Posts by Dennis Rainey

Second chance manhood



When we launched the Stepping Up video series a few years ago, we had no idea what a huge impact it would make on men in homeless shelters and in prisons. Many of these men grew up not knowing what it meant to be a man, and they found themselves in hard places as adults.

BarbedWireCloudsThat’s the reason Stepping Up is making such an impact on these guys. For the first time in their lives, they’re getting a road map to manhood, and the results will make a difference for the generation coming after them.

We recently received a letter from Lynden, who’s serving time at a federal low security facility in the Northeast. Lynden gets it. Not only are the Stepping Up principles changing his life, they’re getting him excited about helping other men change their legacies. This is something to get excited about. Please pray for Lynden and men like him who are Stepping Up!

Dear Mr. Rainey, 

I’ve just completed the Stepping Up course here at [the correctional facility]. I found the course to be very helpful in showing me the extreme importance of having men in our lives to provide us with real-life examples of how life should be done. It also caused me to “look back” on my own life at how I was failed by the men in my life and, in turn, how I failed to provide the real-life example for my step-son.

I have great remorse about my actions as a father and step-father and now I am seeing the fruits of my own failures. My step-son, now 19, dropped out of high school and now has a pregnant girlfriend. They are having the baby and will be getting married, but I can see that my lack of leadership is a direct contribution to his situation. I sure would like to have that opportunity back, but we get one shot to get it right. I’m not saying that I would have to be perfect, just a good father that makes mostly good decisions.

I made many more poor decisions than good ones. I turned my back on God and embraced atheism for four years. My step-son wants no contact with me and he has no older males in his life. I fear for him. He is not saved and was raised in a semi-active LDS home.

While I know there are no “do-overs” in life, I look ahead to what the Lord has in store for me. I’m blooming where I’m planted through demonstration and proclamation of Jesus Christ. While I find it somewhat difficult to apply the principles of mentorship here in prison, I take the content of the Stepping Up course and try to apply it to my life.

My vision for the future is to start a post-prison re-entry program. The name will be 491 More Second Chances. The ministry will help men through apprenticeship and journeyman programs in construction, plumbing, electrical, renewal energy, HVAC, food service, welding, machining, and carpentry.

My first wife and I plan to remarry and pursue this endeavor together with Christ at the focal point. We want to provide free counseling and support groups for the men and their families. We’re looking to reconnect these men to their families, themselves, and most importantly, to introduce them to the King of Kings.

We both know this will be a huge task, but with God all things are possible. We’ve got a plan and we’re excited to see how the Lord is going to lay out the path before us. I’ve done too much “self-service” and I’m now serving the Lord in my life. I wish I would have known how awesome it is to be an obedient, honest, and trustworthy man of God years ago … but I didn’t. I do now and I’m not looking back, now that my hands are firmly holding to the Gospel plow!

Thank you for Stepping Up and FamilyLife.

In His Love & Service,

Lynden

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Letter used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read, “Second chance manhood” about how Stepping Up is changing lost lives and legacies.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWatch how Stepping Up impacted men at another correctional facility in this  blog post, Stepping Up as a prison ministry.”  

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistMore kids and young men today are experiencing “Father Hunger.” How can you satisfy your kids’ need?

STEPPass - 10-point checklistYou can host Stepping Up in prison or homeless ministry in your area. Or you can help others get one started.

What breed of man are you?



A motto I once heard goes like this: Winners concentrate on winning, while losers concentrate on just getting by.

If that statement were carved into the granite at the front of a Fortune 500 company, you would nod your head in agreement. Inwardly you might say, Now that’s the way to run a business. I would imagine that company is really a company of excellence. They know how to do things right!

Yet when it comes to the family, it’s interesting that most homes today would have to be characterized as losers. Too many marriages have become marred by mediocrity. Children are seen, at best, as a status symbol — a way to achieve something through them that we, ourselves, weren’t able to achieve when we were their age.

Too many marriages today are concentrating on “just getting by.” With “squeaking by” as the goal, it is no wonder so many marriages don’t amount to much.

In his best-seller, The Seeds of Greatness, Denis Waitley tells the story of his grandmother whom he idolized. She crossed an apricot and a plum tree. Grandmother Waitley called it a plumcot. This delicious fruit was perfected by the gentle, wise old lady after careful and tedious pruning and grafting of the two fruit-bearing trees.

As a boy, Denis learned a valuable lesson from his grandmother. She harvested a plumcot because that was what she planted.

What you plant is what you get

Marriage is a lot like that — we never get out of a marriage what we do not put into it.

One man confessed, “At work I concentrate on winning, and as a result, I am a winner. At home, however, I concentrate on just getting by.”

It’s no wonder he is losing.

As Americans, we think of ourselves as winners … we are used to winning, but too many times in the wrong places. As a result, we end up losing in the important places … at home.

Vance Havner has said, “Americans know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”

If a business goes bankrupt, it is the president or the chairman of the board who is to blame. Similarly, if the home fails, the man is to blame. You and I, as husbands and fathers of our family, must master the ageless art of leadership and apply it to our families. If we ever hope to win at home, then we must focus on winning.

Spinning plates

Too many of us, as the leaders of our families, are like the man who used to come on the Ed Sullivan Show years ago and spin the plates. This man would start at one end of a long table by placing a stick perpendicular to the table and spinning a plate on the stick. In consecutive order the plates would be placed … two, three, four, five, six plates. As the first plate slowed down, it would begin to wobble. I can remember denying the urge to want to jump through the TV and run to help the man by grabbing the plate before it fell off the stick and shattered into tiny slivers of porcelain pieces.

