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, Healing, Identity, Insecurity, Parents

Your Destiny

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 28

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 

I John 3:1

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. Psalm 139:17

There is this scripture: “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.  They cannot be numbered!  I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of the sand!  And when I wake up, you are still with me!  (Psalms 139:17, 18 NLT)

It is difficult for us to conceive that God thinks about you and me.  That His thoughts toward us outnumber the grains of sand.  The God who moves the wind, who brings the spring rain, who blankets the earth with freshly fallen snow and who named every star known and unknown to man also knows every breath you breathe.  He knows every detail of your life.  There is no need to ever feel insignificant, small, rejected or less-than anyone or anything because the God of the universe loves you with an everlasting love.  (See Jeremiah 31:3.) 

Pastor Craig Groeschel wrote in his book, Alter Ego, “The way God made you was not by chance or accident.  You are divinely inspired, with his divine intention to guide you.  Once you begin to grasp who you are—and whose you are—you begin to understand why you’re here and what to do.”  You are not an accident!

What has captured your heart?  What is your number one priority in life? The answer to that question will tell you what you value most.  It will tell you where your heart is at in relation to your search for personal identity.  Please remember in this search, your Creator has never given up on you, never rejected you and never has He said that you are too far gone.  He created each of us with a purpose, with a destiny and He is longing, He is waiting for the “big reveal party” in each of our lives.  What potential does He see in you?  Where does He desire to take you?  Where has He called you in life?  These questions all connect to the identity He has placed within you.

To follow God’s pathway, we must first know Him, know that He is good.  We must trust Him and we must identify Him as our Lord and King.  He desires nothing between us; nothing to hold us back.  However, there is an area, a major area that I often see holding us back: that area is parent wounds.

It is imperative to engage in healing steps from our wounds because nothing affects the present like our past.  While we addressed this somewhat earlier in the book, taking it a step deeper will allow us to fully enter into the identity that our heavenly Father has for us.  Here’s why: we will most certainly struggle with God as our Father, a parent, if we still struggle with our earthly parents.  If we have not forgiven those wounds from our past, they will block our relationships in the present and the future, especially with God as a heavenly Father.  Throughout scripture, God uses family language: father, mother, son, daughter and children.  He created the family as the basis of every culture on earth.  It is this structure that also naturally continues the human race.  But all too often, those family relationships can provoke some of our greatest and deepest wounds.

From the book, Transforming the Prodigal Soul, author Scott Prickett writes, “Bad choices are driven by wounded souls.  I helped this young woman connect the dots between the hurt arising from abandonment by her father and her use of drugs to mask the pain.  We worked backwards…to the lie regarding her worth.  In the wound of her father’s abandonment, the lie that she was worthless and unlovable took root.  It became her truth, her identity.”

Have you allowed a past hurt to become your reality today? It can be different. In tomorrow’s devotion we will confront this area of our lives.

Question for reflection:

When you read that God thinks about you, what do you hear from Him?

You can order your book today and an extra one to give away to a friend 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, Encouragement, Healing, Insecurity, Issues of the Day, Parents, Small Groups

The Presence of Insecurity in our Lives II

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 2

I have eyes to see God’s eternal purpose. II Corinthians 4:18

The Spirit Himself intercedes for me. Romans 8:26

Several years ago my mother visited our home, bringing with her a handful of report cards.  She had kept every report card from kindergarten on—every one. Wondering what I would do with them, I set them aside.  

A few weeks later I began to peruse through them.  My grades were quite good, especially in grade school and middle school (high school might have been a different story with certain subjects…just saying.).  However, it was a comment that my kindergarten teacher placed on my report card that caught my eye.  It read, “Steve has difficulty using a scissors.”  I failed scissors cutting!  Really?  Yes, really.  (But honestly, could those dull, blunt-nosed scissors cut anything?)

Truthfully, I was nervous and apparently when placing a scissors into my four-year-old hand, I could not cut paper.  It was an outer expression of an inner insecurity.

Insecure persons struggle with relationships.  We walk out life with certain fears and ongoing feelings of failure.  We struggle with our esteem and can retreat within ourselves.  We become nervous around persons who we see as secure or we feel an inner judgement coming from them.  Some of us would claim shyness, but the truth be told, we lack social confidence stemming from our own misbeliefs.  

Going deeper, we can become emotionally dependent on others to be our security or find persons or substances that help to create or foster a false sense of security.   It seems as though there is no end to our negative self-talk and repetition of neediness when it comes to insecurity.  How can something that each and every human being needs so deeply be so difficult to acquire?  What makes security so elusive?

Working with a drug addict for many years has given me a new appreciation of what these persons suffer, not to mention what their love ones suffer along with them.  Drugs can take on a life of their own.  One can be a drug addict and work, earn a living, be many things, but that will not be their focus or define their purpose in life.  They can have a family, go to church, pay their bills, but those things will not capture their ultimate attention.  What will?  Drugs, and the need for more drugs.

Drug addicts can eventually take on the identity of a drug addict because their lifestyle requires it, or should I say, forces it.  At the end of the day, all else takes a back seat to the most important thing in their life—drugs.  Please hear me, I am not saying for a minute that this life is chosen or preferred by them or that they are just trying to be totally selfish, but the addiction now leads them.  It takes any worth or esteem they might have, any identity or security, and forfeits it all for the next high.

In your insecurities have you gripped onto idols or stuff of earth that continue to promote insecurity?  It’s a vicious cycle that ends in even more insecurity. According to our knowing who you are in Christ verses for today, God has already established eternal purposes for you and has given you the eyes to see those purposes, as the Holy Spirit intercedes for you.

Question for reflection:

Can you identify idols or “stuff of earth” that continue to promote insecurity in your life?

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

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

Starting Tomorrow for Thirty Days!

Watch your in-box for some very special blog posts.

Starting tomorrow for 30 days you will be receiving a daily blog post and exerpt from my new book, Identity: The Distinctiveness of You.

I hope you enjoy this challenge and will take the time to read it each day. I pray you receive much from every post.

Pass it on to others and feel free to add your own comments. See you soon!

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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, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

A Prudent Wife

As many times as I have read Proverbs 19 and verse 14 I have had questions about its meaning. Let me share it with you, “Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.”

 

Honestly, only God in His wisdom could put these two thoughts together (which previously has seemed odd to me) to make an amazing rule for our homes. Here are the two thoughts: fathers leave an inheritance to their children, but our heavenly Father blesses us with the gift of a prudent (judicious, discreet, sober and virtuous) wife.

 

When fathers fail to provide an inheritance, they fail to earn more than their needs or they foolishly waste their money or they invest unwisely. Another Proverb tells us that a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, a second generation blessing from living righteously. But families need more than wealth; they need a woman of greatness and Proverbs reveals there is great treasure and favor from this kind of woman. (Proverbs 18:22)

 

The woman who is lazy, uncaring or self-consumed tears her house down. (Proverbs 14:1)

 

By inspiration Solomon is saying that, “A discreet and virtuous wife is more valuable than house and riches.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary) But why?

 

Gill’s Exposition states this verse in this manner: A prudent wife is from the Lord; one that behaves well to her husband, [manages] the affairs of her house with wisdom, and brings up her children in all orderly manner: such a wife no man has from the care and provision of his parents; nor so much from his own good choice and industry as from the kind providence of God, to which he should ascribe it; his parents may give him houses and lands, but it is God that gives him a wise and discreet woman to be an helpmeet to him.

 

Your prudent wife is a gift directly from God. You did not earn her and neither did you inherit her. You do not possess her and you do not deserve her. She came to you by the virtue and grace of your heavenly Father.

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