Challenge, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day

Do You Know a Drug Addict?

Being trapped in drug addiction Is a horrible way to live: the lying; the hiding; the destruction to self, your marriage, your children and your future. Several years ago, I lost my 49-year-old cousin to an overdose and I promised myself that I would not stop loving, chasing and attempting to help others.  But drug use changes things.

 

It changes relationship with God and others.  It changes financial conditions.  It changes the ability to deal with life in terms of reality.  Drug addiction stops personal growth and causes regression. It is idolatry at its finest.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not judging drug addicts as having the worst sin because each of us have our issues.  But it affects so many areas of life that the personal cost, the family cost and the societal cost is so great; all the while, the person can sometimes live in denial of their very own problem.  It is called a “disease” and I guess that is how our world tries to understand, define and cope with it.

 

The problem with that, in my mind, is that so much personal choice and responsibility are involved.  Truly “disease” is a better term than mental illness, but when we make a continual choice to abuse, regardless of the number of rehabs we have gone through or programs at huge expense to so many, then I feel the need to ask the question that Jesus asked, “Do you want to be well?”

 

The real disease is often directly connected to selfishness.  You have effectively made yourself more important than anyone else in your life.  If that sounds harsh, please let me explain.  We are not our own; we were bought with a price.  I Corinthians 13 reminds us that love does not seek its own.  When we live in self-centeredness, forgetting who we really are, who we were made to be, why we were created in the image of God, we forget whose image we are truly to live in.  When we are consumed with our own selfish desires, we will never love others in the way we were created to and, hear me, that includes loving ourselves.

 

Maybe mentally these persons feel as though they have no choice.  I have never been there.  But in the lives of those whom I have cared about, I have watched them throw away those who love them, those who employ them and those who truly care about them.  No one is beyond hope, the love of Jesus or life change, but don’t we have to want it, desire it, be passionate for it?  Don’t we need to want to be well?  Don’t we need to stop choosing and chasing this “disease” that is killing us?

 

If I am not writing these things in love, then I have no voice; it’s only religious judgment.  But if I speak from love, concern and God’s heart, then hear me.  No matter our sin, our history, our personal pain or our idolatry, there is an answer, always an answer which gives freedom.  It is the cross, the Man who carried your sorrow, your grief, your pain and your addiction.  He is the only One who can identify and redeem.  Be assured of His love and the hope always found in Him.  Come home to Him, please, before it’s too late.

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Challenge, Encouragement, In the news, Issues of the Day

Challenging Beginnings

I was perusing an older (2013) Forbes magazine article and came across something intriguing. It was a brief article about the so called “American Dream” and how some billionaires faced very humbling and difficult beginnings. The article offered a few real-life examples.

 

Larry Ellison, co-founder of the Oracle Corporation, born in the Bronx, NY and who now owns Hawaii’s Lanai Island was given up for adoption after contracting pneumonia when only nine months old. He did not see his biological mother again until he was 48 years old.

 

Shahid Kahn who owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and one of the US’s largest private companies immigrated from Pakistan and worked for $1.20 an hour as a dishwasher to put himself through the University of Illinois.

 

Oprah Winfrey, the former host of the highest-rated talk shows in TV history, was born in Mississippi to a single, teenage mother and then bounced among family members and finally ran away in her teens to escape abuse.

 

Howard Schultz, who we know as the builder and owner of Starbucks coffee, grew up in a housing project in Canarsie, Brooklyn, NY. His family was left destitute when his father lost his job after an injury. Howard’s mother pleaded with him to not start a coffee company because, “Who’s going to buy coffee?”

 

Not one of these persons were born into wealth with a silver spoon handed to them. I find it interesting that most of us would downplay our ability to create something that has great potential.

 

Since the beginning of time, people have been trading goods and services in order to also create a better standard of living. Steve Forbes has said, “Money measures wealth; it is not wealth itself.” Money is what we attach to goods and services.

 

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the world’s economy and many will sit back and allow it to happen. I pray that Christians around the world will pursue God’s next creative idea for them which will have a direct and lasting effect upon those around them.

 

Regardless of your beginnings, what ideas (good works) has God given you to help others, while at the same time, creating income for you and your family? Has this season of rest or pause generated ideas within you?

 

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Women

Social Distancing in Marriage and 7 Ways to Defeat It

While the world is doing their best to act in good faith and maintain a six-foot social distance, it caused me to wonder about marriages that have been “social distancing” for years. We’ve met with couples who were not sleeping together any longer and couples who rarely have intimacy. We’ve met with husbands and wives who no longer take the time to communicate about their day and who no longer pray together.

