Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Identity, Insecurity, Issues of the Day

Have You Been Noticed Lately?

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 6

You will be secure, because there is hope. Job 11:18

I am chosen by Him. I Thessalonians 1:4

One of the ways we focus on ourselves is through comparison.  Quite a few years ago while my children were still young, I wrote a leaflet that began with the following paragraph:

Maggie has never had a problem with her self-image.  She loves life and makes the best of every minute.  She loves people and believes that they all love and accept her unconditionally.  Maggie has never stared into a mirror and felt hopeless.  She’s never even desired to look at herself in a mirror and make any kind of judgement.  She is perfectly content with who she is, what she wears, the shape of her body, the color of her eyes, the size of her nose and the shape of her ears.  Maggie blindly trusts in her Creator.  She is content to be who she is.  You see, Maggie is our yellow Labrador Retriever.

The Bible tells us that comparison is unwise.  “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  (II Corinthians 10:12) How so?  When we compare ourselves to someone else, we typically come up short or proud—in other words, feeling insignificant or feeling better than another.  Both of these outcomes are unproductive and self-deprecating, not to mention possibly hurtful to others.  

Comparison does not build security in our lives.  Paul the Apostle told Timothy, his spiritual son, to watch his life…closely (I Timothy 4:6).  He did not say to compare your life to others.  

Here is a truth: The more self-focused we are, and comparison is a form of self-focus, the more insecure we will be.  Being self-focused stunts our growth and essentially inhibits our security.  

The Scripture expresses that the fear of man will prove to be a snare.  (Proverbs 29:25) What does that mean?  It will trip you up, it will steal your direction, it will keep you from following God’s voice, it will keep you stressed and it will steal your joy.  The fear of others’ opinions of us is as old as time.  Every life lived on this earth has dealt with this fear which can be all-consuming.  

Paul the Apostle was writing to the Galatian church about this very subject.  In chapter one, he was saying how astonished he was that they would so quickly be deserting the One who had called them and they would be following a false gospel. He related it to a false gospel that others were speaking to them.  He then writes this, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?” 

You are chosen by Him; you need not compare yourself to anyone! You are uniquely created by your heavenly Father and there is great hope in His security. He notices you every day of your life!

Question for reflection:

If you find that you compare yourself with others, how can God’s approval of you bring an end to your comparison?

To order the book for yourself, a friend, your family or a group click here.

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Parents, Singles, Small Groups

The Trap of Emotional Dependency

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 3

I am now God’s child. I John 3:2

I am highly esteemed. Daniel 9:23

When we solely look to another for our purpose, our meaning, our significance and our security, we might find ourselves in an emotionally dependent relationship.  

Everyone needs to know they are loved and approved of. Our first recognized source of love and approval is the family. Often, in dysfunctional homes, children may grow up with parents who are harsh, too strict, unable to be pleased, and critical. They control their children through shame and blame. These children can become guilt-ridden, confused about authority, overly responsible or compulsive. They frequently try to please their parents but seem to never quite measure up. In severe cases of this emotional roller coaster, self-identity problems emerge and an esteem crisis ensues. 

The second source of love, acceptance and approval is from God. I say “second” source because we recognize it after we recognize the need for a family’s love and approval. 

We need others. I am convinced relationship with God and with others is the most important thing in life. Jesus taught this principle when one day a Pharisee raised the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus then replied that we were to love the Lord our God with all our heart…soul…and mind…and love our neighbor as our self. (Matthew 22:36-39) However, our need for relationship cannot be allowed to become the center of another person’s life. The emotionally dependent person feels as though he or she cannot exist or function without this relationship. Mistakenly, this association is an attempt to meet the need for intimacy and security. 

We become vulnerable or susceptible to dependent relationships when we focus on our needs rather than the Word of God. When we lean too heavily upon one particular person, the emotional attachment can begin, causing us to lose our objectivity in the relationship.

Does the Bible speak to emotional dependency?  Not directly. But throughout the Scriptures, we are admonished to be self-controlled. Paul wrote in the book of Titus 2:1-8 about sound doctrine. Let’s see how they apply: 

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the Word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. 

You are first God’s child. In a healthy way you are dependent upon Him and interdependent with others. No one other than Jesus can satisfy your need for relational connection. It is He who highly esteems you!

Question for reflection:

Are you dealing with any emotional dependency in your life that you need to turn over to Jesus?

To order the book at a significant discount for yourself, your family or for a group study click here.

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

Raising Your Children Without Faith

Ten years of my working career were spent as a social worker in the foster care field. Then, another fifteen years were given to marriage, family and individual counseling. After 25 years I felt as though I had heard and seen it all or perhaps too much. 

In foster care I saw the direct result of youth who had little to no faith training from their biological homes. Perhaps this was not on purpose or to drill secularism into their heads, but more so the lack of faith among parents. This lack of faith came with direct consequences to the child. 

In counseling I saw missing fathers or abandoning mothers, divorcing parents, single or single again parents and lost children. These children, with no faith to rely on, often enter into a world of self-blame, depression, emotional upheaval and/or self-destructive behaviors. 

When you choose to raise your children without faith you are making a choice to have your children ultimately trust themselves and the adults in their lives who have proven to be trustworthy. At one time or another, we are let down by those adults and we have to return to the single thought of self-trust. This creates a seedbed for selfishness, self-reliance and the possibility of continually letting oneself down when discovering that all of a child’s self-effort is simply not enough.

Without faith also means without a faith community – a local church. That community reinforces your values, provides relationships and amazing activities for children. It gives them a sense of belonging to a larger family that worships together and does life together.

Without faith also means without the word of God, the Bible. These words handed to us from God provide the ultimate spiritual training, reinforcement of sound values, love and a source of daily encouragement. The stories of Jonah and the big fish, the parables of Jesus, the wisdom found in Proverbs and the prophecy about the future are all more current than tomorrows newspaper.

When God and God’s Son are not a part of the picture, we are left with our best thoughts. But when training our children to love and trust God first in their lives, we are preparing them for eternity, we are bringing them hope for today and their future and we are encouraging them to look beyond their personal limits to a limitless God. When children are taught to love God first they will have a greater capacity to love others and to properly love themselves in a healthy way. (See Matthew 22:37-39.)

When a child is taught to act on faith rather than their best thoughts or intentions, they are acknowledging personal limits, a need to trust Someone bigger than themselves, that life with faith in God is a life with meaning beyond what parents and things/possessions can provide. For a child to learn to acknowledge faith, they are acknowledging a need beyond personal limits with a healthy expression of “…seeking first the kingdom of God.” (See Matthew 6:33.)

When a child learns to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” they are learning that ultimately their physical, emotional, spiritual and financial needs are met by a loving heavenly Father first and foremost. They are learning the security of God’s loving boundaries. They are discovering faith in their Creator who has their best interest in mind. They are receiving an affirmation of their existence, a security, an identity and safety in the Protector who watches over them 24/7. 

Dads, you are a primary source of faith training to your children. How you live your life and how you share your faith will directly reflect upon how your son or daughter views their heavenly Father. When your children see you serving God, serving their family, serving them and serving others they will identify with a loving heavenly Father. The love and security, affirmation and acceptance from you directly translates into your child’s ability to discover those things from Abba God. And what a joy to hear your children’s prayers, to see their loving acts, to find security in a God they can trust and to watch them follow the God you yourself follow. 

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Happy Father’s Day to you!

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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, 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, 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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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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