Challenge, Encouragement, Identity, Prayer

It’s An Unfair Advantage!

As believers, we have an unfair advantage! 

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. I Kings 4:29, 30

Proverbs 2:1-6 – My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

With God on our side, watching our backs, going before us, behind us and beside us, we have an unfair advantage as believers. The Holy Spirit is always working on our behalf in us and through us. Jesus loves us, saves us and heals us. He goes before the Father in intercession for us. 

We live in a world of favor, mercy and blessing. Our minds, controlled by the Spirit, always have the potential to think His thoughts, have His insights and walk in His wisdom. We are never without His presence, His going before us and His protection of us. We walk throughout life in an unfair advantage.

We serve and have daily access to the best lawyer, banker, mortgage agent, doctor, dentist, counselor, scientist, financial manager, retirement planner, head hunter and boss. He opens doors before us and closes those which we are not to enter. He has the answer to every question and insight into every problem. He is the inventor, innovator and creator. All wisdom and all insight reside within Him and He freely shares this wisdom with us as He did with Daniel, David, Moses, Solomon and Esther.

We are never alone, never without hope and never without a friend. He is our safe place, our comforter and our lover. We are never without an answer to a question; we have a fulltime advocate and we walk with the Teacher of teachers. We clearly have an advantage in serving Him, loving Him, placing Him first in our lives and pursuing Him with all of our heart. 

This unfair advantage is given to us freely but we must take hold of it. We must call upon Him first and foremost. We look to Him before anything or anyone. He is our source and our explanation. He is the Good News and He longs to give every one of us this advantage. 

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Challenge, Marriage, Men, Pornography, Postmarital, Women

God’s Creative Plan Vs. the Counterfeit

God’s plan has always been that sex remains within the boundaries of marriage. Many years ago, I heard someone say that God’s creative plan also has a counterfeit: sex before the commitment of marriage and no sex afterward. 

So, who actually enjoys the best sex and the most sexual frequency? There was an interesting book some years ago called, The Case for Marriage. The authors (Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher) stated, “Married people have both more and better sex than [sexually active] singles do. They not only have sex more often, but they enjoy it more, both physically and emotionally.”

If that’s true, why is it true? They state four reasons: proximity – a long-term contact with greater investment – exclusivity, a mutually agreeable sex life and emotional bonding – caring for one another outside the bedroom. I would add to that list: knowing each other – likes dislikes and how to serve one another in the bedroom along with the fact that it is the safest sex. Sexual encounters are dangerous encounters. They may be full of excitement initially, but they can be full of worry and anxiety thereafter.

What are some reasons as to why sexual intimacy is inhibited? Well, here are a few:

  • Over scheduling and self-depletion
  • Lack of communication
  • Selfishness, not serving one another
  • The lack of non-sexual touch
  • Pornography
  • Not planning intimacy
  • Poor hygiene
  • Unresolved conflict
  • Not connecting spiritually
  • Not respecting each other
  • Not maintaining your attractiveness
  • The lack of affirming and complementing each other
  • A history with “intimacy anorexia”*

What will actually build intimacy?

  • Praying together
  • Sharing the workload at home
  • Date nights
  • Weekends away
  • Reading helpful books
  • Seeking counsel
  • Nonsexual touch
  • Communicating the desire
  • Scheduling sex

Scheduling sex? Yep! We schedule every other life event; why not develop a schedule for intimacy? A schedule helps us to prepare mentally. It helps us to not have our intimacy stolen from us. It helps us to connect and to keep at bay those small arguments that can turn into something larger. Sex is a gift from our Creator and it’s given by Him only to the husband and wife to enjoy. 

*A term Dr. Doug Weiss coined. It is defined as the active withholding of intimacy to one’s spouse.

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

Lust: Men Viewing Women; Women Viewing Men

Why is it that women get blamed for causing men to lust and why is it that men are blamed for pressuring women to dress provocatively? We’ve all heard it expressed one way or another that a woman should be able to walk down the street without clothing and not catch a lustful eye or be blamed for “asking” to be attacked sexually. Of certainty, no right-thinking man wants to experience this and no self-respecting woman should even consider or desire this. 

