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Family Christian

  • Succession Planning

    Posted on May 23, 2014 by Boyd Bailey

    Boyd

    Elijah said to Elisha, “‘Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken from you?’ ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’” Elisha replied. 2 Kings 2:9

    Succession planning is an opportunity to steward well a founder’s lifetime of work, developing an organization’s ongoing effectiveness. Like death, steps of succession do not solicit ongoing conversation, unless a process is in place to implement a prayerful plan. Important questions are, “How can the founder show good faith that they hold the enterprise with an open hand?” “Should the founder be compensated after they transition out of their executive role?” “How will the board stay engaged in the succession planning process?” Yes, succession matters.

    Founders who hold an open hand trust the Lord as the owner of the organization. Hence, he or she is not necessary to carry on a Christ-centered culture. Lord willing, He will sustain the work in His way. Mature leaders also place their security and identity in Jesus, not in their jobs. They understand their ultimate value is not measured by what they do, but by who they are. Leaders who are secure in the Lord, see globally how God brings in those best for the organization’s health.

    “To Titus, my true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4).

    Who are you raising up to take the team to the next level? Are you intentional in your prayers for the profile of the person to take your place? We are not objective enough in our discernment to pick the most effective successor without the input of other wise advisors. Thus, we submit to the wisdom and accountability of the board to bring about the best outcome. Succession done well can gel the team and infuse excitement in anticipation of God’s choice. It is a journey of faith.

    Therefore, all in charge wisely look to Christ for His choice. Perhaps the requirement is to compare and contrast three excellent candidates. We learn a lot when we compare the strengths and weaknesses of very competent people. Moreover, it may be a worthy strategy to watch potential successors over the course of a year of work within the organization. Assign them to various departments and then assess their skills and abilities to work with the team. Also, take a prospective successor and their spouse to dinner. Observe how they treat their sweetheart and the server. Their attitude in an informal environment is an indicator of their real self. Most of all, look to the Spirit to confirm His person. His peace is preeminent in pronouncing the next leader!

    “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30).

    Prayer: Heavenly Father, lead me in leading our team through a process of discovering Your choice to take us into the future.

    Related Readings: Genesis 41:37-40; Job 41:1-2; Ephesians 1:11; Philemon 1:20-25

    Post/Tweet today: Founders who hold an open hand trust the Lord as the owner of the organization. #wisdomhunters

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

  • Enjoying the Seasons of Parenting

    Posted on May 23, 2014 by Tracie Miles

    Tracie

    "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)

    "Are they going to laugh all night long?" my husband jokingly asked. "I don't know," I said, chuckling at his question. "But I hope so. It's a sound that makes my heart happy."

    My teenage daughter had invited her entire cheerleading squad to sleep over at our house after a basketball game. When they arrived, the house immediately filled with laughter and conversations as they gobbled up pizza and chocolate chip cookies.

    Later that night, sleep seemed to escape me. Not because of the cheerful noise billowing down the stairs from a house full of girls, but because I wondered how many more laughter-filled sleepovers I might have the blessing of hosting. Knowing my children are growing up quickly, I couldn't help but face the reality I was entering a new season of life.

    I began to ponder all I would miss with two daughters living away at college this fall, instead of just one. Although my son still has a few years left at home, I had to face the reality that this season of my parenting was coming to a close. And my heart felt heavy.

    I remember feeling these same emotions when my babies outgrew their cribs and moved to big-kid beds. When my daughters tucked away baby dolls and hair bows and focused on nail polish and fashion. When my son grew too old for his teddy bear. When they left elementary school behind and entered the scary world of middle school. When they stopped riding their bikes and instead, got behind the wheel of a car.

    As I lay in the dark pondering this changing season of my life, a warm tear trickled down my face. Yet I felt God's sweet comfort and His reminder that although life is ever-changing, He is constant. I started to pray and sensed God was showing me the importance of treasuring the current season of parenting, rather than mourning the ones already passed, because every moment with our children is a blessing.

    The idea of seasons of life is found in the book of Ecclesiastes, authored by King Solomon. After becoming king of Israel following his father King David's death, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered him anything he wanted. Instead of asking for riches or victories, Solomon asked God for wisdom and received the blessing of understanding life (1 Kings 3:5, 10-13).

