1981, in the midst of a very difficult marriage, I left my husband and took our sons back to Palo Alto to live with Dad and Mom. They welcomed us with open arms. By then, I was desperate to find my way back to the Lord. My view of God was so distorted by my own sin and the worldly philosophies I had embraced. Dad quickly got me connected with a Christian psychiatrist–a preacher’s kid himself–who helped me get a clear perspective of God’s grace, and assured me that God loved me right where I was, in spite of all my sin and rebellion. It was the beginning of spiritual healing in my life.” (Linda Stedman, e-mail to author, September 1, 2002.)

Sheila’s “homecoming” took place after her father had already retired and was battling cancer. “On a visit to see Mom and Dad in Grants Pass, Dad found out he had cancer. I was in shock! How could that be? We had grown closer over the years, he had grown softer and sweeter, had retired from PBC, and was finally able to relax and enjoy less pressures of the ministry. . . . ”

My son, Jason, had been living the party life in high school, was dating lots of girls, but lately had been dating a particularly sweet girl, Jennifer, and had found out, just weeks before the terrible news about Dad, that he was going to be a father. He and Papa had formed a very close relationship since his birth, being the first grandson and the apple of Papa’s eye. When Jason heard the news, he rushed down to Grants Pass with Jennifer and told Dad how sorry he was for messing up his own life and now his treasured Papa was dying. Dad, in his gracious, loving manner, reassured Jason that it was not bad news at all, but great .news that he would be seeing his Lord soon, and that he, Jason, should realize that life is only temporary. That he should marry Jennifer and turn his life over to the Lord. And do you know, that was the turning point in Jason’s and my life. . . . ”

From that day forward, both me and my children have all come back to a real, personal, fulfilling relationship with our heavenly Father and it has a great deal to do with Dad’s own example of who a father should be. He forgave us when we rebelled against him, and loved us in spite of our ingratitude and selfishness! When I look back on our life together I realize how incredibly blessed I was to be chosen to be my earthly and my heavenly Father’s child!” (Sheila Stedman, e-mail to author, August 26, 2002.)

During the sixties and early seventies, PBC became one of the most well-known and innovative churches in the nation, and Ray became a Bible teacher and author of international renown. But it was in the context of his family that God was refining and conforming Ray into the image of Christ.

In the end, Ray Stedman was a portrait of integrity not only in the church, but in his home as well.

Title: Ch 8: Treasure in a Clay Pot Author: Mark S. Mitchell
Series: Portrait of Integrity Date: 2004
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31 Days ~ Strength to Go On

Day 30 ~ Strength to Go On

Sharing again from James Banks Prayers for Prodigals

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3: 17-18
“I will remind myself of this, Lord. It’s always good to praise you, regardless of how I feel at the moment.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise” (I Chronicles 16:25)
I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God” (Habakkuk 3:18), regardless of my external circumstances on any given day. And why not?
Yes, times are difficult with my child. She’s running from me and from you.
My heart aches. I long to take her in my arms and protect her from harm, if only she would have it.
Then I am reminded of your Word and your promise:
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18).
There’s a lot of meaning in that one word, yet. You know how I feel, don’t you?
Not only about my daughter. About the whole human race.
That’s why you came, why you sent your one and only son: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Not only do you understand, you’ve faced our rebellion with a heart that feels with more “depth” than I could ever know. (Romans 11:33)
I praise you for that and will wait for you, because “since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). ~ James Banks

31 Days ~ Called Out of Darkness

Day 23 ~ Called Out of Darkness

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:” 1 Peter 2:9

Called out of darkness…how many of you were called out of darkness?

From the concordance darkness means: of night darkness; of darkened eyesight or blindness; of ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, and the accompanying ungodliness and immorality, together with their consequent misery in hell; persons in whom darkness becomes visible and holds sway.

I once was lost…and now I’m found…

I once was blind, but now I see…

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.” Psalms 40:2

If I had Christian parents they would have been devastated, but they also would have rejoiced at what Jesus has done in my life. I don’t know that a single prayer was uttered for me during this time of darkness, but Jesus called me out of it.

Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD Almighty.” Malachi 3:7

Father, you are very aware of what our prodigals are doing right now. For from the beginning of time men turn away from you and follow darkness. Father, right now, our children are living in darkness, making horrendously horrible choices that will effect their lives forever. We cry out to you, Father, for we of ourselves can do nothing. Please bring them out of the miry pit, the ungodliness, the immorality, this horrible wretched darkness that holds sway over them and causes such blindness. Father, we cry out to you today, please call them out of darkness into your marvelous light.

Quoting James Banks
“I ask for your light to fall on this path and lead him home.

Let him see your light from the distance and be drawn to you.

Even though now he sits in darkness, I ask that you will be his light.(Micah 7:8)

I praise you that there is no darkness so black that you can not show him the way out of it.

Bring him to the place where he can say, “You are my lamp, O Lord the LORD turns my darkness to light” (2 Samuel 22:29)” ~ James Banks

And Father…I pray for none of this middle of the road stuff. I pray when our prodigals come to their senses and see your Light…when they truly give their hearts and lives to Jesus, that there will be no turning back. That they will put the past behind them and walk forward…the past immorality, drugs, rock music…make it absolutely abhorrent to them.

Thank you, Jesus, for what you have done in my life, I know without a doubt that you can do it in any life. And I especially ask today, that you would visit the suffering parents. Please take them in your arms. Fill them with your peace, hold them tight so that they know you are with them in their grief. Give them a knowing that you are at work in the hearts of those they love and hold most dear, right now as we are praying.

Forgive us all, Father, for we are so prone to wander, so prone to be unbelieving and faithless.

We are called to show forth your praises, even the sacrifice of praise…

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” Hebrews 13:15

Rachel Weeping For Her Children

Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border.” Jeremiah 31:15-17
One dear mother brought this scripture to my attention and I have thought about it for days. So many times when mothers have wept to me about their prodigal children the words, “Rachel weeping for her children” has come to mind…

What was Jeremiah prophesying about here?

Herod commanded that all the children under 2 years of age be killed when he heard of the birth of the King of Israel…for Emmanuel had come…El with us to tabernacle with us and Satan was seeking whom he may devour knowing that his time was short.

Here again we are faced with an adversary seeking whom he may devour. Quoting Sylvia Gunter from her article entitled Praying for Rebellious Ones…

“In general, young people today are being opposed to a degree that perhaps the world has never seen. The adversary of their souls is waging spiritual battle for the lives of an entire generation. Those whom the enemy cannot extinguish by abortion he is intent on stealing, killing, or destroying at younger and younger ages.”
We definitely are living in an age where we see the signs of the return of Christ evident all around us… an apostasy as never before. An age where the gospel has gone out into all the world and is being blatantly rejected or twisted and distorted. Men are turning away from God and being turned over to reprobate minds. Romans 1:28, Titus 1:16.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;” 2 Timothy 3: 1-3
Is there comfort for these weeping mothers? Look again at what it says in Jeremiah right after this…
 

“Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border.”

Let us hold fast to the promises of our God for He is mighty to save and bring our children back into the fold. My hope and prayer, dear parents, is that this brings you loads of comfort and encouragement as it did to me…
And more encouragement from Charles Spurgeon…
I have prayed for thee.”-Luke 22:32
How encouraging is the thought of the Redeemer’s never-ceasing intercession for us. When we pray, He pleads for us; and then we are not praying, He is advocating our cause, and by His supplications shielding us from unseen dangers. Notice the word of comfort addressed to Peter-“Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but”-what? “But go and pray for yourself.” That would be good advice, but it is not so written. Neither does he say, “But I will keep you watchful, and so you shall be preserved.” That were a great blessing. No, it is, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” We little know what we owe to our Saviour’s prayers. When we reach the hill-tops of heaven, and look back upon all the way whereby the Lord our God hath led us, how we shall praise Him who, before the eternal throne, undid the mischief which Satan was doing upon earth. How shall we thank Him because He never held His peace, but day and night pointed to the wounds upon His hands, and carried our names upon His breastplate! Even before Satan had begun to tempt, Jesus had forestalled him and entered a plea in heaven. Mercy outruns malice. Mark, He does not say, “Satan hath desired to have you.” He checks Satan even in his very desire, and nips it in the bud. He does not say, “But I have desired to pray for you.” No, but “I have prayed for you: I have done it already; I have gone to court and entered a counterplea even before an accusation is made.” O Jesus, what a comfort it is that thou hast pleaded our cause against our unseen enemies; countermined their mines, and unmasked their ambushes. Here is a matter for joy, gratitude, hope, and confidence.
Painting of Woman at the Well by Simon Dewey

