Posts in category Resisting sin

A character cheat sheet



This blog post originally appeared in Noah Gets a Nailgun.

CarverEdwardsWooden

We talk often on this blog about leaving a legacy. Honestly, that can feel pretty daunting, esoteric, and enigmatic. And if that isn’t clear enough, you might feel obfuscated by such pleonastic redundancies.

No doubt “Leaving a Legacy” is a big task. But where does one start? Leaving a legacy is simply the daily living out of your core convictions. More than likely, the people you admire were good at living out what they believed, in very small ways, day after day, moment by moment. They were consistent, stable, and people of integrity. They could be counted on to do the right thing at the right moment.

But here is the challenge of living that way: To live out your core convictions, you have to know your core convictions. Steven Covey says you have to “begin with the end in mind.” He isn’t talking about reserving funeral plots and picking out caskets, but knowing where you want to go before you leave the driveway. Most men struggle to live consistently because they have a moving target. They are not even sure who they want to be. So you have to start by identifying these convictions and dwelling on them regularly. And since nothing is manlier than a solid shortcut, after identifying your core convictions, your operating principles for life, you should jot these down on a 3×5 card.

Ok, I already hear the objections. “Hey … if they are ‘core convictions’ shouldn’t you be able to remember them without writing them down?” Good word. In theory they should always be at the front of your mind, but in reality, we often behave differently than we know we should. Usually more base interests like food, sex, sports, and Shiny Objects With Flashing Buttons move to the front of my mind, pushing aside all other thought or reason. In these moments, a short list serves as a great reminder of what I have convinced myself of in a saner moment. Because we all suffer from temporary insanity at times, having a crib sheet will help you through those character tests.

Not only is this decidedly manly, but a few prominent manly men have led the way with their examples.

Carver’s 8 Cardinal Virtues

Famous American scientist, botanist, educator, inventor, former slave, and all around renaissance man (dubbed the “Black Leonardo” by Time Magazine) George Washington Carver had his own list, what he called his “8 Cardinal Virtues”:

  1. Be clean both inside and outside.
  2. Neither look up to the rich nor down on the poor.
  3. Lose, if need be, without squealing.
  4. Win without bragging.
  5. Always be considerate of women, children and old people.
  6. Be too brave to lie.
  7. Be too generous to cheat.
  8. Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.
John Wooden’s 7 Point Creed

The famous basketball coach from UCLA, the “Wizard of Westwood” (anyone with a nickname involving the word “wizard” must be manly) holds the record for most NCAA championships by any coach by a long shot (10 championships in 12 years, 7 of those in a row). Wooden was given a seven point creed to follow by his father. Seven points and seven championships in a row. Coincidence? I think not.

On one side of the card was a poem from Henry Van Dyke, and on the other side was the list his father developed. First the poem:

Four things a man must learn to do
If he would make his life more true:
To think without confusion clearly,
To love his fellow man sincerely,
To act from honest motives purely,
To trust in God and heaven securely.

On the other side was the seven-point creed:

Be true to yourself.
Help others.
Make friendship a fine art.
Drink deeply from good books.
Make each day your masterpiece.
Build a shelter against a rainy day.
Give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.

Even into his 90’s, Wooden could rattle off both sides of the card from memory. No doubt these items had a profound influence on shaping his character and life.

What was the power in these lists? They were short. Which means memorable. Yes, some over achievers like Jonathan Edwards went for the long ball, weighing in with a whopping 70 resolutions, but there is definitely power in brevity.

So what is your list of “Core Convictions” or “Cardinal Virtues?”

If you had to write down what guides you on the back of a 3×5 card, what would be your list? We’d love to see your list – leave it in the comments below. Try to keep it under eight. Shoot for seven if you coach basketball. Just in case.

And consider writing these down and handing them over to your kids on their 16th birthday or before. You’re giving them a character cheat sheet, because in this case, cheaters really do win.

No, cheaters never prosper



You drive along Interstate 30 in Little Rock, and there it is, a billboard with an astonishing message. It pictures three former U.S. presidents — Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton — along with the words:

Who said cheaters never prosper?  Happy Presidents’ Day!

This is the latest campaign from AshleyMadison.com, a highly profitable website with a most unusual clientele — people who are interested in committing adultery. If you register on the website, you can connect with others interested in cheating. As the website states:

Long gone are the days of working late and having an affair with the office secretary, with today’s technology the ability to have a discreet emotional or sexual affair is at your fingertips. You have definitely come to the right website. Ashley Madison’s married dating services can help you find that special someone who makes you feel young and alive again.

