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  • Build Unity Into Your Marriage

    Lauren

    " ... Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless." 1 Corinthians 15:58b (NLT)

    For years my husband and I have looked for ways to build unity in our marriage. Amazingly, one of the best things we've ever done hasn't been fancy vacations or expensive dinners. It's been serving God together and allowing Him to use our life experiences to reach children.

    When my husband, Tony, served as a head coach in the NFL, we often visited classrooms in inner-city schools together. As a former sixth grade teacher, I loved encouraging students to develop a love for reading. Yet we soon noticed there were few motivational, values-driven books with characters and story lines these kids could relate to. That's when Tony and I began writing children's books.

    Every Tuesday for the past four years, we have read one of our books to third grade students in schools where there are a high percentage of children from impoverished and single parent homes.

    In our years serving together, my husband and I have seen God use our offering of time and storytelling ability to show His love to children. Even though it may seem like a small thing, 1 Corinthians tells us everything we do matters: "Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless" (1 Corinthians 15:58b).

    Often our best opportunities to share about God come from the questions we receive. Since many of our characters are based on our nine kids, students often ask, "Is this story true?" We explain that we turn real-life experiences into stories with a message — usually about problem solving with guidance from parents and from God.

    Another question students often ask is, "Are you two married? To each other?" We enjoy sharing that we've been married for over 31 years. "Wow, you're kidding me!" is a common response.

    Some of these children know very few married couples, and we are pleased to model for them — if only briefly — how a husband and wife interact with each other. We understand, even if these kids don't, that God designed marriage as a reflection of Christ's relationship with His church. In some small way, when we serve others, we are giving them a glimpse of God's lavish love.

    Once after we had discussed our story and talked about marriage, children and making wise decisions, a boy eagerly raised his hand. "Are you guys Christians?" he asked. I felt such joy that a third grader recognized our love for God and desire to follow His plan.

    When you and your husband use your gifts and resources to benefit others, you will experience that same delight. But in a world filled with desperate people, how do you know where to serve? The chaplain of the Minnesota Vikings once gave Tony some great advice: "Ask yourself: What can I do that no one else can do? What gifts, connections, and resources do I have to help those who might be overlooked by everyone else?"

    Volunteering has strengthened our marriage in interesting ways. Tony received many accolades as an NFL coach, but I believe his best moments have been interacting with young boys with no father figures at home. In addition, with six kids still living under our roof, we enjoy these few hours to ourselves every Tuesday.

    Our classroom visits often spark discussions as Tony and I explore better ways to answer students' questions and make God's ideas clearer to young people. How blessed we are to be able to impact our community while having fun together!

    What about you and your spouse? If you enjoy entertaining, why not invite those new neighbors over for dinner? If you like working together on your home, could you ask your church to refer you to an elderly couple whose home is in urgent need of repair? The opportunities are as rich as the gifts God has given you.

    As you and your husband seek God's direction, I don't know whether your prayer will lead you to a classroom like the ones Tony and I visit. But I do know this: the Lord is just waiting to show you something that only the two of you can do.

    Heavenly Father, sometimes I forget that marriage is not simply about me and my spouse, but was designed by You as a visible representation of Your endless love. Would You begin to show us how we might extend Your grace to others? In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond: When it comes to helping others, where do you and your spouse's passions intersect?

    Set aside 15 minutes this week to talk with your spouse about the gifts and resources God has given you. Begin brainstorming a few ways you might reach out to someone in your community. If you already serve together, discuss your satisfaction level.

    Power Verses: Acts 20:35b, "... remember the words of the Lord Jesus: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (NLT)

    Philippians 2:4, "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." (NLT)

    © 2014 by Lauren Dungy. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Tyndale House Publishers for their sponsorship of today's devotion.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org

  • Love Is Kind

    Boyd

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4

    Love is a “killer application” for Christians because we “kill them with kindness.” Kindness means you are pleasant to be around because your countenance is inviting and shows interest. It is as much an attitude as anything, and it is the ability to see beyond the immediate to the potential. Kindness means you go out of your way to love someone. People who are unlovable become prime candidates for your kindness.

    A family member who is far from God, deep down desires unconditional love and kindness. Kindness is a natural application of love because it makes one feel loved. It is the ability to be accepting when everything within you wants to be rejecting. It is a strategy for forgiveness when you are wronged or when someone takes advantage of you. When your trusting spirit has been violated, you still love by being kind; you stop fighting, and you start forgiving.

    Love keeps you kind, especially toward those who are closest to you. They do not deserve your dredging up hurtful, bitter, and unforgiving words from the past. Love is kind in its conversations. Harsh and abrasive speech is absent from kind conversation. Love produces words that are “kind and tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:32). Love is able to extend kind words that cheer up heavy hearts (Proverbs 16:24). Pray to God for kindness to reign in your relationships with kids and teenagers. Children translate kindness into love, for it is their language of love.

    We all have blown up and lost our temper over disrespectful attitudes and actions from our offspring. The temptation is to disrespect when we have been disrespected, and the natural response is to become angry when someone else spews out his or her frustrations on us. But God has not called us to natural responses, but supernatural ones. Kindness in the face of frustration is a fruit of the Spirit, and only through submission to your Savior will kindness become front and center. The fullness of the Holy Spirit in your life is what causes kindness to come forth.

    Lastly, loving others with kindness does not preclude difficult decisions. Kindness is not patronizing, but authentic care and concern, and it is able to deliver hard truth that softens hard hearts. You can dismiss an employee with kindness. Likewise, you can disagree in a heated debate, with kindness. Harshness has no hold on those who are controlled by Christ.

