Challenge, Encouragement, Identity, In the news, Issues of the Day, Parents, Singles

Those Words and Deconstruction

“Do you also want to leave?”

Those words spoken by Jesus and recorded in John six give me pause. Many of Jesus’ disciples were walking away, no longer desiring to be associated with Him. Jesus then looks at the twelve disciples and asks them this poignant question. 

Can you visualize yourself standing with Jesus, watching some of your friends, maybe relatives and neighbors who were walking closely with you just pick up their things, turn their backs and walk away? Now He’s looking straight at you waiting for an answer. He was, in fact, giving you a pass to walk away with them, no questions asked as you shift from foot to foot, nervously, waiting for others to respond.

Finally, Peter speaks up, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves.” 

Is that your final answer? Are you staying with Him? It’s going to be difficult. It won’t get any easier.

For those who are “deconstructing” their faith, examining their roots and finding it difficult to remain with Christ, He is waiting for your answer. Do you want to leave too? Will you walk away from the One who loves you, saved you and gave His life for you? 

There is no perfect church, pastor or godly parent. There is no perfect Christian leader, mentor or counselor. Not one of us has a perfect foundation. We will be disappointed by others who have spoken faith into our lives. But there is One that will never disappoint, never leave you and never sin against you: Jesus. 

It’s easy to criticize and deconstruct; it’s far more difficult to jump in and be a part of the solution–the construction crew. 

If walking away from faith is walking away from Him, then you’re going to have to dive deeply into self-trust, self-sufficiency and self-belief. 

But here’s the thing about that. Even you will disappoint you. There is no perfect you. I would encourage you to stop holding others up to perfection who were imperfect in your life. Give them the same grace you give yourself. 

The enemy of your soul is handing you deconstruction. Jesus is handing you life, words of real life, words of eternal life.

Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother’s knee. Wear their counsel like a winning crown, like rings on your fingers.

(Proverbs 1:8, 9)

The Message

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

Boundries for Our Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Silent Killer in Marriage

Pornography for many, is a silent killer.  It’s a killer of intimacy, of honesty, of time, of finance and of our own bodies.  Jesus said, “Your eye is the lamp of your body.  When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light.  But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34)

 

Our eyes provide a window to our mind, our heart, and our spirit.  When our eyes wander toward or are attracted to pornographic images, we give darkness permission to enter the light.  Jesus warned us about this very thing when He said, “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” (Luke 11:35)

 

There is no redeeming factor when it comes to pornography.  It is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the USA built on lust.  Lust is insatiable, and Satan will hand it to us freely.  Lust is about taking and fully self-seeking.  Lust will increase as we feed it until we find ourselves in bondage.  But love is satisfying, focused on giving, and full of selflessness.  As love increases, we will find ourselves walking in freedom and becoming closer to our life mate.

 

In our pre- and postmarital book, Called Together, we ask the question, “Can you be involved in lust toward your spouse?”  That question creates quite a stir and challenges couples not yet married.  A single person may think that marriage means the end of lusting after another, but married couples know that simply is not true.  According to the above definition of lust, we can be involved in lust within our marriages by demanding, taking and sexual selfishness.  Pornography will feed that self-centered attitude.

 

Love feeds an attitude of giving, sharing, and bringing pleasure out of a heart and mind that is not tarnished by images of raw, base acts.  Love is never demanding in the bedroom, as it speaks encouragement, affirmation, and genuine acceptance.

 

Viewing pornography opens the door of our soul and spirit to spiritual oppression, confusion, hopelessness, hurt, control and domination in evil ways.  Men and women feel betrayed by spouses who use porn.  Women feel as though they cannot compete with the images their husbands are viewing.  It is an illusion that says women will do anything to please their man; no woman in real life lives within that kind of fantasy world.  It brings insecurities to her and can destroy her esteem.  She will question her attractiveness and her adequacy as a lover.  She can eventually think and believe that porn is more important to her husband than she is to him, an ultimate sexual betrayal.