And yet Ashley Madison claims it merely facilitates cheating rather than promoting it. One of the more amazing statements on the website is, “No, Ashley Madison does not encourage anyone to stray or have an affair, despite our trademark, ‘Life is short, have an affair.’ In fact, if you are having difficulty in your marriage or relationship, you should seek counseling.”

Provocative statements

Ashley Madison’s founder is a Toronto entrepreneur named Noel Biderman. He and his wife say they are happily married with two children. But he also says that “Monogamy, in my opinion, is a failed experiment.”

Biderman tends to make provocative statements like that when defending his company. And he’s a master at deflecting criticism. “You eradicate Ashley Madison, you’re not going to eradicate infidelity. That’s what allows me to sleep at night.” Or, “If you think that all affairs happen on Ashley Madison, you’re very naive.”

Those are clever words. By addressing absurd accusations nobody would make, Biderman deflects legitimate complaints about making money from something most people consider to be immoral.

Apparently helping adulterers is a big business. And you wonder if Biderman considers any publicity as bad. Every time he defends the company against those who despise his product, that means more people are aware of that product. One could argue that even this article is only helping Ashley Madison.

Cheaters never prosper
The truth about adultery

Do cheaters prosper? In many respects, Ashley Madison only rehashes the excuses people have made for thousands of years about adultery: Guys can’t help themselves … It can often help marriages … We shouldn’t be too prudish about cheating … You need to let men sow their wild oats … etc., etc., etc.

Statements like these will encourage men (and women) who are unhappy in their marriages and are looking for some extramarital spice. But you and I know they are lies. The truth is that cheaters do not prosper.

For one thing, adultery destroys marriages. Ask yourself, why do so many people consider adultery such a betrayal? Why is it that Noel Biderman’s own wife says she would feel “devastated” if he cheated on her? It’s because sex as God designed it is much more than a physical act; it binds a couple together emotionally and spiritually in a way they can only partially understand. If your wife has sex with another man, the sense of hurt and betrayal cuts to the core of your soul.

Guys, what kind of impact do you think just one little cheating incident might have on your wife? As one woman said, “My husband wants me to stop bringing up his affair because he has ‘repented.’ What about me? He acts like nothing has happened, but I walk with anger. I cry out to God every day, but the hurt is still fresh.”

Second, adultery harms your legacy. Children feel the impact for many years to come. In most cases, it severely damages the relationship between the parent and child. In addition, the children may repeat that behavior when they are adults. Consider the story of one of the presidents pictured on the Ashley Madison billboard, John F. Kennedy. His womanizing is common knowledge now, but many don’t know how his behavior was influenced by his father, Joseph, who cheated on his wife regularly. His children knew it, and a number of them went on to be unfaithful to their own spouses. Few families in American history have accomplished as much as the Kennedys, but their legacy has also been clouded by reckless immorality.

Let’s be faithful

In response to the Ashley Madison initiative, FamilyLife has begun a campaign to encourage people to be faithful to their marriage vows. In fact, we’ve even created our own billboard for I-30 in Little Rock.

God offers the strength to withstand temptation, and the hope to build a lasting marriage. Cheaters never prosper. But those who trust in God do.

Note: For more on the “Stand Firm for Families” initiative, read “Doing Nothing Is Not an Option,” by Dennis Rainey and “A Billboard That Hurts Women and Children,” by Barbara Rainey.

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.

 

‘Dad, what are you doing?’ : Redeeming failure



My sons and I have always enjoyed basketball together. This season I’ve had the honor of coaching the Flames, Jacob’s 14-and-under homeschool team. The greatest joy is being a part of the process of these boys growing into manhood.

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Last Saturday we played the Hornets. It was the last game of the regular season with the winner claiming the #1 seed in the state tournament. It was a big game for the boys. From the outset, it was an intense defensive battle; the score stayed tight throughout, with neither team leading by more than four points. With less than a minute left and down by three, we worked the ball for a good shot in the paint. There was a foul on the shot which was not called, then a foul on the rebound — also not called.

I jumped up and shouted, “That was over the back!” That was all it took. The ref called a technical on me.  Jacob came running over to me pleading, his hands out, “Dad, what are you doing? Just let us win the game!”

FlamesTullyCoachCourt

Inside I was immediately heartbroken for the boys. The Hornets made both free throws, and while we did score again, it was those two points that were the margin of victory. My actions cost our boys the game.

Many people came up to me afterwards in my defense and said, “What in the world? I have never seen a technical for that. What happened?” But I told each one, “I needed it. God knew.”

The book of Job reminds us, “Blessed is the one whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (5:17 NIV). It was His discipline. He disciplines those He loves. I might not have deserved a technical for that comment. But I realize now that my heart deserved a technical. Over a string of three games, I had stopped treating the refs with the respect they deserve. I had stopped honoring them in my heart.