Now with the first plate wobbling in a near-fatal orbit, the man would rush back and expertly spin that plate again as the audience breathed a sigh of relief. On he would go … seven, eight, nine. By that time, plates two, three, and four were now beginning to wobble. And just before you knew the man could not keep a dozen or so plates spinning, he would quickly scoop them up in his professional hands like he was carrying them to the cupboard and bow to the smiling applause of the audience.

Similarly, the roles we assume in life — husband, a father, a businessman, a civic leader, a church leader, a golfer, a fisherman — all represent different plates in our lives. We begin spinning them early in our married life with plate number one being our marriage. Giving focused attention to that one place, the plate spins along merrily and does well. With the addition of plates number two (business) and three (children), efforts to focus become more difficult. Carefully we keep adding our plates until we finally step back from the table to see two or three of the first plates beginning to wobble badly. We have to make choices. Decisions. Decisions based upon priorities. Our family has needs, but we mistakenly choose to meet those “material” needs by applying our efforts primarily to our business. The result: Focus is lost.

However, most businessmen are not worried about starving. Most of us are concerned about status, significance, accumulation of more, and how we can feed the materialistic monster that lives within us. A good friend recently said, “Materialism is not what you have, it is what has you.”

Too many husbands and fathers have become dizzy from the many spinning plates we have set up. We give our family an occasional spin just to keep things at status quo. We focus on just getting by. The results? More plates begin to fall off the table. Children become strangers — children who are crying out for attention. Mothers plead for help. Meanwhile, being the visionary leaders that we are, we ignore fallen plates and add additional plates. Yet the Psalmist warns, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

There is no question why so many marriages and families are functioning poorly. Nothing — a business, a school, a basketball team, or a family — can function without leadership, energy, time, and most importantly, focused attention. Without these, the plates will begin to fall.

Being somewhat of a selfish man myself, I struggled to keep my family plates spinning over the dozen ego-stroking plates I could have focused on, spending energy to keep them spinning, when our kids were growing up. However, I was constantly forced by the person of Jesus Christ to come to grips with my limits. I have been wrestled to the ground by Him on more than one occasion to be forced to answer the question, “How many plates can you keep spinning and still win?”

Another question which redirects me is, “Where do I want to win so badly that I am unequivocally unwilling to lose?”

“Which of those plates would I be willing to lose for the sake of my family, if need be?”

A new breed of man

Today some tough questions face Christian businessmen and leaders. We have become a cult of Christian celebrities. We worship successful businessmen and pro athletes who can perform in the office or on the field. We pay little regard to whether they are a success in their personal and private lives. The time has come for a new breed of Christian husbands and fathers.

We need a new breed of man who will say “no” to more bucks when it means sacrificing our families. A new breed of man who will place family between us and every decision we make. A new breed of man who will ask the question, “How will this affect my family?” A new breed of man who will determine how much is enough. We need a breed of man who will seek to establish relationships with our families before seeking fame in our culture. A new breed of man who will recognize that we need to leave something to posterity that will outlive us: proven character in our children. A new breed of leader who realizes that to succeed in the eyes of men, but fail in the eyes of God, is the ultimate waste.

Renowned Senate chaplain Peter Marshall once said, “It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

One last question — will you take upon yourself the challenge that Albert Einstein gave a group of young scientists? While addressing this highly motivated group of young men, he pointed to them and said, “Gentlemen, try not to become men of success. But rather, try to become men of value.”

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklist

You just read a post by Dennis Rainey, What breed of man are you? on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist
So, what breed of man are you? Could you do a better job of defining success at home? Write a definition to guide you.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistListen to the FamilyLife Today broadcast series on how to implement strategic planning in your home life.

STEPPass - 10-point checklist

Think of one thing that you can do this week to lead your wife and children. Make that your measure for success.

Did you do something of value today?



Just one day can make the difference in a life wasted and one that leaves a legacy that will outlive us all.

Driving home one night after work I switched on the radio to catch the news. In an uncharacteristic moment of sincerity, the disc jockey made a statement that sliced through the fog of fatigue I felt from the day: “I hope you did something of value today. You wasted a whole day if you didn’t.”

His statement struck me abruptly. Maybe it was because I had just spent most of the day solving some of the problems of a growing ministry. Fortunately that day, I felt pretty good about how I had invested my time.

Or perhaps it was because of where I was heading. In 10 minutes I would be home where one lovely lady and six pairs of beady little eyes would want and need my attention.

Would I do something of value with them tonight?

It’s just one night, and besides, I’m exhausted, I thought. Then I pondered how one night added to another, 365 times, adds up to a year. The nights and the years seem to be passing with an increasing velocity.

“I hope you did something of value today. You wasted a whole day if you didn’t.” It echoed in my thoughts as I drove through the darkness.

Five minutes more and I’d be home.

I’ll bet there are other men like me who are really tired right now, I thought. I wondered how they would respond to the question if they heard it.

A moment of pride struck me. I bet I do better than average with my kids, I smugly concluded.

Another thought lingered in my mind: Did God call me to be merely a better-than-average husband and father? Or to be obedient and to excel?

Living above average

To be better than average, all you have to do is beat the masses — a step ahead of the herd, so to speak. Not much challenge there.