 

Lastly, pornography will make you into a liar.  You will have to constantly lie about your use to your love ones and perhaps your employer.  I love these verses that Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord…Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” (I Corinthians 6: 13,18)

 

(Adapted from Staying Together, Marriage: A Lifelong Affair, Steve and Mary Prokopchak, Destiny Image Publishers)

 

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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.” *

Continue reading

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Challenge, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Men, Singles, Women

A Life of Integrity or A Life of Regret?

Life can be full of regrets, but integrity and high moral character will never leave one feeling remorseful.  This blog is not for those who walk in disappointment, but rather those who are doing their best to avoid moral failure and the loss of integrity.

 

Job’s wife once said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”  But the Bible says that even after all of Job’s loss he did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.  What amazing character this man walked in.  If you’re like me, you are tempted but if you long to be more like Jesus, you realize perfection will never be reached.  However, lifelong integrity can be your testimony and that testimony begins today.

 

If you walk in integrity and avoid moral failure you will be:

 

  • Maintaining a personal testimony and walk before God
  • Maintaining an uninhibited marriage of oneness (spiritually, sexually, emotionally)
  • Not having to work at winning a spouses trust back
  • Maintaining family by not embarrassing them and not losing their respect and trust
  • Not having to walk away from a job or ministry position
  • Not having to relocate
  • Not having to face newspaper articles, publicly printed communication and social media about personal failure
  • Not having to face rumors, gossip and lies
  • Not having to face untold and far-reaching negative consequences either based on truth and fact or hearsay and lies
  • Not having to face the law or possible law suits
  • Not losing or forfeiting many friendships and local church relationships
  • Living without wounds and scars
  • Not feeling as though everyone is watching
  • Not suffering from overwhelming thoughts of failure
  • Not continually reliving the past and coming up with regret and loss
  • Living without continual condemnation and guilt or false guilt
  • Able to sleep at night
  • Waking up in the morning and looking forward to a new day
  • Not having to be concerned about who one may face in the day
  • Not suffering the loss of vision
  • Not having to go through biblical discipline and a restoration process
  • Able to look at one’s family and all others in the eye
  • Able to look at oneself in the mirror without feeling like a failure
  • Having a clear conscience; walking through life without a cloud over oneself
  • Not losing one’s peace and joy
  • Not suffering the loss and grief of broken relationship with God

“The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.”  (Proverbs 10:9)

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Challenge, Healing, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Premarital, Singles, Women

Married Sex: An Observation (For Singles Too)

I have a theory and I believe the testimony of hundreds of married couples backs up this theory. The theory is the more sex you have outside of marriage, the less sex you have within marriage.

 

My wife and I have the privilege to speak with many couples each year and we have never heard one of them remark anything remotely close to this statement, “We’re so happy that we engaged in premarital sex.”  As well, we’ve never heard, “Premarital sex helped us prepare for marital sex.”  What we have heard is that sex before marriage actually stole intimacy from their marriage.  Sex was no longer special, awaited and neither did it gather the excitement anticipated.

 

Premarital sex is titillating, full of emotion and coated in brain chemicals that run amuck.  It’s also full of the fear of being caught, and overcome by having, no, taking what does not belong to you.  Once married, that anticipation diminishes to the point in which some couples are not engaging in sexual intimacy on their wedding night.  Even further, we often hear the expression that sexual intimacy is rarely occurring now that they are married.  Imagine, this divine gift given to us by God, now stolen from us because of lust-filled desires.

 

Now, hearing from those singles who have waited, saved themselves for the one they will spend the rest of their lives with…never have we heard one single word or expression of regret, bemoaning the fact that they were inexperienced.  To discover this world with one another was a huge part of the gift itself.  Encountering one another sexually, within godly boundaries, literally helps to carry intimacy throughout the marriage, all the while maintaining their vows spoken before God.

