Tackling Pornography

Earlier this year, I challenged my friend Mark Stanifer, a men’s ministry leader, to create content that would help men address a prevalent issue in our culture that we don’t really want to address.  At first, he wasn’t quick to jump on it for many reasons.  But the more we talked about the need it seemed he decided he couldn’t not do it.

So he got to work.  We planned a talk on the subject, and we scheduled an event for men and their teenage sons.  For several reasons we had to cancel the event, mostly due to low response.  It was never said to me, but I’m guessing a major reason was men just couldn’t get their hearts and minds to the place where they’d show up to a talk about this subject.  What was the subject?  Pornography.

Well, now you are probably thinking, “Yep.  Nobody’s going to show up to talk about that.  What were you thinking?”

A conversation I had yesterday answers that question.  A grandmother in our church asked me what resources I knew to share with a newly widowed single mother with a 13-year-old son who has recently started dabbling in pornography.  Think about it.  A middle-school-aged son has lost his dad.  His mother has lost her son’s leader, mentor, counselor, and confidant.  There are so many layers to what that situation means for the two of them.

Because Mark didn’t steer away from creating this needed content, I was grateful to be able to say, “Yes, I have a suggestion.”  That suggestion was for this mom to listen to a two-part series called Tackling Pornography that Mark and his ministry partner released recently.

Here are a couple of takeaways that I encourage you to take from this post:

  1. Tackling something hard or uncomfortable is necessary for personal and community health and growth.  When we have the opportunity to provide answers/encouragement/resources, we do everyone a favor by surrendering to taking the first step.
  2. Pornography doesn’t have to remain in the corner.  If we care about ourselves and others, we must follow the lead of Mark and others to bring it out in the open.  Darkness prevails as long as no one flips the light switch.

Mary’s Sanctification

The title of the day 11 Advent devotional I’m reading was “What’s On The Other Side of Your ‘Yes’?

I’ve thought about the fact that Mary said yes. Rather quickly, by the way (see Luke 1). But this devotional made me think about how, like Mary, our current acceptance is limited to the present. We place our faith in surrendering to what’s in front of us. But we have no idea what’s coming down the road, what’s on the other side. Mary heard what the angel said about the son she would have, but I wonder how much she understood how many yeses were ahead.

  • Yes, I’ll marry a man who’s thought twice.
  • Yes, I’ll run for my son’s life to another country.
  • Yes, I’ll give grace to my son when I don’t understand him.
  • Yes, I’ll let The Father defend his son against the enemy’s lies.
  • Yes, I’ll watch him be crucified.

Each yes was a new challenge, a deeper victory, a fuller revelation.

The teenager who birthed Jesus wasn’t ready to watch him be tortured. She got there through the transformtion of her every yes. A theological word for that tansformation is sanctification. In his book Awe, Paul David Tripp defined sanctification as a process that works the radical transformation of hearts. Mary’s sanctification came through repeated yeses.

What yes is God asking from you right now? What if you said yes for no other reason but to take one more step in your sanctification? Why not see what’s on the other side of your yes?

Known: The Secret to Meaning

(Post #3 in a 4-part series collaboration)

By Shelby Welch (bio below)

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

When I typed in “Meaning of Life” into Google, it gave me 2,350,000,000 results. It gave me results about books, videos, lectures, and numbers-all these different ways that people have tried to find meaning in their lives. Wikipedia even attempted to give possible answers such as to realize one’s potential, to seek wisdom and knowledge, to do good, to love, to have power-even the ultimate nihilistic answer: life has no meaning.

We see it over and over in media. Children dreaming of what they will do one day. Young adults trying to find what they are supposed to do with their lives. Middle-aged people trying to find purpose after a large upset in their lives. And the elderly scrambling to find meaning before their time on this earth runs out.

I am not guiltless in this pursuit. I have sought meaning to my existence in love, in friendships, in academics, and in achievements. Spoiler alert: they all come up empty. Lovers leave you. Friends betray you. Someone will always outsmart you. Someone will always outscore you.

But this year in my reading I think I may have discovered the secret. In C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, he points out the ultimate meaning behind Man’s existence. “If He who in Himself can lack nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed.” Our purpose in life is not that which we can give God but that we may be loved because we are His. Oh, how freeing it is to know that the merit of my life is not based on what I can achieve but on what my God has done for me.

Psalm 139:17 reads, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” Lewis calls it “the Intolerable Compliment.” That the God of all the Universe would choose to love Man, the one creature that is continually rejecting him; that he gives us the opportunity to love him back. That is the purpose of life. That we are known and loved by our Creator.