The key words written above are “right thinking.” Regardless of how someone dresses, we are responsible for our thoughts and imaginations. We say “yes” to lust. Every excuse that men use, i.e., she chooses to dress provocatively, is just that–an excuse for a wandering and often sinful mind.

If a woman does not know who she is or whose she is and if she chooses to dress with the lust-filled attention of men in mind, then that reflects her lack of self-love and self-respect.

Either way, it is our choice to monitor our thinking and take responsibility for our choices.

With that established, we love attacking the other sex for our problems, not taking responsibility for our own fallen nature. Of course, this issue is not new. In Genesis three, the man blamed the woman and then the woman blamed the serpent for disobedience to their Creator. Taking responsibility for our own eyes seems to be something we tend to avoid when it’s easy to blame another. 

We are admonished to not be a “stumbling block” to another and we know the “lust of the eyes” to be one of the three sins that can provoke other sinful issues. (See Romans 14:13 and I John 2:16.) We crave what we cannot have. It’s a part of our brokenness and the fallen nature we walk in. There is a multibillion-dollar industry built on the lust of the flesh called pornography.

But I don’t just want to talk about the problem or simply expose it. I do believe there is an answer. That answer begins with taking responsibility for ourselves, no matter how a woman dresses or what a woman perceives that a man wants from her and other woman. 

In the Old Testament, the penalty for adultery was being stoned to death – a fatal outcome. In the New Testament, there is a much higher expectation to not even look at another with an adulterous thought. Jesus gives us a higher goal to reach than the Old Testament law does. The Jesus standard is to catch the thought before it becomes an action. The reason? Jesus never looked down upon any woman or man. In His teaching there was no lesser sex; both were equally important, equally valued and equally responsible. 

Jesus is the second Adam. (See I Corinthians 15:20-22.) He is the One who broke the curse of Genesis chapter three. How do we know this? Galatians 3:13 states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” 

We can stop blaming one another because of the second Adam, the One who came to heal us of our lustful nature, redeem us from the curse of the law by dying a curse for us. He has come to heal the lust of the eye and the pride of life that so easily entangles us.

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Challenge, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Pornography, Postmarital, Singles, Women

Boundries for Our Marriage

Leaders often ask my wife and I about boundaries in marriage and it truly is an important question. With the help of others, I took some time to list those boundaries in this blog for you. My desire would be that they are helpful guidelines for you and your spouse as you think about boundaries and integrity within your own relationship. 

Priority number one is daily time with God. We also have a devotional time as a couple nightly.

We practice doing our best to go to bed together and not getting in the habit of watching TV all evening.

We are careful about the number of evening meetings during the week.

We pray about and are careful about the number of requests to say “yes” to, e.g., boards, parachurch ministries, clubs, school board, township meetings, political office, etc. While all of these can be great, they can also rob us of valuable time together.

We work hard to not allow sexual intimacy to be stolen from us.

We do our best to eat dinner together. This was especially important when our children were at home with us.

We could not meet with or relate to everyone as they saw their need. We learned to say “no” so we could say “yes” to the relationships we felt were most important.

We committed to take a weekly sabbath and family day for down time, rest and play.

We take time in prayer together each morning for our family and others on our heart.

We judiciously engage in time to cover schedules, keeping one another abreast on daily whereabouts and always letting our spouse know if we’ll be later than planned.

I committed to not traveling in ministry/work away from the family for more than 7-10 consecutive days. While away, I would check in frequently with my wife.

When possible, take a traveling friend or mentor if your spouse is not traveling with you.

When in another nation or area, being careful to not travel alone, tour alone or place oneself in any possible vulnerable situation. 

We would take several weekends away each year as a couple. Our goal was once a quarter, but that didn’t always materialize, especially with a young family.

