FeelMyFaith.com

Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Brian is the author of #TheWalk and Lionheart, as well as a contributor to the Faith, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional.  He is a pastor and teacher.  Brian speaks regularly for various groups and events.  FeelMyFaith.com began as a writing project in 2007 and has expanded into the media outlet of Brian's ministry.

Suicide - Thinking, Coping, Healing (Video)

In November I was privileged to lead an insightful discussion of suicide at my home church, Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, GA.  The touch of suicide goes deeper into our lives and church congregations than we think.  I am thankful to have been a part of this conversation and count it as one of the most helpful and redemptive gatherings of the church of which I have ever been part.

">Dealing with Suicide from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
It has always been God's plan to give you life, but it has always been Satan's plan to take it away. Who are you going to believe?

This sermon also includes an interview with a trained counselor and a pastor/father who lost his son to suicide.




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Great, But Not Good


">Great, But No Good from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
What if you, or even your church, did a lot of great things, but in the end, they did no good? Compromise and cowardice will not take you far. Yes, there may be a few shining moments of success, but they will eventually dull like old trophies in a case. The story of Gideon should challenge us to make our impact last. We must be responsive, courageous, and dedicated to the challenge God sets before us or else we may just be forgotten. What good is that?
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New Year, New Walk

In the new year we often commit ourselves to reading.  If reading is part of your resolution, please consider my book #TheWalk that was released last October.  #TheWalk is a great choice as your first book for the new year.

Why #TheWalk?  January is a month of regret and resolve.  Our regrets often give birth to our resolutions.  The 7 pounds I gained from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day has served to make dieting a top priority in my life.  While weight, reading, saving, and time considerations often dominate the top of our list, there should also be some more lofty goals somewhere in the mix.  Instead of only considering what we may lose, save, or manage, how about considering some things you would like to finish, start, or even create?

It is difficult to be different.  If you want your situation to change, you must change.  The failure to be different is what usually trips up our resolutions.  John Maxwell said, "You'll never change your life until you change something you do daily."  It is at this point, daily change, that I believe you will find #TheWalk most helpful.

#TheWalk is not about doing more, but doing less.  It is not about meeting life goals as much as it is about doing something different daily.  No matter how big or how small the objective before us, there is only one way it can be accomplished; one step at a time - walking!

#TheWalk was born at the beginning of 2014 out of my own frustrations of having great ambitions, but feeling as if I had accomplished very little.  While praying through Psalm 119:133 God opened my eyes to a revolutionary principle that has changed my life - steps.

Rather than asking God to help me arrive at certain destinations or to accomplish certain long term goals, I now ask God one simple question each day, "What step do you want me to take today?"  Breaking life down into steps has made me more content and effective in everything I do.  I believe #TheWalk can do for you what the journey of preaching and writing it did for me - #TheWalk helped me be different.

Here is a short excerpt from the book that I hope you will find to be helpful.  I pray you will have a great 2015 and that you will consider adding #TheWalk to your book list this year.

_________________________

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of the circus.  Even though there is a lot going on in the three rings, something about the chaos of it just doesn’t hold my attention.  Trapeze doesn’t do it for me.  If you are a circus clown and you are reading this book, I’m sorry to offend you, but what you do in the circus doesn’t connect with me.  However, I would love to know how so many of you get in those little cars.  Other than that, I’m not a fan of the clown.  The dog trainer part of the show is absolute torture for me.  They are about to fire a man out of a canon.  Do the circus people seriously believe that a poodle hopping through a hoop is supposed to psyche me up for the human cannonball?  Get the little dogs off the floor and let’s see a guy fly through the air like a missile.  I see dogs everyday.  Missile men - not so much.   
There is one point of the circus, however, that grips me.  Bring out the lions and the tigers, and I’m all in.  Those massive majestic animals are mesmerizing.  Put a guy in there with the real potential of being mauled right before my eyes - I’m all over that - from a safe spectator distance, of course!
Have you ever noticed that the lion tamer takes only two things into the cage with him?  He takes a whip, which I can understand, and a chair, which I cannot.  Yet in that infamous image of the lion tamer that is etched in our minds, you see only two things in his hands, a whip and a chair. 
Most of the time when we watch the lion tamer work his craft, we are excited by the whip, but think little of the chair.  But the chair is the most important element of all.  The whip has little to do with influencing the animals.  
With the whip, the lion tamer controls the crowd.  We love the crack of the whip and, as humans, we are sympathetic to the sting.  Indiana Jones may do it for humans, but Indy does nothing for lions.  The whip may capture our attention, but it is with the chair that the lion tamer controls the beast.
Lions have an impeccable ability to focus.  When the end of the chair is extended toward a lion, the lion becomes almost paralyzed. Now, instead of focusing on one thing, the leg end of the chair presents the beast with four.  The otherwise perfectly focused animal doesn’t know what to do next.  He has too many choices to make.  
A powerful creature out of focus is ineffective.
I find myself like the lion a lot of times.  I have so much in front of me that I lose focus and become ineffective.  I find myself looking at the leg end of the chair way too much.
In a lot of ways, it is easy to become confused and paralyzed in your walk, wondering what to do next.  You have too many things in front of you at one time.  This is why priority is so important.  When it comes to your walk, the first thing determines everything.  With so many things in our vision, how does one possibly narrow it all down to one thing?  The good news is that God has made it an easy choice for you.  Remember, God has ultimately called you to do only one thing, walk in a way that pleases Him.
Jesus said it like this, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” - Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV)  
What we eat, drink, or wear is the leg end of the chair.  Jesus teaches us that if we can get those things in the right order of priority and make the one thing the main thing, all of those other things God will provide.  Remember, He is the provider for those who walk with Him.
That word seek, Jesus uses in the passage, means “to walk with focus.”  It describes investigation and searching.  You can’t seek several things.  There is an old proverb that says, “He who chases two rabbits captures none.”  The only way you can truly seek something is to get it down to one.  