    Although Solomon doesn't directly speak about parenting in Ecclesiastes, his wise advice certainly applies to this subject.

    Today's key verse reminds us life is a progression of seasons, with everything happening in God's timing and under His control: "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

    Then Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 highlights many of life's experiences that we find in the seasons of parenting, such as times to plant and uproot. Times to cry, laugh, grieve and dance. Times to embrace and turn away. Times to search and quit searching. Times to tear and to mend. Times to speak and to keep quiet. Times to keep and to let go.

    We find pieces of our parenting experiences scattered between the lines of this passage. As we accept there will be different seasons of parenting, we allow God to whisper specific encouragement to our hearts, fill our spirits with perseverance and understanding, and pierce our minds with the spiritual wisdom needed not only to make it through the seasons, but to appreciate them as gifts from God.

    No matter which season we find ourselves in, let's treasure it and bask in the blessings it brings. Embracing each season as it comes brings peace because we know we are right where God wants us to be and that He is preparing us for the season to come.

    My house may not always be filled with laughter in the middle of the night, but if I trust God is with me, I will always have joy in my heart.

    Lord, thank You for the privilege of being a parent, grandparent or caregiver to the little ones You've entrusted into my care. Help me enjoy every day of every season and lean on You when my heart aches for seasons gone by. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Ecclesiastes 3:11a, "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time." (NLT)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Ever wished you were in a different season of parenting, rather than treasuring the one you are in? If so, reflect on the blessings you enjoy in your current season of parenting. Ask God to help you focus on these things when your heart feels discouraged, tired or sad.

    © 2014 by Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.

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

  • Emotional Unfaithfulness

    Posted on May 22, 2014 by Boyd Bailey

    Boyd

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

    There is a constant allure for emotional connection between a woman and a man. A pure motive of care for someone other than your spouse can easily turn into emotional unfaithfulness. An emotionally needy woman at work will give signs to seeking men who are unfulfilled at home. It seems exciting and inviting, but in the end—it wrecks homes.

    This juvenile junket flies in the face of what Jesus wants and expects. Married couples are meant to fulfill their emotional needs within their marriage experience. This is why it’s imperative to process past and present pain in a healthy manner, so communication and care flourish, thus feeding each other’s emotional desires. Husbands and wives hunger for emotional wholeness with the one they have become “one flesh” with, under God’s purview.

    “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

    Is the bond with your spouse beyond superficial sex? Remember the long talks before you were married—when was the last time you processed your feelings together in meaningful conversation? It may mean holding hands, looking each other in the eyes, and apologizing for hurting his or her heart. Engaged emotions stay engaged.

    Husbands, if you are emotionally dead you will kill your marriage. Learn to loosen up and express how you feel. Yes, it is uncomfortable to be vulnerable, but this is a process that God blesses in growing your relationship with your wife. And wives, do not look for emotional support from men other than your husband. Stay focused on Christ’s comfort, seek out professional help to heal your heart—and learn how to approach your husband.

    Emotional faithfulness causes a marriage to flourish with fulfilling encounters of loving communication and care. A statement like, “I am sorry you had to experience that pain”, begins to describe your dialogue. You simply listen and enter into their hurting heart, instead of prescribing solutions and offering pep talks. Emotional fidelity finds a home in relationships that seek to understand, comfort, and offer hope and timely truth.

    Most of all—seek truth found in God’s word together. Ignorance of proven principles that build healthy marriages is a recipe for relational disaster. Invite the Holy Spirit to jointly instruct your minds and knit your humble hearts together in love and kindness. Seek out other married couples to learn from who are good models of emotional faithfulness.

    “That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father andof Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).

    Prayer: What relationship do I need to avoid because it is creating emotional unfaithfulness in me?

    Related Readings: Genesis 2:18a; Proverbs 15:1; 29:11; Matthew 7:1; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

    Post/Tweet today:Emotional faithfulness can help a marriage flourish with fulfilling encounters of loving communication and care. #wisdomhunters

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

  • Even a Great Husband Makes a Very Poor God

    Posted on May 22, 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst

    Lysa

    "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

    I've often wished I could travel back 21 years ago and give my "young bride self" some advice. But since that's not possible, I love sharing what I've learned with others.

