Prayer for the Weekend

Heavenly Father, this morning as I start this weekend, I humbly come before you and ask:

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May I savor the beauty of your creation all around me. May the sunshine, green trees and the breeze of the evening fill my heart with wonder at all you have made.

May I enjoy the fellowship of the friends around me. May I enjoy the fruit of deep human connections and receive emotional blessing from those around me.

May I rest my body, mind and spirit from a long week of work. May I honor your command to Sabbath, honor the limits of my body, and simply rest.

May I laugh with those around me, finding joy in the big and small things of life. May laughter be a tonic to my soul.

May I cherish the wonderful family given to me. May I never take for granted the precious souls you’ve allowed me to do life with.

May I open my eyes to the needs and hurts around me. Help me take my focus off of me long enough to see a world in need.

May I be bold to share the hope that I have in You. May I not be ashamed of my love for you, a love that I want to share with the world.

May I worship fully and freely with fellow believers at church on Sunday. May my worship be pleasing in your sight.

May my heart be open to what you would speak to me through your Word. May your Holy Spirit speak directly to my soul.

May I glorify your Name through my life and deeds. May my actions bring honor to your Mighty Name.

Hurricane Katrina and My Journey to Columbus

I can’t believe it’s been ten years. Hurricane Katrina, a life-defining event for almost everyone in the Deep South, displaced and shifted the lives of millions of people, my family included. It was shortly after Hurricane Katrina that Robin and I moved from Picayune to Jackson, MS. But in God’s sovereignty (and I believe divine sense of humor), Katrina also prepared us for Columbus.

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The day before Katrina hit, I remember waking up Saturday to mow my lawn. Katrina had been in the Gulf a few days, but no one knew where she was ultimately headed or how strong she would be. My pastor and I briefly touched base about whether to have worship services the next day or not. Katrina at this point was just a nuisance.

Between morning and noon that day before, we found out where Katrina was headed. Katrina strengthen to a Category 5 and abruptly turned north. She was done meandering in the Gulf was ready to make landfall. The target: New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I came into the house after mowing the lawn and the tone from the media had completely changed. We were told to evacuate. Katrina had strengthened into a once-in-a-generation storm. Picayune is located 45 minutes north of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We were directly in her path. (Ultimately, the eye of Katrina passed over Picayune as a Category 2 hurricane, causing minor to major damage and wiping out power for a month).

So with less than 24 hours to evacuate, my family along with millions of others were forced to scramble and try to find a hotel to stay in. An hour north, nothing available. Two hours north, three hours north, all booked. The closest I could find a hotel open was three and a half hours north. The Quality Inn located in you guessed it, Columbus MS. On Highway 45 right next to the Leigh Mall, we stayed there for four days while waiting for permission to return to our homes.

I don’t remember much about my few days in Columbus. We were glued to the tv set like everyone else, watching horrifying images come out of the chaos in New Orleans. But I do remember walking around Leigh Mall thinking to myself, “I would never end up here.” Ha!

Ten years later, I’m closing in on my fourth year here in Columbus. This is the place my family calls home, where my youngest two children were born, where are nearest and dearest friends are. It’s crazy to think this whole journey began ten years ago. Happy Anniversary!

p.s. If Robin and I knew that God was going to move us to wherever we evacuated from Katrina, we probably would have sprung for tickets to Cancun or Tahiti, but live and learn I guess :)

The Most Offensive Aspect of Christianity

There are a truckload of issues where Christians are seen to be offensive and countercultural: gay marriage, abortion, religious liberty being the most prevalent. Yet with all of these issues, I would argue that as offensive as our views on these issues might seem to the world, there is one that is more offensive still: the gospel.

 

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Why is the gospel so offensive? Because of Jesus’ claims. He says he’s the good shepherd, which means everyone else is lost. He’s the light, which means everyone else is in darkness. He’s the bread of the world, indicating that everyone else is hungry. Everyone is sinful, only Jesus can forgive. He’s coming to judge the world, and Jesus will decide eternal destinies on the day of judgment.

 

The central offense is the claim that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus says in John 14:6, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. We want more ways. If there were 1000 ways to God, we would want 1001. We want to call the shots. The Bible says the only way we can receive forgiveness is to turn from our sins and trust in Jesus.

The idea that Jesus is God is offensive to people. Over 1 billion Muslims in the world find it offensive that God would ever humiliate himself by becoming a man. Hundreds of millions more think it’s preposterous that a man could be divine.