 

For some, they’ve come to the conclusion that this is normality – a sort of growing old together with acceptable life changes. But those are excuses for what they have allowed into their relationship. They are excuses for abnormal behavior leaking into their hearts and minds causing a separation. They tolerate something they would have never tolerated early in their marriage and the long-term result has been social distance within their relationship.

 

It hurts because they both long for what they’re missing, but either one or both are too proud to admit the deficit, let alone take steps to heal it. There is an answer for social distancing in a marriage that goes so far as to affect and disrupt daily life. Below are some practical steps that you can take to alleviate the distance that may have come between you.

 

  1. Admit within yourself the reality of the distance and then take a step of faith and open up about it with your spouse.
  2. Ask God for forgiveness, ask your spouse for forgiveness and forgive yourself for allowing distance to occur.
  3. Attempt to create a list of any areas the two of you feel there might be distance without judgement or argument.
  4. Take a step to begin to close the distance. For example: in what ways can we improve our communication connection and when, where and how can we start?
  5. Create a new habit of thinking about our connections and how we can keep improving them.
  6. Go for a walk together and hold hands. It is amazing what can be generated from these simple gestures.
  7. Pray and ask your heavenly Father for other ideas for closing the gap and reclaiming intimacy within your marriage relationship.
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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Training

Ten Ways to Became Debt-Free

Financial debt can feel so impossible, so overwhelming at times. Over 80% of Americans are in debt and the personal average debt figure (excluding mortgages) is $38,000.00. Experian’s 2019 figure for Americans’ debt with mortgages is over $90K. When our income is not much more than our outgoing, it becomes even more challenging. Below is what we did to arrive at a debt-free position.

 

  1. My wife and I prayed together about becoming debt-free and had the same conviction. So, being in agreement and prayer together has always been step one.
  2. It is essential to give. We have desired to give beyond a 10% tithe because we wanted to do more than expected. I know it sounds counterproductive, but I can guarantee you that in giving (“Give and it shall be given unto you…”) God always honored His word and gave us a return, “…pressed down, shaken together and running over.” Practically, we sow into missionaries around the world, local ministries we appreciate and tip generously at restaurants. We believe in a spirit of generosity in all things.
  3. Build up a healthy savings account so that you can borrow from yourself and not your credit card when facing an emergency.
  4. Speaking of credit cards: we never carry a balance. You will not become debt-free paying 21% or greater interest on a credit card balance.
  5. Start by paying off your smallest debt. Once you accomplish this and feel the freedom, place that amount on your next debt and snowball your effectiveness of paying down your existing debt.
  6. Make a commitment to not borrow. Have the conviction of scripture which tells us the borrower is servant to the lender. (Note: we recognize many of us borrow for our home, which is perceived as good debt, but this too can be paid down early by paying extra on the principle.)
  7. Run your present car until the wheels fall off. Cars today can reach 150,000 plus miles. Maintaining a used car is most times cheaper than a new car payment. Meanwhile, save for your next used car purchase.
  8. Maintain and keep a close eye on that budget. Watch areas like entertainment, eating out, purchasing unnecessary items. Wait 30 days for a large purchases and if you still need it in 30 days, it may actually be a need versus a want. Have a plan and agree together on your spending.
  9. Recognize it takes sacrifice and discipline, but the goal is worth it. Yes, we do without some items like that newer computer or larger smart TV, but believe me, the sacrifice does not compare to the freedom found in becoming debt-free.
  10. Be accountable. Be accountable to one another in all of your saving and spending, even weekly. Remind yourselves that it is those small, miscellaneous expenditures that can really add up. Agree to weekly or monthly spending amounts for groceries, clothes, gifts, entertainment, sundry items like coffee and snacks. Give grace, but be accountable. It will pay off.

 

Truthfully, we can be in financial bondage with a lot of money or very little money, but when we agree together to our process of becoming debt-free, we will also find wonderful side effects. Those side effects can include: less arguments about money, less pressure when paying the bills, joy in agreement toward a certain goal and the growth of tenacity, discipline and patience in our lives, even if becoming debt-free takes ten or twenty years.

 

Romans 13:8: Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.

 

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Healing, Issues of the Day, Parents

The Passing of My Father

My father has been in assisted living for seven years. For almost six of those years he was very unhappy to be there and voiced his complaints vehemently to me during almost every visit. More recently we were unable to see him from March to August due to COVID restrictions. We called, but it’s not the same and a 97-year-old blind man whose day-to-day life does not change struggles to have conversation on the phone. But finally, in August we were able to have an outdoor, “socially distanced” visit with him.

 

Not understanding COVID and not understanding the distance, he kept reaching his arms out for our usual hugs. We explained the situation only to have him do the same five minutes later. The nurse explained, but once again he wanted a hug, any kind of touch from us when the visit was over. It was heartwrenching and way too sad for my dad, knowing he wasn’t comprehending a world pandemic.