    Not so long ago, I had dinner with a friend in her twenties who would love to be married one day. During our time together, the conversation flowed freely about all sorts of things. Blogs. Writing. Leaving your comfort zone because God said so. You know, girl stuff. And then we moved on to the subject of relationships and marriage.

    I shared with my friend that when I was single, I thought marriage was all about finding the right partner. I thought if you found "the one," you'd be happy, secure and fulfilled.

    I do think it's good to have a list of standards you desire in a spouse. However, it can never be with the expectation that if you find that special someone, he'll right all your wrongs and fill up all your insecurities. The problem with this thinking is the pressure it will eventually put on your spouse.

    To expect another person to make you feel happy, secure and fulfilled will leave you disappointed at best and disillusioned at worst. Even a great husband makes a very poor God.

    Only God Himself can settle those deep heart-needs. Our key verse, Philippians 4:19 reminds us of this, "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus."

    If a husband could meet every need his wife had, we'd have no need for God. Therefore, instead of just focusing on finding the right partner, let God work on your heart to help you become the right partner. The time to start working on becoming a wife is now. Before the white dress, delicate bouquets, unity candle, bacon-wrapped shrimp and reception punch, there is some heart stuff to consider:

    Getting married doesn't instantly make you selfless ... it makes you realize how very selfish you can be at times.

    Getting married doesn't make you feel loved ... it makes you realize love is more of a decision you make than a feeling you feel.

    Getting married doesn't take away loneliness ... it makes you realize true companionship comes not when you demand it, but rather when you give it to another person.

    So, what does marriage give? A beautiful chance to make the choice to ...

    Laugh whether or not the jokes are funny.

    Love by folding his collar over his tie every morning.

    Talk things through by addressing issues rather than attacking him personally.

    Cheer him on through both failures and successes.

    Look for a positive quality in him each day and take the time to tell him.

    Thank God for the privilege of being his wife.

    After our time together, my friend thanked me for our talk. She said it gave her a lot to think about. To be honest, it gave me a lot to think about as well.

    Dear Lord, only You can fill my heart, right my wrongs, and make me feel loved. I pray that You would show me how to keep my expectations of my husband in check. Help me be the wife he desires. And help me remember that marriage was never meant to make me happy all the time. Marriage is a decision to honor You by honoring the one you've entrusted to me to be my husband. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (NIV)

    2 Peter 1:3, "Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!" (MSG)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    If you aren't married yet, think of some ways God might want to work on your heart before marriage.

    If you are married, think of a way you've tried to get your husband to fill a need only God can meet. Pray and ask God how you can rely on Him for this need instead of your husband.

    © 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

  • Emotional Suffering

    Posted on May 21, 2014 by Boyd Bailey

    Boyd

    “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” Matthew 26:38-39

    Jesus suffered emotionally and physically. Anguish welled up in His soul from betrayal, aloneness, and the anticipation of a cruel death on a rugged cross. His righteous response was to cry out to His heavenly Father for relief—while trusting that His will be done. Do you find yourself in this tension of trust in God’s will? Are your emotions ravished by the pain of conflicting desires? It’s in our dark night of the soul that the Lord brings light.

    Your emotions may be on the brink of brokenness from relationships that compete for your attention. You can’t please everyone all the time—your stomach is knotted up—not sure what to do, you feel conflicted and confused. Maybe the loyalty of someone you thought valued your professional relationship has melted in the face of financial pressures. Solitude has diluted your confidence in your ability to understand what God wants.

    It’s during these times of emotional upheaval that we need to jettison feeling sorry for ourselves and determine not to give up on God and His game plan. Some people you thought would be there for you will wander away—but others you did not expect to show up—will come forward with faith in you and hope in heaven. So wait; worry will pass.

    “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalm 57:1).