Thank you, Father God. Thank you for all that You have created and all that You do in our lives. Remind us of our purpose when we become anxious and weary, when we become tired and downtrodden, when we become weak and insecure. Remind us that our purpose is not in being the best parent in the world, not in being the highest-ranking employee, not in achieving all the accomplishments our peers have, and not in the relationships we choose to form. But that our purpose is to be known and loved by You. May we spend the rest of our lives learning to love You more.

Amen.


Blogger Bio: Shelby serves the animals and clients of Bishop Animal Shelter. She and her husband Frank met while studying at Florida Southern College and were married November 12, 2016. Shelby has swam with sharks.

Suffering: A Story To Share, Accept, and Embrace

Came across this tweet yesterday from a soon-to-be-released book by author K.J. Ramsey:

I wonder how much less anguish we would experience in suffering if the church treated suffering like a story to tell rather than a secret to keep until it passes.

Then this morning our pastor, while focusing on Jesus’ coming to experience human life, categorized suffering into three types:

  1. Suffering we can avoid
  2. Suffering we cannot avoid
  3. Suffering we must not avoid

Both of these thoughts need sharing and dialoguing.

There is power is sharing how our choices led us to suffering we could have avoided. Our focus can be directed to the truth of scripture and the forgiving, unconditional love Jesus came to bring.

There is healing in accepting how circumstances out of our control don’t go unnoticed by God. Our focus can be directed to his sovereignty and the relatability Jesus has to offer.

There is strength in embracing how running from something we don’t want may keep us from what we need. Our focus can be directed on God’s promises and the model of endurance and commitment Jesus completed through his resurrection.

Known: God’s Great Encouragement

(Post #2 in a 4-part series collaboration)

By Frank Welch (bio below)

When I was a teenager, I was pretty confident. I had the great blessing of growing up in a Christian home with my mom, dad, and little brother. There was a lot of love in our house; and I had great friends who also cared for me. But best of all, I knew my Savior Jesus Christ, and that He loved me more than I could ever imagine. During this time in my life, it felt natural to really enjoy just being alive.

However, as I got older and started my adult life I started to see the world a different way. My family is still very loving and I still have incredible friends, but there are a lot more people in the world than just them. There are people across the world who are suffering and dealing with persecution for their faith. There are also people in the world committing a lot of evil.

There are times when I struggle with the darkness in the world. Please do not think too highly of me, but I do not get mad at God for it. It is when I see the way other humans treat each other that I feel a deep sorrow in my being.

Of course, none of this is a secret to God. He knows that I can get discouraged when I see the evil things people do to each other around the world, and even in the city where I live. And when I do, He shows up and helps me find my joy and my confidence again. This is how I know God knows me. He pulls me out of the dark times in my life and guides me back into His light and fills me with a hope that comes from who He is.

One of the best examples that has happened to me recently in life is that I used to struggle with negative thoughts that dragged me down and almost depressed me. To get through that, God guided me to memorize scriptures that give me hope, such as Romans 5:5, 12:12; John 12:46, and Matthew 5:14.

He also led me to create a list of phrases that I say every morning so I start the day in a mentally healthy way. This idea came from a video I watched about a pastor who does this same thing. So, the idea is not originally mine, but it greatly blesses me. Some of these phrases include: “Christ is stronger in me then the wrong desires that are in me,” “I am blessed beyond measure because the Holy Spirit lives in me,” and “The world will be different and better because I served Jesus today.”

God knows I need His love and His encouragement to get through life. He also knows just when to give the encouragement I need. Without God’s encouragement in my life, I do not know how I would have made it to where I am today.


Blogger Bio: Frank serves the students of First Baptist Bradenton. He and his wife Shelby met while studying at Florida Southern College and were married November 12, 2016. Frank can talk all things Marvel.

Why the Eighth Day?

In his message today, our pastor read this verse:

When the eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus  — the name given by the angel before he was conceived. -Luke 2:21

His message had nothing to do with expounding on the significance of circumcision, but a question came to my mind: Why eight days?

So I looked it up, and here’s part of one incredibly interesting article I came across on apologeticspress.org:

Genesis 17:12, God specifically directed Abraham to circumcise newborn males on the eighth day. Why the eighth day? In 1935, professor H. Dam proposed the name “vitamin K” for the factor in foods that helped prevent hemorrhaging in baby chicks. We now know vitamin K is responsible for the production (by the liver) of the element known as prothrombin. If vitamin K is deficient, there will be a prothrombin deficiency and hemorrhaging may occur. Oddly, it is only on the fifth through the seventh days of the newborn male’s life that vitamin K (produced by bacteria in the intestinal tract) is present in adequate quantities. Vitamin K, coupled with prothrombin, causes blood coagulation, which is important in any surgical procedure. Holt and McIntosh, in their classic work, Holt Pediatrics, observed that a newborn infant has “peculiar susceptibility to bleeding between the second and fifth days of life…. Hemorrhages at this time, though often inconsequential, are sometimes extensive; they may produce serious damage to internal organs, especially to the brain, and cause death from shock and exsanguination” (1953, pp. 125-126). Obviously, then, if vitamin K is not produced in sufficient quantities until days five through seven, it would be wise to postpone any surgery until some time after that. But why did God specify day eight?

