Focus on the Family


AWANA Helps Churches Make a Lasting Impact

Awana is learning how to be a better friend to churches.

by Bob Kellogg

Every week, in churches from midtown America to Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan…even a leper colony in India, more than a million children and youth meet for Awana.

AWANA stands for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed based on 2 Timothy 2:15--Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (NIV).

The Beginning

Awana began in 1941 at the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago. Senior Pastor Lance Latham and Youth Director Art Rorheim developed a program that appealed to both churched and unchurched kids. Nine years later, in 1950, the program was officially incorporated to minister to other churches. There have only been three presidents in the nearly 60-year history of the organization. The third and present CEO/president is Jack D. Eggar.

He was first exposed to the Awana program as a pastor in a Southern California church, an older church that he says was inwardly focused. Using the Awana program, things began to happen. It was an outreach tool and the youth ministry soon started growing. It even helped them to reach out internationally.

Joining the Staff

Eggar first joined the staff of the Awana organization as international missions director in 1997, having been a missionary in South Korea and the Fiji Islands. Two years later he was appointed CEO and president. Under his leadership, Awana has nearly doubled its international influence. There are 5,100 churches in 109 other countries that offer the program.

Eggar says the mission of Awana is to help the local church make a kingdom impact through outreach. He says when the outreach program is bringing kids and families to church, it is successful. Since assuming leadership, he instituted some new policies, repositioning Awana. According to Eggar, the ministry tore down some of the old firewalls that were keeping them out of some churches. He says the old doctrinal statement was divisive and included unimportant issues which inhibited growth. The organization is now more gospel-oriented and biblically conservative and is learning how to be a better friend to churches. He says Awana is not trying to be on every spiritual battlefield because churches have enough battlefields of their own.

Plethora of Programs

The ministry has integrated programs for kids aged 2 to 18. Some of their featured programs include:

Jack's wife Dona especially likes the newest program, Puggles, which teaches toddlers four of the most basic Christian principals. Dona strongly disagrees with people who claim that two-year-olds cannot grasp such concepts. She uses her own grandson as an example. He is able to point out and name specific biblical characters. The program also includes take-home cards so parents can work with their child as well.

Another advantage to take-home materials is that they expose unsaved and unchurched parents to the gospel, according to Dona. Oftentimes such parents are invited to volunteer and are plugged in somewhere so bridges can be built between these parents and the church.

Project Joseph

In January 2008 the Eggars introduced Project Joseph at a Children's Pastors Conference in Orlando, Fla. The purpose is "to help kids, parents and churches work together to develop strong 'spiritual champions' for Jesus Christ." Eggar says, "Joseph is a spiritual champion who demonstrated integrity, courage, wisdom, forgiveness and faith…a flesh-and-blood example of what it means to follow Christ." He added, "Traditional approaches are not working—it's time for a change."

Contrasting Joseph is the story of the prodigal son. Executive Director of Global Training Larry Fowler points out that at least half of today's teens will abandon their church after high school. He says it is "…God's mandate that parents are first responsible for the spiritual training of children. The Joseph biography…provides a model desperately needed by parents, and children's and youth workers alike."

Eggar says the formula for success in the program is: committed parents and churches encouraging those parents.

Measuring Effectiveness

How successful and effective is Awana? To find out, an independent study involving Awana alumni was conducted online in November 2007 by suburban Chicago-based CT Creative. There were 721 respondents. The study highlights include:

The typical survey respondent was between 19 and 32. Of those, 92% had participated in Awana for at least six years and 74% had attended for 10 or more years.

Two-hundred fifty thousand volunteers and more than 300 field staff are needed to make all of these projects and programs work. Eggar says there is a basic four-hour training program for volunteers, and there are role books to read as well. He cautions that churches must be steadfast in doing due diligence, making sure than background checks are conducted on volunteers on a yearly basis.

Bob Kellogg is a senior online editor for Focus on the Family.


Big Spring Miracle

A community is more than people and properties. It presents opportunities to honor God when the need arises.

by Ed Chinn

Around 8:20 a.m. on Monday morning, February 18, a massive explosion rocked Big Spring, Texas. At approximately the same time and 40 miles west of Big Spring, my wife and I pulled onto Interstate 20 for our trip back to Ft. Worth. As we drove east, a dark cloud began to grow on our horizon. By the time we got to Big Spring, the cloud had boiled up into an enormous whale's tail filling the sky.

Naturally, we listened closely to local news radio for clues to navigating through and around the city. But, we gained much more than that; the radio revealed the vivid shapes and shades of true community.

At least one radio station suspended its regular programming and became a virtual meeting place for the community. From the sounds of the voices, you could easily visualize the farmers in pickups, housewives standing on front porches, business people on downtown streets, and Howard College students standing out on campus with cell phones. On several calls, you could hear the background sounds of traffic, sirens and shouting voices.

It went on like that for over an hour.

And, then a woman called in to say, "I think the people in Big Spring need to pray. God has spared us from great tragedy and we don't know who may be trapped at the plant or what injuries may have been suffered."

I expected the host to push her off his program; this was not Christian radio. But, incredibly, he asked her to lead the listeners in prayer. She began very simply and sincerely, "Lord, thank you for your mercy on our city. Now, we just ask you to protect us…"

Was I really hearing someone earnestly leading a city in prayer on a news radio station? She concluded with, "and, we ask this in the name of Jesus…" Jesus? Did she just not know that non-Christians may be listening?

The moment was frankly inspiring; we were passing through a town where people care enough to help their fellow citizens, do their best to assist emergency services, display open gratitude to God, and boldly pray in public for the safety of others. And, all of that was facilitated by a radio station.

The Beauty and Power of Community

We all know that a human body is more than a bag of bones and organs. In the same sense, a community is far more than a collection of individuals, properties, streets and wires.

For example, Big Spring resident Lorinda Herrod told me much about how her town responded to the refinery explosion and other crises. Her words reveal the beauty and power of interrelated roles and relationships in community:

"…when Hurricane Katrina victims were sent to us on a bus, we organized a meeting for host families, and the donations that people gave of furniture, clothing, toiletries, food and even books and toys were so vast that our small mall opened up empty stores and within a day or two we had divided the items up and had free stores with clothes on hangers, items on shelves and an amazing support system was in place for each refugee. Meals were provided at the high school for each meal for weeks, host families provided transportation and local physicians and pharmacies provided check-ups and prescription meds for free! It was an amazing opportunity to serve our God in a mighty way."

Ben Downs, General Manager of WTAW radio in College Station, Texas gave me a periscope into his community. When a weather crisis struck, WTAW's news director did not hesitate to take their national programming off the air. According to Downs, "For an hour and a half people wanted to share in the sense of community and their sense of shared adversity. We probably heard from every block in the city and most of the county."

Both of these vignettes reveal the great and beautiful mystery of community. The interactive exchange of needs, strengths, skills, attitudes, and resources make a community a living demonstration of the wisdom of our Creator God.

Cultural Hostility to Community

In my many conversations with people in Big Spring, Texas, I've noticed one consistent theme. Without exception, they have all honored God as the source and sustainer of their community. In fact, several have told me of a community event of Thanksgiving to the Lord for His care and protection in and following the refinery explosion. Many have also told me that students still pray in Big Spring schools.

Could that be why true community seems to flourish in small towns which exist far away form the influence of mass-media-driven and secularizing culture? Every time I – big city dweller – visit my home town of Pratt, Kan. and other small communities (especially in agrarian areas), I am amazed that they still have such a pulsating sense of connection to God.

It also seems that modern life has become a centrifuge which spins all of us away from local culture and community and pins us to the wall of mass culture. And, something about mass culture is hostile to community.

For example, walk through any big city downtown area and observe people. They move on sidewalks, escalators, and in cars with the white "Y" of i-Pod earphones running to their suit pockets or purses. Or, they walk blindly past other humans as they appear to speak into the air. A closer look reveals metal pods attached to their ears. All these technologically-enabled people are entrenched in a profoundly private existence.

I think it is fair to observe that their intense self-focus renders them less attentive to the plights of their fellow citizens.

Encouraging Community

So, in view of a cultural hostility toward community, how should we step out of our self-focus and into a more communitarian life?

Life still offers a great panorama of possibilities for communal strength and vibrancy. For example, anyone can become related to a local church congregation. And, churches remain perhaps the best example of community in modern society. BGarage sales are a fine and often overlooked community exercise. When else can you walk into someone's garage or house in such a non-threatening and friendly way? My wife and I have wonderful meetings with people in our community in this way.

Oh, so many other possibilities beckon. Book clubs, garden clubs, volunteer service opportunities, block parties, holiday activities (like community events and Christmas caroling), and ethnic festivals are just some of the expressions of community which still thrive. If you don't find it, start something! Two of our neighbor and I recently organized a block party. More than 70 people poured out of their "caves" to mix with their neighbors.

I personally believe the largest key to greater community health is for individuals to simply out beyond their fears and indulgences and make choices toward relationship and community.

Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, leave the i-Pod home and step out into the exciting possibilities of relationship with others.

Somehow, I believe that people in Big Spring, Texas and other small town communities across America could tell us a great deal about that.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Tex. (edchinn@charter.net). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournalcom, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


Christian Persecution on the Rise

More Christians have been killed for their faith in the 20th century than have been martyred in the total history of Christianity.

by Shana Schutte

Christian persecution started with Jesus when He was sentenced to die on a cross. Following His death, early believers were tortured, beaten, stoned, burned, hanged, beheaded, eaten by wild animals and crucified for their faith. All of the disciples died by these or other methods, with the exception of John, who lived to an old age on the Island of Patmos, after he miraculously escaped from a cauldron of boiling oil.

http://www.allaboutfollowingjesus.org/early-christian-persecution-faq.htm

According to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,

Foxes Book of Martyrs, 1926 Edition, pages 1-32
10 waves of persecution occurred from A.D. 67 to A.D. 303 under the leadership of Roman Emperors Nero, Domitian, Diocletian and others. Even the well-known Bible translator William Tyndale was burned at the stake by decree of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on October 6, 1530 for doing God’s work.
http://www.allaboutfollowingjesus.org/william-tyndale-faq.htm

Some American Christians consider persecution antiquated and believe that it happened thousands or hundreds of years ago, but doesn’t happen today.

Christian Persecution on the Rise

However, the Voice of the Martyrs

http://www.persecution.com/
indicates that “More Christians have been killed for their faith in the 20th century than have been martyred in the total history of Christianity.” Currently, in some overseas countries, the high level of persecution is difficult for Americans to comprehend, as evidenced by these recent headlines:

“Churches Raided by Police” and “Evangelist Killed and Sacrificed for Hindu Goddess.”

http://www.persecution.org

According to the Farsi Christian News Network,

http://www.persecutionblog.com
in July of 2007 an Iranian Christian couple was sentenced by government agents to whipping, two years after attending a house church where they participated in worship. Abuse was reportedly so severe that the woman decided not to return to church.

On September 27, 2007, the International Christian Concern

persecution.org
reported that six Christian convert families were ostracized and threatened by local Muslims in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district in India. Several in the group suffered when local shop owners were told not to sell to them, and villagers were instructed not to associate with them. One woman was even stripped because the Muslims wanted to make sure she hadn’t been marked with Christian symbols. All were forced to deny Christ; otherwise they would have been killed.

According to Open Door, an organization devoted to helping Christians under extreme conditions, Christian persecution and genocide in Sudan is extreme:

"Caught in the crossfire of the ongoing civil war, Sudanese Christians are suffering untold atrocities.

Christian children are often abducted and forced to attend Islamic schools in the North.

An armed group called the 'Lord's Resistance Army' operates a scorched earth policy, burning anything in their path to the ground - churches, crops, homes, villages. People are tortured, mutilated, massacred, raped, enslaved and even denied aid unless they can prove they are Muslims."

Rebels have reportedly killed 1.5 million non-Muslims, including untold numbers of Christians, in the Darfur region. Forced conversion to Islam is a part of government policy.

These are just a few examples of Christian persecution overseas.

What About the United States?

Contrary to what many believe, Christian persecution doesn’t only happen overseas. It’s even happening here in our own backyard. When American Christian, Cassie Bernall admitted to believing in God, she was shot and killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 in Colorado, during the deadly rampage instigated by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

Later, while 150 teenagers attended a youth prayer rally at Wedgewood Baptist church in Fort Worth on September 15 the same year, a gunman burst in and fired at the crowd. Eyewitness reports say that he loudly ridiculed their religious beliefs.

http://www.baptiststandard.com/1999/9_22/pages/gunman.html
Seven people were killed, and seven more injured before he turned the gun on himself.

More recently, 24-year-old Matthew Murray of the Denver, Colo. area barged into New Life Church in Colorado Springs just as services had ended, killing two and wounding three others. Hours earlier, Murray had killed two and wounded two others at a Youth With a Mission facility in Arvada. A New Life security guard shot Murray, helping stop his murderous rampage against Christians.

However, not all persecution in the U.S. is so severe. Many times, it goes unnoticed. It’s a part of television sitcoms when Christians are conveyed as being homosexual haters, and preachers are shown as idiotic and unreasonable.

In the public school system, persecution is also often obscured. In an article by Thomas Horn, he notes a study conducted by former New York University professor Dr. Paul Vitz. Dr.Vitz, and a committee examined 60 social studies and history textbooks used in U. S. public schools. The results showed that almost every reference to the early Christian influence in the United States had been removed.

http://www.worthynews.com/news/christian-persecution

Whether overseas or at home, Satan is moving to manipulate men to carry out his work. He wants to destroy God’s voice on the earth through people who hate Christ.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

In John 15:18, Jesus said that if the world hated Him, that it would hate those who follow Him.

So, what can we do about the overseas persecution that is done to our brothers and sisters? And how should we handle persecution in the United States?

Stay humble and submit to God

Few things are more difficult than humbling oneself when someone is persecuting us, whether we are facing a gun or an employer who dislikes us for our faith. Of course we are called to defend the gospel, but also instructed to live our lives with an attitude of humility. This sets us apart from our enemies as those who know the true God.

In Philippians 2:7-9 we are instructed to have the mind of Christ by emulating His humility and obedience that He demonstrated even in the face of death. Granted, most of us will never die as a result of religious persecution. However, we should always entrust ourselves to God, who is ultimately in control. This means that we do not insult our accusers, retaliate or make threats (1 Peter 2:23). After all, we have no idea how our humility and love will affect those who hate us. We hold tremendous power through love to help others come to Him.

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, a guerrilla group, was led by a man named Pol Pot who overthrew the Cambodian government in 1975, starved millions of people and murdered Christians and Muslims. In 1995, one of Pol Pot’s torturers came to Christ and acknowledged his sin when a Cambodian pastor living in Los Angeles shared the gospel with him. Without the pastor’s humility and love, this man may not have received Christ.

Become Informed

Although we are called to endure trials, God does not instruct us to cease from speaking His truth just because someone tells us to be quiet. Disciples throughout history, as well as Jesus, held out the Word of Life (Philippians 2:16) in the face of persecution. Part of being able to speak out means that we must stay informed about what is happening in our culture and with laws about faith expression. Sometimes Christians are persecuted because they are uninformed.

For example, many believe that it is against the law for children to share their faith in the public school system. This is a lie that has been perpetrated by the media, school officials and uninformed parents. The American Center for Law and Justice outlines many ways students can share their faith legally.

http://www.aclj.org/Issues/Issue.aspx?ID=3

Pray

In Matthew 5:44, we are instructed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. As one body, we can lift up our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ as if the offenses were being done unto us here in the United States.

Additionally, the Voice of the Martyrs at www.persecution.org regularly posts incidences of overseas persecution. Christianmonitor.org does the same and includes specific prayer requests.

If you are being persecuted, ask fellow believers to pray with you to endure and to respond in a godly way.


This Christmas Serve Up an Extra Side of Blessing to Your Grandkids

There are few things that are as powerful and meaningful as a blessing.

Grandparents eager to nurture their grandkids have found an ally in Colorado Springs based, Christian Grandparenting Network (CGN) when the ministry launched its initiative to teach grandparents how to intentionally bless their grandkids.

"There are few things that are as powerful and meaningful as a blessing," says Cavin Harper, Founder and Executive Director of CGN. "A grandparent's blessing encourages and builds up kids' strength in Christ."

Harper shares what he considers to be a good blessing recipe: "Start by affirming the children; communicate your belief that they have a good future; and then be actively committed to them." Blessings can vary in content and they can change as a child gets older. A blessing can be spoken both over an entire family and for each individual grandchild.