But to be obedient and to excel, well, that means I’ve got to be a disciple … deny myself … take up my cross … and obey … even when I’m tired and whipped by the day’s draining events.

Is my audience man or God? Where do I want the applause? Heaven or earth?

One night. What will I accomplish? Will I waste it spending all evening in front of the television?

It’s just one night. Another night to build a legacy. What will my legacy be?

I struggled over the lure of “just” one evening of selfishness — to do my own thing. But what if Barbara had a similar attitude? Then who would carry the baton?

What kind of heritage and legacy would I impart? Selfishness? Or selflessness?

One minute, and I’ll be home.

Just one night, Lord. It’s just one night. And then the same angel that wrestled Jacob to the ground pinned me with a half nelson as I drove into the garage.

Okay, okay. I give. You’ve got me. Being a Christian parent is not always easy in this narcissistic culture.

Just one night

As the kids surrounded my car like a band of banshees whooping and screaming, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” I was glad on this night I had made the right choice.

At supper, rather than just grazing our way through the groceries, we spent a few moments on nostalgia. All of us answered the question: What was the favorite thing we did as a family this past year?

And after supper I gave the kids three choices of what kind of memory they would like to make for that night:

1. Play Monopoly together as a family,

2. Read a good book together quietly, or

3. Wrestle on the living room floor together.

Which do you think they chose?

Three little sumo wrestlers grabbed my legs as they began to drag me into the living room. Dad was pinned by the kids. Mom was tickled by Dad. And kids went flying through the air (literally) for the next hour. Our 10-month-old even got in on the act by bouncing on me after she had observed the other kids in action.

Do my kids remember that night? Maybe, but I doubt it. We didn’t break anything to make it memorable.

Did they know I had struggled in the car? No.

Did I do something of value that night? You bet!

I did my best that night and on the many nights that followed while my kids were growing up to leave, with God’s help, a legacy that counts. A legacy that will outlive me.

If you struggle with priorities as I do, then you might want to commit these verses from Ephesians to memory: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:15-17). I’m convinced none of us intends to become the fool Paul wrote about. It just happens.

“I hope you did something of value today. You wasted a whole day if you didn’t.”

Copyright © by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Developing a spiritual workout plan (part 2)



This is the continuation of a two-part post. Click for part one of “Developing a spiritual workout plan.” 

Years ago I saw an advertisement showing a young man with the washboard abs, with glistening muscles rippling as he pumps his Solaflex machine — with its haunting reminder:  “No pain, no gain.”

WeightsThe same is true spiritually speaking, isn’t it? We want the faith of Moses, but we’d rather avoid the process of a 40-year visit to the wilderness so God can humble us.

We want David’s heart for God, but we don’t want blisters from shoveling smelly sheep manure. We want the glory of the spotlight, the prestige of the position.

And who wouldn’t want to have the spiritual impact of Paul? He shaped the first century church. He journeyed to other countries, preached to massive crowds, entrusted his life to men like Timothy — we’re talking gain, real gain. But we’re also talking pain — major-league pain. Among other things:

  • Paul did time in prison.
  • He was beaten near to death “many times.”
  • Five times the Jews gave him 39 lashes with a whip.
  • He was stoned once, and beaten with rods three times.
  • He was shipwrecked three times.
  • He spent a night and a day in the sea.
  • Many times he was without food, water, and clothing (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

More agony. More pain. But more gain.

Let’s take a few moments and visit two more weightlifting stations that will stretch your faith and increase your endurance.

Do you have “guts”?

One of the largest muscle groups in the body is the stomach. In spiritual terms, your stomach is the place where courage resides. Courage to make tough decisions — hard choices. It is said of a courageous person, “He has guts.”

But our society is guilty of flab in the waistline. We don’t want pain — we want comfort — thus the loss of tone and a resulting bulge from our failure to be bold.

Christians who lack “guts” sacrifice truth on the altar of love. Many lack the tough love to fearlessly confront a family member caught in the web of an addiction. They have a soft view of love, because they fear conflict, rejection, or loss of emotional comfort.

So they don’t broach painful subjects with those they love the most. Or, if they do, they sit on the sidelines throwing stones and second-guessing those who care enough to confront.

Actually, gutless believers are selfish — unwilling to be hurt to see another healed. Paul wrote to Timothy, “God does not give us a spirit that makes us afraid. He gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Flexing your faith muscles

Is there a situation in your life right now where you need to flex your faith in your stomach area? A tough decision? A heroic admission to a friend of some secret sin? An undaunted, loving confrontation with a loved one who is in a downward spiral spiritually?

Go against the tension and exercise your spiritual guts.

Now on to the next station — a spiritual treadmill to exercise our legs. This machine is designed to increase our endurance.

Building endurance

These days I try to run three miles at least three times each week. But when I started on my 40th birthday I could barely run downhill for one mile. I had to endure a lot of pain to get up to my present level.

The same is true spiritually. If I don’t go ahead and face the pain now, I’m left with the inevitable reality of having to face it again and again until I embrace the circumstances, learn the lesson, and gain the stamina. I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ve had to learn the same lesson, simply because I was unwilling to face the “painful” truth of what God was saying to me.

God gives our legs hills so that we can grow stronger. The prophet Isaiah gives us the secret to where strong legs come from: “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31).

It is a blessing to endure

One last point about this treadmill: The older you get, the steeper the incline becomes. Sound like bad news? It really isn’t. Who wouldn’t like to think that they had finally arrived?