Peace That Passeth All Understanding

We have given our lives to Christ and we are walking along life’s path, sometimes not knowing where that path will take us…

Has your path come to a rocky precipice? How, Father, can I keep going? This looks too painful…I don’t think I can make it…

But we know nothing is impossible with God and He will never leave us or forsake us, and the beautiful thing is that He works all things out for good. So press on…He will lead you by the still waters and restore your soul…He will give you that peace that passeth all understanding

Here is an example of a hurting parent of a prodigal and what she learned through her journey…and how she found peace…

Excerpts from the book, Boundaries with Adult Children by Allison Bottke.

What I learned from being a parent in pain:

1. I must remind myself every day that God is in control.

2. God has allowed by circumstances, heartbreaking as they are, to change me.

3. We are not alone. God is well aware what it’s like having prodigals. Look at Adam and Eve. They had it all, and God was a perfect Father. So much for all the theories.

4. The prodigal son had no reason to leave home and rebel. His dad loved him, he had a wonderful home life, plenty of money, and purpose for living. He rebelled because there is pleasure in sin for a season. The father never chased after his son or filled his pockets with money or financed his sin. He stayed put and gave his son to God.

5. God is the only One who can change our kids. Out of the kindness of His will, He alone brings us to repentance. We must pray for God to bring our adult children to the end of themselves and to deal with their problems.

6. The Enemy is at work, but he is not more powerful than God. Satan must ask God’s permission to test us (see the book of Job).

7. I can’t put a timetable on my prayers. Some may be answered on the other side of eternity. God is faithful, and we must pray with great faith. He is working.

8. God has changed me greatly. The heartache of living with a prodigal threw me into God’s Word-big time. In the last 15 years I have devoured God’s Word on a daily basis and developed a prayer life. All this to say, this experience has been a good thing for me spiritually. Whereas I once spent that time in anxiety and depression, I have now taken that time to become anchored in God.

9. God has supernaturally changed me through His Word and changed my perspective on the whole trial.

10. Yielding everything to God is the only way to peace. The day we came to our wit’s end and gave our son 100 percent to the Lord and was the day a miracle occurred. We were flooded with His peace, the kind that cannot be explained. We knew then why Jesus came; not only to save our souls but to give us His power to live through anything. Since that time, we have had to do that again and surrender our grandchildren. His grace is sufficient for all things. He is all we need.

To purchase this book click here.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:26-27

Photos by Sarah

Blaming Yourself For Your Prodigal

It’s been awhile since I’ve looked online for an article about prodigals that I think would be helpful, but tonight I came across this one…thank you to whoever wrote this…

My husband and I have experienced the reality of knowing, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” . Our two daughters professed Christ at an early age, witnessed in their schools, traveled on mission trips, and embarked into adult life with a passion for Christ. Our family life has been built around joy and laughter; and even through the teen years, we enjoyed close family times backpacking and ministering together here and abroad. The girls have been characterized as leaders, constantly encouraging and challenging those around them to live their Christian beliefs.

It always brought us great joy knowing that our children were walking in the truth. Then one bought into a lie. Now we see the flip side to the above verse; there is no greater sorrow than seeing your children walk in a lie. Since our daughter’s ungodly choices, we have grieved for the loss of our close family relationships, for our witness in our community and family, over the eventual consequences of her decisions, and even grieved that God would allow this to happen.

Our joy, peace, energy, and focus have been drained and replaced with despair, anger, fatigue and distractedness. We have been plagued by questions. How could this happen? What should we do? What would influence her? How should we respond? Our close family was thrown into crisis; joy turned to sorrow, and lies twisted truth. The parable of the prodigal son has become a real and personal journey with a precious, yet prodigal, daughter.