 

Anytime we violate God’s principles, we also violate human value, respect and honor.  Sex outside of marriage is a sin against our body (I Corinthians 6:18) and a violation against our future marriage.  Because marriage is sacred, as is the act of marriage, we break covenant with God through immorality (I Corinthians 6:9). We disrupt His desire and design for our future.  When we worship the created more than the Creator, we have convinced ourselves that our will and our desires, not God’s, are best for us.

 

Have you succumbed to sex outside of marriage?  You can be forgiven of your sin and be renewed in your commitment to purity before God. He longs to give to you a fresh start, but you must be serious about that commitment.  His Spirit dwells within the Christian to not sin because, “…you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.”  (I Corinthians 6:19 & 20)

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Issues of the Day, Premarital, Singles

Ten Characteristic Challenges When Dating

Dating is not a centuries old concept. Dating is a far more recent notion than that, but unlike what Hollywood presents, dating is NOT about how good someone is in the bedroom. The following are ten distinctive thoughts to consider if you or someone you know is involved in a dating relationship.

 

  1. Self-Image – You are telling the world who you are by who you date. You are revealing your standard and your self-concept. If you have a healthy self-concept, you will have a high standard in who you date.
  2. Character – Your moral and ethical character shows in who you say yes to when dating. Qualities of honesty and reputation are always evident in your choice of dates.
  3. Personal values – Values determine worth and priority. Do you value yourself enough to date a person who values what you value or do you find yourself lowering or compromising your standard? You do not need to compromise your personal values when it comes to a dating relationship.
  4. Physical Attraction – Let’s face it, physical attraction is pretty significant when dating, but it is not the standard. Physical attraction is a surface judgment, no deeper. Remind yourself of that fact.
  5. Soul Attraction – Mind, will and emotions makeup this area which goes beyond the physical. Does this person of interest challenge you intellectually and emotionally? Do they challenge you to live by a higher or lower standard? Do you feel accepted when you are with this person or do you feel inferior in some way?
  6. Spiritual Attraction – Here is one of the most important levels of attraction. Are you attracted to the life of Christ in this person? Does their walk with God challenge you spiritually? Do you find the commonality of faith with them or are the spiritual belief differences sticking out like a sore thumb?
  7. Honor – Honor shows respect and high worth. Is respect present and is there some attraction toward this person because they treat you, your family and their family honorably?
  8. Purity –  There is no date worth compromising your purity boundaries. If anyone requests this of you, RUN. They are not seeing you; they are seeing their selfish sexual desires being fulfilled. This person does not care about you or your dignity.
  9. Friendship – Dating is about friendship first. The position of friendship cannot be minimized. Are you friends or do you click with this person like an old friend? Does it feel good to simply be around this person and the security they bring to the relationship? Friends do not pick on one another; they believe in one another. Friends do not embarrass each other; they stick up for one another.
  10. Acceptance – Can you feel and do you hear (verbally and non-verbally) the acceptance of this person for who you are, as you are, or do you sense comparison, incompleteness or judgment? To know and feel acceptance and approval is to enjoy a life-giving relationship.
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Children, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Parents, Singles, Small Groups

10 Reasons Why We Need a Local Church in Our Lives

I recently returned from serving a local church in Chicago, IL and was reminded in so many different ways of why we each need a local church in our lives and the lives of our family. To me it is imperative to be in close relationship with those persons who care about you and your family. It is essential to have that connection for not just receiving, but giving as well.

So, here are 10 reasons for being intentionally connected to a local church.

 

