Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Issues of the Day

My “Victim Awareness Letter of Apology”

A number of years ago we were robbed. What a mess with such senseless damage to deal with. There were police reports, insurance company calls and descriptions, pictures taken and more police calls after the individual was caught.

 

Long after the damage was repaired and we were able to identify what was stolen, we received the following letter from the minor who created this nightmare. It read:

 

Dear Mr. Prokopchak, I’m sorry for what I did to you and I know it was the wrong thing to do. And if there is anything that I can do for you tell me or write back. And will not ever do some thing like this again. So plz take my apology and I’m really sorry.

 

We were pleased the probation department of his county required this letter of apology and for him to pay his fines. It was a costly mistake.

 

I did write him back. I told him how violated we felt. I told him that it was not good for him or for us and I told him that taking responsibility for his mistake was the right thing to do. More importantly, I told him that we forgave him and we would not hold it against him. Finally, I told him that I believed it had matured him and that he would become an amazing young man with a wonderful future who would experience personal growth through all of this.

 

Then I shared what he could do for me. I wrote, “You could receive God’s forgiveness for what you have done and then forgive yourself and start over. All things could become new in a personal relationship with Jesus.”

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Men

Our Remarkable Mothers

My amazing mother was a hardworking hair stylist and worked most Saturdays.* One Saturday, my Russian speaking Ukrainian grandfather was in charge of my care until she returned home from the beauty shop. He loved mushrooms and mistakenly decided to pick some orange ones that were growing beside an old tree stump in our front yard.

You might be able to surmise these were no ordinary mushrooms, nor were they suited for human consumption. They were toadstools, a toxic and highly poisonous mushroom. My grandfather cooked them. They turned green and we ate them. My young body became ill, violently ill. When my mother returned home and identified what “Pop” had cooked for lunch, she gave me warm milk to expel the poisonous contents from my tender stomach. Then she rushed us both off to the doctor.

The doctor told my mother that she saved our lives by creating a way to rid the two of us of the toxins. My trust in my mother increased hugely that day and my dependency on her increased as well. I felt secure with her presence or just knowing she was in the background somewhere. From this and multiple other incidents in my life, she became a safe place to me.

How about you? Was your mother a safe place for you? It’s time to honor her this week for Mother’s Day. “Her children arise and call her blessed…” (Proverbs 31:28)

(*Note: The above story was taken from my bookIdentity: The Distinctiveness of You.)

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Uncategorized

The Number One Reason to Get Out of Debt

While there are many reasons to pay down debt early and to eventually pay off debt, there is a reason that most financial experts do not include in their advice. 

Yes, you will feel a new level of freedom. Yes, you will be able to save more money. And, yes, you will stretch your paycheck much further. But none of these come close to the number one reason to put debt behind you.

Here is the number one reason: you will be able to give more. That’s right. Persons who are debt-free give more to help others. They do not need to consider the question of whether or not they can afford to do so, but rather are waiting to hear about needs they can respond to. 

When money is tight due to excessive credit card payments, car payments or that personal loan, you will struggle to give. Your thoughts will center around what you need rather than what others need.

I recently was privileged to hear a story from a young couple in their twenties. They married and between the two of them had a combined $130,000 in college debt and a car loan. Together they developed a plan to retire this debt. As they prayed and stuck to their plan, they actually became (drum roll here) debt-free within three years! Three years may seem like a long time, but they learned so much about debt, about giving and about the discipline of paying off loans early and exactly how much money it saved them in the long run. 

Perhaps you haven’t thought about the freedom you might feel if you were able to reduce your debt considerably, but I can personally guarantee that you will find certain freedom and realize the fun it is to be able to sow into the needs of others.

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)

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Challenge, Marriage, Men, Women

Are You Living in the Past or the Present in Your Marriage?

Often the present is a window into our past, but it doesn’t have to dictate our future. We often develop what many call, “self-directed commands” from our histories. For example, “I need to make sure my family is protected” or, “I need to perform to be approved of.” These are innocent responses to how we interpreted our environment and they’re not always correct, but seem to remain with us until God deals with those areas. Obviously, as they are revealed, it’s good to work on them, discover the truth and find freedom from them.

Here’s the thing though: marriage can tend to bring out those self-directed commands and most times we’re not realizing it. We observe something our spouse is doing or not doing and it is accentuated in our head due to a historical connection. I am not saying our spouse is faultless, but all too often it’s not really our spouse, it’s us, i.e., our reaction connected to our history. That’s why it is often said you cannot change your spouse, only yourself. The reality is marriage teaches us to love and God uses it (as author Gary Thomas states) to not necessarily “make us happy,” but rather to make us more like Him. In short, one of the ways we express our love for God is how well we love our spouse in spite of their imperfections.