At one point in this heavy journey, I had a mental picture of us facing our prodigal daughter, she standing with her back to us. We were pleading and begging for her to turn around, listen to God’s Word, and recognize the lies. Then the focus shifted and God was standing behind me, my back turned to Him, and He was calling me to turn around and to recognize the lies. God was trying to get my attention while I was trying to get my daughter’s attention. Her lies were different from mine, but nonetheless I had also been ensnared by lies. God was pleading with me to recognize and accept His truth in my own life.

God’s truth needs to be sorted from the enemy’s lies.

I cannot allow my daughter’s actions to define me, but I can, through God’s help, allow them to refine me. Through godly counsel and His Word, the truth is being sifted from the enemy’s subtle and pervasive lies. The refinement process is not complete, but I have identified, examined, and discarded the following lies:

Lie #1: What if?

The enemy loves to get us into the “what if” or blame game. What if I had been more persuasive? What if I had counseled her with more studied words? What if I had been more discerning? What if I had just been a better mom? I was consumed with analyzing every nuance over the past years, reviewing my interactions, and questioning my role as both mother and wife.

My analytical thoughts became paralyzing and I spiraled downward into a pit of remorse and inadequacy. Slowly through the slime, I began to see that it is not all about me. My eloquence or lack of it, my parenting skills or lack of them, will not ultimately change a heart. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. I can be obedient to God’s direction. I can do the best I can in parenting and counseling. But the ultimate work is God’s. My pleas will not bring a prodigal into right thinking, right living, or right decisions.

Our daughter made this choice in spite of Scripture, godly models, and counsel, and she will also reap the consequences of her choice. Ezekiel 18:20 reminds us that “…the son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” I can neither accept the blame nor take the credit. The “what ifs” must cease because they are not from God.

Lie #2: If you parent well enough, your child will not make ungodly choices.

When my daughter turned away from her firm foundation, I questioned how this could happen to my family. Subconsciously and incorrectly, I presumed that Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” guaranteed a child’s godly choices. The Lord showed me, through my own heartache, that I have wrongly judged others and their parenting ability. I thought if someone had a child not walking with the Lord, it was always a direct reflection on their parenting skills. Now on the other side with a wayward daughter, I realize the lie and repent of my judgment of others. Godly parenting does not guarantee a godly child.

Lie #3: My prodigal adult child disqualifies me for ministry.

One of the qualifications listed in 1 Tim. 3:4 for an overseer is to “manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” This does not refer to adult children. But Satan wants to fuel our insecurities, have us focus on our inadequacies, and cripple our ministries. Instead of stepping out of ministry, we should step up to be used by God. The more open and transparent we are in our parenting journey, the more dependent we are on Him for strength, and the more opportunities there will be for us to minister.

During the painful times of answering concerned inquires about our daughter, has emerged a new openness for those sharing similar burdens. One embarrassing instance of addressing pointed questions at a neighborhood party resulted in a phenomenal opportunity to share God’s truth. Leadership is not about being perfect individuals. It is about being humbly obedient and available. Transparency and vulnerability can make us better servant ministers.

Lie #4: God is powerless to intervene.

Somewhere in this extended battle, I crossed the line from believing God would not act to believing God could not act. I fell prey to the lie that God could not change our daughter’s mind or way. My personal systematic theology had me spinning in circles around God’s sovereignty and the free will of man. The Lord had chosen to not answer my fervent prayers to radically intervene in our daughter’s life. Since faith and hope are intricately entwined, I was hopeless.

My view of God was too small. I do not understand how God’s sovereignty and free will work, but I have become convinced that God is so much bigger than we can ever imagine. He can and will intervene if He so chooses. This mom needs to trust more, worry less, and stop trying to figure everything out. He is God and I am not! My God, our God, is a God of hope that fills us with all joy and peace as we trust in Him (Rom. 15:13), and He is more than able to do great things.