  1. Support – A local church connection provides support to family and/or us as individuals. It is a vehicle that God has chosen to provide spiritual and emotional support for personal growth. It is a spiritual family with fathers and mothers who will care about you and your future. (I Cor. 4:5; Heb. 12:9; I John 2:13, 14)
  2. Fellowship (koinonia) – The local church is a place of relational connection and belonging. It is a place of family with common life values. We are not alone in this world when we have a local church connection. We have people around us who personally care about our welfare. Wholesome and positive friendships can develop with our younger children, our teenagers and ourselves. An active, involved, dedicated and serious youth group can save a teen’s life. (Acts 2:42; I John 1:7)
  3. Service – The local church is a place where we can work toward and support a vision outside of ourselves. We all need something bigger than ourselves and a local church with vision can provide that. We can connect with the vision and find valuable ways to serve others. (Acts 12:24, 25)
  4. Gifts – It is a place for us to learn, practice and use our spiritual gifts. The body of Christ needs one another and the gifts that we each bring. Those gifts given us by God are not to be hidden, but made use of to serve others. The local church is the perfect place to use your teaching, serving, hospitality, prayer or mission gifts. (I Cor. 12: 12-27; I Peter 4:10)
  5. Resources – A local church is extremely important to a family. There are resources available at every age level to participate in. There are ongoing trainings and seminars for raising children, budgeting, marriage and the like. Often there are even counseling, coaching and mentoring resources. Families who attend church together have a clear advantage over those who do not – they have resources above and beyond themselves. There is far less isolation and far more family interaction with spiritual connections and challenges. (II Timothy 2:2)
  6. Outreach – A local church is often the vehicle for local community outreach. Local churches are involved with the homeless in their community, the after school tutoring and the missionaries serving overseas. Your family can have a direct effect and impact in the world by participating with these worthy causes. (II Timothy 4:5)
  7. Education – The local church is a place of education in the Bible and in practical Christian living. It is a place where our whole family can grow through sermons, Sunday school classes, seminars, video classes and so much more. (II Timothy 3:16, 17)
  8. Groups – Small groups provide accountability and discipleship for each of our lives. The small group setting is a place of greater relational intimacy while it provides room for open discussion and opportunities for praying together. (Acts 5:42; 16:34; 20:20; Romans 16:5; I Cor. 16:19)
  9. Giving – The local church is the place to give our tithe and sow financial seed into something that we know and trust. We can give elsewhere to a lot of really good causes, but it’s difficult to know where our money is going. Not so with the local church and the built-in responsibility that is offered. (Malachi 3:10; Matthew 6: 3,4; Romans 12:8)
  10. Accountability – When we are part of a local church, there is a provision aspect of someone watching over our soul, someone(s) caring about our daily life and our future. There is the possibility of others who we can look up to that are inspiring models in integrity, marriage, spiritual gifts, etc. There are positive peer relationships that help us to keep moving forward in our faith, growing, being challenged and calling us to a higher level of faith. There are businesspersons and homemakers that can help us walk out our daily lives. (Psalm 119:26; Hebrews 13: 17)

I have experienced all of these and more in many local churches and I appreciate the body of Christ so much. God is not angry at His church as so many speak today, but rather, He loves His church, He died for His church and longs for His church to be with Him one day. Until then, be a vital part of a growing, Bible believing and faith-filled local church body. You and your family will grow and help to grow others.

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Marriage, Prayer, Premarital, Singles

Finding a Life Mate: The Character Traits Worth Looking For #22

 

In 2011 my first twenty-one blogs were titled, “Finding a Life Mate: The Character Traits Worth Looking For.” I loved the idea of starting a blog about something I am passionate about: preparing for marriage. I recently read through all 21 of them once again and did a bit of editing. In doing that, I realized I missed a really important area. That area was spiritual formation through prayer.

In learning to place God first in our lives, my wife and I have discovered that our similar spiritual values and our longing to pray for and with one another are vital to the health of our relationship. Dating to eventually marry a fellow believer with the commonality of core spiritual values has created a oneness in our relationship that is simply unsurpassed to any and all other areas of marriage unity.

When we encounter a difficulty or a bump in the road of marital bliss, our first response is to pray together. The scripture relates that the reason we fight and argue is because we do not pray first. (James 4: 1-2) If we can discover this freedom with the one we are looking at as a life mate, we are well ahead of the game. Why? Because our relationship with Jesus and our ability to pray and look to Him is the most intimate thing we can do together. And, it is by far, the most mature act. Look for a life mate that looks to God first, it will take a lot of pressure off of you.

Start reading those first 21 blogs here.  Or, recommend them to a friend who is looking for their life mate.

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