If you could get four or five things out of your face and bring one thing into focus, it would help you go further.  Why, because according to Jesus in Matthew 6:31-33, the first thing determines everything

 
Get your copy of #TheWalk today:  

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Into the Woods - A Pomo Scrum Beneath the Trees

Over the weekend I made one of my rare visits to the cinema.  Sightings of Sasquatch, a chupacabra riding a bicycle, or Nessie doing the backstroke at Loch Ness are as likely as sightings of me at the movies.  Why?  It costs too much, people eat pop corn like horses feeding from a trough, and the whole thing takes too long.  Our most recent selection, Into the Woods, sported each of these dreaded elements of the cinema; a $50 family price tag, a family of stallions with a barrel of endless pop corn seated just behind us, and a 2+ hour runtime.  Apparently we have lost the art of telling a story in less than half a day.
My synopsis of Into the Woods: your favorite childhood fairy tales in a rugby scrum beneath the trees.  My wife called it Les Miserables Disney style as nearly all of the dialogue of the seemingly never to end movie is sung.  I imagine it will be one of those movies that I don’t particularly enjoy while everyone else on the row may be giddy as girls about it.  In fact, my youngest said it was her favorite movie.  Congratulations Into the Woods, you have unseated Night at the Museum 3 which held her top movie spot for a whopping four days.  Enjoy it while you may, given her track record you will be unseated on her next romp to Regal.  When it comes to movies, she loves ‘em and leaves ‘em.
I will spare you the synopsis and the details of a critical review.  I am not a movie critic by trade and PluggedIn.com is more than adequate to offer the christian version of At the Movies.  I am a preacher and so it should come as no surprise that I view movies as messages.  Movies are culture sermons.  As such, Into the Woods has a lot to say to us.
The film is the latest installment of what seems like a lingering decade of revising our favorite fairytales.  Some of it has been done in jest, taking our familiar heroes and villains and recasting them in new worlds and situations.  For me, Shrek was best at this.  Like Shrek, many films have come along to poke fun at the genre of the fairytale all together.  I love the satire when the magical, all is good life meets the real world.  The princess has been most often the butt of the joke.  Amy Adams in Enchanted was a prime example.  
But then we have a long list of compelling revisionary tales that have been popping up on stage, television, and on the big screen such as Wicked, Mirror Mirror, Maleficent, and GrimmInto the Woods is the latest edition that seems to be carrying forward the conversation with our culture; asking an important question.  Who is responsible for evil and how do we solve it?
There is a side of me that enjoys these reimagined tales.  From a purely storyteller perspective I give the writers kudos.  I am not one who would chide our culture’s storytellers as being uncreative; attributing this rash of revisionism to a lack of originality.  In fact, I would think as a storyteller that these revisions are somewhat courageous.  Who else would dare to take these iconic tales and dare to tamper with them?  In some ways it is like an artist adding paint to Mona Lisa.  You would have to be an idiot with a brush to try such a thing.  But these storytellers have pulled it off.  Why?  Because our culture has given them permission to rethink the stories.  Postmodernism has been an amusement park of revisionism in every field from history to morality to math.  We don’t even solve problems like we once did.  
Yet permission for revision doesn’t just come as a style choice of this young century.  Revisionism is a necessity in a culture that has flushed away absolutes and intentionally blurred the lines.  Postmoderns want to think all they do is good.  Tolerance is a false utopia and in a strange way, our new fairytale. 
All is well in our tolerant, fairytale garden utopia until we have a clash with the real world - where there is such a thing as evil whether we want to believe in it or not.  Everyone is fine in the scrum in the woods, the homosexual, the atheist, the hedonist, the pluralist, and the rest of us until a giant comes stomping through the trees.  A madman guns us down in the theater.  A terrorist kidnaps and kills girls in a school.  Isis beheads a journalist.  It is here that the crisis of relativistic culture begins.  Instead of asking what is evil, we are forced rather to ask, who’s to blame? 
Like the rest of the revisionist fairytale films, Into the Woods casts both hero and villain in new light.  It is ironic that these films begin to explore the flaw of relative morality - as much as we want it to be so, all we do is not good.  Evil exists and it is coming to destroy us.
The revisionist fairytale films are redemptive in the sense that they are willing to admit the faults of the heroes and heroines we once accepted uncritically.  In the former telling of the fairytales we overlooked that at times they lied a little, stole some, ignored the oppressed, and were subtly greedy.  However, where the films fail is in the moral direction they explore this idea.  True to postmodern form, instead of heading in a subjective direction and exploring the heart of the hero a more objective path is taken.  Postmoderns blame societies, never individuals and so heroes are what they are, not because of what they have done, but because of the advantage they are given.  Our princes and princesses no longer triumph due to the power of absolute good; no, they triumphed because they had the greater advantage to manipulate the circumstances.  They had more money, more resources, more favor, more looks.  They were deeply flawed but ultimately they won because they were favored.  
In the revisionist fairytales the villains are also re-cast in new light.  The villains, once thought to be unquestionably and absolutely evil, suddenly become more like us.  They are not as distantly dark as we once deemed them to be.  Once the warlords of darkness, in the revisionist tales these sinister characters are merely underdogs who sold their souls for the sake of survival.  Their hearts were broken.  They were bullied and embittered.  They didn’t turn their world dark out of malice, they did it out of defense against the cool kids.  
Because postmodernism is essentially amoral, there is no longer a narrative of whether good can triumph over evil.  The morality play has been assassinated in the postmodern era.  These are no longer stories of morals, but of advantages.  The princess with all the looks and a decided advantage created the witch.  This is the postmodern fairytale. 
The revisionist fairytale asks us not to condemn the villain but to sympathize with them.  Villains are only the by-products of what it costs us to be prosperous.  Things may appear to be snazzy in Camelot, but there is a darkness brewing somewhere that Camelot has created as a consequence.
Into the Woods promotes this idea brilliantly.  As the giant approaches to crush our flawed cast of less than virtuous victors of situational ethics, they are left to introspectively mourn their mistakes in the woods.  As each of them considers their own role in the making of the giant, an important question enters the equation - true to the form of the film - given to us in song - do we really have to kill it?  After all, it is our fault that there is a giant coming to kill us.
This same tune is being sung in all of our media.  The terrorist is not evil, he is an embittered victim of imperialism and capitalism.  He would not even be here if it were not for the prosperity of our Camelot.  Who’s to blame?  And so our President apologizes to the world on our behalf.  Dear dark world, please excuse the mess we have created.  You hate us and its our fault.  Every crisis from Isis to Al Queda, from a gunman in a theater to the looter in a riot in the streets - none of it evil, but each of them only a giant in a fit of rage that we have created in our prosperity. 
In Into the Woods, the giant comes only because we interfered.  Jack climbed the beanstalk and tampered with the giant’s world.  And now, here she comes.  If you haven’t seen the film, this may not make sense, but trust me when as I reiterate my synopsis - the film is your favorite fairy tale characters in a  rugby scrum beneath the trees.  Had Cinderella not wished to be a princess, had Jack not been forced to sell his favorite cow by his somewhat abusive mother, had the baker not been childless, had Red Riding Hood not been gluttonous, had the witch not been hoodwinked by the baker’s father, had his father not stolen the magic beans - there would have been no stalk that connected our world to that of the giants and we would have lived happily ever after - had we merely been content to leave well enough alone.  Every choice made so that a wish may come true.  Every wish that comes true does so at a cost to someone else. 
What’s the answer?  We have to kill the giant only because we were not brave enough to do what we should have done in the beginning - kill the wish!
If movies are culture sermons, the closing scene of Into the Woods was an indictment of our culture’s hopelessness.  All we are left to do is retell the story - classic postmodernism.  There is no real solution, only regret and confusion.  Cinderella should have stayed a lowly abused house maid.  Jack should have been content to be poor.  The baker should have remained childless.  Red Riding Hood should have stayed home.  
The Bible was way ahead of film in teaching that prosperity should not come at the hands of oppressing others (Zech 7:10, Prov. 22:22-23, Jer. 7:5-7).  There is a right way to rise.  True, our wish should not be another’s nightmare.  The film is right in this, greed and manipulation are false paths to prosperity.  Yet the film fails to see that we need to instead be blessed by God as we walk in His ways.  The key to the rise is to repent of evil, not to negotiate with it, apologize for it, or to socialize a society thinking somehow we will level the playing field and starve evil into extinction.  The films portray our situation powerfully, but fail to solve it morally - evil is not the by-product of economics, but it is rather the by-product of a sinful soul.  Thus, it is solved only one way, not economically, socially, or circumstantially -  but through heart change.  
The key to a more peaceful world is not more tolerance in the scrum beneath the trees, but repentance.   
The Bible has a very clear view on evil that is in conflict with postmodern film.  A person may be victimized, in a past life she may have been a good witch who had a tough go of it back in the day at Magic High with Glinda, but there is no valid excuse for evil.  Instead of seeking to place responsibility on others and blaming them for the evil that is done, we are to look at ourselves and come to a place of honesty about what we have become.
The Bible finds only two solutions for evil.  It must ether be crushed in righteous judgment or the evil one is offered a place of grace in repentance and faith.  Evil does not go away if you apologize to it.  Evil is not in the woods, it is in us.  All of us are capable of foolish choices, ignoring the plight of the oppressed, and the pursuit of the ultimately selfish wish - we are capable, but we are also culpable for our actions.  
Postmodernism and her films fail in thinking that people are never the problem, but rather the situation.  In Into the Woods it is almost as if the whole thing is caused by the magic beans.  It is not the existence of greedy or embittered people that brings evil into the world, but it is rather the existence of those cursed magic beans that promise prosperity.  This is why postmodernism blames the gun instead of the gunman.  People are not evil, situations are.  
In its assassination of the morality play, postmodernism has become a naive fairytale indeed.  Isis is not going to climb back up the vine just because I say “I’m sorry.”  The school house gunman was not created by the gun manufacturer.  Taking away his weapon will not change his heart.  He does what he does not because of the cool kids.  He does what he does because he is evil.  In its refusal to call anyone evil or to celebrate anyone good, postmodernism rather teaches we are the product of Camelot.  Yet the Bible teaches that we are not the products of our culture, our culture is the product of us. 
In the end we are not left in the scrum beneath the trees to retell a pointless story and blame ourselves for what others do, but we are left with the gospel.  The gospel is the story that Christ has entered our situation to change our hearts.  The prince, the princess, the baker, the witch, the giant, all of us are confronted with a profound truth.  The Son of God has come into the world to confront evil people in one of two ways: by grace or by judgment - we have a choice - either repent or perish.  We cannot absolve ourselves in apologies for the existence of giants; pointlessly singing beneath the trees.  We must face the truth.  Evil is evil and it is in us.  We do not need another false narrative to sing; we need to be redeemed.
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Ten Things I Learned about Suicide, #'s 6 and 7