    Be wise and avoid making life-altering decisions during times of extended emotional upheaval. If you vow to get someone back in passive defiance—it will eat away the joy in your heart. If anger is driving your decision to fire someone at work or to file for divorce, then wait and let the Holy Spirit stabilize your stress and strengthen your faith.

    Above all, seek the comfort of Christ during intense conflict and confusion. His warm embrace soothes your bruised feelings and heals your broken heart. Seek out friends whose acceptance, accountability, and prayers prove to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Alone you will simmer in sinful attitudes, but with God and godly company you will discover and follow His will. Emotional suffering is healed by heaven’s hope.

    “Faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5a).

    Prayer: What decision do I need to wait on until the Holy Spirit stabilizes my emotions?

    Related Readings: 2 Samuel 22:23; Psalm 9:9; Nahum 1:7; Acts 28:27

    Post/Tweet today:. Avoid making life-altering decisions during times of extended emotional upheaval.  #wisdomhunters

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

  • Does Anybody Really Like House Rules?

    Posted on May 21, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy

    "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love." John 15:9-10 (NIV)

    From the day I drove off with my newly printed license, my parents made the house rules clear: Any tickets or accidents would be my responsibility. All was well until my friends and I took off for the beach my senior year, and I backed into a parked car before I even caught a glimpse of the ocean.

    I cried knowing I'd have to work all summer at my minimum wage, fast-food job to pay for the damage I'd done.

    The sting of that seemingly unfair rule smarted until I became a parent, and my son scratched the side of a car on a mailbox last summer. Suddenly, from the view of a mom, the same rule I'd resisted as a teenager taught my son responsibility and care.

    Yet with God, the ultimate loving parent, we don't always understand that the same principles apply. Sometimes God's directions seem arbitrary and unfair. Especially in a culture lacking clear boundaries of right and wrong.

    We find ourselves thinking things like, Surely we should get to decide how much of the truth we tell at work, when to forgive a critical friend or the limits of our sexual behaviors. We're adults now, after all. Rules are for children, right?

    Yet, God wants to give us a new perspective on the subject of commands and obedience. His ways are often the opposite of our ways, and today's key verse, John 15:9-10, shows us that a life of obedience to God is a reward, not a punishment:

    "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love."

    In these verses, Jesus calls us to remain in His love, a very safe place to be, by obeying His commands.

    The word "remain" in verse 9 can also be translated "dwell" or "reside." That helps me picture God inviting us into a dwelling place with protective walls built layer by layer with His commands.

    All caring parents have house rules. And God is the most loving parent of all. He has established a beautiful place where we're invited to live with Him, protected and cherished.

    But for a woman who struggles with feeling like she has to work to earn God's love, the conditional statement "if you keep my commands" has been hard to understand. I've had to dig deeper to understand how God's love and obedience work beneficially hand-in-hand.

    Undeniably, God is love (1 John 4:16). The phrase describing God as "abounding in love" is found in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Psalm, Joel and Jonah. "His love endures forever" is repeated more than 20 times in Psalm 136 and dozens more times throughout Scripture. If God says it in His Word so many times, there's no doubt He means it! We can know for sure that God's love is always available.

    It is unchanging and always there for us, but we have a choice. We choose through the condition of obedience to remain in His love or through disobedience to walk out of its protection.

    Jesus' declaration of love feels like a warm blanket wrapped around me in a cold world. God, our heavenly Father, is drawing us into the beautiful life He created us for where His commands are simply the walls of the residence. Let's choose to move in and dwell in the presence of our Father's love.

    Lord, I choose to trust that Your rules are for my good and growth. I want to remain in Your love, and live a life of obedience to You. When I want to push against Your ways, help me to look around at the walls of Your dwelling of protection and be thankful. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    2 John 1:6, "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." (NIV)

    Psalm 119:14-16, "I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Are there any areas of life where you're not living in obedience to God's Word? How might that leave you unprotected or hinder your growth?

    Read through John 15. How is God's care for you and His desire for your growth pictured in this chapter? Journal your response to God's deep love for you.

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

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

  • Randy Singer on The Advocate

    Posted on May 20, 2014 by Family Christian

    Randy

    Randy Singer is a critically acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 12 legal thrillers, and a veteran trial attorney. In addition to his writing and law practice, he serves as a teaching pastor for a church in Virginia.