But if I understand the Scripture, the longer we live, the more we have to die. The more you want to grow, the more you and I must say “no” to self and “yes” to Christ.

I must confess that the more I grow the more in touch I become with how sinful I really am. As the angle of the incline of the treadmill becomes steeper, I see more and more that my only hope is in God and His grace. Paul said it well, “But God’s grace has made me what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Now there’s some hope for tired muscles. Suffering is used by God to conform our character to the likeness of His Son—to “train us in righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

As you “pump the iron” of difficult circumstances, perseverance under trial will occur. Look at this promise of how the pain will result in gain: “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life…” (James 1:12).

The truth of “no pain, no gain” is summarized succinctly in the following essay written by one of my favorite authors, Max Lucado.

When a potter bakes a pot, he checks its solidity by pulling it out of the oven and thumping it. If it “sings,” it’s ready. If it “thuds,” it’s placed back in the oven.

The character of a person is also checked by thumping.

Been thumped lately?

Late-night phone calls. Grouchy teacher. Grumpy moms. Burnt meals. Flat tires. “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding” deadlines. Those are thumps. Thumps are those irritating inconveniences that trigger the worst in us. They catch us off guard. Flat-footed. They aren’t big enough to be crises, but if you get enough of them, watch out! Traffic jams. Long lines. Empty mailboxes. Dirty clothes on the floor. Even as I write this I’m being thumped. Because of interruptions, it has taken me almost two hours to write these two paragraphs. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Jesus said that out of the nature of the heart a man speaks (Luke 6:45). There’s nothing like a good thump to reveal the nature of a heart. The true character of a person is seen not in momentary heroics, but in the thump-packed humdrum of day-to-day living.

How do I respond? Do I sing? Or do I thud?

If you have a tendency to thud more than you sing, take heart. There is hope for us “thudders.”

1) Begin by thanking God for thumps. I don’t mean a half-hearted thank you. I mean a “rejoicing, jumping-for-joy” thank you from the bottom of your heart (James 1:2). Chances are that God is doing the thumping. And He’s doing it for your own good. So every thump is a reminder that God is molding you (Hebrews 12:8).

2) Learn from each thump; Face up to the fact that you are not “thump-proof.” You are going to be tested from now on. Might as well learn from the thumps; you can’t avoid them. Look upon each inconvenience as an opportunity to develop patience and persistence. Each thump will help you or hurt you, depending on how you use it.

3) Be aware of “thump-slump” times. Know your pressure periods. For me, Mondays are infamous for causing thump-slumps. Fridays can be just as bad. For all of us there are times during the week that we can anticipate an unusual amount of thumping. The best way to handle thump-slump times? Head on. Bolster yourself with extra prayer and don’t give up.

Remember, no thump is disastrous. All thumps work for good if we are loving and obeying God.

Been thumped recently? Remember where there’s “no pain,” there’s “no gain.” By the way, this spiritual workout center does exist—it’s the local church. Been missing your workouts recently?

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Developing a spiritual workout plan



I remember the year I joined a workout club in an effort to shed some unwanted pounds. When I arrived for the first time, I stood in the doorway of a workout room, looking at all these slim and trim, toned and tuned hardbodies. My greatest fear was that they would all look up at me simultaneously and fall to the floor, laughing hysterically.

WeightsAfter enduring the humiliation of walking to the dressing room and getting into my sweat suit (I wish I had arrived already dressed), I noticed two things. The room was full of all sorts of weight machines designed to strengthen different muscle groups throughout the body. Second, I couldn’t help but notice the mirrors. They were everywhere. I felt like I was in some sort of narcissistic cathedral. People throughout the room stared at their bodies, but I ignored the mirrors — I already knew what I looked like.

As I began to move from station to station, using muscles that must have wondered what prompted their agonizing, abrupt promotion from hibernation, a Scripture began to pound in my ears:

… discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:7b-8; NASB).

The word “profitable” is used in this passage to contrast “gain” in two worlds — the physical and the spiritual. The perishable and imperishable. As I began to perspire I thought about my own perishing muscles and the truth of that Scripture.

We need a spiritual workout center

Here I was, moving from machine to machine, an out-of-shape, plump glob of mid-life molecules, surrounded by the “saints of Muscledonia.” But I couldn’t help pondering how, after decades of attempting to obey God and walk with Him, the spiritual conditioning was paying off in my life. No, I didn’t envision myself as some kind of spiritual hunk or hardbody, but I did think about the growth (by the grace of God) that has occurred — what I’ve learned about loving people, developing a blueprint for handling life’s struggles, creating peace and harmony (for the most part) at home, and, most importantly, learning to trust God.

Then it hit me: What you and I in the Christian community need is a spiritual workout center — a sort of spiritual weight machine with different stations to strengthen our faith “muscles.” A place to work out our spiritual soreness, a place to flex and tone our unused muscles of faith, a place where Christians could go to be built up and not torn down. A place to go to see others who, over a lifetime, have faithfully worked out and applied the spiritual disciplines.

As I left those muscle toning machines and ran out the door to go jogging, I began to design my Spiritual Faith-Building Center. I began to think about the individual stations where certain muscles of the faith would be stretched and flexed. I need my own faith-muscles toned and tuned as I faced a new year — more and more stamina is demanded with each passing year. As you read through these, why not select a couple of these areas and do some of your own biblical exercises?