Continued from a previous post: http://www.feelmyfaith.com/2014/12/ten-things-i-learned-about-suicide-1-5.html

6.  Parents who have lost children through suicide want you to say their child’s name and talk about their child’s life.


    During our interview time, Mike mentioned that his son is one of three young men who had died untimely deaths in their family.  Mike tragically lost two nephews.  One was killed in a car accident and the other was lost when a tornado hit a high school in Enterprise, Alabama in 2007.  
    Mike said that when he is around friends and family, people will freely share memories of the other two boys, but will seldom mention his son.  There may be various reasons, but whatever the reason it reveals a common problem, people don’t know what to say.
    Mike looked at our congregation on that Sunday and said, “Say their names.  Parents who have lost children through suicide want you to say their names.”  People who have lost loved ones through any manner of death find healing through the sharing of memories and the recollection of stories.  For those who have lost someone through suicide, it is just as healing for them to hear those stories and to have their names mentioned and missed.  Family members and friends don’t want you to ignore their loss, they want you to talk about it, ask questions, and share memories.  The freedom of conversation lets them know you are with them in their trial.

    7.  Grief after suicide is different than grief after other forms of death.
    No one survives life.  Death comes upon us in various ways and at various times.  Some die young.  Some are very old.  Some lose their life after long battles with sickness or disease.  Some people’s bodies just break down.  Some people are lost suddenly and tragically in accidents.  There is a common patter of grief shared in almost all of these instances, but for those who lose someone through suicide, the process of grief takes on a different form.
    After the death of a loved one grief is often objective.  We wonder if our loved one suffered in their final moments; or perhaps we wonder what their life would have been like if they were allowed to continue living.  With suicide grief is greatly mingled with guilt.  Grief takes on a much more subjective tone as loved ones struggle to answer a seemingly impossible question; why?  
    Many times there is a great deal of blame.  People may blame themselves or one another.  Suicide often brings with it emotional strain that tests friendships, familial bonds, and even marriages.  With suicide there is confusion and anger at the one who took their life, but the person is no longer there to help bring resolution.  Suicide is not only the end of the conversation, but it as stated in a previous point, it is the end of possibilities.  
    For those contemplating suicide, Mike mentioned that one often thinks his or her death will bring relief or resolution to a problem.  Mike said the reality is otherwise.  He said that his son struggled with depression and other problems from the time he was a teen, but those problems were no comparison to the problems his suicide has brought upon his family.  Mike said his son’s death was only the beginning of problems; and those problems continue even 11 years later.  

