Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Small Groups

Choosing Obedience

Maggie is a fornicator. And yet, she has never been acquainted with sin. Some tell me she is not really responsible for her actions. After all, I am told, “It’s only natural.” It is a funny thing, though. She does not even claim to be a victim—a victim of her parents, her younger years, her friends, her boyfriend, her family, her environment, or any of the cards that have been dealt to her in this life. I have never heard her blame anyone for what happened. In fact, I have never heard her blame anyone for anything that has come her way in the last 56 years. 

Maggie was our 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever (that’s 56 people years)! While my friends have encouraged me that Maggie was just being a dog, I am not convinced. Since six weeks of age, she has resided with our family. She has been trained to not stray into the neighboring yards. No matter how many children are playing and having a riotous time down the street, she knows it is “off limits” for her. Maggie was given boundaries to follow. She chose not to follow those boundaries. The lure of playful attention was too much for her—she chose to cross the line.

When I set a limit for one of my children, it was because I loved him or her and had their best interests in mind. Does God set limits for us because He desires to control us or because He loves us? His love for us is not in question; our love for Him is what is in question. Do you love Him enough to obey Him or, when the limit is “uncomfortable” for you, do you desire to rewrite the already written Word of God? This is the most crucial issue when dealing with obedience.

In today’s world, the scripture, “I am the Lord, I change not” is viewed more like, “I am an understanding, benevolent, vacillating God who may or may not be upset with you and your sin.” Has God lowered His standards because His creation cannot maintain a standard of holiness? 

One goal of a healthy, mature Christian is to obey God readily on the outside while our hearts are resting in a trust of God’s concern for our welfare on the inside. Our love for God, as well as knowing God’s love for us, draws us to obedience. That is our motivational factor. However, there are some negative forces motivating us to obey God.

Unhealthy fear: Fear is a great motivator, for sure. But our God chooses to motivate out of love. I do not walk in an unhealthy fear of my heavenly Father because I know His unconditional love. Fear of punishment is an inappropriate reason for obeying God. 

The difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear is clear. A healthy fear recognizes God’s love for us and is life-giving. “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23). An unhealthy fear is connected to punishment. While we may deserve God’s wrath and punishment for our sin, He placed it upon our crucified Savior. (See Romans 5:6-11.) 

Legalistic rules and regulation: We choose to obey God out of having a healthy relationship with God and not because He maintains a little black book. In the midst of the regulations of the Old Testament, it was Samuel who told King Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Sacrifice came out of regulation; obedience comes out of love. Obedience is doing all God wants me to do, while sacrifice is doing what I want to do for God in my way. Paul stated it so succinctly when he wrote about the law and obedience in Romans 2:13, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

To earn favor from God: We don’t fool God. After all, He knows our hearts. He knows what we’re really thinking. He is not a politician running for office. He doesn’t care if you vote for Him or not. He is Grace. You do not need to somehow get into His “good grace.” You may fool some people with whom you relate, but you’ll never fake out God. You cannot earn God’s favor. You already have God’s favor, if you are a believer. We cannot earn something that has already been given to us!

There was an unnamed woman in Luke eleven who blurted out some words about Jesus when He was teaching one day. She said of Him, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (verse 27). Was this a reason to follow and obey the Savior? Jesus’ response was interesting: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (verse 28). 

Obedience is connected to love. How do I know my children truly love me? It is by their obedience to me. How does God know we truly love Him? It is by our obedience to Him. 

This is love for God: to obey his commands (1 John 5:3). And this is love that we walk in obedience to his commands (2 John 6). If you love me [Jesus said], you will obey what I command (John 14:15). Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me (John 14:21). 

Note: The above was adapted from the book, In Pursuit of Obedience, by Steve Prokopchak and can be ordered at this link: https://www.amazon.com/Pursuit-Obedience-Deepening-Love-Through/dp/1886973644/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+pursuit+of+obedience+prokopchak&qid=1634649430&qsid=140-0506088-5706866&sr=8-1&sres=1886973644&srpt=ABIS_BOOK

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

Parents, Phones and Distractions

Statistics of children becoming injured has decreased steadily since 1970, thanks to safer play areas, safer play equipment and closer supervision. Those statistics are, however, changing and injuries have increased from 12 to 17% since 2007.1 What happened in 2007 that could possibly begin an injury increase in children? The answer is distraction by smart phone use. 