The tongue

My first station in this spiritual workout would be a machine that produces little sweat, but incredible results. This machine would help bridle the tongue. Posted above this faith-building spot would be the following verse:

If any one thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless (James 1:26).

Bridled by the Bible, a muscle-toned tongue would be appropriate for those who share gossip in the form of “prayer requests.” By controlling this muscle, one could refrain from critical, harsh, or angry words. This would be an excellent machine for Christians whose slimy slab of mucous membrane is used to telling off-color jokes. And for any saint who hasn’t yet swept clean his vocabulary.

Sets of exercises could be developed to train the tongue to form words of appreciation, praise, and encouragement for those who do the laundry, clean house, do yard work, manage the money in the household — and for those who meet the needs of a growing family. Also a special exercise would ingrain in the tongue the ability to give thanks in all things — something that’s not easy even for the most muscle-bound saint (so I’ve been told).

The eyes

Since we’re working on the face, let’s visit a station that addresses the faith-muscles of the eyes. Above this machine would be pictures of some biblical heroes whose lives were ruined when they lost control of their eye muscles. Samson and David were both deceived when they allowed their eyes to gaze too long upon the opposite sex. Special workouts would be designed to train men to look just once at a woman, and then turn his eyes in another direction if necessary.

Eyes that are lured into selfish, materialistic traps when shopping and browsing through catalogues would also receive special exercises. Also, eyes that tend to be discontent with what they have (job, home, and wealth) — eyes that tend to roam every couple of years — would receive special glasses to correct short-sightedness, until the faith-muscle of contentment can be built up (1 Timothy 6:6).

The neck

I would also have a machine that works on the spiritual muscles of the neck. It would increase flexibility in those who have become “stiff-necked” — especially those who are too proud to admit mistakes, too stubborn to ask for forgiveness, or too arrogant to admit they need to depend upon God.

This exercise would demand a person be on his knees with neck bent downward in prayer. Prayerlessness is usually a sign of stiff neck muscles. But prayer loosens muscles that are tied in knots by worry, pressure, or long hours of hard work.

A special softening of the neck muscles with certain Scriptures would be necessary to work the kinks out of the neck area:

“God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

“You scold proud people. Those who ignore your commands are cursed” (Psalm 119:21).

“Proud looks, proud thoughts, and evil actions are sin” (Proverbs 21:4).

“Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6).

Teachability toward God and others would increase as the muscles of humility began to be developed in the neck area. As one became more willing to hear the truth, admit failures, and take responsibility for wrong actions, a genuine joy would begin to move from the neck to the face.

Sweating yet? Any increase in your heart-for-God rate? Out of breath? Sore? Like any good workout, it wouldn’t be good to overdo it the first time out.

Read part two of “Developing a spiritual workout plan”

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

 

Making 2014 count



making 2014 countOn New Year’s morning I got up and sat by the fire, reflecting on the past year and the start of my 43rd year of ministry – looking back on what God has done and looking forward to the future.

“This new year, God, what do You expect of me?” I asked. I wasn’t talking about New Year’s resolutions. I wanted to pull back and see the big picture so I could discern God’s will for me in 2014.

My heart and my Bible were opened to Matthew 22. The narrative finds Jesus before the Pharisees – the religious leaders of His day – and he is asked to choose the most important commandment in all of the Law. Jesus answered clearly:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

There are 613 commands in the Law. Jesus didn’t just pick the most important commandment. He summed up the whole counsel of God in just two commands.

After reading those words, I assessed myself in three areas that New Year’s morning.

First, I ruthlessly analyzed the affections of my heart. At the top of the page in my Bible above Matthew 22 I have written, “The human heart is an idol factory.” We like to deceive ourselves that we have our priorities in order, but the prophet Jeremiah reminds us that “The heart is most deceitfully wicked, who can know it.” We choose to love other things more than God, and those things become idols.

As I looked back over the past year, I asked myself, “What did I love?” I thought of the ongoing battle to love myself more than God. I’m really good at that. We seem to do a good job about thinking about and meeting our own needs.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Look through the factory of your heart to see what it had produced in the past year. What things did you love more than God? And how well are you loving your “neighbors” — especially your wife and children?

Second, I contemplated where God is working, and how I could join in what He’s doing. Dr. Henry Blackaby wrote in his classic book, Loving God, “watch to see where God is working and join Him in His work.”

One reason I don’t hesitate to challenge people to be involved in helping reach families is that this is an area where God is at work. It’s also an area where the devil of hell is attacking. One of the purposes of God since the beginning of time is for His image to be reflected in marriages and families for generations. Where is that learned? It’s learned by a little boy and a little girl looking at a mom and a dad, hopefully in a marriage and a family committed relationship, learning what it means to be a man, to be a woman, investing in your marriage and your children. God is at work in this issue today on many levels, and He’s at work generationally.

Finally, I took a hard look at the horizon. The conclusion of one year and the genesis of yet another should result in us sharpening our eyesight on where we’re headed. My personal mentor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, would often say, “Man is immortal until God’s work for him on earth is done.”

With each new year, the finish line for me is getting closer, and so I need to look more attentively at the horizon. I need to make sure I’m running in the right direction, and that I’m stretched out toward the finish line.

As I reflected on this for the coming year, one question I wrote is, “How do I get the gospel to more people?” The essence of who I am as a Christian is to proclaim Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life. That’s also the goal of FamilyLife. As a ministry, we touched over 14 million people last year. This year, we want to touch more people, and do that more effectively.