On the eighth day, the amount of prothrombin present actually is elevated above one-hundred percent of normal—and is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it. Vitamin K and prothrombin levels are at their peak. The chart below, patterned after one published by S.I. McMillen, M.D., in his book, None of These Diseases, portrays this in graphic form.

Dr. McMillen observed:

We should commend the many hundreds of workers who labored at great expense over a number of years to discover that the safest day to perform circumcision is the eighth. Yet, as we congratulate medical science for this recent finding, we can almost hear the leaves of the Bible rustling. They would like to remind us that four thousand years ago, when God initiated circumcision with Abraham….

Abraham did not pick the eighth day after many centuries of trial-and-error experiments. Neither he nor any of his company from the ancient city of Ur in the Chaldees ever had been circumcised. It was a day picked by the Creator of vitamin K (1984, p. 93).

Moses’ information, as recorded in Genesis 17:12, not only was scientifically accurate, but was years ahead of its time. How did Moses have access to such information? The answer, of course, is provided by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16—“Every scripture is inspired of God.”

Boom!

To read the entire article, follow this link.

As If You Were There

Our Life Group finished a 4-week study last night of Paul David Tripp’s book Awe. Before I discard the easel notepad sheets, I thought I’d share our discussion notes. This will be a refresher if you’ve read the book. If you haven’t read it, these notes may make you feel as if you were there with us and entice you to get a copy. Who knows? Maybe you could get a group together to do a similar study.

From Chapters 1-2 (Humanity and War)

From Chapters 4-5 (Replacement and Amnesia)

From Chapters 7-8 (Complaint and Materialism)

From Chapters 9-10 (Growth and Worldview)

Known

(Post #1 in a 4-part series collaboration)

By Rick Howell (bio below)

Although it has been over 45 years, I can still remember the experience just like it was yesterday. It is even more shocking that I remember because it happened in the context of a relatively frequent occurrence. My friends and I were in a rousing game of hide and seek, which we played at least weekly. This particular moment, however, stands out because of the intensity of the feelings it evoked and the emotional dilemma it created.  I was hiding.  In fact, I was hiding in a perfect spot. When I identified it, I squealed inside because I knew I would never be found.  This was the perfect hiding place.  As I listened to the seeker count down to “0” and heard the familiar words, “Ready or not, here I come,” I was beside myself with anticipation. She was not going to find me! As time passed, my assessment that this was a great hiding space was confirmed. I heard friend after friend discovered, followed by the race to home.  As I remained hidden, my satisfaction grew.  As more time passed, however, I began to wonder what happens if I don’t get found.  And then what was pure joy for so long was no longer fun.  I wanted to be found, and I wanted to shout with excitement as I raced back home.  Never being found was not all it’s cracked up to be. So, I moved from a great hiding space to a space I knew would allow me to be found.

Unfortunately, more often than I want to admit, my Christian walk has been a similar experience. The idea of being known by God is disturbing. Being fully known, my struggles, my doubts, my insecurities, my failures, my inner most thoughts cannot coexist with God loving me. Therefore, I hide. Hiding from God is not easy.  I have to work hard at it…at least to preserve my illusion of hiding. Much like the child who hides her face and believes therefore that she is unseen, I live as if I can control what parts of me God sees and thereby ensure God loves me…or so I tell myself.  But as in the hide and seek game, hiding becomes undesirable. Disconnection from God results in an unbearable loneliness. My need to be truly loved by God is stronger than my need to hide from God. In desperation I remind myself of the truth my Sunday School teachers taught me: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  I embrace my pastor’s proclamation, “There is nothing that I could do to cause God to love me less.”  Fortunately, my difficulty believing this truth does not make it less true.  As I embrace the scriptural promise conveyed by the words from the familiar chorus, I Am Loved, “The one who know me best loves me most,” hide and seek returns to being just a fun kid’s game.

With this assurance, I can take more risks by being vulnerable in relationships with whom I am pursuing more depth and authenticity.  I remember recently sharing, with two dear friends of mine, some thoughts and reactions I had had during a sermon for which I was not proud but which I did want to explore with them.  When they extended grace and patience to me rather than the expected condemnation, I believed I had experienced in the flesh the truth of which I share today.  I allowed them to know me more fully and they chose to love me more fully.  What a beautiful combination. Thanks be to God!