    Therefore, kindly love people through difficult situations. Serve those who are experiencing financial difficulties, for example. Kindness is king for followers of King Jesus, so love with kindness and watch them come around and embrace Christ. Kindness kills sin and sadness, and it brings to life love, forgiveness, and hope. Allow Jesus’ loving kindness to flow through you, for kindness toward the needy honors God (Proverbs 14:31). Kindness resides where love is applied, because love is kind.

    Taken from the February 9th reading in Boyd’s 365-day devotional book, “Seeking Daily the Heart of God vol. 1”

    Post/Tweet today:Harshness has no hold on those who are controlled by Christ. #loveiskind

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhunters.com /www.wisdomhunters.com

  • Faithful Guide

    Boyd

    The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. Proverbs 11:3

    Integrity is an instrument of almighty God. He uses it to guide His children in the direction He desires for them. Have you ever wondered what God would have you do? Integrity is His directive to do the next right thing, trusting Him with the results. It is out of honesty that we begin to comprehend Christ’s desires. He delights in our uprightness.

    For example, are you totally honest on your tax return? Is your tax preparer a person of unquestionable integrity? We can trust professionals to represent us well, but we are ultimately responsible for an honest outcome. Furthermore, is there anything you are doing, if printed as a newspaper headline, that would embarrass you and your family? Indeed, integrity brings joy to heaven and security on earth. It is your guide for godly living.

    Moreover, the iniquity of the unfaithful destroys. The blessing of God is removed as it cannot be bought with bad behavior. Relationships are scarred and some even severed over dishonest dealings. Overnight, poor judgment can soil and potentially destroy a hard-earned reputation. Pride acts like integrity is only for others. It deceives itself and becomes a disgrace for its dishonest and duplicitous ways. Iniquity is an unfaithful guide.

    "I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do” (Nehemiah 7:2).

    So we ask ourselves, “How can I be a man or woman of integrity over the balance of my life?” There is a simplicity about those who base their behavior on the principles of God’s Word; nothing fancy, only faithful living in their daily routine. The grace of God governs their soul, the truth of God renews their mind, and accountability is an anchor for their actions. Honestly ask yourself, “Is integrity my faithful guide?”

    The Bible says, “May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you” (Psalm 25:21).

    Prayer: How can I better integrate integrity as a guide for my business dealings and behavior at home?

    Related Readings: Genesis 20:4–7; Hosea 13:9; Matthew 7:13; Romans 7:9–12

    Taken from the February 9th reading in Boyd’s 365-day devotional book, “Seeking Daily the Heart of God vol. 2”

    Post/Tweet today:The grace of God governs the soul and the truth of God renews the mind. #faithfulguide

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhunters.com /www.wisdomhunters.com

  • Too Blunt

    Boyd

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

    Just as a blunt object can bruise and bring injury to the body, so blunt words can hurt hearts and wreck relationships. Even some who pride themselves on being direct can drive people away. Sadly, like chronic bad breath, no one is willing to inform them of their offensiveness. Colleagues fear, lest they become the latest victim of the offender's verbal jabs. Direct speech is not a license for public sparing but private reproof. Words laced in grace accomplish more than caustic candor.

    How do we know if we are too blunt in our conversations? If we talk more than we listen, we have a higher probability of indiscreet speech. If we impatiently wait for another to stop talking so we can give our opinion, we may be guilty of tearing down instead of building up. If we are angry or dissatisfied we may communicate insensitive words. If we are really brave, we might ask a friend if the way we communicate is helpful or harmful. Direct people need direct feedback.

    "But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief" (Job 16:5).

    Comfort precedes confrontation in conversations that most effectively correct the hearer. Like ‘a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down,’ so words dripping with honey are ingested into the stomach of the soul. Truth administered like a sharp scalpel cuts with clean precision, while a jagged, dull saw only frustrates. So, place a caring arm around a friend’s shoulder before you shoulder them with specific concerns. Like Jesus, look for redemption in the conversation.

    Most of all, follow the Holy Spirit’s lead in leading others to understand their need to change. We can only model the way and not get in the way of the Spirit’s work in another’s heart. We can unselfishly serve and hope our actions will infect the ones we serve with a servant’s heart. The best conversations happen in the margins of our relationships. So, we prayerfully wait to bring up sensitive matters when their heart is most open to truth. Sharpened speech is Spirit led.

    "Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones" (Proverbs 16:24).

    Prayer: Heavenly Father, use my words as an instrument in Your Spirit’s hands to help build up.

    Related Readings: Psalm 15:2, 40:10; John 7:18; Romans 9:1; Matthew 12:36; Ephesians 5:4

    Post/Tweet today: The best conversations happen in the margins of our relationships. #tooblunt

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhunters.com /www.wisdomhunters.com

  • One Nation, Under Attack from Grant R. Jeffrey

    Grant

    There Is Far More at Stake Than Most of Us Realize

    The United States of America is unique. In the last five thousand years kingdoms, nations, and empires have risen to power, extending their reach and rule over others. But never has there been the equal of the United States in power and world influence.

    America is the only nation that was conceived as a limited republic based on divinely inspired biblical principles. God’s revealed truth undergirds the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

    These documents clearly reflect an intentional recognition of God and His work in the world as well as the necessity of basing laws, liberties, and rights on His revealed moral law.

    In various ways, all of this helped to transform the thirteen colonies that broke away from England in 1776 into history’s most influential and dominant world empire. By the end of World War II, America was unsurpassed in military might and unequaled in technology, manufacturing, economic vitality, and world leadership. The nation that began with New World immigrants seeking independence from Britain replaced the British Empire by virtue of America’s international presence, economic leadership, and military power.