I really like the urgent picture painted by 18th century preacher Charles Spurgeon, imploring us to implore others to consider who Jesus Christ is.

“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms around their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there un-warned and un-prayed-for.”

I urge you to do the same self-evaluation I did on New Year’s morning. Ask God to reveal what and who you truly love and to help you make necessary corrections in the factory of your heart.

We have a heavenly Father, full of grace and mercy, who pursues us, even in the stubbornness of our idol factories as we continue to love the wrong things. Ask Him, as David did, to create in you a pure heart. And as Christ commanded those Pharisees as he summarized the Law, in 2014, pray that you may better love Him with all your heart, and to do a better job of loving your neighbor.

Ask Him to help you see where He is working and show you how to get involved. And ask Him to open your eyes to clearly see the horizons set before you, and to help you run the race with endurance that is set before you (Hebrews 12).

May God’s favor be upon you – in your marriage, in your family, in the work of your hands and our hands this year. Is there any better way of making 2014 count?

 

The irresistible man (part 2)



(The first post on The irresistible man covered the first of a wife’s three major needs: security. This post will handle the other two: acceptance and emotional connection.)

Acceptance
irresistible man

Photo by Tina Vanderlaan

When it comes to acceptance, every man should take a page from the Song of Solomon and apply it to his marriage. You see, Solomon knew the importance of elevating his wife’s beauty, her appearance, her dignity, her worth, and her value as a woman. As you’ll see in a moment, he carefully chose his words to communicate how beautiful she was to him. Such praise and affirmation are essential for a woman to hear. Acceptance begins with an understanding of what your wife is feeling about herself.

Does she feel good about the way she looks? Her hair? Her clothes and shoes? Her weight? Her skin tone? Her body image? Her teeth? Her overall attractiveness? Chances are good that she compares herself to the airbrushed models of perfection she sees every day. From the covers of the magazines in the checkout line to the advertisements she watches on television, your wife is constantly made to feel inferior, unworthy, and unacceptable.

Solomon recognized his bride’s need for affirmation and didn’t hesitate to go beyond mere acceptance. He lavished praise on her. He said, “I liken you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh” (Song of Solomon 1:9). Now, before you try that line on your wife, keep in mind the context. The picture was of Solomon’s finest mare, most likely an Arabian beauty, a dark creature of unquestioned magnificence. It was the finest horse that money could buy. This exotic creature would have turned heads—maybe even caused a stampede because of her exquisite beauty. In other words, Solomon used poetic language to tell his wife that she was magnificent.

But that’s not all.

Solomon quickly added, “Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you earrings of gold, studded with silver” (Song of Solomon 1:10–11). He not only accepted her and saw her as a woman of great beauty, but he lavished jewelry on her. When was the last time you sprang for a new bracelet? A necklace? A ring? Like Solomon, let your wife know you esteem her greatly by giving her something extraordinary.

When Barbara and I were first married, I realized early on that she needed to be cherished for her beauty. When we started to have children, her body began to change. She wondered if she was still physically attractive to me. I worked at praising her beauty at that stage in our marriage. And now that we’ve moved into the empty nest years, I can’t coast. I understand how important it is for me to continue to praise her. The truth is, I think she’s spectacular!

In the same way, your wife longs for unconditional acceptance. She secretly hopes you’ll notice and commend her various qualities — her receptivity and obedience to God, her personality, her faithfulness in raising children and making a home. Because you are the most important person in her life, your affirmation and acceptance unleash an inner beauty and a confidence that radiate.

Emotional connection

Marriage is a partnership that takes teamwork. Some men fail in their partnership because they don’t make an emotional connection with their wives. Heidi, who attended one of FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember getaways, writes, “My husband does nothing to help me around the house. I am just plain tired. I do all the laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, everything after working all day … oh, we’ll stay married, but I just know we could be happier.”

Did you know that when you participate in family life by sharing in some of the daily duties, you connect with your wife on an emotional level? Men spell romance s-e-x, but women spell romance r-e-l-a-t-i-o-n-s-h-i-p. Working together around the house or in the yard (Barbara’s other domain) is a great way to communicate your love for your wife.

Another way to connect emotionally is to compliment your wife. Proverbs offers this pointer: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (16:24 NKJV). How often do you praise your wife for what she does? Consider a few of these compliments to brighten her day:

  • “Dinner was great! Thank you for always making creative meals, even when you’re tired of cooking.”
  • “I love the way you read books to our kids. That’s so much better for them than watching TV.”
  • “I’m grateful that you carefully budget our paycheck each month.”
  • “I admire the way you handled yourself with that rude salesman — you have such a winsome approach.”
  • “The flowers you planted make our home so much more inviting. I appreciate your hard work.”

As you work to make an emotional connection with your words and actions, go below the surface to the real issues of life. How? Start to talk with her. For some, this involves a conscious choice. Share with her, for example, what goes on at work — what you’re doing well, where you’re struggling, the people you’re working with, the people you encounter. Most women love hearing all of the details. You’ll also discover that she can provide wise counsel on different issues you’re facing.

Finally ask your wife questions about what she is feeling, and then listen to her. One way I do this with Barbara is to ask questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” For example, I might ask her, “How did that exchange with our teenage son make you feel?” Making the effort to know specifics about her background, her favorite things, and her dreams all communicate to her, “I want to know you. I want to be your soul mate.”