Resources to teach "How to Bless Your Grandkids" are available on the CGN website. Harper states "Not only is 'How to Bless Your Grandkids' a treasure trove of helpful information, it is an excellent topic for a Bible Study, Sunday School class or small group discussion."

CGN understands that the grandparent's role is important in raising up the next generation. The ministry provides numerous resources to help make every moment of a grandparent's nurturing count.

"It doesn't matter whether the grandkids are just a few months old or already planning their own families, the time to begin is now." Harper emphasizes, "Just do it! It is never too late to start, but it is always too soon to delay."

For more information on resources and classes on how to bless your grandchildren, visit www.christiangrandparenting.net.  

Church Volunteerism Has Advanced

Church now makes use of volunteers' experiences, skills and interests to serve the congregation..

by Lynne Thompson

Meet Ken. Formerly serving as a manager in the U.S. Air Force for 29 years, then employed as a planning consultant and budget manager with a nonprofit ministry for nine, he has recently retired. He worships with a large 5000-member congregation.

Meet Tance. Educated in industrial engineering with work experience in technical sales, she’s currently a stay-at-home mom with three daughters. She attends a small community church with two hired staff members.

Meet Cassie. Formerly homeschooled, she’s now 13 years old and attends eighth grade. She is part of a midsize church with an active children’s program.

What do these three people have in common? All have become valuable resources that are necessary for churches to function. Without them there would be no church building, no pastor, no women’s ministry and no evangelism outreach.

They are the volunteers.

Volunteerism in the church has evolved

What started out as small congregations dotted across the farmlands has now developed into thousands of urban churches across the country, where not everyone is related, in fact most don’t even know the name of the person worshiping in the pew next to them.

“When the church moved to the suburbs and cities they became less personal,” says Marlene Wilson, best-selling author of Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, and How to Mobilize Church Volunteers (Augsburg Fortress Publishers). “Everybody didn’t know everybody, people moved in and out, and everything became more complicated. One of the changes that needed to occur was in the area of volunteerism. Churches were still trying to run programs based on the old model of the small rural church.”

At the time Wilson was working for a volunteer clearinghouse in the Boulder, Colo. area, and believed that churches could benefit from some of the techniques used to match volunteers with community needs. She also believed that churches could become great recruitment grounds for the community.

“Pastors didn’t want their parishioners knowing too much about community services because their internal needs weren’t being met. The attitude was, ‘I don’t want to give away the few good ones I got,’” explains Wilson. So she decided to share her volunteer recruitment model with her own congregation, beginning with the basics.

“We started to get church committees and staff people to write down job descriptions for what they needed. Then we had to get the interviewing team together. We interviewed most of the congregation one-on-one and it was amazing the kinds of talent we found that we didn’t know about,” says Wilson. Eventually, her churches’ successes with volunteer recruitment and training catapulted Wilson into the national spotlight with workshops and several book contracts. Although volunteerism has improved, she believes there are still challenges that need to be overcome.

Over-Commitment

In the case of our stay-at-home mom, Tance attempts to find balance between volunteering in a small congregation short of help and her personal responsibilities. “I direct Vacation Bible School, teach Sunday school, teach a Wednesday night program, serve on the outreach committee, cook for some of the Wednesday night dinners, serve in the nursery and generally pitch in when needed. I catch myself thinking if I don’t do this who will?

Wilson believes it’s imperative to develop a strategy to utilize a large percentage of the pew sitters who aren’t participating. “There is an incredible amount of talent. Most people are disappointed in their church not because they’re asked too much, but because they aren’t asked enough. They don’t feel the church has paid attention to what they do well, and what they are willing to do if asked.” Wilson encourages churches to hold one-on-one interviews with all church attendees, using that information to assist the leadership in placing people where their talents will best be used.

Discovering Your Niche

Ken found out where he fit. As an elder serving on the church’s governing board, and assisting with lay ministry stewardship and master planning, he sees how God uses his past experiences and giftedness to serve his church today. “I did lots of personnel supervision and counseling, strategic planning and budgeting. I helped people accept change, primarily through prayer for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.”

Tance also believes that her previous administrative skills in the engineering field are helpful in implementing church programs. “It’s a good thing to use some of my God-given talents.” Being a homemaker where job satisfaction isn’t always rewarded, Tance has found an additional benefit to volunteering. “It’s satisfying and affirming. I like watching God work in people’s lives and I like investing myself in eternal things.”

Cassie knew she was ready to watch young children, after attending a local babysitting class, but wasn’t sure how to advertise her skills or help parents with trust issues. “When the opportunity came for Vacation Bible School I hoped parents would get to know me and that might increase my opportunities for babysitting,” says Cassie. “I also knew that God was asking me to help because they were short on helpers.”

Wilson believes it’s important for the churches to match volunteer opportunities with the skill level and strengths of the people sitting in the pews, rather than just filling in a hole, otherwise valuable gifts may be ignored. “My husband used to say, ‘If the church asks me to usher one more time I’m going to die.’ He was a human resource guy for a corporation. What he wanted to do was counsel the pastors on their human relations struggles, since they were always having staff problems,“ says Wilson.

Out of the Zone

So what if volunteers are asked to do something out of their comfort zone? Ken experienced that firsthand. “It fell to me to oversee our singles ministry and I have never walked in those shoes. I have a lot to learn about their wounds, issues and how to effectively minister to them. I also am not naturally creative, yet I’m charged to help think of ways to get our Sunday morning attendees to be mission focused.”

Cassie was stretched when she joined a team of believers she had never met. “We were new to the town, so working with people I didn’t know was sort of scary, but it helped me be brave at meeting new people.” Another concern of Cassie’s was the time commitment. “I couldn’t do it if it was in the morning or during school, since I have a lot of homework, but the week during summer vacation worked perfectly with my schedule. I didn’t have a reason not to do it,” says Cassie.

“Sometimes church members are hesitant because they are afraid of getting involved thinking they’ll be locked in to a specific position,” says Wilson. She suggests churches set up a few healthy boundaries. Interviews should be offered to explain the position and its requirements. A specific time commitment should be established so that at the end of the designated time there is an opportunity to exit gracefully or sign up for another stint.

Willing Heart

For the mature Christian, church volunteerism is part of a living, growing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a byproduct of our faith and a responsibility to our church family. Wilson believes volunteering in a local church is essential in today’s fractured society. It may be the only way to get to know your neighbor.

Ken believes church volunteering has been the next step in his spiritual walk. “I believe that God shapes and molds us throughout life to prepare us for the next thing he has for us to do, whether that is a skill set, an experience or simply a willing heart. A formula our senior pastor suggests to new members is ‘worship plus two.’ He means first and always come to worship, then find one place to serve and one place to be served and Jesus will be honored and pleased. That’s all you need.”

Lynne M. Thompson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Focus on the Family publications. She lives in Turlock, Calif.


Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God's Family

We want to show you how a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can bring you into God's eternal family, and introduce you to life on a whole new level.

from Focus on the Family

Rushing off to work. Coming home tired. Paying the bills. Fixing the car. Raising the kids. Doing your taxes.

Have you ever wondered, “Is that all there is? Is life just an endless cycle of eating, sleeping, buying, selling, getting, losing and growing older?”Does your heart ever long for something more?

If so, we’re here to help. We want to show you how a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can lead you home, bring you into God’s eternal family, and introduce you to life on a whole new level.

Sound interesting? Then read on … 


Tom was headed home. He’d been away nearly three years, and it had been a very long drive — almost two days and nights behind the wheel. Now, with just a mile left to go, he could already hear the squeak of Dad’s chair, the clang of pots and pans in the kitchen and the voice of his Mother calling him to dinner. He could smell the sweet aroma of hot food on the table.

Home. It was where he came from. It was where he wanted to be. And yet, somehow, Tom couldn’t help feeling anxious. Had things changed? Was he still wanted? Would they smile when they saw him? Would he still belong?

Familiar sights and sounds greeted him as he turned into the lane. He parked in the driveway, stepped out of the car and walked up the creaky old steps to the front door. Biting his lip and swallowing hard, he raised a hand to ring the bell.

And then, in an instant, all his doubts and fears melted away. The door swung open. Loving arms pulled him close. Caring voices called him by name.

"Tom! It’s Tom! Welcome home, son! Welcome home!"

Tom had come home at last.

Less Than Perfect

Everyone longs for a place where they are welcomed, accepted, loved. Where they don't have to pretend or be on their guard. Where just being there is reason enough to celebrate. But not all homecomings are as picture-perfect as Tom's. Sometimes there are thorns among the roses.

Sometimes cousin Cheryl is late and the turkey dries out. Sometimes nephew Norbert gets sick at the table. Uncle Art and brother Bob argue about foreign policy. Sister Samantha hints that her kids are better behaved than yours. People disagree and get on each other's nerves. And that's how it is in the best of families.

It can be much worse, of course. In some households the imperfections are far more serious — even dangerous — in nature. As in the home where a frightened boy hides under the covers listening to the shouting of his angry parents. Or where a young girl returns from school only to find her mom drunk for the hundredth time. Or where a soldier, back in the States after a 10-month tour of duty, discovers that his wife has been unfaithful during his absence.

Far From Home

It may sound harsh, but it's true. Under the best of circumstances, under the worst of circumstances, and everywhere in between, our human homes and families hardly ever live up to our dreams and expectations. They almost always let us down.

What happens then? What do we do when the relationships, connections and understanding we long for simply aren't there? Everybody knows the answer. We lose hope. We feel isolated and lonely. We become restless. We go looking for something to fill the gap. And sometimes we go looking in all the wrong places.

Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. A lot of people today feel far from home. They may be divorced or widowed. They may live hundreds of miles from parents, siblings and cousins. They may be so busy working, commuting and running errands that they have little time to spend with the people they love. They long for home and family, a place to be and become. But the kind of home they crave seems like an impossible dream — like something out of an episode of "Leave it to Beaver".

Restless Hearts

St. Augustine, one of the early fathers of the Christian church, knew what it was like to feel this way. More than 1,500 years ago he summed up the situation of hurting and searching people in the words of a simple prayer. Speaking to God, he said, "You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."

Was Augustine right? If he was, we should sit up and take notice. Because if rest and satisfaction are found in God alone, then even the best of human homes can never bring peace to our restless hearts. The love of father, mother, brother, sister, husband or wife, wonderful as they are, can never completely fill the bill. We need something deeper, broader and stronger — something perfect and unchanging. We need Someone who can provide for us, listen to us, care for us, counsel us, discipline us, protect us and enjoy us forever — Someone who knows us inside and out, who loves us all the same, who gives unselfishly, keeps all His promises and never gets sick or dies.

The Ideal Father

Sound impossible? Humanly speaking, it is. But God can do all of this and more. He strongly desires to make all people part of His family — a family that will one day be perfect and last forever.

In many respects, God is like a good human father. He loves His children and is pleased when they love Him in return. He provides for them and protects them. He gives them guidance and, when necessary, punishment. He understands their limitations and is quick to forgive. Above all, He is generous and kind. The Bible calls this kindness and generosity grace.

In other ways, God is far greater than any human father could ever be. For one thing, He is all-powerful. Nothing can keep Him from helping His children. For another, He is all-loving. In God there is no selfishness or pride to interfere with His relationship with His children. God is also all-knowing, so His guidance is completely worthy of trust. Since God is present everywhere at once, His children never have to strike out on their own. Because He is eternal, they never have to fear being abandoned.

Why Do People Suffer?

At this point you may feel like asking, "If this perfect heavenly Father really exists, and if He really satisfies people's deepest longings, why is the world full of unhappy people? What kind of father would let his children get hurt, suffer, and die? How can anyone watch the evening news and seriously say that the universe is run by a kind, generous and gracious Father? If He's so powerful and loving, why doesn't He do something about the mess on earth?"

As a matter of fact, He has done something: when the world was spinning out of control and the people in it were lost and dying as a result of their own sins and bad choices, He sent His only Son to save Creation by suffering and dying in our place. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17).

God, Love, and Relationship

The real question is not "Why doesn't God do something?" It's "How did the world get into such a mess in the first place?" The answer is that creation has fallen because of human sin. In other words, the world as we see it today is not the world as the Creator made it in the beginning. That's because mankind has deliberately turned away from God (for more details, read Genesis Chapter 3). Ever since Adam and Eve made this terrible choice in the Garden of Eden, the world has existed in an
abnormal state. That's why we have disease and disasters, hatred and war, birth defects and broken relationships. It's also the reason God had to send His Son into the world to save it. He has a better plan, and He's in the process of working it out.

But why does the process have to be so slow? Why doesn't God put a stop to all these problems now? One answer is that God is love and love pursues relationship. Relationship is central to all of His dealings with
mankind. And real relationship is impossible unless both parties enter into it freely and willingly. It implies the possibility of brokenness and pain. As in any meaningful human relationship, so in our relationship with the Creator, genuine love takes time and can't be forced.

Choose Life

The Bible tells this story of God's love for His children. In the New Testament — especially in the four Gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — we read that God sent His Son to earth as a human being to undo Adam's tragic mistake – to choose life for the human race where Adam chose death.

If you aren't familiar with this story, its outline is pretty simple. Jesus, who was at the same time completely God and man, was born to the virgin Mary, worked quietly in a carpenter's shop until He turned 30, and then began a three-year career of teaching and healing. The crowds loved Him, but the religious and political leaders were afraid of His growing influence. As a result, they conspired to have Him executed and Jesus died one Friday afternoon on a cross just outside the city of Jerusalem.

The religious and political leaders would have been happy if the story had ended there, but it didn't. Early Sunday morning, Jesus burst back into life and walked out of the tomb, right past the soldiers posted by the entrance to prevent His friends from stealing His body (See Matthew 28:1-7).

He appeared to His closest friends, to His family, to several groups of awestruck followers — in all, to hundreds of people who were well aware that He had died a horrible death only days before.

Christians understand that Jesus died in their place — that, in some indescribable way, He took the sins of the world on His shoulders and suffered for us. Jesus died the death that Adam and Eve and all of their descendants deserve. And when He rose from the dead, He broke the power of sin and brought us life. He offers that life to anyone who has faith in Him: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

"Eternal life" — that means two things: 1) life in all its fullness here and now (John 10:10); and 2) the unending joy of life in direct, personal fellowship with our Savior and Creator in the world to come. "As it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him'" (1 Corinthians 2:9). That's what we have to look forward to if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Believe

What does it mean to "believe" or to have this kind of "faith?" Stated simply, it means reaching out to Jesus. It means trusting in His love. It means making a decision to follow in His footsteps and to love other people through the power of His love.

It's important to add that faith isn't just something that exists in your mind. To believe is to embrace the truth with mind, heart, and will. You express this faith both by what you do (James 2:17, 18) and by what you say: "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10: 9)

In 1892 a daredevil named Clifford Calverly astounded his audience by pushing a wheelbarrow over a tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls. After performing this feat, he turned to the people and asked, "Now that you've seen what I can do, do you believe I can repeat the stunt, this time with a person in the wheelbarrow?" "Yes!" answered the enthusiastic crowd. "Well, then," said Calverly, "who wants to climb in?" Genuine biblical faith means getting in the wheelbarrow and letting Jesus push you across the tightrope — not just standing on the sidelines and saying, "I believe."

What Must I Do?

A person who has this kind of faith in Jesus is a Christian. And a Christian is simply an individual who has felt the need to come home. You can come home, too, if you're ready to make that commitment. You can become a Christ follower right now simply by opening the door to Jesus and trusting Him as Lord and Savior. It's so easy a child can do it. But it's also hard because we first have to realize that we cannot do it on our own.

Once you've counted the cost and decided that you're ready to give your heart to Jesus, you can do so by following these three simple steps:

Admit you're a helpless sinner (a person who has chosen his own way rather than God's) and that you can't come home without God's gracious help. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

Believe that Jesus Christ has come to be your Savior — in other words, that He died on the cross for your sins and wants to take you home to be part of God's family. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). "As many as received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John 1: 12).

Receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and ask Him to come into your heart. Turn from self to God (repentance) and trust Christ to come into your life and make you the kind of person He wants you to be. You can receive Jesus by faith through prayer, as an act of the will. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart; but if you honestly don't know what to say, you might try praying a simple prayer such as this:

Lord Jesus Christ, I need You. I agree that I am a sinner and have sinned in my thinking and speaking and acting. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I have counted the cost of following You. I repent and turn away from my past sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be. Amen.