    The American Empire has been richly blessed by God from the beginning, but in recent decades America has given in to forces that oppose and deny God’s intentions for this great nation. The country that has done more than any other to guarantee personal liberties at home and to defend freedom around the world is seeing its power and influence diminish day by day. The American Empire soon will fall from its position as world leader, and its fall will affect every one of us.

    America is being pushed to the brink by economic reversals brought on by decades of unsound economic policy and more recently by an overextended military, a deadlocked Congress, and a federal government that chooses again and again to turn its back on the clear intent and wisdom of the Constitution. In a very short time, the United States will be pushed to the sidelines of world events. The center of power and influence will shift away from the nation that has served since the eighteenth century as the model of democracy and individual freedom.

    All of this is taking place just prior to the emergence of the prophesied Antichrist. Satan’s representative on earth will consolidate his power and first establish his dictatorship over the revived Roman Empire and then over the entire world. The American Empire that rose to power with the blessing of God will be so weak it won’t play a notable role in the culminating events of the last days.

    This is the greatest of ironies. The only nation in history that was intentionally founded as a limited republic based on God’s principles will be powerless to oppose the coming global tyranny of evil.

    The Rise and Decline of the American Empire

    America’s leaders from the start honored God and looked to God’s Scriptures for guidance. The colonies won their independence from England in 1783, adopted a constitution, and enjoyed steady growth in political, economic, and military power. By the early twentieth century the United States was coming to the aid of democratic allies around the world and winning the First World War. Then, in World War II, America accepted the responsibility to defend freedom by waging war in Europe, North Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. At the end of the Second World War, America was the unquestioned, unrivaled leader of the free world. No other world power was positioned to block the threatened expansion of Soviet Russia and Communist China during the Cold War.

    In fact, the United States of America was far more than a powerful nation. It was rising to the status of a world empire. Empires expand gradually as they amass power, extend their reach, and assert their influence over the rest of the world.

    A commentator on global politics, Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, wrote about the identifying characteristics of the American Empire. “Ever since George Washington warned his countrymen against foreign entanglements, empire abroad has been seen as the republic’s permanent temptation and its potential nemesis. Yet what word but ‘empire’ describes the awesome thing that America is becoming? It is the only nation that polices the world through five global military commands; maintains more than a million men and women at arms on four continents; deploys carrier battle groups on watch in every ocean; guarantees the survival of countries from Israel to South Korea; drives the wheels of global trade and commerce; and fills the hearts and minds of an entire planet with its dreams and desires.”

    Like all great empires, America could not hold the course and preserve the things that made it great. A gradual decline began before the end of the 1950s. In recent years external forces orchestrated a coordinated attack that has hastened the empire’s decline. Soon the American Empire will fall, and the collapse will come rapidly.

    Why Is America Absent from Biblical Prophecy?

    The United States is not mentioned specifically in biblical prophecy. It does not appear by name or by geographical reference in the detailed descriptions of events that will occur during the last-days generation. Jesus Christ will return at the Battle of Armageddon to destroy the Antichrist and establish His eternal kingdom on earth.

    But the one nation in the West that has benefitted from God’s blessing is absent from the prophetic accounts of the critical last-days events.2 There is a strange silence regarding the political and military presence and strategic influence of the United States leading up to the two major prophesied wars. In accounts of the War of Gog and Magog (see Ezekiel 38–39), when Russia and its Islamic allies will attempt to invade Israel and annihilate its Jewish population, there is no mention of America’s involvement. Ezekiel tells us that the Lord will intervene to supernaturally destroy the millions of invading Russian and Islamic soldiers. He will use earthquakes, fire and brimstone, plagues, and even madness to defeat the invading armies to save His chosen people from genocide. Where in all this is America, the declared ally of Israel?

    The Bible’s prophecies are equally silent regarding the role of America in the cataclysmic Battle of Armageddon at the end of the seven-year dictatorship of the Antichrist. The prophetic Scriptures provide significant details regarding virtually all the Eastern and Western nations and their military alliances as they relate to this final war on earth. Since every nation on earth will be involved at the Battle of Armageddon, it is certain that America will be present in some fashion, but the lack of a specific mention of America as a key player indicates that the United States will no longer be a leading power in the world.

    How can this be? The United States invests more in its military defense than the next ten top nations combined. America dominates the world with more power than any previous empire, including ancient Rome and the British Empire at the height of its supremacy. What can explain the lack of any prophetic reference to the American Empire?

    What combination of forces will be capable of draining America’s power in only a few short years?

    A study of history shows that world empires often were defeated by military conquest, but they also are vulnerable to internal forces. For example, while the British Empire found itself on the winning side of World War II, within weeks British citizens voted Prime Minister Winston Churchill out of power. They elected a liberal Labor government that created an enormously expensive and unsustainable welfare state.

    Wealth was drained from the private sector, and the governing Labor Party virtually disarmed the British military. Within three years the ruling regime dismantled the British Empire that had reigned over almost one-quarter of the globe for more than a century. The left-wing Labor Party abandoned the empire by withdrawing from the Commonwealth nations; Northern Ireland was the lone exception. It took only three years for the socialist Labor Party to destroy the legendary British Empire.

    One Nation, Under Attack

    The American Empire that saw its birth in the world’s first experiment in limited representative government has been undermined by international financiers working together with powerful socialist forces both inside America and overseas. These enemies of free-market capitalism are prepared to launch the final stage of a multipronged attack against America.

    Already they have succeeded almost beyond belief in weakening the U.S. economy. For evidence that their strategies are working you need look no further than any newspaper or television news program. They will not stop until they have crippled the national economy, transforming the once-great United States into an impoverished nation with a severely weakened military and no influence on the world stage. A powerless America serves their purposes because it will not be able to resist the movement—being led from within the European Union—that seeks to achieve global governance.