As soon as I got the technical, I called a timeout immediately and apologized to the boys. And as soon as the final buzzer sounded, I found the referee to apologize for my actions and ask for his forgiveness. Again in our team huddle after the game, I asked the boys for their forgiveness.

We didn’t end up with the #1 seed. That’s okay. The real goal of our season is to help these boys grow in character and skill. My outburst impacted them in a negative way. But hopefully, seeing me apologize and seek forgiveness will have a greater impact — an eternal one.

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?

 

Super Saturday: A day before the big game



Experts include Bill Bennett, Tony Dungy, Crawford Loritts, Dennis Rainey and many others

If there was ever a time when men need vision for what it means to be a godly man, this is it. Imagine if we could call men from all walks of life to become courageous, godly leaders in their own lives, marriages, churches, and communities. Well, we can. And it all starts with you.

On the Saturday before the Super Bowl, we’re calling on thousands of churches across America to host a Stepping Up Super Saturday: one life-changing day that could turn the tide for men in your ministry, and across America.

Stepping Up Super Saturday proudly presents the Stepping Up Video Event, a DVD-based kit designed for an all-day event. High quality DVDs deliver dramatic stories, humorous vignettes, man-on-the-street interviews, and expert teaching from the more than two dozen ministry leaders. Watch this video from FamilyLife Vice-President and former NFL quarterback Jeff Kemp to learn more about how you and the other men in your realm can step up on Super Saturday.

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Today’s men are shrinking back when they should be stepping up. Help them tackle the challenges of modern life head on by hosting Stepping Up Super Saturday at your church February 1, 2014. Sign up today, order your Video Event Kit  and….GAME ON!

Our daily temptation



I think we would be shocked if we could count the number of times we are tempted each day.

Our culture has become so sexualized over the past few decades that it’s easy to become hardened by the number of images and temptations that bombard us each day. Walk through a supermarket and you see suggestive photos on the covers of magazines … turn on the television and it doesn’t take long before you see advertisements for sexy lingerie and erectile dysfunction … go online, and you find unwanted e-mails or ads offering x-rated images with just one click. It’s a daily temptation.

I think we would be shocked if we could count the number of times we are tempted each day. Sometimes life feels like a continual stream of choices: Will I trust God for the power to turn from that daily temptation, or will I dwell on it just a bit? Will I take a second look? Will I click on that tempting link … just this one time?

I am reminded of a story that FamilyLife President Dennis Rainey tells in his devotional book, Moments With You:

I was seated in a car with another Christian leader — a good friend of mine. We were both away from home, without our wives, waiting for a colleague who had just gone inside a store. And as we sat there, a woman walked by who was, well, drop-dead gorgeous. I caught sight of her as she entered the store, and then turned back to our conversation.

When she walked by again, by God’s grace (or the fear of my own reputation being spoiled), I summoned up enough self-control to look away. But I did notice my friend’s eyes lingering as she walked on to her car. Knowing we were both fighting the same battle, I casually said, “Hey, you can look at her once, you can look at her twice, but if you look at her that long …”

We laughed. We knew.

Guys, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating a woman’s beauty. But we all know in an instant when we’ve reached that point where we’re no longer simply noticing her but have begun enjoying her and letting our minds become a playground of lustful thoughts.

As Dennis writes, it’s often not the first look that gets you — it’s the second, and third, and fourth. If you dwell on that daily temptation, you begin playing with powerful forces. As James 1:14-15 tells us, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

These words run contrary to the spirit of our modern age, which tells us that biblical boundaries for sex are prudish and outdated. Our culture encourages us to embrace and experiment with sexuality to help “discover who you are.” And then it avoids taking responsibility for how uncontrolled lust can ravage lives, marriages, and families.

Whenever FamilyLife Today airs programs on pornography, for example, we receive a number of heart-breaking e-mails about people giving in to temptation and getting caught in a trap from which they couldn’t break free. Here are just two examples:

At the age of 13, I started my first job. That day I took my first puff of a cigarette and was exposed to pornography for the first time. I had no idea of the power that was to take control of my life as a result of that action. For the next 25 years I battled with pornography. My sin did not stop with pornography but took [other forms]. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make real changes. I could not escape it.

It’s not just men whose lives are hijacked by the effect of porn.

My dad had pornographic literature in the house that I found as a young girl. It distorted my view of male-female relationships. I began to see sex as a way to get love. I led an extremely active sexual lifestyle and eventually started working as an exotic dancer. I’ve been following the Lord for 11 years now, and am married to a wonderful man. But the ghost of pornography still haunts me. Fantasies still plague my mind and interfere with what should be pure love for my husband. I can see the connection now between how I feel and what you said. I am praying for God to cleanse me of the effects of pornography.