If this prayer expresses the desire of your heart, pray it right now, and Christ will come into your life, just as He promised:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20).

What Next?

The Bible uses two terms to describe what happens when people say yes to God and join His family. The first is rebirth. New Christians become part of God's family in the same way they became part of their earthly parents' family – they're born into it. God is their Father, and they are His children (see John 3:3-8).

The other term used to describe this relationship is adoption. Christians are adopted into God's family and given all the inheritance rights of God's Son. Because Jesus rose from the dead, those who trust in Him will also rise again. Because they are now officially part of God's family, they can feel completely secure. Their Father will not disown them or rewrite His will. He has promised to be faithful to His children, and God always keeps His promises.

As children of God, Christians can have power — power to follow Jesus even when the way is hard, power to make Jesus known to others, power to love and to serve. They also have hope, confidence, and freedom from fear. They know that death can never ruin their plans or destroy their relationships.

Time to Grow

People begin life in God's family just as they began it in their parents' family — as babies. Baby Christians need to be nurtured, protected, taught and loved. Here are a few suggestions that will help you get the care and guidance you need as you begin to grow in your faith:

Tell a friend. Do you know someone who might get excited about the decision you've made — a pastor, maybe, or Christian friend? Tell him or her. Share the joy of your new commitment with someone else!

Read the Bible. Baby Christians need rich nourishment, and no source is better than God's Word. The Bible is God's message to mankind, so it's vital for young believers to know what it says. You can get started by looking up and reading the verses listed in this article. After that, we'd suggest that you make a habit of reading a chapter a day, beginning with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — they'll help you get better acquainted with Jesus). Next you could take a look at Paul's letter to the Philippians and the letters of James and I John. To understand more about how Jesus’ death means life for you, read Paul’s letter to the Romans. If you have questions, a pastor or Christian friend will be able to help you in your Bible study. If you don’t have a Bible, please contact us and we’ll be happy to send you one.

Talk to God regularly. Make prayer a daily habit. This means talking to God about anything, at any time of the day or night. It can also mean spending a special "quiet" time with Him where you meditate on His Word, tell Him of your love and devotion, and talk to Him about others and their needs.

Get involved in a church. When you open the door to Christ and come home to God, you acquire a new set of spiritual brothers and sisters. God has many other children on the earth, and it's important that they meet together regularly as a family. That's what church is all about. The church is the best place for infant Christians to find the support they need to grow strong. Churches are where God's people gather to worship, learn from the Bible, encourage each other and welcome new believers into God's family. Find a church near you that does these things, and get involved. Your church should believe that the Bible is the accurate Word of God, that Jesus Christ is God's Son, that He is fully God and man, and
that only through faith in Jesus Christ can a person have eternal life.

You will still have many questions as you begin your new life with God and His family of believers, but you've already taken the most important step toward getting them resolved – you've met the One who has all the answers. Meanwhile, we hope you'll feel free to call and discuss any concerns you may have with a member of the Focus team. Our staff
chaplains would consider it a privilege to speak with you over the phone. You can contact them Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time at 855-771-HELP (4357). They'll be happy to assist you in any way they can.

The Ideal Family

Homecoming can be a joyous time, even if the pumpkin pie crust is soggy and Uncle Joe has forgotten his table manners. But no earthly homecoming, no matter how memorable, can compare with the joy of coming home to God.
God's love, after all, is the source of all earthly love. It's stronger and more enduring than love between husband and wife, parent and child, brothers and sisters. At the same time, God's love strengthens our human ties and increases our love for those dear to us.

We've tried to explain why people need God's love. We've told you how to respond to His invitation and become part of His family. But there's one thing we can't do for you – we can't say yes to God on your behalf.

If your heart is restless; if you find yourself longing for a home you've never known; if you would like eternal life with Jesus that begins now and continues in heaven where there is no suffering, sin, or death — say yes to Jesus. Join the family. Come home.

There's no better time than now.


Easter Surprise

I had learned that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead on Easter morn. It was part of our family's belief system. It was in the creed we recited out loud each week at church. But the real-life event had happened so long ago, I didn't see any connection to my life nearly two thousand years later.

byKaren O'Connor

Sunlight streamed through my bedroom window and poked me in the eye one early Sunday morning in April, 1948. I was ten years old. "June, June," I called to my seven-year-old sister in the bed across from mine. "Wake up. It's Easter."

She popped up and smiled as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Together we bounded down the stairs to the kitchen, hand-in-hand and opened the refrigerator. Sure enough. True to his custom, Dad had placed three beautiful carnation corsages on the top shelf next to the bottle of milk––one for Mom, one for June, and one for me. As usual, he'd snuck them into the house the night before after we were fast asleep.

We took the flowers out of their delicate boxes, eager to pin them to the front of our Easter coats. But first we'd step into our new spring dresses, lacey socks and patent leather slippers before donning our new straw hats and gloves. If only there were an Easter parade. I wanted to show off our new duds! I'd have to settle for the folks at church noticing us as we walked down the center aisle to our seats.

At that time of my life Easter was all about clothes, candy, Easter eggs and the beautiful baskets Mom filled with goodies and gifts for each one of us. Of course there was a bountiful dinner and a mouth-watering dessert to enjoy that afternoon, as well.

THE BIBLE TOLD ME SO

I had learned that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead on Easter morn. It was part of our family's belief system. It was in the creed we recited out loud each week at church. But the real-life event had happened so long ago, I didn't see any connection to my life nearly two thousand years later.

In the decades that followed, I repeated the Easter customs I had grown to love. There were always new clothes and lovely corsages, colorful jellybeans and Easter eggs, ham dinners and chocolate bunnies, perfunctory prayers, and of course, church on Easter Sunday. I continued the tradition as an adult when I had daughters and a son of my own. Until one year when we stopped going to church. The services seemed long and dry and my mind wandered to the things I'd rather be doing—like playing tennis or going for a bike ride around the lake.

Then suddenly without warning, in my late 30s, my life turned upside down like an umbrella in a rainstorm. And no amount of effort on my part could turn it right side up again. My husband left our family—just like that. I was a woman alone, divorced, then separated from my children for a time, without contact with my parents and scared out of my mind at what lay ahead.

I needed a Savior!

And into my life came Jesus Christ––the one I had read about, sang about, learned about—but never really knew until He came alive through the pages of Scripture and the shared experiences of caring people in a bible study I attended as a guest of a new friend.

THE ONLY WAY

One day as I cried out to God in pain, the verse from John 14:6 that I had read in class marched across the hallway of my mind.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

These words of Christ lanced my heart and out poured all the grief, anger, disappointment, pain and pretense of a lifetime spent trying to look good and be good on my own power.

Suddenly I knew that my life never was and never would be only about me. It was a gift from God through Jesus Christ. He alone could turn my heart from one of stone to one of flesh. He alone could provide what I needed and desperately wanted—to be loved and forgiven and rescued. I confessed my sins and received Him as my Lord and Savior.

Easter that year—over 30 years after the Easter morn I remembered from 1948—was the first time I walked in the only new garments that matter. I was clothed in righteousness, released from sin, restored in spirit and recognized as a friend of God. All this and more because of what Christ did on Calvary and on that magnificent Easter morning when He rose in glory to secure for all eternity my life in Him and the lives of all who bow before Him, confess their sins and call Him Lord.

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though

he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26 NIV)."


Give to Relief Efforts in Iraq

As mentioned on our August 22 broadcast "Praying for Our Christian Family in Iraq," you can help bring relief to persecuted families in that country.

by

The Focus on the Family office in Cairo, Egypt, is helping provide food, medicine, fuel, blankets, tents and daily living expenses to families being impacted by the persecution in Iraq. If you'd like to donate financially toward these efforts, please call our ministry headquarters in Colorado at 1-800-A-FAMILY (1-800-232-6459).


Honest to God: Getting Real With Christ During Adversity

Adversity has the potential to move us closer to God if we are willing to be honest with Him during trials.

by Shana Schutte

I once wrote a story about three brown cows who desperately wanted to change color. Tired of their earthy hue, they decided that purple would impress the neighbors and gain them notoriety. So after much planning, the herd’s leader pushed a large can of purple paint out of the nearest farmer’s garage and onto the driveway where it spilled for each Holstein to roll in it.

Their plan worked.

A short time later a farmer passed by. He couldn’t believe his eyes! He’d never seen a purple cow! He’d never even hoped to see one. But one thing was certain: he was enthralled with their pastel beauty so he herded them home. They were proud, and he was impressed—just like they hoped.

And then it rained.

The downpour washed away the paint, and with it, the cows’ posturing and posing. What they’d pretended to be was gone—and all that was left was a purple puddle.

The rains of adversity, like the downpour in this story, have a way of washing away our pretense and revealing our true selves. Adversity even has the potential to move us closer to God if we are willing to be honest with Him during trials. You might be wondering, How do I become more real with God during these times? I’m so glad you asked. Christ is teaching me that transparency with Him requires three things.

I need to remember that feelings of desperation are okay and can even be a blessing.

One afternoon I felt like these cows. I wanted to be impressive, but felt inadequate. I longed to be a better woman for God but knew my righteousness was like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). After several moments of bearing the “I’m-not-good-enough burden,” the Holy Spirit whispered. “Shana, don’t you see that this [desperation] is a gift?” God instantly showed me that my feelings of desperation were indeed good because they pushed me to my knees and closer to Christ. That’s why Matthew wrote, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).

We can only see desperation as a blessing when we recognize that we can gain Christ in greater measure in exchange for it, and receive abundant love from Him while our heads are bowed and tears fall.

Pride, the opposite of humble desperation, keeps God at a distance. It makes me think that I have it all together and, by the world’s standards, it may look like I do. But in God’s economy, what looks right is really wrong. That’s why Jesus says that those who are poor in spirit (desperate) are the real winners.

In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes,

“…we never lay hold of our nothingness before God, and consequently, we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with Him. But when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us.”

So if you feel desperate, rejoice! Your longing is a gift; your inadequacy a treasure and your need a blessing that can draw you into a deeper relationship with God.

During adversity, I need to remember that it’s okay to be angry.

At my former job, I hung a poster outside my cubicle showing Lucy from the Peanuts screaming, “Look out everybody! I’m gonna be cranky for the rest of the day!” Lucy’s announcement became a joke with my co-workers because she’s so not like me.

Somewhere in my youth, I learned that anger was unacceptable, possibly because I often saw it misused. Then when I came to Christ, this faulty message was reinforced in church. After all, good Christian boys and girls never get angry, right? Wrong. Not only is this teaching wrong, but God expects that we’ll experience anger. Jesus never said “Don’t get angry,” but He did say, “Be angry and don’t sin” (Ephesians 4:26). In this Scripture, He acknowledged that people would get angry. Why? Because anger is a secondary response to emotional pain. And there’s no doubt there’s a lot of emotional pain to go around on this sin-filled planet! Anger will happen!

Anger is like a red light on the dashboard of a car signaling that something is wrong under the hood—that there’s a hurt that needs to be given to God and perhaps forgiveness granted to someone. Like desperation, anger has the potential to take us to places of deeper intimacy with Christ when I bring what hurts me to Him for healing.

How can you do this? Yell or scream when no one is around or run outside and holler at the universe. You can also do what author Muriel Cook calls “Hot Pen Journaling.” Write down your true emotions without sweetening it. Be real. Tell God the truth. Then ask Him to show you what’s fueling your anger so He can minister to what’s hurting you through prayer and His Word.

Last week I was angry when someone I loved hurt my feelings. Rather than denying how I felt or sinning by taking it out on someone, I beat up my bed. I yelled. I screamed. I clobbered it as hard as I could. The result? I felt 100 percent better. I forgave the person who wounded me, and thanked God for loving me. Minutes later I was singing a song, proclaiming His truth and praising His name. Sound crazy? Not really. Even the Psalmists knew that expressing all of your emotions—good or bad—is okay.

During adversity, God wants to blend feelings with His truth to bring me through trouble and heal my heart.

One day while reading a Psalm, I got the idea to do what I did in second grade—color in my Bible. I picked two of my favorite hues: pink and green. Every phrase where the Psalmist expressed his feelings, I highlighted pink, and the places where he proclaimed God’s truth, I colored green. The result was an interesting pattern: Pink, green. Pink, green. Pink, green. Feelings, truth. Feelings, truth. Feelings, truth. Immediately, God showed me that His plan for our lives involves the blending of our emotions with His truth.

For the person whose life is based solely on emotions, there is no healing for his heart, because emotions alone are not trustworthy.

For the one who only acknowledges God’s truth and shoves down negative emotions because “It’s the Christian thing to do; I shouldn’t feel this way,” healing is also elusive because she’s living a life of denial about what’s really happening in the depths of her soul.

God wants to merge what we know in our head about His Word with what we feel in our hearts. Only then will He apply His truth to our emotions, just like He did with the Psalmists. That’s why it’s crucial that we’re honest when we feel angry, disappointed, disillusioned or fearful during adversity. It’s only then that He can hold us in His arms, speak truth to us, heal our hearts and give us the courage to move through the trial.

I understand that getting real with God can feel terrifying if you’re uncertain of His love. I encourage you to choose to believe that Christ is safe because He loves you enough that He died for you. You can take your fears, tears, concerns and anger to Him.

If you’re experiencing a trial now, do some “Hot Pen Journaling,” run outside and scream, tell God everything that’s on your heart and then get alone with Him and let Him quiet you with His love. I promise you’ll find Him in your rainstorm of adversity in a way you never imagined.

Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.


If I Had Faked the Resurrection

Did the resurrection really happen or was it faked?

by Josh McDowell, Bob Hostetler

"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" 1 Corinthians 15:17,19.

I set out as a young man to debunk Christianity. I met a young Christian woman who challenged me to intellectually examine the evidence for Christianity, and I accepted her challenge. I aimed to show her—and everyone—that Christianity was nonsense. I thought it would be easy. I thought a careful investigation of the facts would expose Christianity as a lie and its followers as dupes.

But then a funny thing happened. As I began investigating the claims of Christianity, I kept running up against the evidence. Time after time, I was surprised to discover the factual basis for the seemingly outlandish things Christians believe. And one of the most convincing categories of evidence I confronted was this: The resurrection accounts found in the Gospels are not the stuff of fable, forgery or fabrication.

I had assumed that someone, or several someones, had invented the stories of Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. But as I examined those accounts, I had to face the fact that any sensible mythmaker would do things much differently from the way Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did in recording the news of the resurrection. As much as I hated to, I had to admit that if I had been some first-century propagandist trying to fake the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I would have done a number of things differently:

I would wait a prudent period after the events before "publishing" my account.

Few historians dispute the fact that the disciples of Jesus began preaching the news of His resurrection soon after the event itself; in fact, Peter's Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) occurred within 50 days of the Resurrection. And textual research indicates that the written accounts of the Resurrection, especially the creedal statement of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, are astoundingly early in origin, possibly within two years of the event. Such early origins argue against any notion that the Resurrection accounts are legendary.

I would publish my account far from the venue where it supposedly happened.

Dr. William Lane Craig writes, "One of the most amazing facts about the early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection was that it originated in the very city where Jesus was crucified. The Christian faith did not come to exist in some distant city, far from eyewitnesses who knew of Jesus' death and burial. No, it came into being in the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified, under the very eyes of its enemies."

I would select my "witnesses" very carefully.

I would avoid, as much as possible, using any names at all in my account, and I would certainly avoid citing prominent personalities as witnesses. Yet at least 16 individuals are mentioned by name as witnesses in the various accounts, and the mention of Joseph of Arimathea as the man who buried Jesus would have been terribly dangerous if the gospel accounts had been faked or embellished. As a member of the Sanhedrin, a Jewish "Supreme Court," he would have been well-known. J. P. Moreland writes, "No one could have invented such a person who did not exist and say he was on the Sanhedrin if such were not the case."

His involvement in the burial of Jesus could have been easily confirmed or refuted. Perhaps most important, I would avoid citing disreputable witnesses, which makes significant the record of Jesus' first appearances-to women-since in that time and culture women were considered invalid witnesses in a court of law. If the accounts were fabrications, the women would never have been included in the story, at least not as first witnesses.

I would surround the event with impressive supernatural displays and omens.

As Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide writes, "We do not read in the first testimonies [of the Resurrection] of an apocalyptic spectacle, exorbitant sensations, or of the transforming impact of a cosmic event. . . . According to all New Testament reports, no human eye saw the resurrection itself, no human being was present, and none of the disciples asserted to have apprehended, let alone understood, its manner and nature. How easy it would have been for them or their immediate successors to supplement this scandalous hole in the concatenation of events by fanciful embellishments! But precisely because none of the evangelists dared to 'improve upon' or embellish this unseen resurrection, the total picture of the gospels also gains in trustworthiness."

I would painstakingly correlate my account with others I knew, embellishing the legend only where I could be confident of not being contradicted.

Many critics have pointed out the befuddling differences and apparent contradictions in the Resurrection accounts. But these are actually convincing evidences of their authenticity; they display an ingenuous lack of collusion, agreeing and (apparently) diverging much as eyewitness accounts of any event do.

I would portray myself and any co-conspirators sympathetically, even heroically.

Yet the Gospel writers present strikingly unflattering portraits of Jesus' followers (such as Peter and Thomas) and their often skeptical reactions (Mark 16:11, 13; Luke 24:11, 37; John 20:19, 25, 21:4). Such portrayals are very unlike the popular myths and legends of that (or any) time.

I would disguise the location of the tomb or spectacularly destroy it in my account.

If I were creating a resurrection legend, I would keep the tomb's location a secret to prevent any chance that someone might discover Jesus' body, or I would record in my account that the angels sealed it or carried it off into heaven after the Resurrection. Or I might have taken the easiest course of all and simply made my fictional resurrection a "spiritual" one, which would have made it impossible to refute even if a body were eventually discovered. But, of course, the Gospel accounts describe the owner of the tomb (Joseph of Arimathea) and its location ("At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb," John 19:41), and identify Jesus' resurrection as a bodily one (John 20:27).

I would try to squelch inquiry or investigation.

I might pronounce a curse on anyone attempting to substantiate my claims, or attach a stigma to anyone so shallow as to require evidence. Yet note the frequent appeal of Jesus' disciples, to the easily confirmed-or discredited-nature of the evidence, as though inviting investigation (Acts 2:32, 3:15, 13:31; 1 Corinthians 15:3-6). This was done within a few years of the events themselves; if the tomb were not empty or the Resurrection appearances were fiction, the early Christians' opponents could have conclusively debunked the new religion.

As Dr. Edwin Yamauchi says of the citation of the resurrected Christ appearing to more than 500 people in 1 Corinthians 15, "What gives special authority to the list [of witnesses] as historical evidence is the reference to most of the five hundred brethren being still alive. St. Paul says in effect, 'If you do not believe me, you can ask them.' "

I would not preach a message of repentance in light of the Resurrection.

No one in his right mind would have chosen to create a fictional message that would invite opposition and persecution from both civil and religious authorities of those days. How much easier and wiser it would have been to preach a less controversial gospel—concentrating on Jesus' teachings about love, perhaps-thus saving myself and the adherents of my new religion a lot of trouble.

I would stop short of dying for my lie.

Lee Strobel has written, "People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they're true, but people won't die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false.

"While most people can only have faith that their beliefs are true, the disciples were in a position to know without a doubt whether or not Jesus had risen from the dead. They claimed that they saw him, talked with him, and ate with him. If they weren't absolutely certain, they wouldn't have allowed themselves to be tortured to death for proclaiming that the resurrection had happened."

These are not the only reasons I believe in the truth of the Bible and the reality of the Resurrection. But these were among the "many convincing proofs" (Acts 1:3) that I encountered in my attempts to prove Christianity wrong, which eventually led me to the conclusion that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be and that He really did rise from the dead. It didn't happen immediately, but eventually I gave in to the truth, and on Dec. 19, 1959, the Risen Christ radically changed my life. I've seen Him do the same for countless others, and I pray, if you haven't done so already, you will let Him do the same for you.


Leaning on Truth: An Easter Devotional

None of my friends was available, so I walked into the hotel’s public restroom, locked the door, opened my cell phone, held it to my ear and began talking to the One whom I knew was available…Jesus.

byDebbie Griffith

Every year our family takes a trip to Minneapolis, Minn. to visit dear friends who have five children and, along with our four boys, we have a great time going to the zoo, laughing, talking, swimming at a hotel, eating out, etc. But this year I was wandering in the wilderness, wondering if I was going to make it out of the pit I was in? I was having anxiety attacks and, out of the blue, fear would grip my body to the point where I wanted to flee, feeling like a caged bird with nowhere to go (except maybe to the toilet to throw up).

"Zoo day" morning found me roaming the hotel hallway nauseated and panicked, hoping someone would answer my cell phone call for help. I needed my good mentor friends to speak truth so the running obsessive, crazy tape in my mind would stop telling me that I had a terminal illness, that I was going crazy and that I would never be well again. I needed hope to carry on. But none of my friends was available, so I walked into the hotel’s public restroom, locked the door, opened my cell phone, held it to my ear and began talking to the One whom I knew was available…Jesus.

'It's All Crashing in On Me'

First, I shared my thoughts out loud, telling Him how afraid I was. “Is my constant nausea due to stomach cancer? Why am I losing weight? Why is my parents' divorce so grievous and complicated? Oh, God, it’s all crashing in on me! I’m a mess! Take it all away!” And then I put my head between my knees and moaned. But as I became still and stopped moaning, I heard Him speak the verse I had memorized the week before, Micah 7:7. I repeated its truth out loud and it became my hope to hold onto; “But as for me, I will look to the Lord and confident in Him I will keep watch; I will wait with hope and expectancy for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

It’s important to always remember that God is not surprised by what we are experiencing; our trials first have to pass through Him before they come to us. We need to live in the present, not the “what ifs” of tomorrow. Of course that can be extremely difficult because living in the present is sometimes living in the pit. But if we’re there, God is also there; present, faithful, strong, loving, true and resurrected.

I know from John 10:10 that God has a great and abundant plan for me, but I also know from this same verse that the Enemy is prowling around trying to kill, steal and destroy this great plan. Satan is a liar, and in my weakened emotional state it’s hard to hear the truth and to think clearly. What works for me is to say out loud; “I’m gonna choose, in my troubles, to have a positive attitude and to focus on the possibilities and not on my problems.” I then begin a private counseling session with myself by asking: “Debbie, are you putting your confidence in God or in your feelings, your circumstances or in other people? Are you keeping watch, hoping and expecting good things from a good and loving God? Do you believe God hears you?”

God Does Hear

I then answer with the truth: Listen, Debbie, you may feel incredibly awful and that you’ll never feel like you again and like you won’t find your way out, but that’s not true. Now, listen carefully and closely! God does hear you. He knows you intimately and personally and He created you for a very specific purpose. Remember Zephaniah 3:17 which you memorize? Well then, say it and know its truth: 'For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.’ Debbie, God doesn’t like it when you hurt and He does have a plan for your healing and restoration. He loves you with an everlasting love. He is making you lie down in green pastures to restore your soul (Psalm 23:2) while He is getting up to do something about your situation! He hasn’t changed His mind about you just because you’re in a hard place. He has an amazing plan for your life!” “YES, YES, YES!” I yell out in the bathroom but then I add, “I do believe, help me in my unbelief!”

Over and over I’ve often asked, “Why? Why is life so difficult?” But then Jesus would say to me, “I won’t always give you the answers to all your “whys” but I am the way and I will show you the way to walk and give you the strength to face difficult people and the difficult places. And one thing you can be confident of is that I will never leave or forsake you!!! I realize, too, that I may not know the mind of God but I can know His heart by the promises in His Word.

Psalm 94:14 says that when my anxious thoughts multiply within me God’s Word delights my soul. But if I don’t know His Word how then can it feed and comfort my soul? It can’t. The most frequently asked question, after I speak at a conference or retreat, is, “How do you know so many scriptures, how do you memorize it all?” I suppose being a theater major and having had to memorize numerous lines for plays has helped me. But because I need His Word to survive and because I want the joy and peace He has to give, I need to think about and memorize the His Word because that’s how God speaks to me.

'Manna' Book

Since 1995 I have been consistently in God’s Word, writing His words of encouragement to me in a little 3 x 5 spiral memo notebook, which came to be known as my “manna” book. God gave the Israelites manna as they journeyed toward the Promised Land, giving them precisely what they needed each day and, if they stored more than they needed, it was stinky and maggot-infested the next day. I learned that the same is true for me. I can’t harvest and store all of God’s Word I need on Sunday mornings at church or even at a really good Beth Moore Bible study on Thursday nights. I need to feed on the truth of His promises EVERYDAY. Otherwise my “manna” will be stinky, day-old “manna.” I carry my "manna" book or a note card around all day so I have the truth God lays on my heart, the something He wants me to know and memorize.

That’s the beauty of Easter for me; Jesus dying on the cross for my sin, my troubles, my weakness. He didn’t die on the cross so I could have a religion but He died and rose again so I could have a real and personal relationship with Him. Jesus is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, which means His Word is living and active, too! That’s powerful! With all that I’m been through in my life, the one thing that carries me through my marriage, parenting, my extended family and friendships, our basement flooding, health problems, financial concerns, etc. is the fact that there is a God who is alive and well, whom I can talk to at anytime. I’m at the place where “I get to read the Bible” and not “I have to read the Bible.” Now, not only do I talk to God, but I can hear Him answer me from His Word! And when I call Him on my cell phone He always there. It’s because I know and trust the relationship that I have with Him that I want to follow the plan He has for me, His way, His rules, His Bible.

Helping Others

God our Redeemer lives and I do know I will come out of my dark pit stronger with a blessing and testimony of His greatness that will allow me to help others out of their pit of troubles. I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my life and in the lives of others.

As I left the bathroom I wish I could have said I felt this, too. But I, for one, am not comforted by the knowledge of this when I’m stuck in a pit of despair. I would love to tell you I had a happy-go-lucky-it’s-going-to-be-a-great-day-at-the-zoo kind of day, but I didn’t. However, because I had hope I was able to leave the hotel and take the next step to the family van. As I walked to the parking lot I finished my phone call with God by saying out loud (and with quite a bit of passion I might add) Micah 7:8; “Rejoice not against me, O my enemy! When I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me.” And that truth, along with the sunny day walking outside at the Minnesota Zoo, was all the faith I needed for that day.

Fortunately, faith isn’t a feeling. Faith does not always keep me from having trouble; it most often carries me through trouble. If I never had trouble, I would never need faith. And, doesn't God say; “Don’t worry about tomorrow for each day has enough trouble of its own?!” And to that I say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord and AMEN!” Because I know our risen Lord will be walking with and loving me in all my tomorrows no matter where I’m…everyday!


Living the Adventure

When you step into what Christ made you and onto the path He set before you, the joy is deep and the adventure real.

by Cheryl Pfingsten

Life is an adventure.

You've heard that from many people, that there are segments when life seems more like a lackluster march than a stroll down an exciting path. But in those times when you actually step into what the Lord Jesus Christ made you and onto the path He set before you, well, the joy is deep and the adventure real. Sometimes the results are unexpected and funny, sometimes, just rich. For me, they have always been memorable.

We had driven from Northern to Southern California for my brother's wedding. In the back of the car were two of my brother's favorite pies--lemon meringue—for the rehearsal dinner. The weather was beautiful and the trip went by quickly. We were looking forward to meeting our future sister's-in-law family for the first time.

Meringue Doilies

After greeting everyone upon arriving, we went back outside with my brother, Gary, to unload. Talking a mile a minute, we opened the trunk of the car. For a moment there was silence. What had started out as beautiful pies were now lemon pies with little meringue doilies on top. We could hardly stop laughing. Later when we cut the pies we all started laughing again and offered Gary the meringue from each of our pieces so he would have enough to cover his slice. In fact, we laughed about that for many years.

Situations like that give fond memories and nurture your heart and your family's relationships. "Remember when..." and the story fills the room with loving connection. My husband and I both came from families that laughed easily and we continued that in our own relationship. It is a habit that grew us closer and brings joy in less than perfect situations. It also allows the Lord to show us His presence more quickly in challenging situations and at trying times.

Clanging Pots

Another "adventure" we often remember is a backpacking trip. We had packed a mile and a half into a wilderness area in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains and were looking for an area to set up camp. A little meadow off to the side of a larger valley was surrounded by pines and looked perfect for our home away from home, so we settled in. The light of the day eventually slipped away and the evening stars promised a good night's sleep. Just before our dreams hit, we heard noises that sounded like pots clanging against each other way off in the distance. Only wild noises, we thought. What could possibly upset our beautiful surrounding?

Unfortunately, the noises turned horrendous as they moved closer and closer. When they were so loud we could hardly think, we looked out of our tent to find a herd of cattle encircling us – looking puzzled. They walked back and forth, clanging and mooing, all night, with frequent stops to stand and stare at us. Alas, we had chosen their sleeping meadow as ours and they wouldn't rest until we were out of there.

We found a new spot the next day.

The Greatest Adventure

If life is an adventure, then Christianity is the greatest journey. The stakes and rewards are both high and eternal, and our Companion on the voyage is God Himself. We do not have to walk around with long faces or beaten-down hearts. The Lord has provided us with enough joy, blessing and purpose to make living exciting.

What is this adventure and how do we do it?

The adventure of life holds the same basics for all Christians, living this life according to Scripture and conforming to the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that will vary according to what God has for you to do and learn during any one season. It will also differ according to the corporate situation within which God has you involved, and the individual gifts and talents He placed into you. For example, a soldier often experiences activities which are unlike those of a pastor, scientist or diplomat.

Some questions that help us walk this adventure are:

These questions can help keep us on track in individual and group adventures. Writing down the answers and journaling our inner thoughts and progress can enable us to look back when we falter and regain our direction, strength and joy.

Examples from Bible Characters

Through the years, I have gained tremendous help from studying individuals in the Bible. They faced all of the situations and emotions we face, even though they lived in a different era. The Lord can speak to you through their stories – just make them part of your daily meditations.

If you are:

There are many life stories in the Bible so we might use them as lights along our path. From them we learn wisdom, understanding, compassion, maturity and a lot more. Most of all, we learn about our wonderful God and Lord and all He can and will do for those who follow Him.

Yes, life is an adventure. Some times are challenging and others fun. But, I've found that those living for Jesus Christ are not so much walking their own paths, but the paths of the Lord, living the adventure of the children of God in Jesus Christ. In fact, the perfect example of living God's adventure is Jesus. When you question what choice to make, look at His life. He lived it positively and compassionately, purposefully and effectively. He dealt with all the emotions and temptations we deal with. He had the answers then, and has the answers for you now as you live His adventure and walk His path. Just ask Him. The Adventure still lives.

Cheryl Pfingsten is a freelance writer living in Colorado Springs, Colo.


Overwhelm Your Minister

Here are some practical ways to honor your pastor during Clergy Appreciation Month.

by Harvey Nowland

After 45 years I’m no longer an active pastor, so I suppose that qualifies me to make a few comments about Clergy Appreciation Month. You see, it’s awkward for an active clergy member to remind the congregation about such matters.

As a pastor it would have been inappropriate for me to suggest to the folks in our congregation that they should appreciate me more. The truth is, aside from my wife and family, I may never have felt any more appreciated than I did when serving the Lord as His under shepherd.

At the same time, I’ll admit that I may have been particularly fortunate, because I probably received better treatment from the men and women of the congregations we served than some of my clergy colleagues did.

In fact, one denomination discovered some really unhappy campers when they found that less than one-third of its pastors were satisfied in their work. And, the Alban Institute estimates that 17 percent of pastors experience burnout. It's unfortunate that ambivalence and discontentment about ministry are unpleasant prospects for many clergy.

When ministers face this sort of dissatisfaction, their congregations cannot thrive. Perhaps the remedy is simple. It may be that—more than a hug—your pastor might need a break.

As an active minister, I didn’t sense that I needed a break, but the elders of our church did. They provided an unusual sort of sabbatical that allowed me to be away from the church for days at a time. I spent time studying in the library of a nearby seminary, where I had a small room on campus for sleeping and ate at the cafeteria. It was close enough so that I could be home in less than 2 hours if needed. It was great.

That sort of thing may not be possible for everyone, but you get the idea. It could be a very brief time, or a one- to three-month study getaway. Be resourceful; ask your minister what their “study dream” is. It might be possible for your church to fulfill that dream. And you’ll see the congregation reap the benefits of that sabbatical very quickly.