But the offense goes further. Not only did God become man, but that God-man was crucified at the hands of a pagan government, a humiliating death as there could be. Imagine taking a successful, well-dressed American with a nice job, big house, sweet car and free-thinking American woman who thrives on her independence and leading them to a garbage dump, where a naked man hangs by nails on a tree, covered in blood, and telling them, “This is your God.” They would laugh at you, possibly feel sorry for you, and certainly move on with their lives.

The peak of their offense would come when you told them that their eternal destinies rested not on anything they did, but on believing that the naked dying man was in fact God. If they don’t believe, their eternity is hell.

 

When you put all these truths together, you realize that the most offensive and countercultural claim in Christianity is not what Christians believe about homosexuality or abortion, marriage or religious liberty. Instead, the most offensive claim in Christianity is that God is the Creator, Owner, and Judge of every person on the planet, and that forgiveness only comes through believing in His Son. That’s offensive.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

Why Does God Allow Persecution?

A marching band in Brandon MS wasn’t allowed to play at the half time of their football game last week because they wanted to How Great Thou Art. A federal judge had specifically ordered the school not to invoke the name of God in any school function.

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Chick-Fil-A is kept out of the Denver Airport because city council members disagree with the Dan Cathy’s recent comments supporting traditional marriage, comments they say lead to discrimination by the whole company.

Christians are being persecuted at a quickening pace. Why does God even allow persecution in the first place? Here are three places to start:

1. We are in a spiritual war. There will be casualties. We aren’t in heaven yet. The Kingdom of God has not yet been fully realized here on earth. Satan is still the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2). We are still deep in enemy territory. We aren’t on a cruise ship; we’re on a battleship. This is war. There will be casualties.

2. Persecution refines our faith. For those of you who eat and breath football, you know that football players just finished intense summer workouts. Some call it “two a days” or “hell week.” The reason football players are put through such ‘persecution’ isn’t to punish them, it’s to prepare them. It makes them stronger. Gold is refined only when the hottest flames surround it. Persecution forces us off the fence and forces us to choose sides. Do we follow God because we truly believe in him or because it’s been convenient?

3. God sovereignly utilizes persecution to spread the gospel. Look at the book of Acts. Up until Acts 7, Christianity stayed localized in Jerusalem. But then persecution comes. “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. . . Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1,4). God is sovereign. He is using the changing climate in America to further spread His glory throughout the earth.

None of this makes persecution any easier, but hopefully it will help you see the bigger picture, and perhaps even the part God wants you to play in it.

3 Simple Ways to Build More Intimacy in Your Family

Life just went from 0 to 100 mph in many households as school has started back and fall sports are about to kick up. In the midst of the busyness of a typical American life, how can you build intimacy your family? How can you make sure the deep connection many of you enjoyed growing up with your family is passed down to the next generation? Are are three places to start:

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1. Create margin. Intimacy isn’t built when you shuttle kids from one activity to the next and when you and your spouse are like ships passing in the night. A full calendar doesn’t build intimacy. In fact it can be a detriment. You’ve got to be ruthless with the calendar and find a balance. As many worthwhile activities as there are out there for your family, family time (margin) is primary. Protect your family.

2. Eat meals together. As simple as this seems, it’s crazy how little this happens. Eat meals together. Everyone in the family has to eat. If you eat meals together, it’s a simple way to reinforce intimacy in your home. A dinner table filled with laughter may very well be the fondest memory your child has of the family growing up.

3. Go tech free regularly. It’s not enough to say ‘turn off the tv.’ That would work for parents, but for the kids you’ve got to turn off the cell phones too. Everyone sitting in the same room playing on their phones isn’t building intimacy, it’s building personal relationships with a screen. Create times when you’re forced to interact with each other. Go old school. Go family game night. Do something together with no electronics involved. You’ll build a deeper sense of connection with your family.

The Absolutely Positively Best Thing About Mondays

Mondays get a bad rap. It comes too early. You learn to hate your alarm clock all over again. You’re still trying to sleep off the weekend. You’re five torturous days away from another weekend. You’ve got to catch up on all the stuff you put off last Friday. For some of you, Monday is a horrible reminder of all of the problems that you spent an entire weekend trying to forget.