Letters like these echo the warning of James 1:14-15 and show us that giving in to temptation is far more dangerous than many people realize. One of the most critical commitments you can make to your marriage is to stay clean. You can’t avoid daily temptation. But you can control your response.

Choose to turn away. And ask God for the power to continue turning away every day.

Copyright © by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

21 things a man needs to know about marriage (part 3)



This is the final installment in a three-part series. The full first part and second part of 21 things a man needs to know about marriage is here, but we’ve listed the first 14 things from those posts here.

  1. A man needs to know that the ultimate team is marriage.
  2. A man needs to know the difference between being a consumer and an investor in life, in relationships, and marriage.
  3. A man needs to know the Christ-like role of servant, husband, and lover.
  4. A man needs to know that marriage is meant to mature a man into Christ-like character.
  5. A man needs to know the meaning of love.
  6. A man needs to know that a marriage and family depend upon God as their maker.  
  7. A man needs to understand sexuality as God’s good creation, distinct from its counterfeits.
  8. A man needs to know that the key to great sex is exclusivity.
  9. A man needs to know that marriages typically have a one or two year “honeymoon era.”
  10. A man needs to know that living together and having sex before marriage uses up a good portion of the “honeymoon era” euphoria. 
  11. A man needs to know that commitment is a key to success in all of life, and especially in relationships with a woman.  
  12. A man needs to know that marriage is not easy.
  13. A man needs to know that the purpose of marriage is less to make you happy, than to make you holy.
  14. A man needs to know that God gives authority and responsibility to a husband to make the marriage thrive and last.

things a man needs to know about marriage15. A man needs to know that he can change his marriage by changing himself.  He can make himself a better husband by making himself a more consistent and devoted follower of Jesus.  If he wants to improve any aspect of his marriage, family or parenting, the solution lies in deepening his daily commitment to God.  The path to build a great marriage or heal a marriage is to humble one’s will, to let the Holy Spirit take control of him and to obey Christ.

16. A man needs to know that romance is created and sustained intentionally.  Thinking about what she likes, remembering what is important to her, setting things up the way she prefers … these are all critical.  In dating and various stages of life, romance can spontaneously happen, but for the long term, it must be deliberately planned and created.  If a man wants to be a leader, this is an area in which to lead.  It leads to good things.

17. A man needs to know that divorce is avoidable.  He understands that nothing is impossible for God, and he humbles himself to admit and repent from the ways he fell short in loving his wife in the past, so he can excel at loving her from this day forward.

18. A man needs to know that he can recover from a wife’s affair because he has the power to forgive.  Jesus forgave all his sin, and he is called to do the same with his wife.  Furthermore, he seeks to understand what led his wife to be unfaithful, even if it means admitting his own failure. Usually a man breaks his vow to choose, love, and protect her before a woman breaks her vow to be faithful.

Note: if you have an affair, you don’t have control over whether you can recover because you can’t force a wife’s forgiveness.

19. A man needs to know that even the worst things can be redeemed for deeper purposes.  Romans 5:3-5 reminds us to rejoice and find value in tribulation, loss, and suffering because tribulation brings perseverance, and perseverance brings proven character like that of Jesus, and proven character brings hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love is poured out to us by His Holy Spirit.

Face crises and trials and suffering straight on with Christ and a few close teammates. A man steps up by surrendering to Jesus Christ and persevering in making Him the center and Lord of his life.

20. A man needs to know that humbling yourself to your wife is the gutsiest and most successful way to heal her heart and your frequently-compromised relationship. A man with courage and wisdom will never overlook his wife’s hurt feelings.  And he’ll seek to overlook the disrespectful words she blurts out in reaction to how he hurt her feelings.

When you are in conflict, don’t wait for things to blow over.  Don’t try to point out her fault.  Don’t try to minimize the situation.  And don’t defend yourself.  Instead, be a leader.  Start the apology.  A great starting point is, “I was wrong.  I hurt you.  Please forgive me?”

21. A man needs to know that a wife wants you to lead her, but will tend to lead and control you if you don’t lead and initiate.  Leadership starts with your character and your devotion to Christ.  Your walk with God determines the quality of your love and leadership as a husband.

Seek God.  Read His word in the Bible.  Pray for Him to shape and lead you.  Humble yourself before Him.  Seek a mentor or group to help you grow and become a good husband.