We dated our children. They had individual time with parents, and in that way they understood their parents going on a date. 

Since our children are raised, we take a week of vacation together every year.

Both of us remain accountable to our direct overseers. I meet monthly while my wife meets two times per year. 

Taking a two-month long sabbatical every seven years was life-giving to me, our marriage and family along with refreshment and refocus for my work.

I guard my heart and mind with internet use, TV and movies. I practice zero tolerance with pornography and the like.

As a pastoral counselor doing individual counseling with someone of the opposite sex, I required the counselee to have a friend, an overseer or accountability partner with them.

I try to be extremely wise and careful about riding in a car alone with someone of the opposite sex or being in a public place (restaurant) alone.

I am cautious about praying alone with someone of the opposite sex because of the intimacy of prayer.

What would you add to this list? Please find your personal boundaries and at the same time find accountability and integrity within your lifelong marriage relationship.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Marriage, Training

Have You Surrendered?

Surrender. It’s an interesting word. In western culture, it can be a negative word because it means to give up rights, to yield, to relinquish control or comfort. These are all things we hold onto tightly, often for self-preservation.

To give up control for some is terrifying. We cling onto power and control in order to have some sense of oneself having legal standing, political standing, religious standing or just human rights standing. 

To be in total control of our lives literally means to perceive oneself as knowing better than God. To walk through life in this way is to worship the idol of self. The Commandments told us to worship no other gods but the Lord God and yet we often persist in demanding our rights, e.g., it’s my body, it’s my life, what I do behind closed doors is my business, etc. To be in total control of one’s life is a scary place to reside. How so?

  1. You can only trust you. 
  2. You dare not surrender your rights to anyone for anything.
  3. You are pressed to ultimately decide your own fate.
  4. You must hold back emotions so as to not be out of control.
  5. You must be suspect of any input.
  6. You must control or avoid any life-changing decisions and the persons initiating or provoking those changes.

In an avoidance of surrender, you must control all input, all process and all output from your life. It is an exhausting way to live. Mentally you are forced to stay ahead of everyone, you are continually second guessing those around you, perfection becomes your go-to process in order to avoid the loss of control and your rights must, at all cost, remain front and center. We see this exemplified all around us in our culture today. 

Enter Jesus. Jesus, the Savior who asks you to give up control. Jesus, the One who says to relinquish control to Him–all control. It’s no longer your money, your will, your sexuality, your political side or your self-gratification. Jesus requires surrender. 

For me to say, “I give up my rights to __________” goes against everything my flesh desires. But isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross for you and me? He gave up every right as the Son of God, Creator of heaven and earth, Creator of you and me in order to surrender His life willingly. He didn’t surrender to get something, He surrendered to give something–salvation to all of mankind. We surrender our lives to Him in order to give our lives to His kingdom. 

When we surrender our passions, our careers, our bank accounts, our pain, our lust, our children, our marriage, our employment and our sin to our Savior we are not losing control, we are gaining freedom from control. 

Do you desire true faith? Surrender.

Do you desire liberty? Surrender.

Do you desire freedom from sin? Surrender.

Do you desire freedom from yourself and your own control? Surrender.

When we surrender to Jesus, not just as our Savior, but as our Lord, we are saying that we are done with all of our self-efforts of power and control. We are finished with self-preservation. We are through with addictive behaviors leading us. We are done becoming angry over those who we perceive as annoyingly different from us. When we surrender control, we can let go of controlling and manipulating others to be who we thought we needed them to be. 

When we fully surrender control, we will find an intimacy with the Father like never before. The more we surrender, the more freedom we’ll experience. 

Marriages in which both partners stop trying to control the other are happy and fulfilling marriages. Relationships minus control are liberating and peace-filled. 

Are you willing to die to control so that you can experience the freedom that comes from trusting God?

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Challenge, Issues of the Day

How Are You Handling Life’s Recalculations?