    In this interview, he talks about his latest book, The Advocate.

    1. As a novelist, pastor, and trial attorney, you seem uniquely qualified to craft this story. Do you feel that you were meant to write this novel, The Advocate?

    It does feel like I was born to write this book—that everything else has just been practice. I know that I’m more excited about this book than any other I’ve done. And it took longer—nearly five years from concept to completion.

    Unlike my previous books, The Advocate is historical fiction. It’s focused on the two greatest trials in the history of the world: the trial of Jesus (which has been written about extensively) and the trial of Paul in front of Nero, which we know next to nothing about. Both changed the lives of all those associated with them as well as the trajectory of history.

    So yes, it does feel like this story, more than any other, brought together my roles as storyteller, pastor, and trial attorney. It also tapped into my experience as a history teacher before I went to law school. Until I started writing The Advocate, I had forgotten how much I loved studying this period of history.

    2. How does The Advocate relate to the gospel message?

    In two ways. First, The Advocate is the story of a man who played a central role in both the trial of Jesus and the trial of Paul in front of Nero. As you read the story, you are literally face-to-face with the two greatest proponents of the Christian faith in the midst of their greatest trials. There is no middle ground. You are forced to choose.

    Second, I believe the strongest evidence for the authenticity of the Christian faith is the faith and courage of the first-century Christians. They are the ones who literally bet their lives on the reality of the Resurrection. They had seen the risen Christ and had been totally transformed by the Spirit. Their courage, humility, strength, and resolve cannot be explained away apart from the supernatural.

    The day after I called my publisher with the idea for this book, I had dinner with a friend. Not knowing anything about this book, he was telling me how he had rejected the Christian faith his entire life until he started studying the earliest Christians and asked himself some simple questions. Why would they pledge their lives to a cause they knew to be a fraud? If they hadn’t actually seen Christ come back from the dead, why would claim they did? Where did they find the courage to confront the kingdoms of their day with the claims of the Kingdom of Christ? Those questions, and his search for answers, led him to put his faith in Christ. I knew after that dinner conversation that God had called me to write this book and bring this story to life.

    3. This book is obviously a departure from your normal fare of writing contemporary legal thrillers. What elements of a typical Randy Singer novel are present in The Advocate? Do you plan on writing more historical novels like this or returning to legal thrillers?

    The Advocate is a unique blend of legal thriller and historical fiction. The protagonist is one of Rome’s greatest lawyers and is involved in the first-century trials that determined the fate of the empire. The stakes are even higher and the intrigue greater than in modern courtrooms.

    Whether I’m writing a legal thriller or a historical piece like this one, my goal is that each of my books will feature realistic and compelling characters, intricate plots with lots of surprises, and a story line that entertains the reader while causing him or her to think about the bigger issues in life. My hope is that this book will have the authentic “feel” of a Randy Singer novel, just in a different place and time. Only the readers can say whether I’ve accomplished that.

    I do plan on writing legal thrillers again, but I’ve also got a sequel to The Advocate in mind. I’d like to see how this book is received before I make any decisions.

    4. Who is the advocate, your titular character—the man who defended the world’s greatest missionary in front of the world’s cruelest tyrant?

    The advocate is Theophilus, the man to whom Luke addressed the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. My premise is that he was Paul’s advocate, chosen to plead Paul’s case in front of Nero, the most despised ruler in the history of Rome (and that’s saying a lot). Theophilus accepted the assignment because he had previously served as Pilate’s assessore, or law clerk, and was there for the trial of Jesus. The crucifixion of an innocent Jewish Rabbi, and the events that followed, changed Theophilus in profound ways. Thirty years later, he sought redemption for his role in the trial of Christ by defending the Rabbi’s most strident disciple.

    5. In your novel, you suggest that the books of Luke and Acts were written as evidentiary briefs for Theophilus in defense of Paul. Can you help us understand this?