Be creative—it doesn’t have to be a big deal. There are all sorts of things you can do for your minister and spouse—and a few you shouldn’t do.

By the way, for those who think this “clergy appreciation thing” is nothing more than a greeting card moment, the Word of God also gives us some clear directives regarding our behavior toward those who lead our churches.

"And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 – The Message).

Of course, some might say that The Message is a paraphrasing of Scripture and not a real translation. Maybe, but somehow, I think that “overwhelm them with appreciation and love," says it even better than, “esteem them highly in love.”

Look, as they say—this isn’t rocket science. God gives these clergy folks the responsibility of “diligently laboring among us, having charge over us in the Lord, and giving us biblical instruction.” And we have the wonderful opportunity to get out there and see how many of these ministers we can overwhelm with our appreciation and love.

Harvey Nowland is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga.


The Power of His Resurrection

They clearly saw that – contrary to the modern consumerist culture – life did not belong to them. They had to pour it all out. A certain destiny was absorbing them into something larger than their own family and their own grief.

byEd Chinn

…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 NKJV

On March 12, 1998, Stephen Wrigley Peifer died. Born with a very rare disease, the eight-day-old baby never had a chance to live.

Stephen was not the only one who died that day. A very vital something died in his parents, too. Steve and Nancy Peifer found themselves in a place beyond grief. A way of living came to an end. They both recognized that their lives simply could not go on.

Eight years later, in an internationally televised special, CNN recognized Steve and Nancy as true “Heroes” in the world.

What happened in those eight years?

Very simply, the Peifers allowed their American life to fall into the ground and die (John 12:24). Out of their profound grief, they moved to Kenya to spend one year working with a school.

But, as they saw the true face of poverty and hunger, they both recognized they simply could not return to their old life. They clearly saw that – contrary to the modern consumerist culture – life did not belong to them. They had to pour it all out. A certain destiny was absorbing them into something larger than their own family and their own grief.

They set out to do something about hunger in Kenya. Today, as a result of their efforts, 18,000 children have enough to eat each day. They have also built solar-powered computer labs in some of the most isolated areas of Kenya.

True to the pattern of John 12:24, when their life fell into the soil and died, it produced a harvest for the deep and wide blessing of others.

Resurrection is a Power

Many people, including Christians, view the Resurrection only as a great historical event. They pause each Easter to reverently remember the death and resurrection of Christ.

But, resurrection is also a force, a power that belongs only to God.

The death and resurrection of Jesus was much more than just something that happened one time. It was an historic demonstration of God’s attitude and power.

When we come to a place where we die to our own dreams and preferences and possessions and agendas – when we let it all fall into the ground and just pass away and be covered over with dirt – the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead comes into the story.

Exchanging Life

In the pattern of our Lord, we cannot taste the power of the Resurrection without first going the way of the cross.

It seems that the cross never kills the ignored or tolerated parts of our life. It always seems to demand life’s most cherished dimensions and details.

When we read the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, we often miss the fact that Abraham is the one who died that day. The father who walked back down the mountain was a different Abraham than the one who ascended it.

His personal ideas and affections as a father had to die, to be poured out, so that the infinitely larger purpose of God could flow into his heart. Because Abraham died to himself, God could trust him to carry the seed that would bless the whole earth for all time.

God exchanged Abraham’s old life – very provincial, personal and limited – with the unlimited and panoramic sweep of the Lord’s generosity for the whole earth. Abraham became one of the largest figures in world history because he released his cherished and only son Isaac into the hand of God.

Cashing in the personal for the eternal

Steve and Nancy Peifer have been my friends for more than a quarter century. They were always a blessing to the relatively small circle of people who knew them. They served the Lord, blessed their friends and neighbors, raised a family and lived out the American dream.

But, when they “died,” they were lifted beyond the limits of their old life and carried up to the much larger life that only God could have produced. As CNN recognized, their life today carries immeasurable benefit for countless people.

A seed is one of the most mysterious things in all of God’s creation. When you hold a grain of wheat in your hand, you are holding much more than a seed; you hold future fields and generations of wheat.

The seed in your hand may belong to you. Yes, you can eat it. But, if you drop it into the ground and walk away, by its own death it takes on a brand new and limitless life. It can literally feed millions.

Jesus’ friends and disciples could not understand the cross.

How would it even be possible that their Friend, the youthful and very vibrant Jesus, could just, you know, die? And, besides, He was just a magnificent man, such a continual fountain of blessing and health and provision for them and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others.

Such wonderful blessings are supposed to continue. A “God-who-is-good-all-the-time” just had to know that they really needed the One whom He gave. Surely, He would remain with them every day of their lives.

But, the largeness of God knew that the personal and very local relationships with Jesus would have to be cashed in for the grand eternal purpose.

What about the gifts that God has deposited in you? Were they given for your own life? For your own family? Did God give them so that you could control and dispense them according to your vision and agenda?

Or, does He have a harvest in mind?


Remembering the Reason for Memorial Day

Amid the picnics and family get-togethers, Memorial Day should first and foremost be a day to honor those who have fought and died for our freedom.

by Tiffany Stuart

"Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure."

President Abraham Lincoln

For many Americans, Memorial Day means the first three-day weekend of summer filled with barbeques or picnics with family and friends, camping trips or a shopping day at the hardware store for home repair projects.

For other Americans, the day is sacred. A time to pay tribute to fallen war heroes. They feel the impact of a soldier's name you might casually glance at in your local newspaper. That name is their mom or dad, aunt or uncle, brother or sister, daughter or son.

No matter what your view is on war, it is important to honor U.S. soldiers who have paid the ultimate price.

So before we light our grills and grab our hammers, let's pause to remember those bravehearts who died to protect our freedoms—including our freedom to worship God freely.

Why Remember?

Memorial Day was established to honor those who died in the Civil War. In 1867, Nella L. Sweet wrote "Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping," which captures the heart of Memorial Day. Here's a portion of that timeless hymn.

Here we find our noble died, their spirits soar'd to him above, Rest they now about his throne, For God is mercy, God is love.Then let us pray that we may live, As pure and good as they have been.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan declared May 30th as a day to honor those who died to defend our nation by decorating their graves. In his General Order #11, Logan stated,

"Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."

Memorial Day was originally named Decoration Day, because mourners decorated soldiers' graves from the Civil War. Approximately 5,000 mourners, including orphans and widows, placed flowers and flags on the 20,000 Union and Confederate war heroes' graves buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. To show their respect, supporters gathered, recited poems, sang hymns and marched.

In 1873, New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday by closing stores and having memorial services. By the late 1800s, many communities across our nation celebrated Memorial Day. And after World War I, the day of remembrance changed to honor Americans who died fighting in any war.

Every year since the 1950s, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry have placed over 260, 000 small American flags at each gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery on the Thursday before Memorial Day. During that weekend, they patrol 24 hours a day to make sure all flags remain standing. One of the most popular tourist sites there is the Tomb of the Unknowns. The monument inscription reads, "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God." On Memorial Day, presidents have given speeches and placed a wreath on the tomb to show respect.

In 1971, Congress declared the last Monday in May as Memorial Day, making it a federal holiday. Memorial Day is one day a year all U.S. citizens should remember the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers. Because of their bravery, we have freedom.

15 Simple Ways to Remember:

For more information about Memorial Day, please visit http://www.usmemorialday.org*.

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References:

Link to Quote from General's Order #11 http://www.usmemorialday.org/order11.html*

Tiffany Stuart is a freelance writer/speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo. She writes regularly at her blogs http://www.teawithtiffany.com/ and http://www.thewritingroad.blogspot.com.


Resolutions: Crossing Over Into the 'New'

Humans, regardless of their culture or value system, carry an intrinsic need for forgiveness and a new beginning.

by Ed Chinn

Have you noticed that the dead of winter is not the most ideal time for making great change in life?

The weather tends to keep us somewhat immobile (most people don’t jog when it’s 14 below zero). Our bodies capture and stockpile calories, making weight loss more difficult. In fact, the whole rhythm of life seems to be in a downbeat of hibernation. The release of new life in the spring would seem to be a more ideal time for change.

Yet, making resolutions for an improved life is a January 1 ritual for most people. I suppose one reason is because, no matter how many years roll by, “January” always marks the border to a new beginning. In that sense, each year trips back to zero. Start over.

I believe the larger reason is found in our human need for a clean slate. We all yearn for a brand-new and pristine condition. Humans, regardless of their culture or value system, carry an intrinsic need for forgiveness and a new beginning.

So, an annual “starting gate” reinforces the ideal of forgiveness and renewal. This is my time for rejuvenation! We see it as a time to shed our old skin (often that is very literal…weight loss is the number one New Year’s resolution).

Tips for Crossing the Border Into the New Year

Throughout my years and careers, I have carefully observed different approaches to life. In fact, watching people navigate change is almost an obsession with me. So, I have learned some things about New Year’s resolutions. I hope these “travel tips” will be helpful if you make resolutions.

1. Be you

This may seem simplistic and unnecessary. But, we live in an age of such relentless conforming pressures, that too many people borrow their actions and attitudes from others. For example, if our own social network is intensely materialistic, then we feel pressed into compliance with externally-defined objectives (“You know, honey, we need to update our kitchen this year,” or “With the kids growing up, we really should invest in a new minivan. . .”).

We all tend to compare – and, therefore, conform – ourselves to others. One of the problems with “celebrity culture” is the imposition of false purpose. It essentially says, “Your real life is boring and unimportant. But, you can design and have a new and glamorous life.”

That is why I believe the starting point for life-improving resolutions is to “locate” yourself. Who are you? What are you graced and equipped to do in life?

2. Think large

I believe the best New Year’s resolutions spring out of a large and long view of life. What really matters to you? How do you see your legacy? Do you have a sense of calling? If so, what are you called to do? It is always better (and easier) to work within the large scope of God’s call and blessing than to operate outside it.

3. Focus on details

Once you have a large view of God’s call and favor on your life, you can work out the details. In other words, you can move from the “macro” of the large canvas to the “micro” of particulars. Identifying the large themes of your life will always help to move into wise and realistic details.

For example, if your life’s purpose and joy revolve around caring for those who cannot care for themselves, look for reasonable places of service like hospitals, homeless shelters, or jails (NOTE: obviously, you must obtain wise counseling and professional training prior to serving in those environments).

From there, you can develop intelligent goals – number of days per month for this chosen work, number of people to serve or amount of money to contribute, etc.

4. Be specific and brief

“Improve my health” is not a good resolution. “Lose 1 pound per week” is a good one (don’t think that is too small; how many people lose 50 pounds per year?). Resolutions must be simple, clear, realistic, and limited if they are to have any chance for fulfillment.

I can almost promise you that a list of 20 targets, or even 10 grand goals, will quickly become discouraging and then discarded. The lists are too daunting. But, settling on 5 reasonable, active and attainable resolutions will usually find some success.

5. Pray over the list

This is the most important step. Let me tell you why.

The truth of Christian life is that Jesus lives through us. In a beautiful conundrum, He is the designer, the power, and the provision for new life. Our primary role is to die to ourselves.

So, developing a list (of any kind) should be a prayerful meditation rather than a methodical exercise. It is a matter of integrating His will into your daily walk more than developing a “wish list” for a preferred life.

Let me give you an example. One year ago, Joanne and I felt like the Lord invited us to strengthen relationships with a few people whom we knew only casually. We weren’t tired of old friends and just wanting a “new and improved” group; we really heard it as something He directed.

So, we listed those who were on our hearts and submitted it to the Lord. We regularly prayed over it. But, we didn’t lay out any kind of strategy. In fact, we did very little about the list (beyond occasional email messages or a Saturday morning Starbucks run). We prayed over the list.

In writing this, I looked up at the list of 16 names. For the first time, I realized that nine of them have become good friends this year. All of that happened through an energy which came from the Lord, not from any brilliant or heroic efforts on our part.

All Things New

One year from now, your life will encompass new experiences (some painful, some delightful), new friendships, new opportunities and challenges and new ideas. Whether you are religious or not, most of those will flow from your God-designed destiny. They will, in a sense, “invade” your life from outside yourself. Most will not be the result of any creative “blueprints for change” which you designed or initiated.

Therefore, the best resolution for any season of life is simply to get in sync with the higher rhythms and reasons of your life. Contemplate the path which seems illuminated by God’s purpose and favor. His plans are unique for each individual; He never seems to operate according to conventional wisdom or tradition (remember that Red Sea thing? That was not only brilliant, but He only did it once!).

Finding that deliciously unique and personal path is one of the great challenges and fulfillments of life. As you do, you will also find that a “work list” emerges very naturally out of that path.

Jesus said, “I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5). The real issue is not resolutions for a new year, but finding the state of “all things new.” When we do, each year becomes another adventure in letting go of the old and crossing over into the new.

When we know His newness, every day is a clean slate.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@charter.net). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournalcom, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


Seeing Her With New Eyes

For the first time, I could see her generosity and great kindness reflected in Christ. What kind of jerk would dismiss that?

by Ed Chinn

On October 30, 2007, a colonoscopy dropped a diagnosis of cancer on my wife Joanne. A few days later that verdict was reversed. And, then it came roaring back.

Over the following six months, we lived in that shadowland of wildly conflicting reports, a confusing range of treatment options, continuous testing and waiting and the financial hurdles of modern medicine. Her doctor grew increasingly pessimistic. His darkest pronouncement raised the possibility of choosing "palliative measures" over surgery.

In the early morning hours of March 6, 2008, I thought Joanne was dying. I have no medical training. But, after a difficult night and in the face of ominous symptoms, the swirling dark water of human imagination pulled me into the Psalmist's "valley of the shadow."

I was convinced that March 6, 2008 would soon become a milestone date.

The moment carried a searing numbness of grief and surrender. My heart was broken and so was my mind. In that, the lowest point of my life, I felt immobilized; I could not call our children, my brothers, my friends, our pastor or even a doctor. I felt boxed in by God.

The Terrible Tour

Throughout the predawn darkness, the Lord pulled me through our house in a guided tour of my "Edness." We stopped at several "scenic overviews" so He could point out the broad sweep of my foolishness.

At the first stop, I stood in her office. My gaze fell on the large cork board of her pen pal photos. And, right there, the Lord confronted my cynicism about that part of my wife. Although I never said it, I had been privately dismissive of the 40 women she writes to, prays for and encourages in phone calls.

The illusion of looming death enabled me to see her in a completely different way.

I could see the pure heart which compelled her to reach out to these women. For the first time, I could see that her generosity and great kindness reflected the Spirit of Christ. What kind of jerk would dismiss that?

The tour continued; I saw the box of neatly organized sheets of stickers on her desk. Joanne has long carried a childlike giggling joy for brightly-colored little adhesive stickers – cats and candy canes, flowers and frogs, bicycles and butterflies. She spreads them bountifully across letters, greeting cards, calendars and scrapbooks.

The Lord reminded me of my eye-rolling resentment of the money she spent for the stickers. What kind of small-spirit would turn such delightful marks of feminine personality into something needing correction? Why couldn't I just freely enjoy her colorful and whimsical indulgence?

The tour moved on into her laundry room. There stood the floor lamp which she moved in after the ceiling light died long ago. I always seemed to find time for reading, TV, surfing the net – anything except fixing the light. And, she didn't nag. She just borrowed some light.

The next scenic overview was our closet. My fingers brushed along the silks, cottons, leathers and linens which had adorned this fine lady. My throat burned as her fragrance rose from the fabrics. I was ashamed to remember how I had grumbled about the money she spent on clothes.

Suddenly, a question seemed to drop down from heaven: "What can you afford for her funeral dress?"

Joanne and I have had a long and wonderful marriage – ask our children or any of our friends. But, throughout that terrible morning, I had to deal with a much higher standard of measurement – and this one didn't come from our family, friends or culture. This measuring line was held by the One who created marriage and all human relationships.

As His judgment burned, the long-ago words of Job became my own: "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42: 5-6).

Eyes on the Prize

One of the great human mysteries is why we cannot see people as they really are until they die. Our view of the living seems to withhold blessing until they somehow prove themselves. The jury is always out. But, the moment they leave this earth, our view of them – as revealed in funerals – becomes profoundly gracious and transcendent.

So, can we arrive at that higher view before they die? Is it possible to find a clear resolve of full approval and blessing on those great treasures – like our spouses – whom God has placed in our lives?

Let me suggest some attitudes or acts which may help keep our eyes on that incalculable prize wrapped up in our spouse and other loved ones.