Marriage exposes our weaknesses and when our weaknesses are exposed the more difficult it may be to show respect. However, showing respect amidst difficulty is a sign of maturity. To dishonor and disrespect our life mate is a sign of immaturity. That is, immaturity defined as my needs are not being met and I am not happy. Truth is, in marriage we are no longer free to pursue whatever self-centered thing(s) we want. What we must strive for is what is best for our partner so that it builds “us” and not just me. When we run toward our struggles, we are strengthened. When we run away, we remain immature and weak especially when it comes to relationship.

Finally, when we hold back in marriage due to a present or historical incident, we are saying, “I will no longer relate to you on a deep level of intimacy.” When we move away from that deep level of intimacy and we stop sacrificing for one another, we are on the road to narcissism. And that is so well addressed in the verse that follows.


“…Being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others [your spouse] better than yourselves. Each of you should not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others [your spouse].”  (Philippians 2: 2-4)

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Challenge, In the news, Issues of the Day

Earth Day: Some Not-So-Scientific Observations from Six Decades of Life

It’s interesting living life in my mid-sixties. That doesn’t seem so old to me now. I was born in the 50’s, grew up in the 60’s, left home and established my own household and served in the US military in the 70’s, went to college and was a missionary in the 80’s and traveled the world in the 90’s to date. I love the fact that I can now say, “I’ve been around the block.” It means I have lived through many major world crises, four in particular that I want to point out.

 

 

I lived through the drug infested, rock and roll introduced sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I also lived through four “scientifically proven” crises as well. In 1975 the talk around the world and in the scientific community particularly was “global cooling.” Yep, Time magazine even had a cover article on it in the 1970’s. Everything, everywhere on our planet was cooling and one day we would be living in a frozen tundra if we were living at all. Our planet as we knew it would be modified forever.

In the 1980’s the scientific consensus was that acid rain, caused by electricity-generating plants fueled by coal and spewing out sulfur dioxide was destroying our forests, our deserts, our lakes and our streams. Yes, acid rain would eat the paint right off of our cars. Not one fish would be left in a stream due to acid rain. Food could not be grown as we knew it because of acid rain. By 1991 following a ten-year study by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program the conclusion was acid rain was not destroying our forests and did not hurt our food crops and caused no measurable health risks.

 

The third major scientific crises in my lifetime was the earth’s ozone layer developing holes and weakening. The ozone layer that surrounds our earth is made up of gases approximately 12-18 miles from the earth’s surface and it absorbs ultraviolet light—a pretty important part of God’s creation. Soon scientists discovered the real enemy to this disappearing ozone layer was hair spray, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) used in spray bottles. Quickly, every pressurized spray can using CFC’s disappeared from the store shelves. By the mid 1980’s animals “were going blind” from this phenomenon. Depletion of this layer is still being studied, but scientists are also recently discovering that in many areas the ozone is “repairing itself” or there is actually an increase in thickness.

 

Today, we are suffering from “greenhouse gases” like CO2 and global warming. Yes, even cow flatulation is being measured by scientists. Climate change is our newest fear from science. I wonder if one day all of the present “facts” will change as the three previous disasters have? I don’t know. I am not a scientist and I cannot attest to the effects of global warming to be true, to be false or to be somewhere in between. I will let you decide that for yourself.

But this I do know:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. (Psalm 24:1)

The Heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. (Psalm 89:11)

God created our world and He has a long-term plan for it, meanwhile, we need to be the best stewards we can possibly be of the earth because it belongs to God. We must do our part to not pollute, to use less water and become more conservative with all of our natural resources. But we need not live in fear. I appreciate science, but while the “facts” of science seem very convincing, they can also be very wrong and change. Two more things I know about God? He is never wrong and He does not change.  (See Malachi 3:6.)

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Parents

A Crochety Old Store Owner

Down the street from where my mother worked as a beautician was a candy store with every child’s dream of sweet delights. So many kinds of candy imaginable and most of it was one cent per piece. However, on this particular day, I was after an ice cream cone. The problem was, there were too many flavors to choose from. The elderly store owner was growing impatient with me, but I just struggled to decide. Finally, she barked, “WELL, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” I looked at her, the flavors, the ice cream, fiddled with the change in my hand and then shrugged my shoulders.