This mother’s journey in parenting a prodigal is far from over. The hurt and sadness are still very real and close. But as the Lord has revealed the insidiousness of the enemy’s lies, the burden has become more manageable. Now I can focus on what I am learning and not on what my daughter should be learning. This was reiterated during a recent visit. We were scheduled to rendezvous with our precious prodigal after church.

The sermon was unexpectedly all too relevant: “Grace Demands a Death.” The pastor pointed out that if we are to extend grace, as Christ did, we must also experience death. As parents, we need to die to our dreams, our desires, and our expectations for our children. We need to love them unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. Still stirred from this poignant message, we exited the church building and saw our daughter standing on the far side of the parking lot.

My husband ran to our cold, stiff daughter, standing sullenly by the car, and wrapped her in a warm, loving hug. That was our best visit to date! My hope has been renewed; He is restoring my soul. Like Habakkuk, I will wait and keep watch from the ramparts to see what the Lord will do. God is in control and He loves us and our prodigals dearly.

The author has decided to write anonymously to protect her daughter’s privacy.

In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley – Becoming a Prodigal

January 7

Luke 15:11-19
The Prodigal Son’s journey away from home began with a desire. Perhaps he wanted to leave behind some of the restrictions that come with living under a parent’s roof. Or maybe he wanted more money to pursue life’s pleasures with friends. Whatever the case, his desire gave birth to self-deceptive reasoning which assumes, There’s no harm in what I am doing. I deserve this. That thinking led to a decision—to prematurely ask for his inheritance—and to his departure, both from home and from everything he had been taught.

A Christian who has turned away from God follows a path similar to the prodigal’s. It begins in our minds with a craving for something other than what we have. The longer we allow the idea to linger, the stronger our desire to have it. When we cling to a yearning that is outside of God’s protective will, then we likewise deceive ourselves and find ways to justify what we want. We will base decisions on our faulty reasoning and move away from the Lord to fulfill our self-centered dreams. Like the wayward son, we may enjoy the pleasures of the world for a time, but ultimately, we will find ourselves without the essentials we need—unconditional love, security, and a meaningful purpose for living.

We have an Enemy who seeks to divert us from the Lord’s will, a world that places desires above God, and “flesh” tendencies which prefer pleasure over obedience. To avoid self-deception, make Scripture your basis for living—and adjust your thought life and choices accordingly (Rom. 12:2)