Emergency-room doctors see a growing trend of hand-held devices as the explanation for a child’s injury rates to increase. All the while, users do not consider themselves distracted while they are checking their email or responding to a text message.2 The numbers of growing injuries to children with distracted parents looking down at phones has increased exponentially.

An 11-year-old child was pulled from the bottom of a swimming pool, “unresponsive.” “The department of Children and Families concluded that ‘the death was a direct result’ of inadequate supervision.” The child’s mother was distracted and “twittering” as the child drowned.3 Parents are being charged with “reckless endangerment of a child” due to the increased number of accidents and injuries as a result of increased screen time rather than properly caring for and interacting with their children.

Your child is begging for you to watch him make the basket or see her hit the ball. It’s how they receive your affirmation and approval. It’s how they are complimented for accomplishing a feat. If you as the parent are so distracted by your phone, it will not be long until you unknowingly send the message to your child that your interaction with your phone friend is far more important than they are.

When your child is requiring your attention, put your phone away and give them your undivided eye and ear contact. It will let them know they are the most important thing to you at that time. They will continue with the conversation and be ecstatic about your interaction. 

Cell phones today are decreasing relational and personal face-to-face connection. We are quickly losing conversations that bring life or instruction. I have repeatedly witnessed moms and dads glued to their phones while their child is desperately crying out for a need or to have a simple question answered. 

Before you realize it, your child will be graduating from high school and be off to college. Soon your daughter will be walking down the aisle and you’ll wonder where all of those childhood years disappeared to. Do not raise your child in such a way that one day you regret the times your child felt like they were second place to a hand-held device.

“Fathers, don’t exasperate your children…take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” (Ephesians 6:4, The Message)

1-3: Wall Street Journal article, The Perils of Texting While Parenting, by Ben Worthen, 2012

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Children, Encouragement, History, Parents

The Effects of Love

Harry Harlow, ever heard of him? He was a psychologist who studied the nature of human love and affection by using monkeys. His experiments were labeled controversial and any attempt to measure and quantify the need for love and affection during the behaviorist movement of the 1950’s and 60’s was, supposedly, not science. * 

It was a time when many psychologists thought showing affection and love to children had no real purpose and might even be considered dangerous. But Harlow set out to prove the powerful effects of love as well as the absence of love.

How did he do it? His most famous experiment involved a mother monkey made of wire and another made of soft terrycloth. Infant monkeys, raised by these two surrogate “mothers,” had the wire mother provide needed food while the soft, terrycloth mother provided no nourishment. The result? The infant monkeys went to the wire mother for food, but preferred to spend their time with the soft, comforting mother when not eating. Harlow concluded that the need for affection was instrumental to the need for closeness and security.

This important and rather cruel research provided significant changes to how orphanages, adoption agencies and child care providers cared for children and their needs. What a powerful study on the nature of love, affection and nurture for the human spirit. We can endure a lot, but apparently we cannot endure the lack of love, of meaningful touch, affection and the security that touches the human soul. 

Who do you need to love today? Who needs your warm touch? 

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

*www.Verywell mind.com, Harry Harlow and the Nature of Affection, by Kendra Cherry, December 12, 20

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

Being a Dad and a Mom and Taking Advantage of a Long Weekend

My wife and I loved watching our kids grow up. We didn’t experience the “terrible two’s,” but rather chose to enjoy the terrific twos. We never believed a child needed to be rebellious in their teenage years. We expected something different and prayed accordingly. We did our best to instill God’s love and truths into their spirits and prayed nightly with them as they laid their heads on their pillows. We broke up sibling fights and did our best to keep boredom from settling in.

We took our children on mission trips around the world, taught them to save their hard-earned money and to tithe. We enjoyed a devotional time together many evenings and loved to leave them in charge of teaching us some spiritual lesson they learned. 