    The developments we will examine in the chapters that follow are deliberate and carefully planned. International financiers and other global interests have recruited hundreds of willing accomplices who occupy the most powerful positions in the federal government as well as officials of the European Union who are more than happy to do the bidding of globalist multibillionaires.

    No longer will there be a freedom-defending global superpower that works for human rights and fights against the military aggression of other nations. There will no longer be a world power that is committed to advancing free enterprise and the prosperity that comes as a result of free-market capitalism.

    One Nation, Under Attack will reveal the blunt truth, and much of it will be difficult to accept. If you love your country, you may not want to believe that your nation’s leaders are selling America to the highest bidder. But it is far better to know the truth than be deceived by the Washington propaganda machine.

    You need to understand what is taking place so you can protect your family’s financial future and safeguard your assets and your property. You need to act now so you will be positioned to withstand the coming collapse of the American Empire. The United States will fall into a state of near oblivion, becoming little more than a helpless bystander, while the most dramatic events in history unfold in Europe, the Middle East, and beyond.

    The Antichrist soon will rise to power and enslave the nations of the revived Roman Empire. Initially, he will rule the member nations of the European Union (EU) as well as a number of Mediterranean nations. Once the Antichrist has consolidated his power over this confederation, he will gain control of the entire world.

    At a time in history when the political influence, economic power, and military force of the United States could be called into service to oppose this unprecedented spread of evil in the world, America will be sliding into obscurity. The fall of the American Empire is already at an advanced stage. In fact, the end of America’s story will come in your lifetime.


    Excerpted from One Nation, Under Attack by Grant R. Jeffrey Copyright © 2012 by Grant R. Jeffrey. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • The Day I Almost Gave Up

    Leah

    "The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help ... The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:15-18 (HCSB)

    I gripped the steering wheel of my car and stared at the hospital emergency doors. My heart pounded furiously, like a time bomb waiting to explode. The pressure in my head was almost unbearable. The invisible weight on my chest felt like someone dropped a sledgehammer on me.

    Thoughts raced through my mind. I wanted to scream but could barely breathe a whisper. I just sat there lonely, afraid, shattered and completely empty inside.

    Should I check myself into the hospital?

    What if they admit me in the psychiatric ward and won't let me go home?

    Who will take care of my children?

    Will my husband still love me?

    What if my friends find out?

    Reaching for my phone, panic rushed over me like a tidal wave. A pool of tears cascaded down my face, as I cried, Jesus, please help me!

    Sitting in my car, unable to move, I continued to pray and ask God questions like, How did I get here? I'm a Christian for heaven's sake! Things like this just don't happen to Christian women – or do they? I feel like such a failure.

    Looking back now, I can see how years of worry and stress had brought me to that day.

    Concerns about my family's finances kept me up most nights. Stress over a high-pressured job caused erratic panic attacks. Worry about my children's health created knots in my stomach. Struggling to help my aging parents resulted in midnight crying sessions.

    My concerns consumed me. Worrying became an addiction, demanding my ongoing attention. I was trying to "hold it all together" on the outside, but on the inside, a sea of doubt and fear haunted me.

    Maybe you're in a similar place. Have the stresses of life caught up with you too? Are you worried about your finances, health, marriage, job or kids? Do you wonder if anyone sees your pain or even cares? If you're brave enough to cry out for help, will anyone rescue you?

    In today's verse, we are reminded we do have a Rescuer:

    "The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help ... the righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:15-18).

    God sees you and hears your cries for help, even when no one else does. He knows your heartache. He sees your pain. If your heart is broken and you feel crushed from all sides, God promises to be close to you. Though you may not see Him with you physical eyes, He is there.

    God rescued me that day in the hospital parking lot. After several hours of prayer, God calmed my heart and I called my husband. I reached out to close friends for help, and the healing started. Although I wanted an instant miracle, it took time, but God never left my side. He gently mended my broken heart and renewed my mind through His Word. He guided me along a journey that led to true freedom, for which I am forever grateful.

    Has the stress of life taken its toll, causing you to feel afraid, lonely or ready to give up? Is your heart broken today? Let God rescue you, friend. He is ready. He is willing. He is able.

    Dear Lord, it feels like my life is falling part. I desperately need You to rescue me. Thank You for hearing my cries and for delivering me from my troubles. Even when I am hidden from others, You see me, Lord. Thank You saving me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond: Read Psalm 139 and highlight every verse that tells of God's presence and protection over you.

    Write out a prayer thanking God for all the things you are grateful for today.

    Power Verse: Zephaniah 3:17, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (NIV 1984)

    © 2014 by Leah DiPascal. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org

  • Too Polite

    Boyd

    In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. Matthew 5:37, The Message

    When we are too polite we can be guilty of deception. In the process of trying not to hurt someone’s feelings, we can communicate a false trust or conceal a hidden agenda. Certainly we are to avoid harshness and use kind words. However, if our conversation remains shallow and sentimental it only disrespects the need to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15). It's patronizing to be too polite. Politeness that masks fear is merely a poor player at courtesy.

    So, how can we be truly honest with our words? One wise approach is to ask questions, so our language is not accusatory, but helpful in discovery of what needs to be done. For example, a wife may feel alone in her role as a mom and wife. A encouraging question could be, What can your husband do to support you? Or, a husband may feel insecure in his position as the spiritual leader. Perhaps ask, How can your wife make you feel affirmed as the spiritual leader at home?

    "These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other" (Zechariah 8:16).

    Furthermore, trust is foundational to effective, forthright speech. Trust assumes the best and is not fearful of rejection. A feeling of goodwill between two parties gives everyone permission to speak freely. Trust builds over time as two people really know and understand each other. They accept one another, forgive one another’s weaknesses, and celebrate one another’s strengths. Mostly, trust in the Holy Spirit to heal hearts, apply truth, and create a spirit of loving dialogue.