    As a novelist, I always wondered why the book of Acts ended with Paul imprisoned in Rome, waiting for his trial in front of the infamous Nero. Luke is a great storyteller, but it seemed like a strange way to end a great story—right at the climax. Combine this with the fact that Luke spends five chapters at the end of Acts telling about the minute details of Paul’s trials that preceded his appeal to Caesar. And finally there is that intriguing hint in the salutation of the two books, where Luke tells the “most excellent Theophilus” that he has written this account so that Theophilus will “know the certainty of the things you have been [told]” (Luke 1:4).

    When you put all those things together, it seems to me that these two books were written to assist Theophilus, as Paul’s court-appointed advocate for his trial in front of Nero, to understand Paul’s story and better defend him. Perhaps Theophilus visited Paul when he was under house arrest and heard an earful from Paul and his companion Luke about this Nazarene named Jesus and the reasons for Paul’s arrest. Perhaps Theophilus, recognizing that Luke was a great historian and storyteller, urged the doctor to write the whole thing down in a form that could be submitted as evidence at the trial. In Roman courts, written submissions were just as valued as oral testimony. And when I read the books of Luke and Acts with this thesis in mind, I realize just how much they read like a legal brief—arguing the case that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah (because Judaism was still legal in the Empire) and that both he and Paul had been prosecuted based on trumped-up charges of sedition.

    6. The trial of Jesus Christ has been studied and dissected for centuries. What made you want to examine the trial of the apostle Paul? What do you most want to share about this trial?

    I would love to know what happened at the trial of Paul. He was the world’s greatest missionary, a brilliant advocate in his own defense who was not afraid to call even kings and rulers to repentance. And sitting on the throne judging him was Nero, the cruelest, most depraved and self-possessed tyrant the world had ever seen. Paul was accused of starting a new religion and of sedition against Rome. What did Paul say when he testified? What would I say as an advocate if I were the one defending him? How did the haughty Nero react? We know from Acts 26 that when Paul was brought to trial before Agrippa, he tried to convert the Roman king. Did he do the same with Nero? Is this trial part of the reason that Nero hated Christians so much?

    You would think that Paul would have no chance of winning. But you would be wrong. In 2 Timothy, Paul said that the message was fully proclaimed at his trial so that the Gentiles might hear it. And yet miraculously, he was “delivered from the lion’s mouth.” The phrase “the lion” was a common way of referring to Caesar. How could this be? How could Paul and his advocate possibly convince the notorious Nero that Paul was an innocent man? Those are the questions I wanted to explore in this book.

    7. The concept of Christian martyrdom comes up in this novel. How did the deaths of these early Christians set the stage for the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire?

    Romans were fascinated with death. They watched brave gladiators die and honored them for their courage. They experimented with the mechanics of death, thinking up new and horrific ways to kill condemned prisoners or captives of war. They made a spectacle of death, perfecting things like crucifixion.

    But they had never seen men and women die like the Christians. Yes, they had seen courage in the face of death—something the Christians exhibited along with the noblest gladiators. But they had never seen such commitment to a cause, such peace in the face of torture, such grace and forgiveness for those whom the Christians should have been cursing.

    I discovered in writing this novel that most of us don’t believe we have the kind of faith and courage that would allow us to be a martyr. But I’ve also found that God gives boldness and grace for each step of the journey, equal to what the situation demands, even grace unto death. Jesus himself wrestled in the garden before submitting to the Father’s will and embracing the cross.

    I’ve also discovered how powerful it is when others know that our faith doesn’t just help us to live well; it also helps us die well. In AD 197, in a letter to Roman authorities, Tertullian said it this way:

    “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is proof that we are innocent. Therefore God allows that we thus suffer. . . . Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you. . . . The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”

    8. Reviewers suggest that this book weaves together secular history and biblical history in a unique way. How is this book different from other historical novels set in first-century Rome?

    I’m not sure I can speak for all historical novels, but I do think that many books set in the first century tell the story from the point of view of a biblical character or a person on the bottom rung of Roman society. By contrast, The Advocate is told from the point of view of one of Rome’s leading advocates, a man who experienced Jesus firsthand but also interacted with Roman emperors and the Roman Senate. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the Christian faith was incubated in a hostile world ruled by Rome. Christian leaders like Paul and Roman rulers like Nero crossed paths. We should not isolate church history from what was happening in the broader political context.