    Grief after suicide is severe.  For those contemplating suicide, the toll on one’s family needs to be considered before you make a tragic mistake.  For those helping a loved one heal after suicide, it must be understood, this will be a long road full of unanswered questions.  In this case we may not be able to offer solutions, but to do what the Bible says and merely to help bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

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    Ten Things I Learned About Suicide (1-5)

    A few weeks ago I invited The Director for The Center for Hope, Denny Whitesel and a pastor friend of mine, Mike Jackson, Director of The Office of Leadership and Church Health for the Alabama State Board of Missions, to join me one Sunday morning for a conversation about suicide.  Denny has done extensive work in suicide prevention.  Mike lost a son 11 years ago to suicide.  Here is what I learned.
    1.  Suicide is more common than we think and more people in the church are struggling with it than we care to admit.  
    “In the U.S., there were 38,364 suicides in 2010—an average of 105 each day. On average, one person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes.  An average of one elderly person every hour and 41.4 minutes and an average of one young person every two hours and 2.1 minutes killed themselves.
    “Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for all ages in 2010. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years, the second among persons aged 25-34 years, the fourth among person aged 35-54 years, and the eighth among person 55-64 years.”
    “Men are more likely to die by suicide than women, but women are more likely to attempt suicide. There are on average 3.7 male deaths by suicide for each female death by suicide. But there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt.”
    My personal experience as a pastor has been that when I am willing to openly talk about suicide, truthfully and lovingly from Scripture, there are people in the congregation who will admit they have been struggling with it.  Often, these are people who have been a part of the church for some time.  
    As a pastor, this tells me that the conversation about suicide does not need to be anathema to the church.  The gospel has an answer.  The power of Christ is sufficient even for suicide.  If we are to preach the full counsel of Christ we cannot exile certain topics.  Doing so communicates to our brothers and sisters in Christ that you are alone in your struggle and this is simply not the case.
    In fact, my experience has taught me that no one is immune.  Pastors, teachers, the most kind, loving, Christ-like people can struggle with suicidal thoughts.  These people need to know the church is listening and has an answer for a very real problem they are facing.
    2.  Treatment is not defeat, even for people with great faith.
    In our conversation, Denny shared that more than 80% of those thinking about suicide, who seek professional counsel, are treated successfully.  I was pleased to hear that the success rate was that high.  Mike shared that his son had gone through treatment several times, but unfortunately he still chose to end his life.  From my vantage point it was refreshing to hear these men talk about the need for Christians to seek clinical counsel.
    Yet, I wonder how many people in the church see visiting a counselor as defeat?
    The argument for counsel is a post in itself.  I dealt with the issue of paying for counsel in a post sometime ago.  Space does not suffice in this post for the full argument, so allow me to simply string together some thoughts to consider.
    There are some things your pastor, your family or your friends, are simply not equipped to deal with.  I can speak from personal experience; if your pastor is worth his weight, he will be willing to admit his limitations.  Furthermore, there are some things you need to be able to talk about with someone you don’t see every Sunday.  There are some things YOU WON’T talk about unless you feel 100% safe.  I’ve never felt 100% safe talking about some of my personal struggles with people in the church.  
    A counselor provides you a safe place to talk - and let’s be honest, so you can continue attending your church!  There are some things people want to discuss with me that I will refer them to a counselor for one simple reason; I know if they tell me, they won’t come back.  From that point onward, that person will think that if I bring up certain topics from the pulpit, that I am talking specifically about them.  As a pastor, referring someone to counsel is not defeat, it is protection for both pulpit and pew for liberty in preaching.
    Counselors are trained professionals and paying them is not a sin, it is smart.  These people have invested massive amounts of time and money studying human behavior.  Paying for counsel is not a self-defeating admission there is something wrong with you as much as it is a matter of support for someone well equipped to help you.  You pay a mechanic to work on your car.  Why not invest money and time into seeing someone qualified to treat someone much more precious like your thoughts and emotions?  
    What’s your life worth?  Most of the time when we don’t seek help, we pay far greater a price.
    3.  Suicide is brain failure.
    Pastor Rick Warren lost a son to suicide in 2013.  In preparation to discuss this topic, I watched Rick’s first sermon after his tragic loss.  He made a great point.  Sin in our lives is to blame not only for failures in our body, but also for failures in our brain.  People suffer heart failure and kidney failure.  People also experience brain failure.  
    During our interview, Denny shared that most people who are suicidal are dealing with some form of mental illness.  Something in their thinking and reasoning, whether cognitively or emotionally, isn’t working.  We can be mentally ill just as easily as we can be physically ill.  Guess what, anyone at any time can become mentally ill.  
    The week after I shared this topic with my congregation I was in a meeting of over 200 men.  The speaker for the event is one of the most motivating men I know, a former athlete who played football for the University of Georgia, and a real leader in our town.  He is a man’s man who appears to have it all together.  Toward the end of his talk he made the statement that he had been hospitalized four times for depression and suicidal thoughts.  
    When he made that statement I did not think less of him.  In fact, it was probably the most liberating thought of the entire evening.  Here is a man, a leader, who knows what is wrong with him and he is getting the help he needs.  How many of us know there is something wrong with us, but we have yet to admit it?  
    We go to the doctor when something is wrong with our bodies.  Why don’t we find help when there is something wrong with our brains? 
    4.  Suicide is satanic, personal deception.
    In the first chapter of his epistle, James explains the course of temptation and sin for all of us.
    But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:14–15 (ESV)
    Suicide is a sin in the same way that adultery, corrupt speech, stealing, murder, or abuse is sin.  Yet, unlike many other sins, suicide has an immediate, fatal, self-centered consequence.  
    Somehow the mind gets twisted into thinking ending life is better than living it.  Perhaps a person is not willing to suffer, be shamed, deal with the consequences of actions, seeks attention, or maybe even wants revenge upon a loved one - whatever the reason one is carried away in their own desire, the thought is allowed to incubate and the mind becomes convinced.  
    Satan is the father of lies.  He knows our mental and emotional weak points and he exposes them.  We are easily deceived and according to James it becomes even more dangerous when we become personally convinced.  
    As with other sins, self-control, denial, and repentance are essential tools in interrupting deceptive thoughts.  The mind must be brought back to truth.  Ending one’s life is not the end of problems but the end of possibilities.  
    My friend Mike Jackson, in our conversation said it best, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  In fact, he pointed out that in the experience of his family, his son’s choice to end his life was only the beginning of what has become 11+ years of problems for them.  He had much rather his son be alive than to be dealing with the harsh reality they now contend with everyday.  
    When we have suicidal thoughts we must fix our minds on truth, on a God with whom all things are possible.  We must bring ourselves back to reality or we may be fatally deceived.
    5.  A suicide survivor may be someone far beyond the circle of immediate family.
    We often hear the term “suicide survivor.”  Up until our conversation about suicide I often thought of the survivor being a spouse, a child, a parent; someone from the immediate family or perhaps a close friend.  In talking about and researching suicide I realized that the term “suicide survivor” encompasses a much larger circle.  
    Survivors of suicide may include any of us who know someone, whether intimately or distantly, who has committed suicide.  A suicide survivor may be a classmate who never had a conversation with a person who ended their life, but wonders why they never took the time to get to know them.  A survivor may be someone who worked in the same building and never even knew the person’s name, but carries some weight of blame wondering if it would have made a difference if he or she had reached out to them.
    The suicide of one can effect an entire school or community.  Suicide hurts and confuses all of us.  There are more survivors out there than we think. 
    In the second service that morning there were around 300 people in the auditorium.  I asked those in attendance to raise their hand if they know someone who has committed suicide.  I was shocked to see a clear majority of hands were raised.  

