Children, Encouragement, In the news, Parents

He Never Stops Searching for the Kidnapped

It’s an older story now and a Lifetime movie. In 1997, Luzaida Cuevas’ 10-day-old daughter, Delimar Vera, reportedly died in a Philadelphia, Pa row home fire. The mother searched for her baby in her crib and noticed an open window, but could not find her. The fire personnel told ‘Luz’ the fire was so hot it consumed her little body without a trace, but Luz never believed that story and tried to hire a lawyer. She could not afford those expenses, but never stopped believing that her daughter was alive. And then, one amazing day…

 

Six years later on January 24th, Luz was attending a children’s birthday party and she spotted a little six-year-old girl with a pronounced dimple she recognized immediately. She called the girl to her telling her she had gum in her hair. Having seen crime shows on TV, she was able to secure a few strands of the child’s hair for DNA testing.

 

The DNA test confirmed Luzaida’s suspicion, it was her daughter who was kidnapped by a frequent visitor to her home. The kidnapper set her home a blaze as a distraction. A local state politician helped Luz secure the DNA test and connected her with the police. The kidnapper was arrested and eventually Delimar was returned to her biological mother.

 

Reading this story about the never-ending love of a mother, a mother who did not give up believing her daughter was alive reminds me of something. After six years, that same mother just knew her eyes and her soul were connecting with the daughter she had last seen at the age of ten days. It reminds me of God’s love and God’s heart for me, for you and for all of mankind. I could just sense how our Father searches and waits to restore those who are lost, those who have been kidnapped by the world around them.

 

They are your relatives and your neighbors. Even though we may struggle in our relationships with these persons at times, God does not. He is relentlessly pursuing them with His love, His acceptance, His healing and His salvation.

 

 

“God, give us eyes to see them as You see them, to love them as You love them and to pray for them. Help us to not be angry with them, but rather with their ‘kidnapper.’”

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

Fatherlessness

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation approximately 35 percent of U.S. children under age 18 live in a single-parent home as of 2016. These children have a greater risk of drug and alcohol use, incarceration, poverty, dropping out of high school, suicide, running away or homelessness. Here are the statistics to lend support to those greater risks.

*85% of youth who are currently in prison grew up in a fatherless home. (Texas Department of Corrections)

7 out of every 10 youth that are housed in state-operated correctional facilities, including detention and residential treatment, come from a fatherless home. (U.S. Department of Justice)

39% of students in the United States, from the first grade to their senior year of high school, do not have a father at home. Children without a father are 4 times more likely to be living in poverty than children with a father. (National Public Radio)

Children from fatherless homes are two times as likely to drop out from school before graduating than children who have a father in their lives. (National Public Radio)

24.7 million children in the United States live in a home where their biological father is not present. That equates to 1 in every 3 children in the United States not having access to their father. (National Public Radio)

Girls who live in a fatherless home have a 100% higher risk of suffering from obesity than girls who have their father present. Teen girls from fatherless homes are also 4 times more likely to become mothers before the age of 20. (National Public Radio)

57% of the fatherless homes in the United States involved African-American/Black households. Hispanic households have a 31% fatherless rate and Caucasian/White households have a 20% fatherless rate. (National Public Radio)

Children who live in a single-parent home are 2 times more likely to commit suicide than children in a two-parent home. (The Lancet)

72% of Americans believe that a fatherless home is the most significant social problem and family problem that is facing their country. (National Center for Fathering)

75% of rapists are motivated by displaced anger that is associated with feelings of abandonment that involves their father. (U.S. Department of Justice)

Living in a fatherless home is a contributing factor to substance abuse, with children from such homes accounting for 75% of adolescent patients being treated in substance abuse centers. (U.S. Department of Justice)

90% of the youth in the United States who decide to run away from home, or become homeless for any reason, originally come from a fatherless home. (U.S. Department of Justice)

63% of youth suicides involve a child who was living in a fatherless home when they made their final decision. (U.S. Department of Justice)

The median income for a household with a single mother is $35,400. The median income for a home with a married couple raising their children is $85,300 in the United States. (U.S. Census Bureau) (*Note: The above stats are from the Life is Beautiful website.)