 

The next thing I knew she told me to, “GET THE H*** OUT” until I could decide. I was so scared, I ran for the door, ran down the street and ran into my mom’s beauty shop. Through my tears, I told my mother what happened. She marched me right back to that store, letting the crochety old lady know the little boy hiding behind her was her son. Man, did that store owner ever change her tune in a hurry. With ice cream in hand, my mother taught me a few lessons that day.

 

The first lesson was to not be afraid of confronting my fears. My mother was not afraid or intimidated by that store owner. She pursued what her son was too fearful to complete. Believing my story, she refused to allow her son to be treated in such a harsh, unpleasant way. Parents protect. She taught me that I could stand up for myself and it wasn’t wrong to do so. There was no love in that store owner’s expression to me, only fear-filled words. My mother, on the other hand, spoke only words of love.

 

Joshua 23:10 expresses that God would be with Joshua and fight for him. I believe He fights for you and me. Like a loving parent, He sees how His children are treated and responds in love to each of us. You are protected by Him and with His voice of love, encouraged to face your fears.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Issues of the Day, Small Groups, Training

The Look

It transpired right after Peter’s denial as he disowned Jesus. Jesus was within sight of His disciple Peter and just after Peter’s final denial something really unnerving is mentioned in the gospel of Luke, chapter 22.

The rooster crowes and then this happens, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” There were no recorded words spoken, only a “look.” It was done, over, just as Jesus had said it would happen. Peter would deny Him in His presence. Can you imagine with me what Peter felt in that moment? His whole body must have become warm and filled with mixed emotions as blood flowed through his neck to his flush face. I can see him wanting to escape the trauma he felt, looking down, shaking, feeling embarrassment and, of course, shame. What thoughts were going through his mind as fear must have gripped his heart during and after “the look?”

Sometimes I ask a small group question that goes like this, “If you had the opportunity for one do-over in life, what would it be?” I know mine; do you know yours? I’ll bet everything I own that at that moment Peter would have wished for his one do-over.

However, Peter received His Lord’s forgiveness and went on to be the greatest soul winning preacher of the New Testament. He didn’t quit, he didn’t get depressed and he didn’t remain in shame. I believe he went to the cross and made it right. And for me, it is one of the greatest stories of redemption in the Bible.

Is there anything in your life that needs redeemed? There is One who from the cross said, “Shame off of you. Let’s work on a do-over.”

For Peter, the hours leading up to Jesus’ resurrection must have been pretty dark, but then came Sunday, where everything must have become full of light, life and hope!

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Women

If You Have Chosen to Be Sexual…

I had this thought the other day when considering sexual boundaries in our lives. It’s one that I suppose some persons will agree with and perhaps others will strongly disagree with. It’s an observation I have made over the years as I watch how people respond so differently to God’s sexual boundaries lovingly written to us within His word.

Here’s the thought provoking question: If one chooses to be sexual prior to marriage, why not be sexual outside of your marriage?

It’s the same act isn’t it? It’s breaking the same moral guideline, right? It bears similar consequences, doesn’t it?

When we sow sexual seeds before marriage, what makes us think we’ll reason differently or be tempted differently while married?

If you are a young person who desires to obey your heavenly Father, then choose to sow into your future marriage relationship by following God’s moral code today. Do not think that you’ll get away with acting out sexually and then have no consequences after you say “I do,” having spoken vows of commitment for the remainder of your married life.

If you have crossed God’s boundaries, then I urge you to ask for forgiveness and experience deep repentance over disobeying your heavenly Father. Your future is very connected to the seeds you sowed in the past. Break off any soul connections from prior relationships. Declare Galatians 3:13 over your life and disconnect yourself from curses spoken or sowed. Commit once again to purity before marriage and within marriage.

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Challenge, Encouragement

Everything That Can Be Invented Has Been Invented

In 1889, Charles Holland Duell was the Commissioner of the U.S. patent office. He is infamously quoted as having said that the U.S. patent office would soon shrink in size and eventually close because, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

 

Seems humorous and extremely shortsighted to us today doesn’t it? In fact, we might say there is still so much more to be invented and discovered. Did you know most new inventions are simply improvements over prior inventions? Just think about the transitions the lightbulb has gone through. We might say the more we know or discover, the more there is to know and discover.