    To me those hands represented a truth we have heard but often ignore.  You never know who is watching.  Our lives are interconnected more deeply than we think.  We need fewer suicide survivors and more life sustainers.  We need to get to know one another’s names.  We need to open up the conversations.  You never know how a smile, a simple question, a hand shake, a “good morning” could save a life. 
    To be continued . . .
    Listen to our conversation about suicide here.   Suicide: Thinking, Coping, Healing from Liberty Baptist Church Dalton, GA.
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    Is God a Fun-Sucker? (An Excerpt from My Book #TheWalk)

    It is difficult for many of us to believe that God wants us to be satisfied.  My wife affectionately refers to me sometimes as a “fun-sucker.”  A “fun-sucker” is someone who can emotionally vaporize every ounce of joy in a room with a single word.  I am a master at the craft.
    One of our favorite things to do in the spring of the year is to attend the University of Georgia G-Day football game.  The weather is warming.  There is a real family atmosphere in the stadium.  It has been a long, dark winter and it has been a long time since we have seen some football.  Best of all, its free!  A game will cost my family a small fortune in the fall, but the spring game is perfectly priced.
    We get out of bed the morning of G-Day and the weather is perfect.  Our plan is to stop at a mom-and-pop breakfast joint in our town and grab biscuits on the way to the game.  Apparently, everyone else in the metropolis of Chatsworth, Georgia had the same plan.  We live in a small town with only a few thousand people.  Apparently all of them meet up at the same hole-in-the wall joint for biscuits and invite out-of-town guests. 
    We sat at the drive-thru 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, and it seemed like we had moved less than a car length closer to the window.  It was at that moment that fun sucker determined to save the day.
    I loudly expressed to every passenger in my van my thoughts regarding the inefficiency of the restaurant servers.  I condemned harshly the idea that other people in our town would want biscuits as badly as I did.  Comparatively, I pointed out why my day must certainly be more important than theirs.  How dare the good people of Chatsworth inconvenience a man on a schedule going to a glorified spring football practice!  By the time I had yelled, stomped, and slung gravel while bolting out of the parking lot, there was not a single ounce of fun left within the confines of our Honda Odyssey van.  Mission accomplished.  
    For some reason we believe God is a “fun-sucker.”  We believe God is a mostly stoic, otherwise temperamental, unpredictable, ruler of the universe who requires us to be miserable if we are to have any shot at being godly.  If you share this belief allow me to ask a few questions.
    Who was it that created the Garden of Eden full of perfect provision and told Adam and the Eve to have it all, but one?
    Who was it that invented the day off?
    Who was it that instituted seven feast days on the Jewish calendar?  
    Who was it that created the concept of a promised land flowing with milk and honey?
    Who created Paradise?
    God is not a fun-sucker.  The God of the Bible is happy.  
    In John 17 we have recorded a divine conversation between Jesus and the Father.  There Jesus prays, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” - John 17:13 (ESV)  
    As a happy God, the Bible teaches that there are things that God approves, that He delights in (Psalm 35:27).  We have a God who actually likes things.  Remember why we said that, when we turn our attention to God’s face instead of our own, we are more likely to be satisfied?  Because you need only one “like.”
    Someone may object and point quickly to the Ten Commandments.  It is difficult to envision a happy God who likes anything when the 10 most familiar statements in the Bible begin “Thou shalt not.”  Through our eyes we see God as a warden on patrol.  He has a scowl on His face and He is quick to bring harsh judgment on anyone who dares to break one of the ten rules.  But is that really a fair assessment of what the Ten Commandments truly are?
    Is it really fair to presume that negative statements are always motivated by hate?  When a child walks too close to a fire, is it hateful for a mother to scream out, “Stop!”  Is it judgmental for the manufacturers of rat poison to put a skull and crossbones on the box and to warn you that, if you eat it, you will die?  Think about this:  Do the warnings on a box of poison diminish in any way the pleasure that is found in cake?
    What we need on a box of poison is a warning about the contents, not a commentary on the taste of cake.  Would you rather the box list all the things you can eat and allow you to figure out by the process of elimination what you can’t eat without harmful repercussions?  No way!  What we need is for warnings to get to the point.  It’s not so much negative as it is practical.  
    What if you rethought the Ten Commandments and didn’t see them only as negative statements, but as affirmations of what God loves?  If the Ten Commandments are the primary list for what God doesn’t like, what do the Ten say about what God does like?
    Let’s take the last 6 as an example.  The last 6 govern our relationships with one another.  Honor your father and your mother.  Why, because God loves the family.
    You shall not murder.  God loves life.
    You shall not commit adultery.  God loves loving marriages built on trust.
    You shall not steal.  God wants you to enjoy ownership and have security with your stuff.
    You shall not bear false witness.  God loves truth and in the same way He protects His image (no graven images, do not take the Lord’s name in vain), He protects your reputation.
    You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or wife . . . or anything that is your neighbor’s.  God values contentment and security in community.
    Is it really a fun-sucker move on God’s part to protect your property, your marriage, your parents, your children, and your very life?  The Ten Commandments say more about who God is and what God likes than they do about what He doesn’t.
    If you will learn to like what God likes, you can have your fill of it.  It is here that the word “fun-sucker” enters the equation.  So what does God like?  Is it singing in the choir?  Wow, now that sounds eternally fun - forever a choir boy!  