We gathered for meals around our table and discussed our day. It was open conversation time and we specialized in laughing together. Their friends were always welcomed to our home or on our family vacation to the beach, especially in those awkward teen years when they really needed a friend. We included their friends into our family and did our best to be welcoming and hospitable. 

Quite often we had guests staying with us or around our table and we learned to serve and listen to others. On occasion we would travel to Philadelphia and do outreaches to the homeless and we visited our local mission, as well as the very alone elderly in assisted living facilities without visitors.

The children loved their grandparents and we knew relationships were solid when they came home and said, “Grandpa rules.” Being with and influenced by an older generation is advantageous in developing a culture of honor and respect within the lives of our children.

Get crazy and enjoy a good old fashion mud battle with your kids!

Traveling to the mountains together was a regular routine where we would sleep in an uncomfortable rustic cabin, fishing, swimming and playing in the crystal-clear creek. We hunted crayfish, caught lightning bugs and ate lots of yummy food made on a campfire. 

Our home was never a perfect one because it was filled with imperfect persons, but family is what mattered. Now our children have children of their own. Will they go and do likewise? I know so. Family is God’s idea, always was. This Labor Day weekend while you are not laboring, your family is just waiting for time together to build relationship. Go and build memories that will last a lifetime which will then be handed down to their children’s children.

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Challenge, Children, Identity, Insecurity, Marriage, Parents

The Heart of a Child

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 30

My children will stand firm in their faith. Isaiah 7:9

My children will not turn to the right or to the left; they will walk in the way of the Lord, that they may live and prosper. Deuteronomy 5:32-34

Even as newborns, children recognize smells and the voices of those around them.  While my children were still in their mother’s womb, I would talk to them, pray over them and let them know who I was and how we anticipated their birth.  We would even read stories to them in utero.  From the womb we wanted our children to know their worth and value within our family.  When born, each of my children recognized my voice, as though they knew me and had met me before.  

Children also know and recognize who strangers are very early on.  They will typically not go into just anyone’s arms if they do not recognize the smell or the voice.  This new voice may feel strange to them and they may resist.  Even tiny babies recognize differences, as well as similarities. 

It is said that children are not born with identities; those identities are formed over time from belonging, acceptance and affirmation, safe relationships with family, community (like extended family or church family) and environment.  Children receive messages concerning their identity that are spoken and unspoken.  Most children recognize a response of shame, rejection or disapproval without one single word being verbalized. 

Further, a child’s identity relates to a number of other contributing factors like their own personal self-concept built by long-term relationships, their memories of life events that help to build their life stories, being listened to, their opportunities to explore, making decisions for themselves, experiencing failure and even how conflict is dealt with around them.

God has expectations of His children, but it is not our performances or our accomplishments that gain His approval. God is perfect, yet He is not into perfectionism. In our mere existence, He approves of us. 

The answer to a child’s healthy identity is not a high-esteem originating from some form of performance. The answer is a God-realized love and approval along with your love, acceptance, and approval of your child.  These two main ingredients are foundational to your child’s healthy identity.

I must correct and reward my children. It’s a part of life. However, I must differentiate that while reward and correction have to do with behavior, it is never a question that I love and accept their personhood. In their mere existence, they are important to me. I always approve of them as individuals. They can never do anything to not be my children. 

Strong and affirmative encouragement and approval from parents and grandparents will help your child to feel safe, capable, optimistic, well-adjusted and positive.  In reality, most role models that are positive, encouraging and life-giving to a child will help to build a positive identity.  We must take action to keep our children from negative, demeaning or destructive influences in their lives.

In Galatians 4:19, Paul the Apostle wrote, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”  Paul’s goal was to form or to build Christ, not himself.  I love the picture this presents because all the security and all the identity your child needs are not found in you, his/her parent, but in Christ Jesus.  

Finally, parenting requires a huge level of humility.  If we learn to approach our parenting with a spirit of humility, we will be able to admit when we are wrong.  We will also be able to apologize to our children allowing our children to change us.  Pride will certainly not help us in our parenting.

Question for refection:

How can you more effectively build Christ in your natural and spiritual children?

Watch for a bonus blog tomorrow!

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

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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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