    Lastly, let your words flow over your lips, but only after you have prayed to the Lord. Prayer is a buffer that keeps the flesh from making a fool of itself. Speech sanctified by the Spirit is kind, but clear. It keeps the conversation cordial, but corrective, if necessary. Our talk with God prepares us to talk with people. It engages our hearts with an emotional and spiritual connection. In a spirit of politeness we can still be to the point and trust the Lord for redemptive outcomes.

    "Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law'" (1 Samuel 18:22).

    Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the faith to speak forthrightly in a spirit of comfort and love.

    Related Readings: Psalm 119:103; Proverbs 22:11; Ezekiel 33:31; 1 Corinthians 13:1

    Post/Tweet today: Prayer is a buffer that keeps the flesh from making a fool of itself. #toopolite

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhunters.com /www.wisdomhunters.com

  • Every Man's Battle from Stephen Arterburn

    Stephen

    Our Stories

    “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of

    any kind of impurity” (Ephesians 5:3).

    If there’s a single Bible verse that captures God’s standard for sexual purity, this is it. And it compels this question: In relation to God’s standard, is there even a hint of sexual impurity in your life?

    For both of us, the answer to that question was yes.

    FROM STEVE: COLLISION

    In 1983 my wife, Sandy, and I celebrated our first anniversary. One sunsplashed Southern California morning that year, feeling good about life and our future, I hopped in our 1973 Mercedes 450SL–the car of my dreams, white with a black top. I’d owned it for just two months. I was tooling northbound through Malibu on my way to Oxnard, where I’d been asked to testify in a court hearing about whether a hospital should add an addiction treatment center. I always loved driving along the PCH, as locals called the Pacific Coast Highway. These four lanes of blacktop hugged the golden coastline and provided a close-up view of L.A.’s beach culture. With the top down and the wind blowing in my face, I found that summer morning a good day to be alive.

    I never intentionally set out to be girl-watching that day, but I spotted her about two hundred yards ahead and to the left. She was jogging toward me along the coastal sidewalk. From my sheepskin-covered leather seat, I found the view outstanding, even by California’s high standards. My eyes locked on to this goddesslike blonde, rivulets of sweat cascading down her tanned body as she ran at a purposeful pace. Her jogging outfit, if it could be called that in those days before sports bras and spandex, was actually a skimpy bikini. As she approached on my left, two tiny triangles of tie-dyed fabric struggled to contain her ample bosom.

    I can’t tell you what her face looked like; nothing above the neckline registered with me that morning. My eyes feasted on this banquet of glistening flesh as she passed on my left, and they continued to follow her lithe figure as she continued jogging southbound. Simply by lustful instinct, as if mesmerized by her gait, I turned my head further and further, craning my neck to capture every possible moment for my mental video camera.

    Then blam!

    I might still be marveling at this remarkable specimen of female athleticism if my Mercedes hadn’t plowed into a Chevelle that had come to a complete stop in my lane. Fortunately, I was traveling only fifteen miles per hour in the stop-and-go traffic, but the mini-collision crumpled my front bumper and crinkled the hood. And the fellow I smacked into didn’t appreciate the considerable damage to his rear end. I got out of the car–embarrassed, humiliated, saturated with guilt, and unable to offer a satisfying explanation. No way would I tell this guy, “Well, if you’d seen what I saw, you’d understand.”

    TEN MORE YEARS IN THE DARKNESS

    Nor could I tell the truth to my beautiful wife, Sandy. That evening, I put my best spin on the morning’s unfortunate event in Malibu. “You see, Sandy it was stop-and-go, and I was reaching down to change the radio channel, and the next thing I knew I rammed into a Chevy. Lucky no one was hurt.”

    Actually, my young marriage was hurt–because I was cheating Sandy out of my full devotion, though I didn’t know it at the time. Nor was I aware that although I’d vowed to commit my life to Sandy, I hadn’t totally committed my eyes to her. I continued in the darkness for another ten years before realizing I needed to make dramatic changes in the way I looked at women.

    FROM FRED: WALL OF SEPARATION

    It happened every Sunday morning during our church worship service. I’d look around and see other men with their eyes closed, freely and intensely worshiping the God of the universe. Myself? I sensed only a wall of separation between the Lord and me.

    I just wasn’t right with God. As a new Christian, I imagined I just didn’t know God well enough yet. But nothing changed as time passed. When I mentioned to my wife, Brenda, that I felt vaguely unworthy of Him, she wasn’t the least bit surprised.

    “Well, of course!” she exclaimed. “You’ve never felt worthy to your own father. Every preacher I’ve known says that a man’s relationship with his father tremendously impacts his relationship with his heavenly Father.”

    “You could be right,” I allowed.

    I hoped it was that simple. I mulled it over as I recalled my days of youth.

    WHAT KIND OF MAN ARE YOU?

    My father, handsome and tough, was a national wrestling champion in college and a bulldog in business. Aching to be like him, I began wrestling in junior high. But the best wrestlers are natural-born killers, and I didn’t have a wrestler’s heart. My dad was coaching wrestling at the time at the high school in our small town of Alburnett, Iowa. Though I was still in junior high, he wanted me to wrestle with the older guys, so he brought me to the high-school workouts.

    One afternoon we were practicing escapes, and my partner was in the down position. While grappling on the mat, he suddenly needed to blow his nose. He straightened up, pulled his T-shirt to his nose, and violently emptied the contents onto the front of his shirt. We quickly returned to wrestling. As the up man, I was supposed to keep a tight grip on him. Reaching around his belly, my hand slid into his slimy T-shirt. Sickened, I let him go.