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Blogger Bio: Rick Howell has served as the Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling Services of the Gulf Coast for 20 years. Rick, a Tampa native, holds degrees from Stetson University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Debbie live in West Bradenton. They have two adult children, Breanna and Ethan.

Heard

(Final post in a 5-part series collaboration)

In the first four posts of this series, my guests have shared how they hear from God. Here’s a recap with a link to their post:

Dawn: worship, prayer, personal devotions, preaching, meditation, relationships

Bob: putting God first, asking Him to speak, aligning priorities, talking about him with others

Erin: peace from God after season of prayer, Spirit conviction, through others

Aaron: vision from within (words, peace), scripture

Before I answer the question, I believe it’s helpful to answer another question: What might be keeping me from hearing God’s voice? I believe that can be answered with this word-Noise. God is always present and available, but it’s quite possible he can’t be heard over all the other noise. And if I’m honest with myself, all that noise is entirely within my control.

“If I’m moving at an insane pace and there is no room in my life for quiet, I will miss God’s voice.” –Lance Witt, Replenish

So if I earnestly want to hear from God, I have to control the noise. And what that most likely means is tuning it out. Tuning out:

  • Distractions like social media
  • Voices contrary to godly dialogue (in my own head, lies from the enemy, subtleties in media/entertainment, misguided thinking or content from well-meaning people)
  • By slowing down
  • By scheduling quiet

Once I’ve handled the noise, then I’m ready to tune in to hear from God. Dawn, Bob, Erin, and Aaron have told us how they tune in. Here are five ways I tune in:

  1. Community. As an introvert, a community of one sounds fine to me. But I’ve learned that I rob myself and tune out the voice of God when I resist being in community. So my community consists of small groups from church, routine meet ups with like-minded men, being coached, and engaging in Sunday services by expecting to receive a personal message from God to me.
  2. Journaling. I’m not legalistic about it, but often journaling is a helpful exercise during or after reading scripture. When a thought or challenge surfaces that needs some exploring, that’s what guides how I approach my journal entry. Sometimes it looks like a paraphrase of what I read, putting into my own words or applying it to a current situation. Sometimes it ends up being a written prayer. Sometimes it’s bullet points. Sometimes it’s an outline for future teaching use. If you haven’t tried it and would like some direction, I suggest reading The Divine Mentor by  Wayne Cordeiro. Journaling has the potential of opening up an avenue of conversation that otherwise may not happen.
  3. Prayer. In order to hear from God, prayer should be viewed as an ongoing dialogue, a two-way conversation.  You might say a paraphrase of “pray without ceasing” would be “never hang up the phone.”
  4. Asking and Expecting. Similar to dinner conversation or an email thread, the dialogue of prayer should include more than input from one party. For my part of the conversation, I try to include questions that require an answer only God could give, such as:
    • “How did I do with that interaction with my coworker today?”
    • “What are you trying to say to me through that verse that just came to mind?”
    • “What encouraging words do you want me to share with the grocery cashier?” Ask the question and wait for the answer. He’ll answer the email when it’s time. Or it may wait until the next meal. That’s part of recognizing his sovereignty.  But it’s up to my end of the conversation to ask the question.
  5. Responding. Since all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there is little doubt that he speaks to us. I have found that one of the best ways to tune in is to simply respond when he speaks. Much like a child who has been called to dinner or given any other direction from their parent, a respectful, “Heard,” helps both parties know they are connected.  And a “Thank you” can’t hurt either.

So what’s your answer? How do you hear from God? A DJ on thejoyfm Tuesday said he got a message from God through feeding his fish. One thing is true-God’s ability to be heard is unlimited. We five writers would like to hear how God is heard by you.

Three Things I’m Thankful For

This quote I read last night leads me to three things I’m thankful for today:

Maybe part of the reason we have such a hard time with no is that we aren’t still long enough to discover the yes. Think about it. This would be a great exercise on a personal retreat. Ask yourself, “What is the higher Yes in my life that will become the filter through which I make decisions?” Write it down and declare it to those around you.

So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for:

  • Higher Yeses – These come from God’s purpose for our lives. Living in them brings him glory.
  • Uniqueness – We all have unique higher yeses, also from God. Accepting and owning ours and encouraging others to do the same brings him glory.
  • Being Seen and Heard – I’m often reminded that God sees and hears us through Hagar and Ishmael’s story in Genesis 16. In our decision making, in our stillness, in our wandering, in our pain, in our blessing-in all of life, his seeing and hearing us reveals his glory.

May his glory be known by our choosing higher yeses, owning our uniqueness, and pursuing being seen and heard by him.