Leadership of a wife is humility before God, initiating teamwork with your wife, praying with her every day and praying for your family.  Most guys I know well are like me in this: If you’re frustrated with your wife and your marriage, the solution lies in getting back into Jesus and His Word!

The courage to resist temptation



Dan is a man’s man. A family man. Venerable. Virtuous. If you met him, you’d like him. But despite an impeccable track record, he almost threw it all away.

He was going through a season in his life when everything was difficult — he felt pressure at the church where he was the pastor, and he felt the unrelenting pressure of being a good husband and father. His desire was to resist the temptation to sin, but temptation is usually very subtle.

It all seemed so innocent. He missed his twentieth high school reunion, and soon afterward received a note from an old girlfriend who had dumped him just before the prom. She said she missed seeing him at the reunion; he was the one person she was hoping to reconnect with after all these years. Dan wrote back and said he would love to reconnect as well, and perhaps they could get together the next time he returned for a visit.

So he set up a lunch meeting for him and his wife, Kathie, to meet with this woman. Notice that Dan included Kathie; he wasn’t a total fool … at least not yet.

When Dan’s old flame walked through the doors of the restaurant, he thought to himself, She is better looking now than she was at 17! Almost involuntarily he said to Kathie, “Wow, would you look at that?” which got him a sharp elbow in the rib cage.

After a cordial lunch, Kathie left the table for a few minutes, and instantly the conversation turned more intimate until she returned. When lunch was over they said their goodbyes and Dan thought, Well, that was that.

After Dan returned home, he received another note from the woman saying she had hoped they could have spent more time together, just the two of them. She had some things she really wanted to talk about, and she wanted some “closure” in their relationship. He wrote back and said he would be speaking at a conference a few hours away that fall (one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, if you can believe it!).

In her reply she said that, by “coincidence,” she’d be in the same city that very weekend on business, so maybe they could get together. They set a dinner date.

But this time Dan didn’t tell Kathie about it.

Now, Dan is a geologist by training, a very smart man. And he did what men have been doing for centuries: He rationalized his actions. He even thought he could use the rendezvous to tell his old girlfriend about his faith in Christ!

“You are an idiot!”

But in his gut he knew it was wrong, and for several months he felt increasingly guilty. Every time he opened the Bible, no matter what passage he tried to study, all he could hear was God telling him, “You idiot!” Here he was, a pastor at a growing church, the leader of a beautiful family with a wife and three children, a man who spoke around the country on how to have a good marriage, and he was about to put himself in a situation where he could throw it all away in a single compromise.

The only thing that saved Dan from certain shipwreck was an accountability partner, a man he met for breakfast every week to talk about their lives and to challenge each other to walk in obedience to Christ. Dan called him his “sparring partner.”

To Dan’s credit, at one of their breakfasts he finally told his friend about what was going on. After listening, his sparring partner courageously stepped into Dan’s life and said, “You are an idiot!”

Then he took out his cell phone and said, “You’re going to call this woman right now and cancel that date.”

Dan did exactly that. He told the woman he was happily married and that it was not appropriate for him to continue any sort of relationship or communication with her. He apologized for his improper attitude toward her and asked for forgiveness.

When Dan hung up, a truckload of pressure fell off of his shoulders. Then that true and faithful friend said the one thing that Dan didn’t want to hear. “Next, you need to tell Kathie all about this. And if you don’t tell her by Friday, I’m going to tell her.”

Dan did tell Kathie the whole story. Kathie’s response was what every man needs from his wife when he admits a weakness or temptation. She said she was disappointed that he didn’t trust her earlier with the story. She admitted that she knew that this woman had deeper intentions than just talking about old times.

Kathie knew that Dan was struggling, but just knowing that his sparring partner was committed to help surface and conquer those struggles gave her security in their marriage relationship. She was proud to be married to someone who was man enough to be accountable to others.

The power of temptation

Dan almost took the bait. That’s what temptation is, you know. It is a “lure” toward sin. Satan is a master angler who knows exactly where your weaknesses are. He is an expert at presenting you with bait that is designed perfectly for you.

Temptation isn’t sin; it’s when we swallow it and act on it that it becomes sin. And it can destroy our lives.

You may not think it takes much courage to face your temptations, but it does. Accountability is a proactive step toward never underestimating the power of temptation. Manhood requires us to resolutely “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). We have to put the lure of adolescent behavior behind us, face upward, and step up to our responsibilities as men.

Temptation never ceases as we grow older. One friend approached me after listening to me speak on this topic and admitted, “I can’t believe I’m 60 and still struggling with these issues.”

I can.

One foolish choice made in a moment of weakness can wipe out years of integrity.

You and I can become idiots very quickly!

 

Adapted by permission from Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, FamilyLife Publishing.

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