    Dad, seeing him escape so easily, dressed me down. “What kind of a man are you?” he roared. Staring hard at the mat, I realized that if I had a wrestler’s heart, I would have cranked down tightly and ridden out my opponent, maybe grinding his face into the mat in retaliation. But I hadn’t. I still wanted to please Dad, so I tried other sports. At one baseball game, after striking out, I remember hanging my head on the way back to the dugout. “Get your head up!” he hollered for all to hear. I was mortified. Then he wrote me a long letter detailing my every mistake.

    Years later, after I’d married Brenda, my father felt she had too much control in our marriage. “Real men take charge of their households,” he said.

    THE MONSTER

    Now, as Brenda and I discussed my relationship with my dad, she suggested I might need counseling. “It surely couldn’t hurt,” she said. So I read some books and counseled with my pastor, and my feelings toward Dad improved. But I continued to feel that distance from God during the Sunday morning worship services. The true reason for that distance slowly dawned on me: There was a hint of sexual immorality in my life.

    There was a monster lurking about, and it surfaced each Sunday morning when I settled in my comfy La-Z-Boy and opened the Sunday morning newspaper. I would quickly find the department-store inserts and begin paging through the colored newsprint filled with models posing in bras and panties. Always smiling. Always available. I loved lingering over each ad insert. It’s wrong, I admitted, but it’s such a small thing. It was a far cry from Playboy, I told myself. I peered through the panties, fantasizing.

    Occasionally, a model reminded me of a girl I once knew, and my mind rekindled the memories of our times together. I rather enjoyed my Sunday mornings with the newspaper. As I examined myself more closely, I found I had more than a hint of sexual immorality. Even my sense of humor reflected it. Sometimes a person’s innocent phrase–even from our pastor–struck me with a double sexual meaning. I would chuckle, but I felt uneasy.

    Why do these double entendres come to my mind so easily? Should a Christian mind create them so nimbly? I remembered that the Bible said that such things shouldn’t even be mentioned among the saints. I’m worse…I even laugh at them! And my eyes? They were ravenous heat-seekers searching the horizon, locking on any target with sensual heat. Young mothers leaning over in shorts to pull children out of car seats. Soloists with silky shirts. Summer dresses with décolletage.

    My mind, too, ran wherever it willed. This had begun in my childhood, when I found Playboy magazines under Dad’s bed. He also subscribed to From Sex to Sexty, a publication filled with jokes and comic strips with sexual themes. When Dad divorced Mom and moved to his “bachelor’s pad,” he hung a giant velvet nude in his living room, overlooking us as we played cards on my Sunday afternoon visits. Dad gave me a list of chores around his place when I was there. Once I came across a nude photo of his mistress. On another occasion I found an eight-inch ceramic dildo, which he obviously used in his kinky “sex games.”

    HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS

    All this sexual stuff churned deep inside me, destroying a purity that wouldn’t return for many years. Settling into college, I soon found myself drowning in pornography. I actually memorized the dates when my favorite soft-core porn magazines arrived at the local drugstore. I especially loved the “Girls Next Door” section of Gallery magazine, featuring pictures of nude girls taken by their boyfriends and submitted to the magazine.

    Far from home and without any Christian underpinnings, I descended by small steps into a sexual pit. The first time I had sexual intercourse, it was with a girl I knew I would marry. The next time, it was with a girl I thought I would marry. The time after that, it was with a good friend that I might learn to love. Then it was with a female I barely knew who simply wanted to see what sex was like. Eventually, I had sex with anyone at any time.

    After five years in California, I found myself with four “steady” girlfriends simultaneously. I was sleeping with three of them and was essentially engaged to marry two of them. None knew of the others. (These days, in my class for premarital couples, I often ask the women what they would think of a man with two fiancées. My favorite response: “He’s a hopeless pig!” And I was hopeless, living in a pigsty.)

    Why do I share all this? First, so you’ll know that I understand what it’s like to be sexually ensnared in a deep pit. Second, I want to provide you with hope. As you’ll soon see, God worked with me and lifted me out of that pit. If there’s even a hint of sexual immorality in your life, He will work with you as well.

    FORM FRED: KNOWING WHO TO CALL

    Despite the deepening pit I occupied in my single days, I didn’t notice anything wrong with my life. Oh, sure, I attended church sporadically, and from time to time the pastor’s words penetrated my heart. But who was he? Besides, I loved my girlfriends. No one’s getting hurt, I reasoned. My dad had eventually remarried, and when I visited back home in Iowa, my stepmother occasionally dragged me across the river to the Moline Gospel Temple in Moline, Illinois. The gospel was clearly preached, but to me the whole scene was clearly ludicrous. I often laughed cynically. Those people are crazy!

    After graduating from Stanford University with an honors degree in sociology, I decided to take a job in the San Francisco area as an investment advisor. One spring day in May, I stayed late at the office. Everyone else had gone home, leaving me alone with some troubling thoughts. I swiveled my chair around and propped my feet on the credenza to gaze into a typically grand California sunset.

    That evening, as the sun dipped beneath the horizon, I suddenly saw in full clarity what I had become. What I saw was hopelessly ugly. Where once I was blind, now I could see. Instantly, I saw my deep, deep need for a Savior. Because of the Moline Gospel Temple, I knew Whom to call upon.

    My prayer that day was born out of the simplicity of a certain heart: “Lord, I’m ready to work with You if You’re ready to work with me.” I stood up and walked out of the office, not yet fully realizing what I’d just done. But God knew, and it seemed as if all heaven moved into my life. Within two weeks I had a job back in Iowa and a new life ahead of me. And no girlfriends!