1. Overlook

Pope John XXIII famously advised, "See everything. Correct a little. Overlook a lot." For too much of my life (including my marriage and family life), I corrected too much of what I saw and overlooked almost nothing.

But, people cannot flourish when trapped in that kind of severe and controlling relationship. We all need safe places. Learning to overlook human frailty helps to create zones of safety.

2. Seek Buried Treasure

The Bible speaks of humans as treasures in earthen vessels.

Pastor Glen Roachelle has observed that we always walk in a choice: we can behold the treasure or we can fixate on the flaws and weaknesses of human vessels. We cannot keep both – treasure and vessel – in simultaneous focus.

What if we seek to find the buried treasure in one another? Is it possible to find an Indiana Jones kind of excavating passion for discovering the real treasure in his or her heart?

3. Forgive

Too much of the modern landscape of marriage is charred by unforgiveness. That's why one of the best ways to focus on the prize it to forgive. Let it go. Freely and wholeheartedly grant freedom and blessing to your spouse (and everyone else).

In the words of Lily Tomlin, "to forgive is to give up all hope for a better past." When we give that up, our demanding and self-serving view of relationships begins to fall away. Forgiveness helps us to move a little closer to God's view.

4. Serve

Since March 6, I have learned how to mop, vacuum, empty the dishwasher, help with the laundry, and assorted over ways of serving this lady who has poured out so much of her life for me for so long. Yes, I am embarrassed that it took this long.

Something radical and mysterious happens when we serve another human. I've learned that I cannot mow your grass, polish your shoes, pay your bills, or wash your feet without releasing my full blessing on you. And, serving also releases God to do surgery on the eyes of my heart.

On April 2, Joanne's surgeon removed a softball-sized tumor. He said it was the largest non-cancerous tumor he had ever seen. At last, our long journey was over. Joanne's health is better today than anytime in many years.

We are frankly overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. We passed through the valley of the shadow of death – a cold midnight ride of low-hanging branches and eerie shrieks from the forest. And, we came out of it with Joanne's good health and a renewed future.

But, I came out of it with more than that. The "severe mercy" of God gave me the immeasurable gift of seeing my wife with new eyes.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@charter.net). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournalcom, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


Spring Cleaning Our Messy Hearts

Spring cleaning our hearts, by confessing our sins to God and to others, can bless us in ways we've never imagined.

by Shana Schutte

As I write this article, it's spring in the Colorado Rockies. Yesterday, a yellow-breasted bird sang from a tree outside my bedroom window. Today, the sun is shining. It's the time of year when people get out their brooms, mops and sponges to clean the nooks, crannies and hard-to-get-to spots in their homes that have accumulated dirt and grime during the winter.

I recently considered that spring is not only a good time to clean the dust bunnies from the top of my curtain rods, but to do a "spring cleaning of the heart" by confessing my sins to God and others. Sure, this can be uncomfortable. But if I follow God's command in I John 1:9 (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.), that can bless me in ways I never imagined. It can bless you, too.

Confession is a way to give—and receive—deeper love

I admit it. I'm not like Martha Stewart. Sometimes I don't make my bed; I pile ready-to-fold laundry on the couch (which may stay there for several days), and I occasionally stack dirty dishes in the sink. While I have improved my housekeeping skills by leaps and bounds over the years, I still have a lot of work to do to before I become another Heloise.

This isn't usually a problem until one of my girlfriends calls and says, "Hey, I thought I'd stop by. I'm just around the corner."

Then, as soon as I hang up, I run and slam the bedroom door (to hide my disheveled bed), shove the clean clothes from the couch onto the closet floor in the bathroom and find a creative way to conceal the dirty dishes. Within minutes, when my friend arrives, I bounce to the front door, put on my Martha-Stewart smile and act like I have it altogether.

Only I know I don't.

My friend may not have a clue about my mess, but I do—and because I do, I don't feel completely accepted. After all, we can only feel wholly loved when others know all about us and embrace us anyway.

Last week my friend Maxine called to say she was stopping by. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to hide a very large pile of laundry that had spilled from the closet onto the bathroom floor.

When 'Max' asked, "Can I use your bathroom?" I blushed. "Sure," I said. "I'm reeeeaaally sorry about that laundry. I need to fold it."

"Oh, girl," she said. "Believe me, I know. Sometimes I'm like a tornado at my place." She wasn't bothered in the least by my mess. Instead, she accepted me.

I felt loved.

In the same way, when we experience honest and transparent relationships with God and others that involve confession, we have the opportunity to give and receive love in a deeper way.

Confession relieves us from the lie that we have to be perfect

Last year my friend, *Sarah, who has struggled with perfectionism, decided to be more honest about her temptations with her closest friends. She said, "If I confess my flaws and sins, then I won't feel like I have to be perfect."

Several months later, when she was tempted by sexual sin, she contacted her long-time girlfriend, *Laura, to pour out her heart. "You've really grown," Laura said. "In the past, you would have never admitted your struggles. You're more real than you've ever been."

Through her confession, and Laura's grace, Sarah felt set free from the burden to be perfect.

Are you afraid to confess your sins to others? Does pride, fear or perfectionism prevent you from allowing others to see your "messes of the heart?" If you sometimes struggle with allowing others to see the truth of who you are, I invite you to take a baby step toward being more transparent with a trusted friend.

Confession is a reason to rejoice

When I was in college, one of my closest friends said to me, "A lot of people think that confession is a bummer, but it's really a reason to rejoice." His statement struck me because at that point, I hadn't ever thought of admitting sin as a reason to get happy, but it is.

In Psalm 51, when King David confessed his sin to God about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, he experienced relief from a heavy spirit (vs. 3-4), a renewed joy in his relationship with God, and forgiveness. Verse 5 says, Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Confession is a reason to rejoice, just like my friend said, because it leads us to a renewed love relationship with God.

If you're convinced of some of the benefits of confession, here are some questions to consider from A Personal Guide to Spiritual Cleansing and Revival by Dr. Gregory R. Frizzell. While this is in no way a complete list of sins, it will still help you begin a "spring cleaning of the heart." I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to you as you work through each of the following questions and look up the corresponding scriptures. If God shows you that you have committed any of the following sins, confess your sin to God, and repent so you can experience renewed joy like David.

Questions for confession:

Question: Do lustful, unclean thoughts frequently enter your mind? Do you watch programs on television that stimulate improper thoughts or feelings?

Scripture: Matthew 5:28

***

Question: Do your affections primarily revolve around people or things other than Jesus? Are you more passionate about earthly things than Christ? What things primarily fill your thoughts?

Scripture: Psalms 1:2

***

Question: Do you do things to draw attention to yourself? Do you promote yourself and tend to put others down? Do you think only in terms of your own needs and desires?

Scripture: Philippians 2:3-4

***

Question: Do you often gripe and complain about your situation in life? Do you fail to give God thanks?

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:10

***

Question: Do you ever speak slang or swear words that are inappropriate? Do you use God's name in vain?

Scripture: Ephesians 4:29

***

Question: Do you harbor bitterness toward anyone? Have you refused to forgive someone who has wronged you?

Scripture: Matthew 18:35, Ephesians 4:31, 1 Corinthians 1:10

***

Question: Do you make excuses why you cannot serve God? Are you content to be served rather than serve?

Scripture: Ephesians 4:8

***

Question: Have you committed any form of sexual immorality or uncleanness?

Scripture: Ephesians 5:5

***

Question: Do you think you are quite spiritual? Do you often criticize and judge others?

Scripture: 1 Peter 5:5

If God has shown you that you are guilty of any of these sins, rejoice that you are forgiven and that Christ died for any and all sins that you have committed (Isaiah 1:18). And remember—you can do a "spring cleaning of the heart" during any season of life.

(* Names have been changed.)

Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo. (www.runtogodministries.org)


The First Lady of Civil Rights

Mrs. King was supportive and a driving force behind her husband Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement.

by Jimmy Gill

Coretta Scott King, known as the "First Lady of Human and Civil Rights," passed away at the age of 78 on the evening of January 30, 2006, after suffering a serious stroke and heart attack in August, 2005.

Born April 27, 1927, Coretta Scott and her two siblings were raised by their hard-working parents on a farm in Heiberger, Alabama. Her father, Obediah, was the first black person in the area to own a truck, and he eventually owned a small country store.

Coretta excelled in school and pursued graduate studies in music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. During her time in Boston, she met her future husband, Martin Luther King Jr., who was studying theology at Boston University. On their first date, Coretta recalled what King told her, "You know, you have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday." Eighteen months later — June 18, 1953 — they were married at her parents' home in Marion, Ala.

Mrs. King was a supportive wife and driving force behind her husband and the entire American civil rights movement. After her husband's assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, Coretta carried on Martin's unfinished mission by working for peace, equality and economic justice in the United States and around the world. She devoted significant effort to establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change in Atlanta (founded in 1969) and used it to confront hunger, unemployment, voting rights, racism and "the evils of our society." She also worked for more than a decade to have Dr. King's birthday, January 15, recognized as a federal holiday (established in 1986).

Although much of her life was spent supporting and continuing the work of her husband, Mrs. King left her own indelible mark on society as a true advocate in the fight for justice and equality. It was said that "she was really the living epitome of Dr. King's message of love and forgiveness." She carried herself with dignity, protected her four children and worked tirelessly for peace and racial justice.

Her life was, in many ways, a self-fulfilling prophecy of her statement that, "Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today, but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day."


The Many Benefits of Long-Term Marriage

According to Jacob Silverman there were 1,138 federal benefits, rights and responsibilities associated with marriage.

by Cheryl Pfingsten

My husband Rodger and I looked at each other and smiled, really smiled from the heart. It was our 31st wedding anniversary. Our love, companionship, understanding, help and continuity had grown strong through years of doing life together in complete commitment. The path had not always been easy, but we had “made it” to the long-term marriage group.

When we drove away from our wedding guests years earlier, all was new and exciting. Everything was a first. The unknown and resulting adrenalin were the main, driving forces every day. All seemed rosy and smooth. We thought we were complete – that we had reached a milestone in life and been catapulted into maturity.

We had read lots of books on marriage and its many benefits. All listed the rewards and personal improvements that could be gained by such a relationship. Some were good and some provided nothing of real value. According to Jacob Silverman

Silverman, Jacob. “How Marriage Works.” n.d., cited 14 January 2008.
there were 1,138 federal benefits, rights and responsibilities associated with marriage. Gallagher and Waite
Waite, Linda and Gallagher, Maggie. The Case for Marriage. 2000. Pub. Doubleday.
stated that married persons are happier, healthier and better off financially.

We both started wondering if we actually needed that much information for marriage. We kept many of those things in mind at the start, but it was other factors that mostly guided us through the years, keeping us focused on the benefits God offered. During three decades together, the “rosiness” grew to mean more than an exciting beginning and challenging adventure. And that growth often showed up over and over in several areas.

Learning the Differences

The newness was followed by one of working out a relationship between two individuals with many differences - learning how to compromise, give in, fight fair. This stage demanded a lot of time and more commitment and understanding than our hearts contained. Shannon L. Carter of Ohio State

Carter, Shannon L., M.S. “After You Say ‘I Do’: Adjusting to Marriage.” Ohio State University Extension. February 2001, cited 14 January 2008.
said the first three years of marriage are the years of working out the relationship. Well, I think we managed to stretch that into 10.

Working out a relationship requires knowing both yourself and your spouse, understanding strengths and weaknesses and encouraging growth in your spouse’s unique personality. Keirsey and Bates

Keirsey, David and Bates, Marilyn. Please Understand Me. 1984. Distr. Prometheus Nemesis Book Company.
have defined temperament types and given clear understanding in how this can be accomplished in marriage, work and life. They help a person to understand why husbands and wives make certain choices. For example, my husband chose to go sky diving. He loves excitement and challenge and fears very few things. But I have no desire for that experience. Our two choices are characteristic of our temperaments and inner needs.

Our ability to understand our spouse can make or break a relationship. Healthy communication requires respecting both yourself and the other person. When angry, we must learn not to sin with our words. Name-calling or degrading the other is never affective in solving issues. Instead, we need to start from the truth that our spouse is created in God's image and speak to an issue without killing off our partner’s heart and spirit with words.

Learning to respect and communicate through the differences might be a challenge. But a good marriage is worth that price and much more. After the struggle and adversity comes a stage of peace and joy in having made a unit out of two separate lives - the joy of waking up each day with the one you love.

Understanding With Patience

Deep understanding is another benefit that comes with time and care – listening to the emotions, reading between the lines, watching how “that other person” deals with life. Before we were married, I thought I knew my husband well. And I did for the amount of time we had spent together. But the understanding I have now comes with years of watching and interacting with him.

There is no shortcut to gaining understanding – no instant package in this arena of life. It requires seeing and valuing the other person’s heart, asking yourself questions like, “What matters to my other half?” or “What are the inner thoughts of his or her heart?” Keep the things you learn as a sacred trust. Use your understanding to grow the heart and tenderness of your relationship and guard it with patience.

Yes, some have more capacity for reading others according to the spiritual gifts the Lord has given them. Some are better at patience. But we are each able to give the one we love significant insight for life’s choices only through years of deep and honest sharing between patient, understanding hearts.

Becoming Best Friends

Through the years, Rodger and I have grown to be best friends. We learned about and supported our mutual interests, values, goals and directions. Friday became our date night. On Saturdays, we made it a point to “make memories” by going on unforgettable and fun outings – sometimes with friends or family, sometimes alone.

There were many activities that didn’t cost money – it wasn’t necessary to go into debt to have fun. The important thing was to spend time doing something together – whether a walk or a movie or whatever there was to enjoy. We nurtured a relationship that supported our lives together through sorrow, loss, discouragement, anger and those desert times that go with life.

Sharing the Tasks of Life

Sometimes the tasks of living are heavy to bear. Having someone who is committed to you for life and who is willing to split up the challenges in a way that works for both of you makes those tasks doable. Otherwise, life can quickly spiral out of control. As we age, this is especially true because we start to lose our strength and stamina. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says that two are better than one. This is true for several reasons: they can get more done, help the other stand back up when they fall, give each other warmth and help fight off enemies. We have found this to be very true and a great blessing when the storms of life have blown in from seemingly nowhere.

Marriage Over Thirty

Long-term marriage, when the truth and power of Jesus Christ is its focus, is more than just a blessing. A faithful spouse helps give us emotional well-being. He or she provides coherence, constancy and order; coherence because our lives are more logically integrated, consistent and intelligible; constancy because we have steadier affections and loyalties, firm minds, purpose and emotional stability; order of life because the relationship also provides peace and serenity.

Each of these qualities contributes to our complete well-being. They are the foundations Scripture speaks of when it says marriage is an archetype of Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5) Not only does marriage provide us with temporal benefit, it is a picture to the world of what Jesus Christ is to each of us. Looking at the benefits of long-term marriage makes it clear that God had a good purpose in creating this institution.

We looked at each other after 31 years and knew that, because of God’s gift and our trust in Him, we were where He wanted us to be.

Cheryl Pfingsten is a freelance writer living in Colorado Springs, Colo.


They Dare to Obey

Two hundred million Christians in more than 50 countries suffer persecution. They suffer in different ways, but one thing remains the same: They continue to worship Jesus.

by Linda Champagne and Jesse Florea

What if you lived in a country that was hostile toward your faith in Jesus Christ?

Two hundred million Christians in more than 50 countries suffer persecution. Many worship secretly. In Laos, Christian children aren't allowed to attend public schools. In North Korea, a teacher may hold up a Bible and ask, "Do you have a book like this?" If a student admits to owning God's Word, the teacher alerts the government. Police then arrest the family and send them to a labor camp.

In Colombia, teachers and students bully Christians:

Nine-year old Ananias came home from school crying. His teachers had shouted at him: "Christians are useless! You just want to pray and convince others of your beliefs." While his classmates enjoyed recess, Ananias had to work on extra assignments.

Ananias' parents eventually took him out of school. "I wanted to study, but I could not," Ananias said. Even so, "I trust that God will help me, because He knows that we serve Him with all our hearts."

Ananias' father, a pastor, also faces persecution. When he tried to build a church, men with guns threatened him.

"I am proud of my father, because he dares to obey God," Ananias said.

In the midst of difficulties, Ananias' family has also seen blessing.

"People attack us because every day more people are joining our faith in Christ," Ananias' mother said with tears in her eyes. "God has supported our family. We are living for a purpose that will give fruit not only here on earth, but in eternity."