 

It feels like decades ago now, but I met the man who invented something he called the “Stick.” He picked me up at an airport in Kentucky to take me to where I was speaking. Being inquisitive about him, I asked what he does for work. Driving an older car that was several different colors and had a trunk full of tools in it in which my suitcase did not fit, he told me he “…owned a lot of apartments that [he] had to maintain.”

 

The Stick was the tech piece that allowed the internet and your land line telephone to be used together. Prior to his invention, we used either the phone or the internet, but not both. He told me he sold his invention, not mentioning the value or bragging about his accomplishment.

 

Later, his pastor told me he became very, very wealthy through his sale, but it did not change who he was. He still loved working with his hands and getting dirty. He even rebuilt the transmission of his old car on his dining room table. He told me his wife was not very happy with him and he was looking forward to our marriage seminar that weekend! He volunteered to be my driver to and from the airport. Truly a man of humility.

 

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

 

True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life. (Proverbs 22:4)

 

Don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. (Philippians 2:3)

 

By the way, Charles Duell left the patent office to become a District of Columbia judge appointed by President Roosevelt in 1904. Perhaps a better fit for him?

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Marriage, Men, Pornography, Postmarital, Women

Is It Right to Withhold Sex in Marriage?

Throughout my years of marriage counseling, I often heard the confession that one spouse was unwilling to engage in sexual relations or, for reasons unknown, was withholding sex. With some couples it had been months and for others years had passed since they were intimate. Unfortunately, distraction or dissatisfaction in the sexual realm within marriage is not uncommon.

 

Most couples have seasons of infrequency or loss of the joy of sex or boredom, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way or that a new precedent is being set. For many married folks it is the most difficult subject to bring to the table. It seems that no matter how you approach the subject, one person can be easily offended or hurt.

 

When sex is withheld, most couples can connect it to a temporary issue like a recent fight or a strong disagreement on frequency or stress and sometimes illness. But there is a difference between decreased desire and intentionally using sex as a form of punishment or control.

 

I discovered a long time ago that abuse is always connected to power and control. Anger out of control is a form of control. Financial withholding for basic needs is a form of control and a spouse who feels unsafe, unloved or unappreciated can use sex as a form of control. Sex as a weapon in any form is unacceptable.

 

Most persons do not misuse their sexual side in a relationship but there are those who do.

 

When a woman withholds sex from her husband, it is usually a sign of something deeper going on and not about sexuality. Many women have figured out that their need for sexual release is different than their husband’s and they can use this as a form of control. Perhaps it’s not intentional, but it does happen. The problem, however, is that most women will not receive the results they are desiring. The desire to punish him for his rudeness, for forgetting your anniversary or for exhaustion will not provide for you the positive outcome that you tell yourself it will.

 

When men withhold sex, they are often denying themselves because of a fear of performance. Frequently they are carrying too much stress or are focusing their attentions elsewhere, like on a career. If a man fears rejection from his spouse, he will protect his emotions and his esteem by not asking. Also, men involved in pornography can lose interest in marital sex because their partner is not measuring up to the pictures or videos they’re viewing.

 

Here’s the thing though: if couples do not seek help outside themselves, how will they know what is normal or what is abnormal? We do not customarily enter into these conversations with others very readily so we are not aware of what are common problem issues in the bedroom. As well, we tend to assume the worst about ourselves or our marriage without clear communication.

 

Some places to start to initiate change:

  • Begin by praying about your sexual lives together.
  • Share your heart, listen and work to understand rather than to just air your grievances.
  • Listen for deeper issues that begin outside the bedroom, e.g., pain, stress, memories that surface, anxieties, depression, illness. There are reasons for no or little sexual desire.
  • Give permission to your spouse to say some difficult things without the fear of retribution or taking offense.
  • If there is a record of anger, wrongly spoken words and threats about where your sex lives have gone, then back up, repent and ask one another’s forgiveness.
  • Ask God for a means of re-set, i.e., how do we start over following prayer and communication?
  • Support one another in any way possible. You’re in this together and you’re best friends.
  • Affirm one another and reinitiate affection. Affection, like kissing, enhances sexual desire.
  • Find ways to reduce stress and time commitments outside the bedroom.
  • Maintain sexual purity and do not turn to pornography or lust.

 

Continual rejection hurts our spouse and our marriage. Sex is not a power to be wielded in order to achieve a certain outcome; it is a gift from God. Sex is something we give; it is not something we take. To be sexual within marriage means to be vulnerable. Tolerating the ongoing withholding of sex does not benefit anyone. (See I Corinthians 7:3-5.)

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