    Surely God likes modesty.  Does that mean I must wear khaki and white everyday?  If we like what God likes, we imagine ourselves having only our fill of a monkish life, holed up in a bell tower, hooked on Gregorian chants, destined to forever wear khaki.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God has greater desires than khaki for His people.  
    Get your copy of #TheWalk today:
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    How much do you weigh?

    In Psalm 138:3, David writes, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.”
    Life is heavy.  There is a weight in situations and circumstances that cannot be measured with a scale.  There is no physical mass to a hard day, but still you feel and weight of it.  
    How heavy is the soul?  
    Can you imagine going through the day, walking up to friends, acquaintances, and strangers and asking them a common question, “How much do you weigh today?”  Talk about getting personal!  
    And so, I will start the day with you, how much do you weigh today?  I can ask because I am at a safe “no slap” cyber-distance from you through the blog.  Yet, I can also ask, because I am not speaking of the weight of your body, but the weight of your soul.  How about the weight of your day?  Perhaps the weight of your situation?  The weight of the body, you and I mindlessly carry it around day by day.  I think very little of 211.  I’m so used to it, I don’t feel it.  I am what I am!  But, weight of soul, I feel it.  So do you.
    How do we increase the strength of our soul?  From Psalm 138 we can draw some solid principles.
    1. Thankfulness from the whole heart (v. 1) - The Psalms are not trite songs and prayers that mindlessly look for the good in every situation.  If anything, the Psalms are honest songs and prayers.  They are the anthems of heavy souls.  In fact there is a small collection of them that in Latin are referred to as misery Psalms.  The foremost of them being Psalm 51.  Yet even in Psalms of hopelessness there is thankfulness.  In Psalm 138:1 he sings praise to his God before the gods.  Our soul is strengthened in the song of thankfulness.  The situation may not change, but a burdened soul finds resolute strength when we take a moment to enter into the equation of our situation who God is.
    2. Bowing the body in prayer, daily (v. 2) - Notice in the second verse David bows toward the Temple.  It is the same as saying, “I bow before God.”  The posture of our body reflects the posture of our heart.  When we bow before God we are not only expressing reverence, but humility and vulnerability.  When arresting someone a policeman says, “Hands up where I can see them.”  If the hands are up, it is assumed there will be no defense.  Bowing is the “hands up” of the soul.  It is the posture of total surrender.  How often do we pray a pithy prayer, a token word to God as we walk, or before we eat, or even as we drive.  There is no surrender in religious ritual.  There is no strength of soul in mindless habit.  But have you taken time in prayer today to bow before God?  Bowing requires that you stop what you are doing.  It requires that you get on your face.  Bowing is breaking the back, cracking open the soul, laying down before the Lord.  Bowing before God not only says, “God, you are holy” but it also says, “I can’t do this.”  The soul is strengthened in holy vulnerability.
    3. Remembering the plans, purposes, and promises of God (v. 4-8).  I will admit, it is difficult for me to pray for long periods of time.  The digi-brain is easily distracted.  Smartphones are the death of meditation and of the attention span.  Yet when my mind is stayed on Scripture I can concentrate.  What I am writing this morning is due to my time praying through Psalm 138; my strength of soul has been increased - and so I blog.  In verses 4-8 David is citing what he has found to be true of God by experience, but for the most part, he is reciting back to God what he knows to be true of Him from His Word.  The thought that all the kings of the earth will give God praise is an eschatological hope.  The world is unwound right now, but we know how the story ends.  Truth strengthens the soul.  Verse 6 reflects God’s character.  “Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly.”  You and I need to remind ourselves of this - it strengthens the soul to know God cares.  He is with me in my times of trouble (v. 7).  His promises do not fail (v. 8).  The weight of the day threatens to crush me, but in these truths there is a new reality that strengthens my soul.
    It cannot be measured on the scale, but you feel the weight of the day.  The situation may not change, but the soul has the potential to be strengthened.  Prayer, singing, bowing before God, staying the mind on truth - these are the things that increase the strength of the soul.  

    How much do you weigh today?    
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    The Signal of Christmas