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Mondays get a bad rap, and here’s why: there is something absolutely positively wonderful about Monday. Monday is another day that you’re alive. It’s that simple. Today is a gift. You didn’t have a brain aneurysm during the night. You didn’t have a fatal car accident on the way home yesterday. You woke up with breath in your lungs, love in your life and a reason to smile. You’re alive! God has given you another day! Don’t ever forget that every single day is a gift to be cherished.

Here’s how the Bible puts it:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

For God’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalms 30:5

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59:16

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Psalm 143:8

Let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:24

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2

Today is a beautiful day, a gift from God. Enjoy it!

Story of Hope: Team Hoyt

img_baby_1Rick Hoyt was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt. As a result of oxygen deprivation to Rick’s brain at the time of his birth, Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Dick and Judy were advised to institutionalize Rick because there was no chance of him recovering, and little hope for Rick to live a “normal” life.

This type of cerebral palsy meant that Rick couldn’t use his arms and legs in normal ways, only in short jerks. He would always be confined to a wheel chair. He could never walk, and Rick would never be able to talk.

Dick and Judy soon realized that though Rick couldn’t walk or speak; he was quite astute and his eyes would follow them around the room. Far from institutionalizing Rick, they fought to integrate Rick into the public school system, pushing administrators to see beyond Rick’s physical limitations.

With $5,000 in 1972 and a skilled group of engineers at Tufts University, an interactive computer was built for Rick. This computer consisted of a cursor being used to highlight every letter of the alphabet. Once the letter Rick wanted was highlighted, he was able to select it by just a simple tap with his head against a head piece attached to his wheelchair. When the computer was originally first brought home, Rick surprised everyone with his first words. Instead of saying, “Hi, Mom,” or “Hi, Dad,” Rick’s first “spoken” words were: “Go, Bruins!” The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals that season. It was clear from that moment on, that Rick loved sports and followed the game just like anyone else.

In 1975, at the age of 13, Rick was finally admitted into public school. After high school, Rick attended Boston University, and he graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993.

Rick_and_Dick__2In the spring of 1977 (Rick was 15), Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Far from being a long-distance runner, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair and they finished all 5 miles, coming in next to last. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”

This realization was just the beginning of what would become over 1,000 races completed, including marathons, duathlons and triathlons (6 of them being Ironman competitions). Also adding to their list of achievements, Dick and Rick biked and ran across the U.S. in 1992, completing a full 3,735 miles in 45 days.

Rick was once asked, if he could give his father one thing, what would it be? Rick responded, “The thing I’d most like is for my dad to sit in the chair and I would push him for once.”

News about Team Hoyt spread over the years and they became an inspiration for thousands. They shed light on people with disabilities and Dick is perhaps the perfect example of a father’s love for his son. Watch this video about how together they’ve inspired thousands.

7 Things You Can Do to Start Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage

Apparently a lot of people are interested in what can wreck a marriage. Yesterday’s post had almost 1000 views in less than 24 hours. Because I’m all about hope, I want to give you seven tangible steps you can take to start divorce-proofing your marriage. These are things I’ve shared with three couples I’ve done marriage counseling with this week. If you’ve hit a few bumps along the way, here are some things you need to start doing:

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1. Ask for help. You can’t do this alone. If you and your spouse are rehashing the same arguments over and over, you’re locked in a toxic cycle. Seek outside help. Talk to a pastor. Make an appointment with a professional counselor. Your marriage is worth it.

2. Intentionally be around other healthy couples. If your only friends are other dysfunctional or broken couples, that dysfunction will rub off on you. They will let you get away with behavior that healthy couples won’t. Find a healthy small group of couples and invest in it. Being around other healthy couples will give you hope for your own marriage. Your marriage is worth it.

3. Get on a budget and stick to it. Money is the number one thing couples fight about. Fix the money problems, fix the majority of your fights. Take a course like Financial Peace University. Talk to a financial advisor about how to get out of debt. Sell some stuff. Downsize. Get out of debt. Your marriage is worth it.

4. Have lots of sex. This once or twice a month nonsense isn’t going to cut it. The honeymoon may be over, kids may rule the house, or you may be closer to having grandkids, but a healthy sexual relationship with your spouse is one of the surest ways to divorce-proof your marriage. There are usually always other factors contributing to a less than stellar sex life, but it is extremely dangerous to withhold sex as leverage with your partner. Have lots of sex. Your marriage is worth it.