 

Several weeks later we were told by hospice staff for no known reason that he was going downhill very quickly. We went to see him. This time they allowed us in his room with masks. We touched him, talked to him, prayed with him and kissed him. He never awoke or responded. The next day we were back. We held his hand and stroked his arm, we read scripture and prayed and there was no response. My children called their grandpa and voiced their tear-filled goodbyes; then my mother and finally my sister also spoke to him. I placed the phone by his ear hoping that he could hear them.

 

Because he was a professional accordion player since he was a teenager, we found accordion music on my phone — polkas, his favorite. For his last hour of breath, he heard something familiar and something he loved, an accordion. In three brief hours he passed, forever gone from our lives on this earth. Under my breath I said, “See you later, Dad; it’s not goodbye.”

 

There is no perfect family and certainly no perfect father. I was not a perfect father and I do not have a perfect family. We hold our parents up to perfection, but at the same time give ourselves a free pass from maintaining any form of perfection ourselves. There is no perfect son or daughter.

 

I am thankful for the father God gave me, for it was He who saw fit to give me birth into this family and not another. And at his moment of death, I was also thankful for so many other things. Things like: he prayed with my wife to receive Christ ten years earlier; we were in good relationship; I walked in forgiveness; I told him I loved him; I was not angry at him for anything and I trust I will see him again because Someone else forgave him.

 

Enjoy a video of my father still playing his accordion in his mid 90’s. I remember him commenting about his mistakes and how embarassed he was by his “old age,” not so nimble fingers.  

 

It was Jesus who said we were to forgive as we have been forgiven. Those words are straight from His prescription pad. When taken seriously, they have medicinal purposes. It is medicine, not for the one who you feel needs forgiven, but rather for you. Forgiveness always brings personal freedom and can mend relationships.

 

Over many years of life I have come to believe that one of the greatest indicators of personal and emotional health is if you have dealt with your father wounds – for some, mother wounds. Regardless of history, he is still your father and the love of Jesus demands that you love him and serve him in any way you can. When we take that fifth commandment of the Old Testament (repeated once agan in the New Testament) seriously, we are given a promise: if you honor your father and mother, God will honor you with long life.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Obedience in All Things

On occasion, when speaking or training and then having the opportunity to sell or give away some of the books that I have authored, I am requested to sign the book for the purchaser. I have always found that request to be a bit unnerving.

 

There is this sense of unworthiness, Why would anyone desire my signature? I get it, as I have asked a few authors to sign a book I purchased, but I tell myself it’s different. I think they are famous or well known or just simply amazing in their message. I want to be honest in the estimation of myself as the scripture reminds us to do, but at the same time, I do not desire any sense of false humility in my life. False humility is a nice way of saying I am dealing with pride.

We are reminded in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” I am imperfect for sure, but there is a good work that is happening in my life. There is an “attitude of our minds” which is relevant to who we are or how we see ourselves. If that attitude reflects worthlessness or inadequacy, then we are actually downplaying what our heavenly Father is building within us.

 

I am not complete, but I am also not totally incomplete. I am not a world famous, number one best-selling author, but God has given me things to write about and I must faithfully obey His voice. And I suppose that is the ultimate goal—obedience.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

A Lack of Protection and Security in Your Home

During my grade school years, we had the occasional, but normal fire drills and we also participated in bomb drill exercises. We were instructed by our teacher to place our heads and upper torso under our desks, just in case the day would come that there would be a real bomb. Those were some pretty powerful desks! Our school even had its own bomb shelter located in the basement of the building. It seems the thought was during the cold war, at any given time, we could be bombed. Pretty scary stuff for a grade schooler.

 

If you or I grow up in an unsafe environment, an environment of insecurity, abuse, neglect or simply without parental protection we too can deal with similar emotions of fear. We all need a safe environment and we all need protection. We need the protection of laws to maintain society. We need the protection of natural parents and spiritual parents.  We need the protection of our spouse. Each of us require multiple areas of needed protection.

 

However, occasionally that protection is missing, neglected or lacking in existence. Sometimes a husband is standing idly by and not protecting his wife and family. Sometimes a wife has her priorities elsewhere. When we as a spouse fail to follow God’s word, responding in a godly manner with righteous, loving, protective authority, our spouse and our children will not know security. Long term insecurity can lead to anxiety, a loss of identity and fear. And when fear is present, love is absent.

 

A spirit of fear is not from God. The Father’s heart is to love and protect you and it is His desire to use husbands and fathers, wives and mothers in that protection as well. In what ways are you providing loving protection to your spouse and children today, which in turn brings security, safety and the lack of fear?