I Am a Parent of a Prodigal – Name Withheld

This was an article posted in a magazine that I came across online. Warning…it will make you cry…
If I had it to do again, I would preach less and pray more.
-Name Withheld
If your children have consistently made wise choices, consider yourself  blessed, because the enemy has snatched many, many young people. My wife and I have wept a thousand tears and asked a thousand “why’s?” I am the minister of a growing Christian church. We are the parents of a prodigal. It hits you like a ton of bricks when you first learn your child has rejected virtually every biblical principle and value that you have spent years carefully modeling and teaching. When you discover that your son is doing physical, emotional, and spiritual damage to himself, you experience a pain most others cannot understand. Many members of our church have been so kind, so understanding, and so encouraging. Perhaps it’s because they have a prodigal child, or maybe some of them were prodigals. Whatever the case, they’ll never know how much their support and prayers have meant to us!
Problems Begin
Our nightmare began when our 18-year-old son dropped out of a Christian college after only a few weeks. We were unaware as this bright, talented, athletic young man jumped headfirst into an abyss of drugs, vandalism, and sexual promiscuity. He quickly became an easy target for those living in a dark underworld who prey on naive, unsuspecting, and yet seemingly willing victims. In just a few short months, he faced possible criminal charges, but due to the mercy of some of those in the judicial system, he was released into our custody. We wrongly assumed the nightmare was nearly over, but when his head began to clear of the drugs that had been in his system, he was left with guilt and shame, anger and bitterness. He felt scarred, used, and depressed. He struggled to break free of the destructive cycle that had trapped him. Instead of the prodigal leaving the pigpen and coming home, it seemed like the pigpen had been brought home to us. We faced the agonizing decision of if, when, and how to have our adult son removed from our home.
Some readers of this article have never had to face a decision like this. You will never see your child in a bright orange prison jumpsuit standing before a judge. You will never receive phone calls in the middle of the night from the police. You will never be cursed at or threatened by your child. You will never have your child steal from you or lie to you or sneak out of your home at night. You will never need to raise a grandchild born out of wedlock. You will never be forced to visit your child in a rehab center. You’ll never look for your child among the homeless people who live under bridges and overpasses, wondering if he is dead or alive. If your children have consistently made wise choices, consider yourself blessed, because the number of young people the enemy has snatched has become a national epidemic.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
You might be speculating about what causes these young people to go astray. “The parents must not have spent enough time with their child.” “There must have been inconsistencies in their lives.” “They must not have taught them the Bible.” “They should have had them in a Christian school.” For years I might have said such things. I lived with a very legalistic, prideful attitude about parenting. I believed that if I did “A-B-C,” then my child would do or be “X-Y-Z.” If I got the formula right, then my children would turn out as I expected. But recently I’ve decided that how children grow up is more about human will and choices than parenting skills. If I had it to do over, I would preach to my children less and be on my knees praying for them more. No parents are perfect parents; we all make mistakes. But what if we didn’t? God is the perfect parent, and yet every one of His children at one time or another chooses to rebel against Him! Have we ever believed the father was to blame for the son’s rebellion in the biblical story of the prodigal son? On the contrary, it is abundantly clear that it was all about the son’s free will, exercised in his poor choices. Haven’t you known people who grew up in terrible homes who turned out good, and others who grew up in wonderful homes who turned out not so good? Our second child is a very committed Christian. Both children were raised in the same home. It’s interesting to note that the first seven chapters of Proverbs are directed to sons choosing wisdom and obedience, but only six verses in the entire book are directed to parents disciplining their children!
Only God knows the end of the story for our prodigal. Every once in awhile we get a glimmer of hope that our son will fully return to God. Many times I’ve wished I could just read the final chapter; then perhaps I’d sleep better at night. But we are learning to walk by faith, one day at a time. God is sovereign, and we have learned much about His grace, His patience, and His love that we probably would not have learned otherwise. If, at times, I seem distracted, I’ve asked the church to forgive me. If my voice breaks, they try to understand. And if someone is tempted to judge me, all I can say is, “Please don’t. My load is heavy enough right now, so would you pray for us, please?”
The Story Isn’t Over
After I wrote this article, my wife and I received a letter from our son that reinforced our reasons to hope.
Part of what he wrote:
“I moved out of the house when I was 18 thinking about how good life would be once I got my freedom, but just like the prodigal son in the Bible, I shared the trough with the pigs. I too saw all the world has to offer. I too realized that the life is sinful, cold, and unhappy without God or your family in it. “I want you to know that I am so happy to have two parents that love and care about me like you do. You have given me chance after chance, and have been so very patient with me. Thank you so much for caring about me and trying to understand all that I have gone through. I have seen the most evil that people are capable of, and I have seen that living a life of sin contrary to God’s will leads only to self-destruction and anguish. I have been living that kind of life long enough.
“I am willing now to take steps to rebuild a relationship with God, and I look forward to many good years ahead of us as our relationship as a family gets better. I don’t want to hurt or disappoint either one of you anymore. I only want now to try and be the best person I can be. Several years ago you lost a sensitive and good-hearted little boy to the sins of this world. I want to be that kid once again. I want my hardened heart to be free of the pains from my past so that I can be happy again. “I will try my best to do my part to make things better for our family. Your prodigal son may have physically returned to you a couple of years ago, but returning to you emotionally and spiritually will take some time. Please don’t ever lose hope in me. Just remember that I will always love you.”
Here are books recommended
by the author of this article:
• Parenting the Wild Child, by Miles
McPherson (Bethany House, 2000)
• Praying Prodigals Home, by Quin
Sherrer and Ruthanne Garlock (Gospel
Light, 2000)
• Prodigals and Those Who Love
Them, by Ruth Bell Graham (Baker
Book House, 1999)
• Relief for Hurting Parents: How to
Fight for the Lives of Teenagers, by
Buddy Scott (Allon Publishing, 1998)