    9. How accurate is the book historically? How can readers know what parts are fiction and what parts are historical reality?

    As a history lover, I have worked hard on the historical details. That’s one reason it took me so long to write the book—I felt like I first needed to really understand the culture, politics, and people of the time. People who have read the book have many questions that start with “Did [fill in the blank] really happen?” For the most part, my answer is “yes.” I did not knowingly fudge the history just to make the story work. Plus, the reality of what happened in first-century Rome is quite often stranger than any fiction writer could imagine. That said, the book is fiction, so there are fictional characters and the main story line is fictional, though I’ve woven it into the actual history of the era (if that makes sense). At the beginning of the book is a list of characters that notes which ones are historical and which are fictional. I also intend to put up notes for each chapter on my website to detail which parts of the story are real and which parts I imagined.

    10. It could be argued that our modern-day society is reminiscent of first-century Rome. What are some of the similarities? What lessons can we learn in this novel that still ring true today?

    This was shocking to me—how much first-century Rome was like twenty-first–century America. Rome was the greatest power in the world, but it had abandoned the values that originally made it great. A Roman poet decried this state of affairs, calling the Caesars “emperors of bread and circus.” What he meant was that Rome’s rulers garnered public approval not through exemplary service but through creating a state of entitlement among the Romans (more than 400,000 Romans got free bread from the state) and by entertaining them with elaborate gladiator games and chariot races. Moreover, Rome’s rulers and intellectual elites led Rome down a path of sexual degradation, and the gap between the rich and poor became greater and greater. Treason trials were the order of the day and nobody dared say anything that was “politically incorrect.”

    In terms of lessons, we should look at how Christianity grew and flourished in such a culture. The early Christians didn’t try to reform the government through laws but chose to live differently in a hostile culture, winning the hearts of individuals. The power of the Spirit and the message of the gospel would eventually sweep the Empire, resulting in reform and cultural change that never could have been ushered in politically.

  • Influential Grandparents

    Posted on May 20, 2014 by Boyd Bailey

    Boyd

    One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4

    Grandparents have a significant role of influence in the lives of their grandchildren. Second only to the parents’ is an opportunity to lead their precious little ones toward a discovery of the Lord’s ways. Love qualifies us, while imagination inspires us. The one sentence job description for grandmothers and grandfathers is to influence them while leading the next generation to love God and people. We commend the works of God to our grandchildren so they learn to fear God.

    Gray hair does not guarantee wisdom, but it is indicative of a life that may have experienced lean times and perhaps prosperous days. Yes, bumps along life’s path prepares us to prepare our grandchildren. Setbacks and successes are the Lord’s crucible to purify our character. As we grow older and our hearing begins to falter, we must learn to listen better, speaking wise words like, “What we give away in life, we keep forever--what we keep in life, we have for a brief moment.”

    Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).

    Children and youth need our undivided attention and unhurried presence. We are a rock of unrivaled acceptance for them to run to. BiBi and Pop’s home is a haven of rest, an arena to be understood. We have the privilege of knowing them in a unique way--a way they have yet to understand themselves. We give them permission to be themselves. We compliment the inner and outer beauty of our granddaughters. We build up our grandson’s confidence to be a man of character with stellar skills. In their search for security, they see us as trusted confidants.

    Furthermore, make sure you are intentional in spending time with your grandparents. You may or may not have many occasions left to love them, learn from them, and be loved by them. You honor your parents when you honor your grandparents with your presence. Holiday trips may be an inconvenience, but nothing compares to their influence in your life, nurturing growth similar to a sprawling vineyard. If you take time for them to invest in you now, the seeds of their speech and the fertilizer of their faith will bear fruit throughout your life. Embrace and be embraced by the elderly.

    Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalm 71:9).

    Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me opportunities of quantity time to become a trusted confidant for my grandchildren.