    I pulled up to a major intersection.  It is one of those intersections where there is a designated lane and signal for every turn.  In every direction, right turns, no turns, left turns.  There were two lanes of incoming traffic to my left, three lanes to my right.  In every direction, for every lane, there was a light.  The cornucopia of red lights served to each driver in the intersection a unified message - “Sit here - wait your turn!”
    On this particular occasion my desire was to turn left.  I have no scientific proof, but it seems like at this intersection the lefties are stranded much longer behind the light than everyone else.  When the left turn signal does finally come, the green light initiates a virtual drag race to the white stripe.  You have only a few seconds to make your move or you are doomed to repeat the cycle again and wait twice as long for your turn.
    There were four cars in front of me.  Familiar with the situation I reached for my addiction of choice to pass the time, smartphone!  Realizing I had missed several text messages I began thumbing away my replies.  Digital conversations ensued.  I would pass the time waiting with texting - attempting to effectively communicate emotion and information, two to three words at a time, instantaneously to friends also stuck in traffic three states away.  
    I am not sure exactly how long I was there, but something in my mind alerted me that my hiatus in the left turn lane was expiring; it was time to check the light.  Raising my eyes from phone to road, I realized the scene had changed dramatically.  Where there had once been two lanes of signal stranded motorists to my right waiting to pass through the light, now there were none - only empty lanes.  Where there had once been four cars in front of me, I now saw only the distant taillights of car number four engaged in a left turn.  Almost as if to mock me, the signal rapidly changed from yellow to red as car number four passed beneath it.  I was now doomed to repeat the cycle of signals once again.
    It wasn’t that I had failed to pay attention.  My failure was to pay attention to the right thing.  I should have been watching the signal.  Instead I was reading messages on my phone.  Because I wasn’t watching the right thing, not only was I left embarrassingly alone in the intersection, I missed my chance to go.
    Luke is writing to a companion described as, “most excellent Theophilus (Luke 1:3).”  His purpose is to assure Theophilus that the things he has been taught are accurate (Luke 1:4).  To do this, Luke begins with a series of signals.  A series of angelic visits ensues.  A childless, aging priest named Zechariah is given a sign.  His wife Elizabeth will have a son who is to be named John.  This child will prepare the way of an even more significant one.  
    The angel Gabriel visits a young virgin girl named Mary.  Supernaturally she too will conceive a child; not a child by man, but this child will be the Son of God.  
    More signals, more signs, come in rapid succession.  Like the array of red lights in a major intersection, the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel are full of signals.  The children are born.  Angels visit shepherds.  The sighting of the Christ child inspires prophecies.  Every sign a fulfillment of prophecy.  Every sign a signal, like the changing colors of light at an intersection, each sign signaling a new, ordered, sequence of events is now on the move.  
    The message of Christmas is simple.  Something is happening.  God is moving.  Are you paying attention?
    When Zechariah received the news that his child was to be born, he immediately recognized the activity of God in the sign and he made a move.  
    “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old (Luke 1:68-70).”
    Christmas is a signal.  The Son of God has been born.  The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.  God is up to something.  Make no mistake, a lane of history and prophecy is moving.  Zechariah realized that Israel had been stuck in a dark intersection of their nation’s history for centuries.  But now it was time to make a move.  Zechariah was watching.  The signal was happening.  He was responding.
    There is a real sense in which we have grown unfamiliar with Christmas.  Unfamiliar with Christmas?  How can this possibly be true?  We are a few days past the inauguration of the season, Black Friday . . . or perhaps Black Thursday Evening as it seemed to be this year.  We have digi-shopped cyber-Monday.  On the horizon is a tight schedule of Christmas parties, plays, and gatherings.  There are cards to write and family pics to be printed.  And who can forget the shows?  There is a certain regimen of Christmas movies that must be watched for Christmas to be Christmas.  
    I will be the first to admit, I enjoy all of these things in this annual season.  But I will also be the first to admit, these are distractions to what is really happening.  If being busy with holiday themed activities defines your Christmas, you are watching your smartphone in the intersection and you will soon be left alone in the dark.  You are missing the signal.
    Christ’s birth is the signal of a new season of salvation history.  Christmas is the green light of Biblical prophecy that tells us that we are now in the season in which He comes.  True, He was born.  As important of a message as the birth of Christ is in Christmas, it is not the only one.  The full message of the season is that He is coming again.
    His birth identifies Jesus as the Messiah.  His death, burial and resurrection is the inauguration of a season of time in which more dead things, situations, and people will live again.  This is the season in which people are saved because Christ has come.  This is the season in which God pours out His Spirit and gathers for Himself a people for the sake of His Son.  
    Zechariah recognized the signal.  “God . . . has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us (Luke 1:68-69).”  
    Christmas is not merely a holiday, it is time to make a move.  In this season of time God has signaled that it is time for repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.  The commercial Christmas season is filled with pleasant distractions, but the Biblical message of Christmas is about paying attention to the right thing - we need to be forgiven for our sins (Luke 1:77).  

    Zechariah was waiting and watching.  When the signal came, he saw it and made a move.  Christmas inaugurates the season in which Jesus comes.  Are you watching and waiting?  Are you ready to make a move?
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    See the Strings, Cut the Strings - Putting an End to Manipulation

    Manipulative people can be found in every venue of life.  Dating relationships, friendships, marriages, family dynamics; none are immune to the manipulator.  This is what makes manipulation so difficult to spot and stop.  The people manipulating you are usually people you love and respect.  

    Manipulators turn people into puppets.  They use your emotions, situations, and vulnerabilities to attach strings of control to your actions and reactions.  Once they have you, they subtly use you to achieve their own ends.  

    Sadly, Christians are often easy prey for manipulators.  In Matthew 10:16 Jesus calls for his people to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" as we are sent out to exist as lambs amongst the wolves.  The problem is that many people who follow Christ major on harmlessness and lack serpentine wisdom.  We are called to be merciful, forgiving, and trusting - true, but we are also called to be discerning.  

    Within the Christian community manipulation is particularly harmful.  Manipulation:

    1)  Distorts the gospel.  Rather than becoming a community that focuses on the finished work of Christ, the church can become a place driven by personalities and power plays.  Instead of striving to please Christ, the manipulated have no choice but to please the puppeteer.  Manipulative environments are often laced with legalism.  There is little grace.  It is a place of "Christ" +.  Jesus is the entry point, but forgiveness comes with strings attached.

    2)  Divides the church.  James 4:1-3 describes a situation that is certainly a breeding ground for manipulation.  There is understood need, but a lack of understood resource.  Rather than selflessly seeking God, a group of self-seeking people manipulate solutions rather than going to God.  Be careful, especially in the church.  Manipulators often have charismatic personalities, compelling stories, and marked qualities of leadership, but there is a trail of blood behind them.  They get the job done, but there is a price to pay on the battlefield of manipulation.  There may be victories, but there will be victims!

    3)  Destroys people and families.  Manipulation is particularly dangerous in families because the motive is external rather than internal.  The family seeks only to please the manipulator.  This may be a difficult child who the parents had rather not fuss and fight.  They give in to keep the peace.  The manipulator may be a parent who the children find hard to please.  It may be a spouse who has lost their identity in the manipulator.  These situations never end well.  The motive for the manipulated child is merely to "not get caught."  The manipulated parent has surrendered the responsibility of shepherding their child's heart.  The manipulated spouse is hardly the example of Christ and the church that Paul espouses in Ephesians 5.  In a manipulative family the puppets make it their aim to merely survive the day rather than learn Christ.

    4)  Quenches the Spirit.  Manipulation is an idol of the personality.  Manipulators believe they are self-sufficient, that if a situation is to come to the desired end, they must bring it about.  Rather than allowing the Spirit to work in a situation, the manipulator takes control.  It should come as no surprise then, that in manipulative situations there is a marked lack of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

    So how do you deal with manipulators?

    See the Strings Cut the Strings

    Below is a list of the "strings" of the manipulator.  See them and cut them:

    The “I” string. Connect with community.

    The language of the manipulator is "I" "me" "my" and "mine."  Manipulators can take a large situation, a large community of people and somehow make you believe every decision and action is in reference to them.  In the rhetoric of "I" and "me" they are able to put you on edge.  They dictate the mood of the situation by their threat of being displeased, hurt, disgraced in it.  If you want to spot the manipulators in the crowd; they are easy to see.  These are the people that make the majority hesitate for fear of "dealing with them."  You know the people!