Class Acts

Unlike many Christians living in parts of the Middle East and Africa, Americans can worship freely. But that doesn't stop Christians from being bullied or told they cannot share their faith.

Jillian, 12, attended a required religion class at her school in California. Her teacher claimed that every religion was true. "You have to decide which is right for you," the teacher said.

Jillian knew there's only one true God.

"I stood up and said that wasn't true," Jillian said. "Everyone got upset and mocked me. But I didn't care."

Jillian cared more about pleasing God than pleasing others. In 1 Peter 4:16, it says: "If anyone suffers as a 'Christian,' he should not be ashamed but should glorify God in having that name."

Laura, 11, also loves God and His creation. After she attended a nature camp, she felt uneasy. "The counselor led us through the forest, and he told us to hug the trees," she said. "Then we sang a Christian song with the names of natural objects replacing the name of Jesus."

Laura remembered that God warns people not to trust in other gods or worship nature. She asked to go home early, but the counselor called her a baby.

"You'll have to walk," he told her.

Outcast, but Not Cast-Off

Modern-day Christians aren't the first to face persecution. Many in the Bible suffered, too. As the early church grew, Stephen shared his faith and performed miracles (Acts 6:8). Others hated Stephen and hurled rocks at him. Before he died, he stayed committed to God's calling and even forgave his enemies (Acts 7:58-60).

Acts 16 tells how Paul and Silas suffered in a dungeon before God's power broke their chains and set them free.

In John 15:20, Jesus says: "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."

Christians suffer in different ways, but one thing remains the same: They continue to worship Jesus. God's love brings comfort. The greater the pressure, the more strength they receive.

Paul and Silas sang in jail. Ananias and his family continue to share Christ in Colombia. Laura found greater strength from God after she spoke up at camp.

Smiling, she said: "I know we'll face persecution for being Christians, but knowing God is much better."

Pray for the Persecuted

So what can you do to help? Every year in November, churches in more than 110 countries join together in praying for people who suffer for their faith in Jesus. But you don't have to wait until then.

You can do plenty to help your brothers and sisters in Christ by praying right now! Prayer is more powerful than you will ever realize. Only God can change hearts and dethrone rulers. And God does listen to His people.

Challenge yourself to pray—starting now and ending on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on November 2. Choose a country, write it on a piece of paper and post it on the refrigerator or where everyone in your family can see it.

I will pray for ______________ until November 2.

Pray for God's protection. Pray they'll receive Bibles. Pray that the leaders of that country will find the truth of Jesus Christ. Pray for Christians who have been rejected by their families to be reconciled or find other Christians who can support them. Pray for God to provide food and a safe place to live. And while you're at it, thank God for allowing you to live in a place where you can freely worship Him.

You can make a difference. Learn more ways you can help these brave believers around the world.

************

This article was adapted from Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine. Sign up your 8- to 12-year-old child for this award-winning publication.


True Tolerance: Faithfully Serving the God of Truth

Christians are told their beliefs are matters of faith and, therefore, tolerance must override faith.

by Robert Velarde

An ancient maxim reads, "About matters of taste, there is no disputing," while another one advises, "About matters of truth, we should engage in dispute."

In the Latin the sayings are, respectively: "De gustibus non disputatum" and "De veritate disputandum est."
These two sayings nicely capture the essence of the solution to the contemporary problem of tolerance and truth.

On the one hand, we hear much in public discourse about the need for tolerance, usually presented as the non-judgmental acceptance of all perspectives. On the other hand, those who stand for truth are often branded as narrow-minded, intolerant and judgmental. Unfortunately, this is often the case when it comes to Christianity. All too often Christian beliefs are said to be matters of faith, not matters of truth. As a result, Christians are told tolerance must override faith. After all, with so many religious and non-religious perspectives in the world, isn't tolerance to be desired over dispute? Are Christians really so prideful as to think they have the corner on truth in certain areas?

What is Truth?

In reality, the matter of tolerance and truth is not as simple as it appears. To clarify matters it will be helpful to define two terms: truth and tolerance.

In the Gospel of John, Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" but did not stay for an answer (John 18:38). Dictionary definitions of truth usually identify it as a "quality or state of being true … that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality." In slightly more philosophical terms we could say that truth is that which corresponds with reality. Consequently, what is real is true and what is true is real. A statement is true, then, if it coincides with the way things are.

But let's not make this more complicated than it needs to be. At a basic level we all have a pretty good idea of truth. We know, for instance, that when someone is caught in a lie they did not tell the truth (what they said did not correspond to reality). When it comes to facts, we know that it is not true that the capital of the United States is Los Angeles, rather it is Washington, D.C.

When it comes to moral matters, truth also applies. For instance, either abortion is wrong or it is not. Either a fetus is actually a human being or it is not. Truth in religion also applies. Either Jesus is Lord or he is not. Either God exists or He does not. In these and other questions, whatever corresponds to reality is the truth.

Truth and the Bible

But how does truth apply to the Bible and, specifically, to Christianity? Below are eight relevant points, offered by Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis:

  1. Truth is revealed by God. It is not constructed or invented by individuals or communities …
  2. Objective truth exists and is knowable … Objective truth is truth that is not dependent on any creature's subjective feelings, desires or beliefs.
  3. Christian truth is absolute in nature.
  4. Truth is universal.
  5. The truth of God is eternally engaging and momentous, not trendy or superficial.
  6. Truth is exclusive, specific and antithetical … For every theological yes there are a million no's. What is true excludes all that opposes it.
  7. Truth, Christianly understood, is systematic and unified.
  8. Christian truth is an end, not a means to any other end.

Groothuis concludes his chapter on "The Biblical View of Truth" by writing, "Without a thorough and deeply rooted understanding of the biblical view of truth … the Christian response to postmodernism [a worldview that often denies or distorts the reality of truth] will be muted by the surrounding culture or will make illicit compromises with the truth-impoverished spirit of the age."

Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay (InterVarsity Press, 2000), pp. 65-82.

What is Tolerance?

But what about tolerance? What's wrong with the non-judgmental acceptance of all perspectives? What's wrong depends on what one is being tolerant about. Remember the opening sayings about taste and truth? "About matters of taste, there is no disputing" and "About matters of truth, we should engage in dispute."

Being tolerant is more than acceptable under certain circumstances, especially when it comes to taste. Authors Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl demonstrate this well in their book Relativism (Baker Books, 1998) where they discuss liking a certain flavor of ice cream, adding, "Tastes are personal. They're private. They're individual. If you didn't like butter pecan and favored chocolate instead, it would be strange to say that you were wrong. You should not be faulted, it seems, for having different subjective tastes about desserts than someone else. What if my claim was not about flavors, though, but about numbers? If I say the sum of two plus two is four, I'm making a different sort of claim than stating my taste in ice cream."

Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: feet firmly planted in mid-air (Baker Book, 1998), p. 27.

Do you see the difference between being tolerant of tastes and of truth? Being tolerant of someone's personal taste for ice cream is fine, but what about in the area of mathematics? Two plus two equals four, but doesn't it seem narrow-minded to say so? After all, why should there be only one narrow answer to that problem? Does this mean all answers to the problem that are not four are wrong? Well, that seems so judgmental! The point is, there are some instances where truth—what corresponds to reality—is exclusive simply because it is true.

Tolerance is one thing, but truth is another. Now if by tolerance one means being respectful of the beliefs of others, then Christianity is in full agreement, as Christians are called to defend their beliefs "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). But to confuse tolerance with truth is not helpful.

Putting Tolerance to the Test

Can tolerance pass a worldview test? Since tolerance is often applied to morality, let's briefly explore moral relativism in relation to this question. Moral relativists claim that whatever one happens to believe is true or right for them. Morality becomes completely subjective. What's wrong with this approach? If moral relativism is accepted then nothing can be considered wrong, but we know some things are inherently wrong, which is why we have a legal system and criminals serving time. There are many other problems with moral relativism, but this one is enough to destroy it as a viable system.

For more insights on refuting moral relativism see Beckwith and Koukl, Relativism, and Kenneth R. Samples, Without a Doubt (Baker Books, 2004), chapter 18.
We should not tolerate behavior such as murder, child abuse, rape, or robbery, for instance. In short, some things are simply intolerable.

The God of Truth

Psalm 31:5 reads, "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth" (NIV). Truth is real and it matters. Moral truth is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15), but we must also use our heads (Matthew 22:37) if we are to faithfully serve "the God of truth."

Robert Velarde is author of The Heart of Narnia (NavPress), Conversations with C.S. Lewis (InterVarsity Press) and Inside The Screwtape Letters (Baker Books). He studied philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary.


Walking With God in the Afternoon

The messages flowing from many churches tend to suggest that after 40 our gifts and capacities shrivel up and blow away.

by Ed Chinn

Several years ago, a former basketball coach joined our church. Before long, he started working with our men, some of whom remembered their high school or college "glory days." As I stood beside him once, during a workout, he laughed and said, "This is so funny; the brain remembers the moves, but the body can no longer do them."

I've thought of him and that line so many times over the years. It seems that after 40, the brain-body gap continually erodes into a great yawning gorge.

Living in a youth-obsessed society makes it all worse. The imagery spinning out of our culture presents a kaleidoscopic glorification of rock-hard abs, athletic sexuality, extreme sports and youth-driven entertainment.

Sadly, Christian culture is being "evangelized" by the same youth obsession. Soon after turning 50, I attended a Christian leadership conference. To my surprise, most of the other leaders were under 30. Spiked chartreuse hair, facial jewelry, grunge clothing and heavy metal worship. All of that was fine with me, but I noticed something odd; in workshops, in circles of conversation and in group meal functions, I was invisible. The others looked through me. I was virtually a ghost. They could only see those of their own age group.

It is easy to understand why older people often wonder if God can still use them. The messages flowing from many churches tend to suggest that, after 40, our gifts and capacities shrivel up and blow away. Additionally, by the time people reach middle age, they often lug around a great bag of regrets and another one of sin and failure memories.

Strength and Weakness

Sadly, many "Christian" attitudes about strength and weakness come from contemporary culture, not the Bible.

The fact is that God delights in showing up in human weakness. The Apostle Paul rejoiced in his human weaknesses because they became ports of entry for God's strength. Paul actually wrote that he was "well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10 NASB)

Consider those pivotal human characters that God used as portals for His purpose on earth. Abraham and Sarah and Elizabeth and Zacharias were much too old to have babies. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin. Moses was a murderer (I wonder how he coped with that memory as he aged). Paul was a terrorist. David was much too young to go up against Goliath.

But, their human strength and qualifications were never the issues. I didn't seem to occur to God to use people who were strong in themselves. Abraham "contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform." (Romans 4:19-20 NASB)

Heaven on Earth

Jesus taught His disciples to pray for the reality of Heaven to appear on earth: "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." That prayer has a particular application to those who feel too old, too regretful or otherwise unqualified to be useful.

The Lord's Prayer reminds me that I am not the issue. It is all about the power and will of God materializing in the earth environment. When His will appears in time and space, that moment becomes a point of Heaven touching earth.

That's how Caleb found the faith to ask for hostile territory when he was 85 (Joshua 14:10). That same Heaven-on-earth reality drove Mother Teresa – well into her 80s – to vigorously care for the poor and ill. And, that's why Gary Henley, a 70-year-old friend of mine, decided against a retirement village. Instead, he and Sharrol sold their home and moved halfway around the world to work with Muslims.

Human age and other limitations are never the issue when God is involved.

Maximizing the Moment

So, how does someone at (or beyond) middle age step into the joyous and pulsating Heaven-on-earth kind of life? Let me suggest some steps for maximizing your moment.

Find the Large View

Remember that you came from God and will return to Him. Your life on earth is a small part of your great panoramic biography. Gospel singer Jake Hess captured a great truth when he sang, "Death ain't no big deal." Someday we will all probably look back on this life as a brief tour-of-duty on planet earth.

So, while we are on earth, we can and should always be ready for new adventures. We really have nothing to lose. And, besides, you can't die until God is finished with you. And, you can't stay beyond what He has already decreed (Job 14:5).

Let the small stuff go

You can be old at 50 or you can be young at 80. Part of the secret is being able to release those things which are always passing away – the small things which are unique to specific life passages (like hair, hearing, fertility, and running four-minute-miles). Few things are more pathetic than athletes who don't know when to leave the game. They are old at 40, when they could be stepping into new adventures and becoming rookies again on other fields of play.

Listen

I am always surprised at how much people stop listening as they age. They seem to more quickly and easily retreat into opinions, traditions, and prejudices. When younger people speak, you can see the older ones just tune out and wait for their turn to challenge new perspectives and information.

Honest and attentive listening will always keep people more vibrant, relevant, and engaged. It doesn't cost anything to give a fair hearing to every person, idea, and technology.

Focus on now

We all live in a rapidly spinning centrifuge of life which pulls us away from the moment and throws us into the past or future. That dynamic becomes more pronounced as we age.

But, right now is where we connect with heaven-on-earth. Dealing with what is in front of your eyes will bring the mercy and power of God to the moment. I have found that I never have grace for what has already happened or for what might happen. Help seems to come only for right now.

Be real and authentic

When people look to God for approval and a sense of belonging, they tend to be more real and authentic. But, when they seek approval and connection in the mirror of their environment, they start looking and sounding silly. That's why you have 60-year-old people dressing like young rock stars.

I have walked with the Lord since I was a teenager. Now, I walk with Him in what is probably the afternoon of my life. Life has been good; every season has been beautiful. But, I really think I prefer the afternoon. The pace is slower, the colors more vibrant, the conversations richer, and the possibilities are just as great.

That's because it all rests on Him. That was always true. But, I learned it more deeply while walking with God "this afternoon."

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@charter.net). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournalcom, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


What Do You Know About Roe v. Wade?

Like many Americans, you know Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but you may know little else.

by Shana Schutte

In 1973, the United States was different. Many families still ate dinner together around the kitchen table, kids everywhere were still allowed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and abortion was illegal in most states. Now, many families eat at McDonald's, "one nation under God" has been taken out of the Pledge, and abortion is legal in all 50 states.

If you're like many Americans, you've heard that the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but you may know little else. So what really happened in the case of Roe v. Wade? Who was Roe? Who was Wade? And how did the Supreme Court justify abortion which has resulted in the death of 48.5 million (National Right to Life statistic) babies since 1973?

Who was Roe?

In 1970, when Norma McCorvey, a 21-year-old single woman from Dallas became pregnant, she considered abortion. But the procedure was illegal in Texas and had been in most states since the end of the 19th century. It was a crime to either perform or obtain an abortion, except to save the life of the woman.

Because Norma's life was not in danger, she could not legally have an abortion and she didn't have the money to travel to a state where it was legal. She also feared she couldn't raise the baby because she was a ninth-grade dropout, poor and already the mother of two kids. So when Dallas-based lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee approached McCorvey to become the anonymous "Jane Roe" in a class-action law suit to challenge the constitutionality of the Texas abortion law on behalf of all U.S. women, McCorvey consented.

Who was Wade?

McCorvey sued Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade to be allowed to have an abortion. Weddington and McCorvey also asked the court to rule that Wade not be allowed to prosecute any other women in the future under the Texas abortion law.

Surprisingly, a panel of three judges in Texas declared the state's abortion law unconstitutional. However, they declined injunctive relief to the plaintiffs, so Weddington and Roe went to Washington to argue the case before seven U. S. Supreme Court justices in December 1971.

Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who wrote the Court's majority opinion, said:

"One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion."

Because of these difficulties, Blackmun stressed that the case should be decided on the basis of the Constitution rather than on opinion, which was exactly what Weddington wanted. However, when Justice Potter Stewart asked Weddington to show where the Constitution justified abortion, she came up empty handed.

Later, because the justices had recently appointed two new members and some of them were uncertain of their stand, they decided to reargue the case again on October 11, 1972 after much debate.

During the second round of arguments, the justices questioned Weddington on the constitutional status of an unborn child and they also argued when life begins.

How did the Supreme Court decide to legalize abortion?

Finally, the Court declared abortion a "fundamental right under the United States Constitution," based on the right to personal privacy declared in the 14th Amendment. However, Blackmun, who wrote the Court opinion, stated that "the Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy." He also stated that since 1891, the Supreme Court had upheld the right to personal privacy in ‘zones' such as marriage, family relationships, contraception, childbirth, child rearing and education. The court decided that this right to personal privacy also extended to the unmarried. In the end, the justices decided 7-2 in favor of Roe.