5. Draw boundaries for your family. This goes two ways. You may need to draw boundaries to keep family in. If you’re going a million miles an hour and if you have to look three weeks down the road to find a free night on the calendar, you’re too busy. Draw boundaries so that the quality of your marriage isn’t sacrificed for the abundance of activities you’re involved in. And sometimes you need to draw boundaries to keep family out, specifically your parents. If your parents are in your marriage in an unhealthy way, if they don’t give you enough space, if it feels like there are three or four people in your marriage, you need to have a hard conversation and draw some boundaries. Your marriage is worth it.

6. Get rid of the porn (guys and girls). Pornography can erode any sense of intimacy in a marriage because it substitutes what God created as healthy with something that is fake and unrealistic. Obviously a huge problem is guys and porn. A porn addiction will erode a man’s ability to connect sexually with his wife because it’s been corrupted by porn. But there’s girl porn as well. A steady diet of romance novels, romantic comedies, and especially reality romance shows present a fake and unrealistic view of love and intimacy. Get rid of the porn in your marriage. Your marriage is worth it.

7. Pray together every night. If your marriage is struggling, you need a divine intervention. Ask for it. The Bible says we have not because we ask not. So ask for God’s help, every night. Before you go to bed, get down on your knees on the side of your bed with your wife and pray for your marriage. It’s impossible to hate someone you’re praying with continually. Pray together with your spouse every night. Your marriage is worth it.

QUESTION: What are some other things that can help divorce-proof a marriage?

4 Things That Will Wreck Your Marriage If You’re Not Careful

No one intentionally sets out to wreck a marriage. Everyone wants your marriage to work, at least at first. That’s why weddings are beautiful and divorce proceedings aren’t. When counseling couples about to get married, I share with them four things that can wreck their marriage if they’re not careful.

 

1. Family of Origin – How you saw your parents interact is going to be the default mode for how you treat your spouse. If your home was broken or dysfunctional, then that is a hurdle that you can overcome but needs to be dealt with. If you never saw a healthy marriage growing up, you don’t automatically learn how to have one just because you put a ring on someone’s finger. None of these issues are deal breakers, but an unhealthy family of origin means you’ll most likely to need to talk to someone professionally over a period of time to unpack your baggage and leave it behind you.

Family of origin also includes your current extended family. There can be family dynamics that aren’t conducive to a healthy marriage. Parents that are too involved, brothers or sisters stirring things up. If you’re in a remarriage, there may even be family members rooting for your spouse to fail. All of these issues can be a detriment to your marriage.

2. Money – There is no scientific number, but I believe that 85% of all spousal arguments have to do with money (or specifically the lack of money), and that percentage might be a little low. I don’t care how much money you make, there never seems to be enough to go around. In every relationship there is usually a saver and a spender. The spender has the power in this regard because his or her ability or inability to make sound financial decisions will either strengthen or strain the marriage. Unfortunately, if you and your spouse fight about money, you’re absolutely normal.

Poor financial decisions early on in marriage can lead to lingering debt that only increases as the number and age of children increase. Strong financial stewardship and shared guidelines are necessary for a marriage to overcome money issues.

3. Sex – Sex is a huge issue namely in that it’s something that couples rarely feel comfortable talking about. Typically the complaint is that sex is not enjoyable (her) or there’s not enough of it (him). Your sexual past, previous relationships, any abuse that might have happened earlier in life, pornography addictions, can all contribute to an extremely frustrating and unsatisfying sex life.

But unlike money, which seems to be much easier to talk about, sex is a taboo subject. So the frustration builds silently, creating an intimacy barrier that can hinder any marriage. Couples need to find a safe place to talk about their sexual issues and frustrations, whether just the two of them or with a counselor. Couples need to explore all of the non-physical issues that can contribute to a less than satisfactory sex life (including diet, sleep, stress, emotional health, spiritual health, relational connectedness, mutual respect, etc).

4. How You Fight – All couples are going to fight. It’s normal and natural for two strong-willed people to have differences of opinions. The problem is when couples don’t fight fair. In each marriage there’s usually one side who wants to talk and talk and talk through a problem and one who wants to shut down and avoid the issue. The talker gets frustrated by the lack of response from their spouse, which compels them to talk more, which causes the spouse to further withdraw, which . . . (you get the picture).

Just like in basketball you have fouls, you and your spouse need to establish ‘fouls,’ agreed upon rules of how you will and will not resolve a fight. And that’s the goal, to resolve a fight. If couples can’t resolve a fight, those arguments can eventually pile up into a mountain that can become unscalable.

QUESTION: What other things can wreck a marriage?