Fathers Play a Very Important Role

 Men and women, fathers and mothers are different. They are both vital in the raising of a child, but they parent differently while both add to a child’s development in so many unique ways. The above statistics lend value to the role that fathers play in particular. Too many today are attempting to tell us or show us in film and TV that men do not play important roles in our societies.

 

Perhaps a reason for this is that some men have left their post and sought a self-centered lifestyle. This absence has created a psychological need to “fill in the blank” so to speak by saying, “Are they really necessary anyway?” It obviously takes a male to create a family, but it takes a man to care for and love a family all the days of his and their life.

 

Fathers who are present and committed to their families bring security, provision, discipline, help build identity, can teach respect for oneself and others, especially toward women. Male or female, God says we are equal, but neither are unimportant or unnecessary. I love how our heavenly Father designed things this way. From Adam and Eve to your family today, God has given each of us a responsibility to fulfill. His word reminds us of this when it says, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6)

 

May our sons flourish in their youth like well-nurtured plants.

May our daughters be like graceful pillars, carved to beautify a palace. (Psalms 144: 12-13 NLT)

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Do Black Lives Matter? My Story

The sign in front of church read, “We know no strangers, only friends we haven’t met.” My closest friend from my military days told me years later, “You know, Steve, that sign was not true for me.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “I was the wrong color.” While I knew there were no black persons attending this southern state local church, I had no idea why. He told me he endured negative comments and prejudice for years.

 

I asked Wayne why he never told me and why he kept attending as he endured racism among his Christian brothers and sisters. He said, “You were my friend and I was there with you and for you.” I had no idea. But then, I remembered something…

 

It was 1975 and Mary and I had just been married. That same year our pastor came to us and asked if we would start a Sunday School bus ministry. We asked him what that was. He sent us to a training, we bought a bus, painted it red and white and hit the road every Saturday morning. We filled that bus with unruly, unchurched but extremely happy kids. We played games, sang songs and had contests to and from Sunday School.

 

We visited, with a pocket full of candy, those kids faithfully every Saturday and we knocked on new doors as well. Soon we filled a second bus and then a third. Parents even began to come with us and then we received some alarming news.

 

Our pastor called Mary and I into his office. He, with great uneasiness said, “We have a problem with the bus ministry.” He went on, “The board is complaining of the costs; your kids do not tithe.” And then he added the most shocking words, “As well, your kids are the wrong color.” We had no words. The bus ministry was in question and perhaps on the chopping block of this local church board and congregation.

 

Finally he said, “They have given me an ultimatum; it’s either Steve and Mary’s bus ministry or them, their tithe and of course me being able to continue here in ministry.”

 

We truly thought it would be the termination of our outreach to those wonderful kids, “our kids.” Surprisingly, the pastor then spoke these bold words, “So, here’s what we’re going to do. Rather than bringing the buses into the back of the church and unloading, we’ll now bring the buses to the front parking lot. We’ll unload directly to the main auditorium, placing your kids and your helpers (lots of helpers) in all of the front rows you can fill. We’ll then begin Sunday School classes for the first ten minutes there with a general opening. Every congregational member will be forced to sit behind your kids and look at them each Sunday morning.”

 

This courageous step meant certain death to our pastor’s job and the ministry we loved. He ended our conversation with a few words we’ll never forget, “We will give every reason in the world for the members who do not want this ministry to continue the opportunity to leave this church!” What a brave man of God taking such a brazen step because lives matter. We grew in our respect of this godly man who would place his ministry on the line for an integrated church and we learned a great deal about Christ-centered leadership that day.

 

Our kids were of black, brown, Latino, Asian, Caucasian and mixed races and we often sang, no screamed, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves…”

 

Decades later we visited that church. It is now a mega congregation with numerous Sunday morning services. There is no bus ministry, but as Mary and I sat in the balcony overlooking the crowded seats we noticed something. I leaned over to my wife and quietly remarked, “Are you seeing what I am seeing? Do you think the bus ministry of decades ago planted a seed for this?”