How annoying is it when your GPS keeps repeating the word, “Recalculating?” You miss a turn or do not want to proceed as recommended and you continually hear, “Recalculating.” Even after a major mistake and completely missing the mapped-out road, the only comment you hear is, “Recalculating.”

What if your GPS had feelings? What if instead of the word recalculating it would say what it felt?  For example, “You idiot, I told you to turn 500 feet ago!” Or, how about, “You moron, can you even follow directions?!” Or when it resets you on a course to get you back on track your GPS states, “See if I ever offer you any help again, you loser!”

Nope, the human factor of feelings is missing on your GPS device and it will never say those things. 

But what about your human factor when you lose patience with someone? What about your human factor when someone confronts your behavior or the inflamatory words you’re using? 

God always has a gentle and patient way of “recalculating” us so we stay on track or get back on track. 

You were created with feelings/emotions/reactions to your thoughts. May they grow in patience and love for yourself and for others.

A fool gives full bent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11)

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

Cracks in Your Foundation

Foundations hold buildings upright. Foundations go deep into the soil below frost lines. Foundations are necessary in buildings, in family relationships, in work places, in communities and in marriages.

Good foundations keep the forces of nature from creating catastrophic damages to structures and those structures keep people safe. Foundations help set direction and establish capacities. You need a strong foundation for your marriage and your family. 

Marriages that begin on faulty foundations like living together, lying about former relationships, hiding sin or hiding debt will most assuredly face major challenges in the early years. 

What is one practical, real-life item that will keep your marriage and family foundation strong? 

                                                                    INTEGRITY

Integrity helps build a high capacity, low stress and highly successful relationship foundation to marriage. One lie, one close to the truth statement or one compromise can begin to cause cracks in your foundation. Once a crack begins, it tends to become worse and eventually compromises the whole foundation. You can place temporary fixes on the cracks, but they will ultimately weaken.

To see all that God has for you and your relationship, each and every crack must be thoroughly repaired to a noncompromising state. In order to enjoy the blessings of God upon your family, you’ll need honest confessions and then forms of care for healing.

Good foundations in marriage allow for the growth of integrity, the forgiveness of when we do it wrong and the hope for a better future. Maintaining a good foundation means maintaining one’s integrity in all things without compromise. 

Tell the truth, confess your fault, stay humble, forsake pride and walk in honesty before your God and life mate.

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Challenge, Children, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

National Divorce Day?

Did you know that “national divorce day” is the first working Monday of the year? Divorce attorneys report the highest incidents of divorce filings occur on that day.

Once the papers are signed, they can now go on with their lives. It’s easily accomplished with a small, very small printed newspaper article declaring publicly a divorce granted and legally filed in the county courthouse. The “I do” has effectively turned into “I don’t.” Their homes are separate; their children have two beds and two dressers.

In this couple’s mind, it is the end of arguments, trying to get along, counseling and late night, knockdown, drag out, heated disagreements. It is the end of trying to make decisions together. It is the end of needing to consider the other in any and every decision. They also think it’s the end of hurtful, emotionally charged words and sarcasm. And no more ridiculous faces of disgust to look at.

But it’s not over! It’s never over as long as the two shall live. The kids will go back and forth and it will take an inordinate amount of communication. The lack of attention to detail and facts concerning any relational connection will still be present. There will still be the unkind words and demeaning facial expressions. Anger will be present and it will cause further heated discussions over kids, over activities or weekends and over money.

Still present will be the emotional upheavals, tears and ongoing loss. Holidays will be especially difficult and extended family will suffer as well. 

Then, just imagine bringing new dating relationships into this mix. It is a scheduling nightmare day in and day out. Children crying and saying, “I want to go to mommy’s house.” Parents crying and trying to bring some kind of new normal to their children. More counseling. More doctor visits because of more stress. More stress because at the end of the day it’s all up to you. There is no longer a spouse to lean on and to share the load. Your life is so totally different you barely recognize it. 

You’re single again. What does that even mean, look like, feel like? You’re not 19 or 20 years old. Wow, how life has drastically changed!