    Related Readings: Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 92:14-15; Isaiah 46:4; 2 Timothy 1:5; Titus 2:1-5

    Post/Tweet today:. Our one sentence job description as grandparents is to influence the next generation to love God and people. #wisdomhunters

    © 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

  • Dr. Ben Carson on Saving America’s Future

    Posted on May 20, 2014 by Family Christian

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  • You're Stronger Than You Think

    Posted on May 20, 2014 by Glynnis Whitwer

    Glynnis

    "And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone." 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIV)

    The first day of class, the exercise leader replaced the lighter weights I'd chosen with heavier ones. I tried to hide my skepticism as he said, "You're stronger than you think!"

    I shook my head in disbelief as he moved on to assess the next participant. No, I thought. I'm weaker than you think!

    It had been a few years since I'd been in an exercise class, and my confidence level was low. Never an athlete, I couldn't even do one push-up. And my legs felt like rubber bands after the first set of "warm-ups."

    I'd signed up for the early morning class out of determination to do things differently. It wasn't at all where I wanted to be at 5:30 a.m. two mornings a week, but earlier in the year, God challenged me to break out of my comfort zone.

    As I struggled to lift the heavier weights, I decided to glance at the women next to me. Normally when exercising I keep my head down and just try to survive. But that day I looked closer at my classmates. Some were older and spoke of grandchildren. Some looked like they were struggling too. I overheard one say she'd had a knee replacement.

    Hmmm ... if they can do this, certainly I can, too. Maybe I could try another class or two before quitting.

    The next class we all showed up, finding connection points over sore muscles. We laughed as we struggled to get off the mat. One said how hard it had been to walk up the stairs. I agreed.

    Maybe I wasn't the only one feeling weak. Somehow the idea encouraged me.

    Each morning, the thought of those other ladies showing up and rubbing sleep from their eyes motivated me to lace on my tennis shoes and head to the gym. Little by little, I felt more comfortable admitting my weakness, even laughing about it.

    In one particularly hard class, as I was the last one struggling to finish sit-ups, I heard a voice from my left, "You go, girl!" Something bold rose up in me at those words, and I thought, I can do this! Determination surged through me as I finished the last few sit-ups to the counts of my classmates.

    My positive attitude surprised me. Where did that come from? Although I was getting stronger physically, that wasn't the only area gaining strength. The encouragement from my classmates was making me stronger mentally, too.

    The first class, I wanted to keep to myself and hide my pain. But as the weeks progressed, the more I shared my struggles, the more others could speak into them. Their words encouraged me. Their presence reassured me I wasn't alone. Once again, God was teaching me how good it is to let others know I'm not perfect.

    This has been a problem for me all my life. I'd much rather be the one obeying our key verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:14: "And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone."

    I like being the one who warns, encourages and helps. I'm not so good at being patient, but otherwise I'm pretty good at obeying this verse. But for God's plan to be fully realized in the church at Thessalonica and in our lives today, at some point we need to be on the receiving end of this verse.

    This is the beauty of the body of Christ. God designed a loving check-and-balance system to deepen our faith and relationships. But in order for it to work, we have to accept being warned, encouraged and helped — allowing others to see our frailties.

    Unfortunately, there's a fierce and faulty independent streak in my thinking that fights being on the receiving end of help. My default approach is to hide my weaknesses, fears and insecurities, which opens a crack for unhealthy pride to sneak in.

    And yet what freedom there is in simply admitting: I can be a mess at times. When I acknowledge that, others can pray for me. They can encourage me. It's a double blessing of God's strength and that of others.

    God needs me to learn this truth. Admitting I need help breaks down my pride. It humbles me, which softens God's heart toward me. And it allows others to be obedient in caring for me.

    So, am I stronger than I think I am? Apparently so. But the best way to discover my strength is to admit my weakness.

    Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing friends into my life who help me grow stronger. Forgive me for the sinful pride that has kept others from getting too close. Help me to understand it doesn't make me weaker to admit my weaknesses. In fact, it opens me to get stronger. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Acts 15:40-41, "... but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Is it hard for you to share your struggles with others? What holds you back from being more open?

    Commit to telling one friend about a worry, fear or weak area of your life. Ask her to pray for you.

    © 2014 by Glynnis Whitwer. All rights reserved.

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

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