 

Later in talking with the current pastor, we asked him the demographics of his congregation. He unashamedly stated, “Our demographics are exactly the same as the demographics of our community.”

 

We went to lunch with my friend Wayne that day. Even though we left this church years earlier to move back to PA, Wayne stayed. Today Wayne is the prison ministry chaplain for the church, a church that perhaps now knows no strangers, only friends they haven’t met.

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

10 Ideas to Stay Engaged with Others in These Unprecendented Times

A friend wrote to me recently and stated, “We are trying to keep our sanity while working at home, having our children home from school and feeling isolated.”  Well said, because the whole world seems to be on a pause.  It is not a season to fear, but we can embrace this season and believe for some good to come out of it.  So, here are 10 things you can do while feeling a bit like a captive.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, In the news, Issues of the Day, Parents, Prayer

7 Healthy Responses to the Coronavirus

I love Psalm 91; it is so full of good news.  With all of the change the whole world is facing today, God’s word and His promises do not change and it is good to remind ourselves of this fact.  If you haven’t read this Psalm recently, please do and consider reading it daily as recommended in point number one below.  Its truth is so encouraging in this hour.

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

Seven Nonreligious Reasons to NOT Live Together Before You Say “I Do”

“In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.” *

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Challenge, Children, Parents

10 Ways to Train Your Children in Finance

There is no better time than now, today, to start teaching your children about money, saving, spending, credit, debt and giving.  As we approach Christmas, a time of giving and receiving, you’ll have a perfect opportunity.

Take the financial lessons you have learned and use them as a teaching tool to those little ones in your life, either as a parent, a grandparent or a caretaker. Their future spouses, teachers and employers will love you for it. Author and financial teacher Larry Burkett once said that we are not responsible for our children’s decisions, but we are responsible for their training.

  • It all begins and hinges on helping them to understand that God owns it all. We are to be the best stewards of everything He shares with us and because God is so generous, teach generosity. There is no greater blessing than to give.
  • Teach the difference between self-discipline, delayed gratification, and immediate self-gratification.
  • Give your children regular and meaningful responsibilities – jobs without pay, e.g., picking up their toys. Do not give an unearned, free ride allowance, but rather, give your children regular jobs with generous pay, e.g., mowing the lawn or folding the laundry.
  • Teach your children to tithe from every dollar earned or given to them. It is all God’s, but discipline in regular giving grows a habit.
  • Teach your children to save a percentage of their income for the future (30-50%), all the while designating a percentage of what can be spent immediately.
  • Teach the difference between an asset and a liability – a consumable. Help them to understand the concept of investing and how that will help them beyond today into the future.
  • Develop a budget with your child as soon as they can comprehend the idea. It will serve them the remainder of their life. Start a savings account (start with a piggy bank) and when age appropriate, obtain a money market account and an ATM card. Teach them how to responsibly use and balance them.
  • Train them in the proper use of credit and how the borrower is servant to the lender. Borrowing for an asset vs. a liability.  Share with them the difference between paying interest and growing interest on their money/investment.
  • Share with your children your financial mistakes and how they can learn and benefit from them.
  • As is appropriate, walk them through all other financial concepts like loans, taxes, utilities, owning a home, maintenance, buying a car, auto repairs, insurance, etc. Take the time to teach your children what God takes the time to teach you about money and His resources. They’re never too young to learn.

And here’s a bonus for you as a parent.  Stop saying the words, “I can’t afford it.” Most times we can, we’re normally adjusting our priorities. So rather than this short answer, try explaining why making a certain purchase is not within your budget at this time.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Marriage

The Most Important Words We Can Speak

How many words are there in the English language?   I asked Google just that question one day.  The answer?  Three key numbers to remember.  There are over one million English words of which approximately 170,000 are presently used.  Any one of us as English speakers use around 20,000-30,000 words.