No wonder God stated in His word how much He hated divorce (Malachi 2:15, 16). He knew how destructive it would be. He knew how difficult and hard on a family it would be. And He knew the brokenness involved in each and every divorce. Being alone again is no dream-filled panacea. Not every relationship can be repaired or even should be, however; it sure is worth trying and praying toward that end.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day

Promises for the New Year – 2022

Mary, my wife, and I spent some time away evaluating our year, giving thanks to God and then taking an extended time of dreaming toward the future. Why? We have so much to be thankful for, we want to learn from our mistakes and we know that we always have a future and a hope through our relationship with our heavenly Father and the love we share for each another. 

We realize that magnitude, intensity and nature of our problems do not matter as long as we have our faith and trust in God intact. We also realize that God has a redemptive purpose behind every life difficulty and He then uses situations to develop character in each of us. As character is built so is grace, patience and honesty.

It’s an exercise of letting go of the prior year with each and every blessing or problem we faced behind us and embracing a brand-new year, a fresh start, a new beginning. One thing we love to do is find scripture that helps us in our faith and gives us hope for the year forthcoming. 

We thought we would share some of those hope-filled, life-giving scriptures for your new year. You can pray, memorize or just regularly read over them for a faith building exercise. 

With that, we bless you and give God thanks for you in this brand-new year 2022!

And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great. (Job 8: 7)

You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. (Psalm 65: 11)

The LORD’S loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31: 8)

He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. (Deuteronomy 7: 13)

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43: 18-19)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29: 11)

Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. (Habakkuk 1: 5)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4: 6)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1: 17)

Certainly there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 23: 18)

A man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. (Deuteronomy 23: 5)

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90: 12)

May He send you help from the sanctuary, And support you from Zion! (Psalm 20: 2) May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! (Psalm 20: 4)

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Men, Parents

Your Father’s Faith and Christmas

Did you have a father that passed on his faith to you? If so, you were one of the blessed ones. There is no perfect dad, but if you had a dad that shared the Christian faith with you, taught you to pray, taught you God’s word and walked his talk, you were blessed beyond measure. 

Dad’s want to see their children smile and laugh as they open their well thought out Christmas gifts. Perhaps they saved all year in order to purchase that bike or doll house. Maybe they sacrificed and went without something for themselves just so their son or daughter could be blessed with the gift of their dreams. Dads and moms want to bring joy to their children, especially at Christmas time. 

Christmas is also a time to remember those who are less fortunate. Perhaps you filled one of those Christmas boxes as my wife did and were excited about Samaritan’s Purse distributing it to a needy child. Or maybe you are going caroling with your small group to the elderly neighbor who has few visitors. Perhaps you bake cookies and give them to your friends and neighbors, letting them know how much you appreciate them.

Whatever the season brings, it’s a time to think of others who are going through a difficult period. Did you ever hear this story from Senator John McCain’s book, “Faith of My Fathers”?

On Christmas Day, we were always treated to a better-than-usual dinner. We were also allowed to stand outside our cells for five minutes to exercise or to just look at the trees in the sky. One Christmas, a few months after the gun guard had inexplicably come to my assistance during my long night in the interrogation room, I was standing in the dirt courtyard when I saw him approach me. He walked up and stood silently next to me. Again he didn’t smile or look at me. He just stared at the ground in front of us. After a few moments had passed he rather nonchalantly used his sandaled foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We both stood wordlessly looking at the cross until, after a minute or two, he rubbed it out and walked away. I saw my good Samaritan often after the Christmas when we venerated the cross together. But he never said a word to me nor gave the slightest signal that he acknowledged my humanity.

We have so much to be grateful for. Remember those who protect you and keep you safe, those who deliver your mail, those who remove your trash, those who teach your children and those spiritual leaders who pray for you. It is a season of giving because God gave His Son to you. 

Draw a cross in the dirt (or the snow) and let your light shine.

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