    FEELING GOOD

    Back in Iowa, I began attending a marriage class led by Joel Budd, the associate pastor of my new church. It wasn’t long before I realized that I knew nothing about treating women properly. Perhaps it was because my mom and dad were divorced, and I never saw a loving relationship modeled at home. More likely, however, it was because of my own selfishness and sexual sin. Everything I knew about women came from one-night stands and casual dating relationships.

    I didn’t date during that year under Joel’s teaching. I might have been the only man in history to attend a married couples’ class for a whole year without even having so much as a single date! But just before the twelvemonth mark, I prayed this simple prayer: “Lord, I’ve been in this class for a year and have learned a lot about women, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen these things in real life. I’ve never really known any Christian girls. Please show me a woman who embodies these godly characteristics.” I wasn’t asking for a date, girlfriend, or spouse. I just wanted to see these teachings in practice, in real life, that I might understand them better. God did far more than that. One week later, He introduced me to my future wife, Brenda, and we fell in love.

    Out of our commitment to Christ, Brenda and I decided to stay pure before marriage. She was a virgin–and I wished I were. We did kiss, however, and whoa! Our lip smacking was wonderful! It was my first experience of something I would later discover far more deeply: the physically gratifying payoff that comes from obedience to God’s sexual standards.

    In a song made popular during my senior year in college, the singer mourned about trying to remember how it used to feel when a kiss was something special. The lyrics from the song resonated sadly with me because, at that point in my life, a kiss meant nothing to me. It was a joyless prerequisite on the path to intercourse. Something was deeply wrong. But now, having cut way back, in my experience with Brenda the simple kiss became thrilling again. To an old sex-hog like me, this was totally unexpected.

    As God continued to work in my life, Brenda and I married, honeymooned in Colorado, then settled into a new apartment building on the edge of a cornfield in a Des Moines suburb. Is this heaven? I surely thought so. Time passed, and at first, I was feeling good. While I was once engaged to two women at the same time, I was now happily married to one woman. While I once drowned in pornography, since my wedding day I hadn’t purchased a pornographic magazine. Given my track record, this was remarkable.

    STOPPING SHORT

    I threw myself into my sales career and my leadership roles at church. Then I became a dad. I relished it all, and my Christian image shined brighter and brighter.

    By worldly standards, I was doing great. Just one little problem. By God’s standard of sexual purity, I wasn’t even close to living His vision for marriage. Clearly I’d taken steps toward purity, but I was learning that God’s standards were higher than I’d ever imagined and that my Father had higher hopes for me than I had dreamed. It soon became clear that I’d stopped far short of holiness. There were the ad inserts, the double entendres, the heat-seeking eyes. My mind continued to daydream and fantasize over old girlfriends. These were more than a hint of sexual immorality.

    I was paying the price, and the bills were piling up. First, I could never look God in the eye. I could never fully worship Him. Because I dreamed of being with other women, and rather enjoyed mentally recalling past sexual conquests, I knew I was a hypocrite, and I continued feeling distant from God.

    People around me disagreed, saying, “Oh, come on! Nobody can control their eyes and mind, for heaven’s sakes! God loves you! It must be something else.” But I knew differently. My prayer life was feeble. Once my son was very sick and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Did I rush into prayer? No, I could only rush others to pray for me. “Have you called our pastor to pray?” I asked Brenda. “Have you called Ron? Have you called Red to pray?” I had no faith in my own prayers because of my sin.

    My faith was weak in other ways as well. As a full-commission salesperson, if I lost a number of deals in a row to the competition, I could never be sure if those setbacks weren’t somehow caused by my sin. I had no peace. I was paying a price for my sin.

    My marriage was suffering as well. Because of my sin, I couldn’t commit 100 percent to Brenda out of fear that she might dump me later. That cost Brenda in closeness. But that’s not all. Brenda told me she was experiencing frightening dreams in which she was being chased by Satan. Was my immorality causing spiritual protection to be taken away from her? My wife was paying a price.

    At church, I was an empty suit. I came to church desperately needing ministry and forgiveness. I never arrived ready to minister to others. Of course my prayers were no more effective in God’s house than anywhere else. My church was paying a price.

    I remember listening to one sermon in which the pastor talked about “generational sin”–patterns of sin passed from father to son (Exodus 34:7). Sitting in my pew, I recalled that my grandfather had run off from his wife in the middle of the Great Depression, leaving her with six kids to raise. My father left his family to pursue multiple sexual affairs. That same pattern had been passed to me, proven by my own multiple affairs in college. Though saved, I now found that I still didn’t have this purity issue settled in my life, and I was scared by the thought of passing this pattern on to my kids. My children could be paying a price.

    I finally made the connection between my sexual immorality and my distance from God. I was paying hefty fines in every area of my life. Having eliminated the visible adulteries and pornography, I looked pure on the outside to everyone else. But to God, I’d stopped short. I’d merely found a middle ground, somewhere between paganism and obedience to God’s standard.

    DESPERATION

    God desired more for me. He had freed me from the pit, but I’d stopped moving toward Him. Having seen the prices I paid and my distance from God, I decided it was time to move closer. I expected the journey to be easy. After all, I had decided to eliminate pornography and affairs, and they were gone. I figured I could stop the rest of this sexual junk just as easily. But I couldn’t. Every week I said I wouldn’t look at those ad inserts, but every Sunday morning the striking photos compelled me. Every week I’d vow to avoid watching R-rated “sexy” movies when I traveled, but every week I’d fail, sweating out tough battles and always losing. Every time I gazed at some glistening jogger, I’d promise to never do it again. But I always did.