As a result, abortion was legalized in all 50 states. Even though the Court adhered to a right to privacy, they also decided that this right is not absolute in all cases. Therefore, they ruled that the states had a responsibility to protect the life of the unborn baby after the point of "viability," or when the child could live outside the womb. Therefore, abortion was legalized through the first trimester (or first three months) of pregnancy. After this point, the rights of the unborn child would legally override the privacy of the woman, unless her life was in danger.

In more than a dozen cases since 1973, many states have appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. The court has never consented. Instead, they have allowed states to regulate abortion in some cases; but the decision to allow a woman to choose abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, regardless of the reason, has remained.

What happened to Norma McCorvey?

Ironically, McCorvey never had an abortion because she was too far along in her pregnancy. Instead, she gave birth to a baby girl, whom she placed for adoption.

During this year's 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, McCorvey won't be celebrating the case like most pro-abortion supporters. Why? Because in 1995, she became a Christian.

When she worked at a women's clinic in Dallas, the Rev. Phillip Behman often spoke with her outside while they both took a break from work. Behman, the national director for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, had moved next door to McCorvey's clinic, which she wasn't happy about.

According to Behman, McCorvey was "hard-core" in support of abortion and hated him and his organization. But all of that changed one day when Behman started discussing Christianity with McCorvey and she made friends with some of the Operation Rescue staff. Later, she attended church, accepted Christ and was baptized in a swimming pool at a home in Dallas. She was thrilled, but not everyone shared her joy.

Weddington has said that she regrets choosing McCorvey as her plaintiff because she did not represent the case well. McCorvey now says that she "fell into the hands of two young and ambitious lawyers…[and] became a pawn in a powerful game."

As a result of McCorvey's conversion, she has become an active anti-abortion protestor. After accepting Christ, she went to work for Operation Rescue and even wrote a book about her experience. She is the founder of Crossing Over Ministry, through which she speaks out against abortion. She also has a passion to help crisis pregnancies and other pro-life organizations in the fight against the abortion movement.

Yes, a lot has changed since 1973, including Norma McCorvey. Who knows, with God all things are possible, even for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.

Sources:

http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/facts/abortionstats.html*

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade

http://encarta.msn.com/text_761595572__0/Roe_v_Wade.html

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1998/roe.wade/stories/privacy/

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1998/roe.wade/stories/roe.profile/

http://crossingover.bravehost.com/realstory.html*

Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Copyright January 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.


What It Means to Be Intimate

The human desire for intimacy, for love, drives us to do things that we never thought we would.

by Shana Schutte

"Our souls crave intimacy"—Erwin Raphael McManus

Sometimes singles will do just about anything to get close to someone they find interesting, intriguing or just plain irresistible.

One single woman I know drives through Starbucks daily to get her dose of caffeine. One morning as she approached the speaker to order, she noticed that the man in the truck in front of her looked very attractive. She eyed him through his rear view mirror. Wow! Handsome! Hmmm. . . I wonder if he's single. In a split second she made a plan.

"Hi. Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you today?"

"Well to start, can you do something for me? Will you ask the guy in front of me if he's available?"

"You mean the guy in the truck? Suuuuuure. I'd love to. What else can I do for you?"

After she ordered her half-pump, no whip, soy, Venti mocha, she laughed at herself and thought, What in the world have I done?

She blushed as the hunky man in the truck pulled to the drive-up window. She watched as Ms. Starbucks asked if he was available. And then, in a flash, she watched as he drove away.

When she got to the window, she learned through Ms. Starbucks' giggles that he was indeed, attached, married even.

Sometimes singles—and everyone else on the planet—will go to great lengths and even make complete fools of themselves to get close to the opposite sex.

Why? Is it because our innate desire for sex? Is it because of loneliness? Desperation? Stupidity? Hormones? Of course, it can be all of the above, but the answer I'd like to focus on is: intimacy.

The human desire for intimacy, for love, drives us to do things that we never thought we would. But why, and what does it mean to be intimate?

Being Intimate Means "In-to-Me-See"

One evening over dinner with a friend, we spoke about intimacy and what it means. She shared a cute little phrase with me to remind me of intimacy's true meaning. "It means ‘in-to-me-see,'" she said. Ah yes, it's a blending of our heart with another's, so we can "see into" who they really are, and they can "see into" us.

According to Dictionary.com, intimacy is defined as, "showing a close union or combination of particles or elements: an intimate mixture."

Being intimate involves the mixing of our life with another's, a mingling of souls, a sharing of hearts. This is something we all long for because it's how God made us. We were designed to connect.

Real Intimacy is More Than Sex

Maybe you are wondering about sex. Granted, sex is a part of intimate expression, but it is not intimacy.

In his book, Soul Cravings, Erwin Raphael McManus writes:

"Sex can be the most intimate and beautiful expression of love, but we are only lying to ourselves when we act as if sex is proof of love. Too many men demand sex as proof of love; too many women have given sex in hopes of love. We live in a world of users where we abuse each other to dull the pain of aloneness. We all long for intimacy, and physical contact can appear as intimacy, at least for a moment."

When Janet married Ryan, she was convinced that even though they were not emotionally close before getting married, that sex would change all that. After all, she'd seen the movies; she had watched television where two hearts blended into one once they became sexually involved. Sadly, she was heartbroken when the emotional connectedness she longed for didn't show up after she made it to bed.

Real intimacy is not found just by merging bodies in sex. When Jesus said, "and the two shall become one. . . " I can't help but think that He meant more than just the physical. After all, how many couples go to bed at night, share their bodies, but not their hearts? Undoubtedly, many of these people would say they are very lonely. Why? Because just as a garden hose is not the source of water, but only an expression, or vehicle for it, so sex is not the source of intimacy, but an outlet (or expression of) it. No matter how hard you try, if real emotional and spiritual intimacy does not exist before sex, it most certainly won't after.

Real Intimacy Makes Us Feel Known

Real intimacy makes us feel alive like we've been found, as if someone finally took the time to peer into the depths of our soul and really see us there. Until then, until we experience true intimacy, we will feel passed over and ignored, like someone is looking right through us.

Sadly, we can miss out on intimacy that can make us and another person feel known, when we predetermine what we think we should see when we examine their life, heart, personality and soul. When this happens, we will try to mold and make them into who we believe they should be. As a result, we are blinded to their good qualities and love and intimacy are destroyed.

Many years ago, when I dated a young man, my mentor told me, "Shana, if you focus on all that he is not, you'll miss what he is." I've since learned that when we ignore another person's beauty and all that God made them to be, intimacy is lost. Why? Because intimacy flows out of feeling wholly accepted just the way we are.

Real Intimacy Begins With You

Perhaps you are wondering how you can build an intimate relationship. In addition to accepting another person just how they are, (Note: This doesn't mean accepting any form of abuse), real intimacy can only begin once you know yourself. Since intimacy means "in-to-me-see," how can anyone "see into" you and who you are, your fears, dreams, hopes and desires unless you know who you are and are willing to allow someone in? Experiencing true intimacy begins with being connected to your own heart.

Granted, sharing who we are with others is often not easy. All love is a risk. I admit, it can be uncomfortable exposing the deepest parts of ourselves. Thankfully, you don't have to do it all at once because developing intimacy is like peeling an onion—it can happen just a little at a time while trust is developed.

Intimacy With God is Real and Rewarding

Because God made us, He intimately knows us better than anyone can. For this reason, He can make us feel known in a way that no one on earth is able; and in this we can experience intimacy in an indescribable way. Intimacy with God through His Son Jesus has been the most rewarding and life-changing thing I have ever experienced.

My prayer is that you will first experience the joy that comes from having an intimate relationship with God and that out of that love you have experienced with Him, that you will find intimacy with a special someone who will make the load of walking the earth a little lighter.


When God Doesn�t Give You a Mate

My desire to marry a particular man was so important to me that when God didn�t say yes, I became offended.

by Shana Schutte

Because mankind has been created by God for intimacy, it’s no surprise most singles long for marital love. But like all of our deepest longings and desires, it has the potential to carry us to heights in God—when we allow Him to be in charge of it—or to places of desperation when it becomes more important than our love affair with Him.

The latter was my story.

My desire to marry a particular man was so important to me that when God didn’t say yes, I became offended by how He’d handled my life. Without even realizing it, I ran from Christ; stopped trusting Him with my personal life, and ceased to acknowledge His authority, which resulted in a three-year-long depression.

I was certain Todd was “the one.” One evening, however, he came to my house and unexpectedly announced that he didn’t want to see me anymore. After he left, I ran to my bedroom and screamed. “God, I hate You!” Tears fell like rain in a Texas thunderstorm as I pounded my bed repeatedly with a clenched fist. A tornado of disappointment ripped through the landscape of my heart leaving a wasteland of questions I could not answer.

Years later, after the rain cleared and the debris settled, God gently pointed to my heart and showed me that my desire for a mate was greater than my desire for Him. “That is why you experienced so much heartache. I want to give you a hope outside of your desire to have a husband. Child, just surrender it to Me. I want to give you Myself.”

From then on, God began to show me the joy I can have in Him while I wait for a husband. He also revealed some of the lies I believed that kept me trapped in a place of emotional pain and depression after my heart was broken.

I believed it was impossible to experience abundant life as a single.

One of my girlfriends called me last year, lonely and frustrated that God hadn’t delivered her a husband. Never married and 40, she was tired of praying and waiting and waiting and waiting, but most of all, she was convinced that her life was somehow less-than. “Being single is not the abundant life,” she stated emphatically. Boy, could I relate! Believing that same lie is what made me feel like God had betrayed me.

Our conversation sent me running for my Bible where I found John 10:10.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.(NIV)”

The word life jumped off the page. I had to look up its meaning. In the definition, I found the prescription for my and my friend’s sickness of heart: God Himself is the abundant life we seek. The word life is the Greek word zoe (the original language) and means:

“life, referring to the principle of life in the spirit and the soul. (emphasis mine). [Zoe is] all the highest and best that Christ is, which He gives to the Saints. The highest blessedness of the creature.”

This life is inside of me, inside of you, in the spirit, in the soul and it’s God-given. To top it off, it’s the highest blessing that we can have this side of heaven—it’s Christ Himself.

How often do we think the abundant life God promises is out there somewhere in a man or woman we will someday marry when Christ is saying, “This abundant life that you’re looking for—it’s inside of you and it’s who I am. I’m the abundance you need to fill up the deepest ache of your heart. I’m greater than any hope, dream or desire—even the desire for a mate.”

It’s a comfort to know that the abundant life is not about what happens outside of me, or if I’m married or single, because I have little control over that anyway. Praise Him—life is no farther away than the depth of my soul, because that’s where He is.

I doubted God’s love when He didn’t give me the gift of marriage.

Our most desperate times of emotional brokenness tend to bring to the surface what we really believe about God and ourselves. If we are not convinced of God’s love before a romantic crisis, we may negatively measure His love for us during or afterward.

While brokenhearted, Asaph asks in Psalm 77:8, “Has His unfailing love vanished forever?(NIV)”

Finally, accepting that God’s love for me has nothing to do with my marital status has allowed me to relax and rest in Him. As a result, He’s put a new song in my mouth and gratitude in my heart.

I negatively measured God’s justice when He said no to my relationship.

One of my co-workers sent me a true story of a Romanian prisoner who sued God. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, but I was certainly struck by its irony.

The man believed his imprisonment was proof that God had acted unjustly. After all, since he was baptized as a child, God owed him something, right? He demanded that the Romanian Orthodox Church, which he considered to be God’s earthly representative, compensate him for “God-inflicted damage.” When I read that the lawsuit was thrown out because God is “not subject to a civil court of law’s jurisdiction” there was an ornery part of me that wanted to yell, “Well, duh!”

Taking God to court sounds absurd, but think about it. Have you heard anyone define God’s justice by their single status? Even if not verbalized, we may think, If God is just, He will give me a mate.

Sometimes, we have absolutely no idea how we have defined justice until something goes wrong in our romantic lives. I doubt that this prisoner sat around thinking that if he ever went to jail, he would blame God. But when he was looking out between two bars, his beliefs about God’s justice became evident and lawsuit followed.

This human behavior is nothing new to God. In Job 40:8 God asks Job, “Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (NIV)”

The problem with condemning God and putting Him “on trial” is that you suffer double. You experience grief from relational pain, but you also suffer because judging God falsely keeps you from being able to receive the comfort and peace from Christ that you desperately need when your heart is broken.

It’s okay to ache for a mate—it’s even normal. However, God wants to be enough while you wait; He wants to meet you in the middle of your emotional longing.

If you are willing, any disappointments you have about your marital status can be the very reason you experience your greatest redemption of heart. Your most devastating relational losses can push you into deeper relationship with God; you can cry out to Him and He can hold you in His bosom of grace.

Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.


A Real Foundation

Integrating a Christian worldview into every area of life is important.

by Marc A. Fey

In 1991, President George H. W. Bush appointed Del Tackett — now president of the Focus Leadership Institute — as the director of technical plans at the White House for the National Security Council. During this time of serving as the White House's liaison to federal agencies, Del often noticed three murals — memorials to America's foundations — in the Capitol's rotunda. The first was the landing of Columbus, the second the Christian baptism of Pocahontas, and the third the Pilgrims as they paused for prayer on their leaky ship Speedwell with the Bible open, eyes uplifted to heaven.

Del saw other signposts of faith: the inscription "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" above the CIA headquarters, the stone tablet of the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court and the many Bible verses on the Library of Congress and on the steps of the Washington Monument.

One evening, Del stood in the state dining room in the White House and read the prayer that John Adams had carved into the marble over the fireplace. Everywhere Del looked a story was being told about America's foundation; it was a story he knew but had not heard acknowledged in Washington — an overwhelming testimony to the presence and leadership of Almighty God in the lives of those who founded America.

Del realized the founding men and women knew God was sovereign over all of life. They saw a larger story, understanding that underneath their individual lives was a deeper foundation, a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose. Del thought, These men and women knew God was real. In everything they acknowledged God's influence and involvement.

"My eyes were opened, and I hungered to know what a true Christian worldview was," Del says. "I spent years in biblical study and realized that a biblical worldview applies every aspect of life." He also realized many Christians did not understand this truth.

What about today?

The chilling reality in America today: Christians view reality, truth and life not much differently from the culture around them, according to research from George Barna. As a result, Christians don't live much differently from their neighbors who do not know Christ. Divorce rates are similar, addictive behaviors are the same, and Christians struggle to find the answers to the same questions about significance and meaning in life.

To counteract this mentality, while still working in Washington, Del started teaching in churches what he'd been learning about faith. He taught that the truth of the Bible is applicable to every area of a person's life, to every sphere of society, to every aspect of creation. When he completed his assignment in Washington, Del moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., and started New Geneva Seminary along with a small group of other Christian leaders.

"The desire to teach Christian worldview motivated us to found New Geneva," Del says. "Our vision was to establish a seminary that was worldview oriented, producing leaders who would relate faith to all of life. As we did this, we were amazed at what happened in the lives of our students."

Today Del is working on Focus on the Family's The Truth Project, and he serves as the president of the Focus Leadership Institute, which emphasizes Christian worldview to its students.

"The Truth Project" is a DVD seminar that imparts truth and reintroduces believers to the context of Christianity in all its purity and power (see sidebar for details). On this project and in his teaching, Del covers three main truths that many Christians miss:

  1. Living from a Christian worldview means that what you do aligns with what is true, and the Scriptures are the ultimate authority on Truth.
  2. God's Truth lays a design for every area of life. Whether for economics, history, politics, family or church, God has given us a design, governed by His nature and Truth, that we are to follow. When we follow His design, we can discern what is good and right and holy. When we don't, suffering and immorality result.
  3. The process of transformation occurs through the renewing of our mind, and in that process we learn to discern between good and evil. As Romans 12:2 tells us, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will."

"When people awaken to the reality of who God is, they come to understand that God has spoken into every area of life," Del says. "They also see how they have mixed Truth with the world's the lies. "As a result, Christians develop discernment to live life without mixture."

With this education, people gain confidence that there are answers to all the important life questions. "They may not know all the answers, but they understand that God, as our Father, has not simply dropped us off on earth; He's given us the answers."

As more Christians realize the importance of living by a biblical worldview, Del believes Christians will have the opportunity to make a difference in the most important place of all — the hearts and minds of the people they care about.