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Challenge, Encouragement, In the news, Issues of the Day

“I Have Pieces of Paper, But No Money”

My daughter was getting married and we were deep in conversation with the owner of the wedding venue. She was Latin. She came to North America when she was in her twenties, having to leave her home country because she was “reading and suspected of teaching subversive anti-government material.”

 

She came to America with a few personal belongings and virtually no English-speaking capabilities. She was living with her sister and brother-in-law and her first job was washing dishes in a restaurant even though she was a trained and educated school teacher in her country of origin. She was doing her best to grasp the English language while also attending night school classes. She struggled to pass the tests in this language that was so new and so difficult. She tenaciously took those same classes over and over until she passed.

 

She said to me, “I sat in those classes in total fear of failing and I worked my heart out to wash dishes to the best of my ability.” She wanted to pay her sister rent but told her sister the job of washing dishes, “Does not pay.” Her brother-in-law asked her why they are not paying her. She didn’t know the answer but told him they hand her an envelope every two weeks with paper in it. Wisely, he asked to see those pieces of paper.

 

They were paychecks. She had valuable pieces of paper, but no money. This precious woman went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree and at the time of our conversation was working on her Master’s degree. She and her husband purchased the wedding venue so she could have a business that she loved.

 

I was so impressed with this precious lady and her story that my daughter had to keep reminding me why we were there. I just couldn’t hear enough. It was a success story of perseverence. She told me no one helped her financially and at one point was working two jobs while attending college fulltime and paying for her own small apartment.

 

Can you imagine sitting in a classroom unable to understand the language of your lecturer and then trying to pass the tests? No one convinced this courageous lady it could not be done. What are you up against today? Is there a struggle in your life that seems insurmountable? You can do it; God is on your side and nothing is impossible with Him. (See Luke 1:37.)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Prayer

For the Love of Rocks

I accomplished all of my own landscaping, by trial and error, but it is something I enjoy. While landscaping, I used rocks–lots of rocks. I outlined specific landscaped areas, made steps, created a retaining wall, built a sidewalk and even a bench seat all out of local, beautiful and from small to large rocks.

 

Finding all of those rocks was no easy task. They came from barn foundations and walls. Most of them were hand hewn and some had holes drilled right through them for one purpose or another. I would often pause and think about how many hands touched this certain rock, what quarry it originated from and was its natural beauty noticed for a century or more before I obtained it?

 

Recently in accomplishing yet another landcaping project at my home, I was once again in need of a few rocks. This time I had no idea how to find the particular color I needed. I voiced a request on social media and had an immediate response. I was told about a young stone mason who collected rocks, tons and tons of rocks.

 

I called him and we arranged a time to meet. This young man loved rocks more than me. He had dump truck loads spread over acres of ground. He had gray, brown, red, tan, black and even white rocks. I never saw so many rocks in one location. And when he heard of my love for these precious stones he couldn’t stop talking about them and then showing me his many, many accumulations. He knew the origination of each pile of rocks collected and he was excited about sharing a rock commonality. He even wanted to give me the few rocks I needed.

 

How is it that God cared enough to show me the way to some rock piles? Or did He so care about this young man that I was destined to meet, build a repore with him in order to share about faith? Not sure.

 

Matthew 6 tells us to not worry about food or clothes (or in this case, rocks). He feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field. He tells us to seek Him first because He knows where all the rock piles are located.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Leadership

A Message I Shared from 2011

Recently I received a random phone call from a friend. He was driving to North Carolina at the time while his wife slept comfortably beside him in the passenger seat. He found himself feeling somewhat drowsy and remembered that he had thrown a box of “old” CD’s in the truck with him. He decided to reach behind his driver’s seat and arbitrarily choose one. After blindly selecting, he noticed it was a teaching from 2011 when I spoke at his local church.

 

He then said this to me, “Steve, you just can’t imagine how relevant your message was to both of us at this specific time. We so enjoyed it. To think that I just randomly pulled it from a box of old CD’s and there we were listening to a message you spoke in 2011.” I thanked him for the encouragement that call was to me.

 

It caused me to think about the fact that a nine-year-old message could be a blessing to someone today. We tend to forget those messages and often wonder if anyone was listening, received anything and whether or not they actually made some sort of application to their personal life. Be encouraged if you are a trainer, a teacher, a pastor or a blog writer. You never know if the message you share today may end up being a direct blessing and encouragement a year from today, a decade from today or beyond.

 

I am simply intrigued how God does these kinds of things. Please be assured that your heavenly Father does not miss a thing in your life or those lives you are responsible for. Be encouraged to know you are affecting others just as they are affecting your life. Perhaps you need to call or write to someone as my friend did and encourage them for their faithful acts of service that have personally blessed you. Go ahead, bless someone with affirmation today.

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