 

To be “fluent” in English you need to know around 10,000 words.  The longest word in English is 45 letters in length, a medical diagnosis term.  Approximately 5,400 new words are created annually.  One introduced for 2018 was, wordie.” (Even now my spell check is telling me it’s an incorrect spelling.)  And there are 3,000 common English words that you could get by with in order to communicate sufficiently. As well, thousands of words become obsolete each year.  Here’s an obsolete word for example: “boreism.”

 

There are some words in each and every language that should never become obsolete; words that ought to be repeated over and over.  There are in marriage words that we ought never stop repeating or ever tire of hearing.  I can think of three of the most beautiful words spoken or heard, “I love you.”

 

Telling our spouse each and every day that we love them can never become old.  Telling our children every morning and every night must be habitual.  Saying those words to our parents is important because they are also words of honor.  Telling God how much we love Him should reveal endless adoration of Him because He first loved us.

 

I am not sure anyone on this earth tires of hearing those words, “I love you.”  There may be many around you today who do not hear those words or perhaps never heard them growing up.  We can make a difference today in their lives too.

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

Taking Back Dinner Time With Your Family

It’s time to reclaim dinner around our tables.  This practice is becoming lost in the midst of family busyness, jobs, school schedules, friends and activates.  We desperately need to recover this tradition within our families and here’s why.

 

When we’re sitting around the table eating, it’s a time to connect as a family.  It’s a time to talk about our day.  It’s a time to encourage, speak life-filled words, laugh and listen.  Dads and moms  can help provoke this time of communication and connectedness.  Here’s how.

 

There is nothing worse than everyone sitting around complaining about the meal, their day, not talking or simply engaged in words like, “Pass the salt” or “Can you please close your mouth when you chew?”  This opportunity for connection can begin with Dad sharing about his work day, Mom sharing about an important meeting she was engaged in and then the children following up with something that occurred in school, a paper due or a prayer need.  If no one is talking, you can begin a wonderful conversation just by asking, “So, what’s the craziest thing that happened today?” or “Finish this sentence: Today was a challenge because…”

 

The food takes a backseat to the conversation.  Before closing your mealtime, the conversation can turn to praying together as a family or asking if someone needs help with a certain task assigned after dinner.  Mealtime is a time for togetherness and relationship building.  Always include your children’s friends in the conversation and you just might start a new tradition in their home as well.

 

Do not lose the value of such an important daily connection and opportunity.  Proverbs reminds us, “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.”

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

Can God’s Creation Create Healing?

I recently read a Reader’s Digest article called, The Nature Cure and was totally intrigued.  I will share some of the information from that article below.  It seemed to verify what I have believed and incorporated into my life, certainly appreciating that this periodical would help to validate this belief.

 

The article actually called nature a “miracle medicine for our mental health.” It seems social scientists are discovering that our brains are not machines which do not tire, but rather become easily fatigued and with as little as three days of rest, creative problem-solving tasks can increase by 50 percent!

 

When architect Fredrick Olmsted looked over Yosemite Valley, he urged the California legislature to, “…protect it from development…. that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes is favorable to the health and vigor of men.”

 

Thousands of years ago gardens were constructed for this very reason — rest and mental relaxation.  It seems most kings mentioned in the Scriptures incorporated them.  The U.S. national park system was created because people like Ralph Waldo Emerson built a case for creating the park system stating that nature had healing powers.

 

Researchers today are discovering that people who live in or near “green spaces” suffer less depression, anxiety and migraines.  A study in Japan found those persons who walk in the forest decrease the stress hormone cortisol.  There is healing in God’s gift of nature and yet less than a quarter of Americans spend 30 minutes or more outside in nature daily.

 

Did you know pediatricians are now telling parents with young families to regularly visit parks so the whole family can de-stress and play? When is the last time you went camping, hiking in the mountains, visited gardens, introduced your child to the wonders of a stick, sat around a campfire, watched a sunset, played in a creek, observed butterflies or sat by a lake?

 Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made.  (Genesis 2:8

Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake.  (Matthew 13:1)

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