A favorite question that I asked Barbara was, “What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done in your life?” Try that question on a date night with your wife, and give her time to think about her answer. You might consider sharing how you would answer the question. Here are some more questions to help you make the connection:

  1. What is one of your earliest childhood memories?
  2. What is one thing from your past that you struggle with?
  3. What was one of your proudest achievements before we met?
  4. What was your relationship with your dad like? How about your mom?
  5. At what time did you place your faith in Christ as your Savior; what were the circumstances?
  6. What would you say was our best family vacation, and why?
  7. What is your favorite book in the Bible? Hymn? Why?
  8. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you like to live?
  9. What dreams do you have for our children?
  10. What do you long to experience with me in our marriage?
  11. What do you want to accomplish after the kids are grown?

As you study your wife and learn how and when to build security, acceptance, and emotional connection into your relationship, you will become an irresistible man. And let me make one last practical suggestion: When you come home from work, here are four of the most romantic words to say to your wife: How can I help? You’ll never go wrong asking this question any time of the day or night. Those words are music to her ears because they demonstrate that you desire to connect to her world. Why not try it — and mean it — tonight?

 

You just finished reading the Stepping STEPSeek - 10-point checklistUp blog post, “The irresistible man” (part 1 & part 2) by Dennis Rainey

What aspect of relationship do you need to work on: security, acceptance, or emotional connection?

STEPembrace

Plan a date with your wife and ask her one or more of the questions listed immediately above. Listen like you mean it.

STEPpassIf these personal exercises are helpful, tell a friend what you did. Share this article with him so he can connect with his wife.

Adapted by permission. Rekindling the Romance by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, ©copyright 2004. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved. Copying or using this material without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited and in direct violation of the copyright law.

The irresistible man (part 1)



The next time you stop at McDonald’s, try this. At the counter, say, “I’d like to have a hamburger, fries, and a Coke, please.” Then listen carefully to the cashier. If she’s worth her salt, she’ll ask you, “Will that be large fries and a large Coke?” You see, a well-trained cashier would never ask, “Will that be small fries and a small Coke?”

What’s the difference?

Just millions of dollars. Changing one word—large instead of small—is called “suggestive selling.” That’s no accident. McDonald’s intentionally places a positive thought in your mind about buying the large size. Why? The company’s research shows that customers will, more often than not, sink their teeth into the larger order if presented with the larger option.

Understanding customer behavior isn’t small potatoes.

When multiplied by millions of orders a month, tens of millions of extra dollars a year flow into hungry cash registers — all because the company took the time to know the customers.

McDonald’s is so committed to understanding its clientele, it even knows most customers prefer to bite into a hamburger and taste the ketchup before the mustard.

irresistible man

Photo by Tina Vanderlaan

What does all this have to do with romance? Plenty. The success McDonald’s has experienced as the world leader of fast-food franchises came about because the company became a careful student of the customer. In the same way, one key to thriving in your relationship is to understand your wife. This is not to suggest that you should try to manipulate her. Rather, as you invest time and effort to understand your wife, you’ll discover how to define romance using your wife’s dictionary. I have to admit that I defined romance for years using my distinctly male dictionary. We men spell romance: S-E-X. However, I’ve learned when I want to communicate romance with Barbara, I’d better understand how she defines the word! As a husband does this, he understands the three nonnegotiables for a romantically satisfying relationship: security, acceptance, and an emotional connection. Let’s unpack these one at a time.

Security

If a man heard somebody breaking into his house in the middle of the night, what guy wouldn’t grab a baseball bat and defend his wife and his children against the intruder? That’s a given. But did you know that your wife is, in many ways, under assault every day? Look carefully, and you’ll discover there are all kinds of forces that have already broken into her life; they’ve already compromised the security of your home life.

Who are these intruders?

Often they come in the form of unresolved issues from the past — wounds from abuse, from family abandonment, from poor choices in the past, or from a divorce. These trespassers might not be obvious to you on the surface, but they can rob your wife’s sense of well-being years after the fact.

For example, when Barbara and I were first married, I had no idea that she had experienced some painful things growing up. Some of those wounds began to surface about 15 years into our marriage. I’m going to purposefully be vague because what she had experienced was not as important as how I responded. When the persistent invaders finally came out of the shadows, I did my best to comfort her and express the love of Christ to her.

Although I didn’t always know what to do, I didn’t run from her wounds. I didn’t deny she’d been hurt. I tried to let her know that she was loved and that our relationship was a safe place for her to begin to heal. And I asked God to give me wisdom to know how to encourage her. God does answer prayer.

Even as I shouldered the burden with her, I knew we could use some added help from a counselor, so we made arrangements for counseling. Barbara would say today that those days were very challenging, but going through the experience together enabled her to be liberated ultimately.

Past issues are not the only unwelcome guests that threaten a wife’s security. She desires to know her husband is committed to providing financial security in the home. Do you take the lead in establishing a family budget and pay off bills in a timely manner that creates security, or do you create fear with reckless financial decisions?

She wants a relationship built upon the bedrock security of a husband who refuses to follow his temptations. Are you a man in control of your passions, or do you lack self-control? And when she is subjected to a cruel or emotionally abusive co-worker, family member, or friend, she needs a husband who will defend her. Do you protect her emotionally from any person who is trying to take advantage of her by going to that person and verbally shielding her?