    What I’d done was simply trade the pornography of Playboy and Gallery for the pornography of ad inserts and other magazine ads. The affairs? I’d simply traded the physical liaisons for mental affairs and daydreams– affairs of the eyes and heart. The sin remained because I’d never really changed, never rejected sexual sin, never escaped sexual slavery. I’d merely exchanged masters.

    A couple of months slipped by, then a couple of years. The distance from God grew wider, the bills stacked higher, and my impurity still ruled me. My faith waned further with each failure. Each desperate loss caused more desperation. While I could always say no, I could never mean no. Something was gripping me, something relentless, something mean. Like Steve, I eventually found total freedom. Since then, both Steve and I have had the chance to talk to men ensnared in sensual pits. Trapped and desperate to be free, their stories grip the heart. Now that you’ve heard my story, maybe you’ll relate to the men in these next few pages as well.


    Excerpted from Every Man's Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

  • Five Scriptures to Pray Over Your Marriage

    Lysa

    "[Jesus] also told them this parable: 'Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?'" Luke 6:39 (NIV)

    I sat down to write some thoughts for a young friend getting married. I wanted these words to be encouraging but also realistic. I didn't want to pen the typical "best wishes on your wedding day." Wishes might be sweet for a church full of flowers and white tulle, but it takes a whole lot more for a marriage to go the distance.

    So I wrote honest thoughts as they came to me:

    "Being married is incredibly difficult. Being married is amazing. Being married can seem impossibly hard. Being married can seem incredibly beautiful. There is no other person who can frustrate me the way my husband can. There is no other person who can make me feel as loved as my husband can."

    As these words tumbled out I wondered if my friend would think me a bit crazy. One minute I painted marriage as blissful as a kite catching wind and rising to the sky. And the next minute it was as if the string had gotten caught in a thorny bush and sent the kite crashing to the ground with thuds of disappointment.

    So which is it? Bliss or disappointment?

    It's a fragile blend of both.

    In the end, I crumpled up my original note and simply wrote this: "Determine to pray more words over your marriage than you speak about your marriage."

    I wrote that note not because it had been true for my relationship but because suddenly I wanted it to be true.

    The teacher being taught by her own lesson.

    And you know what I've discovered in the weeks since? I haven't been praying nearly enough for my marriage.

    I think about things. Discuss things. Complain about things. Attempt to fix things. Work on things. Apologize for things. Want to change things. And then I discuss things some more.

    But talking about things, thinking about things and working on things ... these are not at all the same as praying for them.

    In Luke 6:39 Jesus asks an important but simple question, "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?" My husband and I need Jesus leading us, guiding us, teaching us, redirecting us and showing us how to have a marriage that honors Him and each other.

    This year, my goal is to spend a lot less time in the pit. And I think praying more words over my marriage will certainly be key to this.

    Here are some Scriptures I'm praying:

    "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters ... You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light" (2 Samuel 22:17 and 29, NIV).

    "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6, NIV).

    "What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31, NIV).

    "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

    "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23, NIV).

    Actually getting intentional about praying for something in my marriage today is the first step toward that marriage I've been dreaming of—the one that seemed so possible for Art and me 20 years ago in that church full of flowers and tulle.

    Making sure I'm headed in that direction as a wife is only a few intentional prayers away.

    Dear Lord, I want to honor You completely with my marriage. Help me to remain dedicated to praying over my relationship with my husband. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond: It's so tempting to think praying for your marriage would be a good idea but then not take the next step.

    Assign yourself the next step you want to take with getting more intentional in praying for your marriage. Choose one of the Scriptures above and pray it out loud each day for the next week.

    © 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org

  • Strength From Joy

    Boyd

    Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

    Believers in Jesus find joy and strength in their Savior. Joy begins with God, because we are created for His enjoyment, and He for our enjoyment. Just as a husband and wife find great pleasure in a marriage of growing commitment and love, so an overflow of joy comes to a committed Bride of Christ. Strength is the fruit of this quality of relationship. Security and peace support a cheerful heart. Joy is the attitude of all who bow to Almighty God in worshipful awe.

    Any cynical soul can focus on a cow patty in a luscious green pasture. Ironically, it's the cow patties that grow the green grass. In the same way, we can count it all joy for the trials that grow our faith. We find strength in the Lord during severe circumstances. He brings a smile to our heavy hearts. The drought of grief is for a season, followed by heaven’s rain of happiness. A joyful disposition awaits us, when we wait on Christ. His enjoyment creates internal energy.

    "I always praywith joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:4-5).

    Furthermore, the memories of meaningful experiences with other Christ followers bring joy and strengthen our faith. We celebrate answered prayers for our children to grow in God’s grace and make wise choices. We thank the Lord for the rich community of honesty, shared emotions, love, forgiveness and laughter. We muse on hard truths like hell and the joylessness that accompanies disobedience to Jesus. Sustaining strength comes from the joy of an intimate faith fellowship.

    Lastly, we put our hope in the Lord, who richly provides us everything we need for our enjoyment. We need not feel guilty for the blessings of good health, a loving family, a solid job, fun friends, financial freedom or a dynamic church. We gratefully enjoy Christ’s favor. However, what keeps us grounded in God’s strength is not putting our hope in anything but Him. He is our generous Heavenly Father who gives good gifts. Hope is heaven’s strategy for strength and joy!

    "Put their hope in God,who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Timothy 6:17).

    Prayer: Heavenly Father, may my strength and joy come from Your Spirit, not from my stuff.

    Related Readings: Psalm 19:8; Isaiah 35:10; Luke 10:21; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Philemon 1:7

    Post/Tweet today: What keeps us grounded in God’s strength is not putting our hope in anything but Him. #strengthfromjoy

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhunters.com /www.wisdomhunters.com

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Activate Your Faith - Phillipians 4:13
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