What vandals threaten her security? Does she struggle with the memory of an abortion, sexual abuse, or her parents’ divorce that robs her joy today? Are there unhealthy influences or relationships in her life? Does she fear the future: growing old, children leaving home, the loss of parents and friends?

If so, how do you plan to evict these home invaders?

Allow me to suggest that you do not try to “fix” it or “fix” her. Most importantly, I’d encourage you to pray with and for her. Do not underestimate the power of praying for your wife. Pray simply, but pray out loud. Take her by the hand and ask God for wisdom and help with the task. Proverbs 2:6 (NKJV) assures you that “the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Ask God to guide you.

Secondly, I’d encourage you to repeatedly verbalize your love and commitment to her. Your wife may be about to take on an emotional giant in her life and she needs to know that you are standing with her and for her. Remind her that you promised “for better or worse.”

Third, give her the freedom to process what she is experiencing emotionally with you. This kind of conversation means that you become a safe haven in an emotional storm. Let her talk without offering a solution. Comfort her with words of understanding that create hope.

It’s a wise husband who can look back into his wife’s life and evaluate how she has been affected by past events rather than sit back and be critical of how she was raised, or make negative comments about the parents who raised her. Instead, the prudent husband will serve as a healing ointment, a salve of love, one that fosters an environment where healing takes place.

Romance thrives in a secure relationship.

(The final post on The irresistible man will cover the other two major needs of a wife: acceptance and emotional connection.)

Adapted by permission. Rekindling the Romance by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, ©copyright 2004. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved. Copying or using this material without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited and in direct violation of the copyright law. 

An orphan’s plea



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Davion Only has been in and out of foster homes his entire life, but has always wanted a family.  “I just want people to love me for who I am and to grab me and keep me in their house and love me no matter what,” he says.

He learned that his birth mother was in prison when she gave birth to him, and she recently died.  He told his caseworker that he wanted to make a plea at a church for someone to adopt him.  “I’ll take anyone. Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be.”

So recently he found himself in front of the congregation at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Fla. ”My name is Davion and I’ve been in foster care since I was born,” he said. “I know God hasn’t given up on me. So I’m not giving up either.”

The response to the Davion’s plea has been overwhelming. His story went viral on Twitter, and was picked up by newspapers, magazines, and television shows around the world.  He appeared on The View. Thousands have inquired about adopting him.

When I read this story, I thought, Maybe this is what it takes.  Maybe we need to allow foster kids who want to speak, like Davion, to do so in our churches. Maybe their faces and voices will inspire the Christian community to finally step up and begin to address the needs of more than 100,000 children in our foster care system who need a family and could be adopted.

Davion Only stepped up. What would happen if men in thousands of churches across America stepped up and addressed this issue?

This November is Adoption Awareness Month. Why not ask if there are foster care children in your community who can be adopted and inquire if there is a child who would be willing to take the risk of sharing his need for a family? Then take the foster child to your church, give him or her a microphone and let him ask, “Would someone adopt me and give me a family?” And of course, if the child doesn’t feel comfortable making such a plea, ask if you could be the voice for that child.

Does our God believe in adoption? He does and it’s a good thing … it’s why He sent His Son to die on our behalf, so that we might be forgiven from the penalty of our sins. God will adopt us if we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

God believes in adoption and so should we. He hears the orphan’s plea.

By the way, Barbara and I adopted one of our six children — and we don’t know which one.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to help orphans, go to hopefororphans.org to explore their many resources.

Fan the flames of faith, fathers



fan the flames of faith

Photo by Jesse Millan

Building a simple fire pit in the backyard was key in building up the spiritual condition of our children.

Barbara and I have been blessed with six children. Sitting in the auditorium the afternoon that our youngest, Laura, graduated from high school, my heart swelled with a mixture of delight and sadness. Sure, I was thrilled at her accomplishment. But my mind couldn’t let go of the fact that it was just yesterday when I, the proud daddy, held Laura in my arms for the first time. As she walked across the stage to receive her diploma, I remembered when she took her first steps. As she adjusted her cap and gown, I recalled the first day she played dress-up.

Talk about a bittersweet moment.

Sometime later I was thinking about the implications of her graduation. A school official had handed Laura a diploma certifying she had completed her studies. She had learned her lessons well. She was ready to move on.

Or was she?

Actually, yes. While I knew that piece of paper wouldn’t sustain her when the storms of life thundered, Barbara and I worked hard to instill in her something that would: a heart for Jesus. And you know what? One of the single best things I did as a father to enhance her spiritual heritage, as well as that of each of our children, might surprise you.

I built a fire pit.

That’s right. A good, old-fashioned campfire pit in our backyard. The kids loved to sit on a log or on a stone around the flames as we’d swap stories, share the Scriptures, talk about the day, or sing a favorite song. With the crickets adding their serenade, we’d roast hotdogs, marshmallows … and occasionally s’mores.

One thing is sure. Those countless visits to the campfire sparked the fire of faith that burned brightly in Laura’s eyes as she walked the aisle.

How about you? Do you want to pass along your faith, your values, and your heart for God to your children? This summer, why not consider something as “low tech” as a campfire. As the Apostle Paul said, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you” (2Timothy 1:6a).

A week after her graduation, I stood by the fire pit and pondered: The days of fanning the flames of our children’s faith are not over — it’s just a new season. Our children will never lose their need to be cheered on in the race of life by their parents. I pray that my life “glows” as one who continually points them back to the Savior.

Fan the flames of faith, fathers.

Copyright © 2004 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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