    To cut the "I" string you must connect with community.  Don't allow the manipulator to make everything a simple, single issue.  True, Jesus told a story of how the good shepherd leaves the 99 and searches for the 1.  But the manipulator makes everything about the 1 at the exclusion of the 99.  Try to see the big picture, seek what's best for the whole.  

    The sympathy string. Exchange feeling sorry (emotion) for seeking (evidence) truth.
    notice with Jephthah’s “I” statements in each of them there is a sense in which he has been wronged, a plea for sympathy.  A manipulator will make you feel like a bad person if you don’t take up their cause.  
    The manipulator will make you feel like they are on the defense, but what you don’t realize all along is that they are very much on the offense, trying to garner a response out of you, for you to join them in their plight. 
    with Gileadites - he used the wrong of being cast out - with the Ammonites he uses their attacking him - as if to portray if something goes down, I’m the real victim here.  With his daughter even though it was his stupid mistake, it was her coming out of the door that caused the real issue.
    get all sides of the story - pastor didn’t even call - ask them, did you call him - are you seeking to reconcile, because I really don’t see any Biblical basis for your childish tantrum

    The history string. Go to grace.
    Jephthah recites a pretty impressive history for the Ammonites, it is pointless and fruitless, but informative.  I am not citing him necessarily for wrong here, but you must know about the manipulator, they will have your story firmly in tow.  If they get something on you, that is a powerful tool for them.
    You can’t escape your history.  We must be honest, disarm it.  Understand grace.


    See the Strings Cut the Strings

    The “I” string. Connect with community.
    Notice the language of manipulators.  They can take a large situation, a large community of people and they will make you believe it is all about them.  Their language is centered in I and they absolutely put you on edge, they dictate the situation by their threat of being displeased, hurt, disgraced in it.  They make you believe they are the victim.  Notice all of Jephthah’s negotiations.

    The sympathy string. Exchange feeling sorry (emotion) for seeking (evidence) truth.
    notice with Jephthah’s “I” statements in each of them there is a sense in which he has been wronged, a plea for sympathy.  A manipulator will make you feel like a bad person if you don’t take up their cause.  
    The manipulator will make you feel like they are on the defense, but what you don’t realize all along is that they are very much on the offense, trying to garner a response out of you, for you to join them in their plight. 
    with Gileadites - he used the wrong of being cast out - with the Ammonites he uses their attacking him - as if to portray if something goes down, I’m the real victim here.  With his daughter even though it was his stupid mistake, it was her coming out of the door that caused the real issue.
    get all sides of the story - pastor didn’t even call - ask them, did you call him - are you seeking to reconcile, because I really don’t see any Biblical basis for your childish tantrum

    The history string. Go to grace.
    Jephthah recites a pretty impressive history for the Ammonites, it is pointless and fruitless, but informative.  I am not citing him necessarily for wrong here, but you must know about the manipulator, they will have your story firmly in tow.  If they get something on you, that is a powerful tool for them.
    You can’t escape your history.  We must be honest, disarm it.  Understand grace.

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    Getting the Brain to "Stay" (An Excerpt from My New Book #TheWalk)

    We get a lot of information but have lost the art of meditation.  We know what is happening, but think very little of what it means.  Those who want to go further must also go deeper.  

    When was the last time you read something from the Bible and thought about it the entire day?When was the last time something you read in the Bible changed the way you saw things throughout the day?  If the brain is constantly interrupted by notifications, giving proper attention to deeper truth is impossible.  

    Because we are at a place in time and technology in which we want to know so much, we have reached a place in which I believe we know too much.  The fast pace at which we receive notifications is causing the erosion of one of our greatest God given abilities - the ability to think.  We no longer take time to think about what we know.  

    Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”  With constant notifications we are not at a pace for peace.  It is difficult to get our minds to “stay” on the Lord when it strays after every vibration and alert that comes through our smartphone.

    Get your copy of #TheWalk today:  

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    The God of Details (An Excerpt from my new book #TheWalk)

      You make a critical mistake if you believe that God is not interested in the details of your life.  You may feel that God is uninterested because you are unimportant.  You may not be one of the 40 most influential people under 40 in your city.  You may not be a leader in your company.  The only picture of you in your high school yearbook is the one they made you take in front of a cheesy background in the cafeteria.  You may not think anyone is interested in your steps, but, if you walk with God, He is interested in each one of them.  Look at Psalm 37:23 again.  If you delight in His way, He will take delight in yours. 


    Another mistake is to believe that God is interested only in the big things.  Whom should I marry?  Where should my kids go to school?  What should I do with my life?  Psalm 37:23 doesn’t say God is interested in your leaps.  God is interested in your steps.  If you will learn to acknowledge God on your way to taking the plunge, you will find that He would not have walked you to the edge of the cliff in the first place.  Even big decisions which require great risk are the culmination of many steps.

    I like the choice of the New Living Translation.  The NLT says, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.”  The qualification for God’s involvement is not the size of the step, nor is it the size of the person.  For the godly, God is involved in every step.



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    Pacing the Day (An Excerpt from My New Book #TheWalk)

    pages 28-29

    Have you ever thought about what God teaches us in the pace of creation?  If God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, don’t you think He could have just as easily have said, “Let there be a universe, fully furnished” and there would have been life as we know it?  Yet it took Him six days to talk it out and work it out.

    If it took God six days to create the world, what is it that you and I think we can accomplish by trying to outpace Him in a week?

    We must learn to do what God does - pace the day.

    God has infused a rhythmic schedule into creation.  It would benefit us greatly to walk accordingly.  There is day and night.  Some of us never quit, so God turns the lights out as a signal.  The sun has gone down.  So should you.

    Get off of Facebook.  Turn off the television.  Stop working.  Shut down the computer.  Relax.  Don’t work.  Talk.  Tell the story of your day - God tells us the story of His.  Go to bed.

    If God waited until day 2 to create the heavens (Gen. 1:6-8), what is it that you and I have going on that can’t possibly wait until tomorrow?

    Buy my new book #TheWalk:


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    Life at Smartphone Speed (Excerpt from #TheWalk)

    from page 12:

    Guided by GPS, we can arrive at any destination and have no idea how we got there.

      Long life with the Lord is not merely about arrival at a destination, it is about steps.  It is less about praying about where we want to be and more about paying attention to where we are and how what the Bible says applies to today.  

    Living at smartphone speed, we are deceived to believe we need all the answers.  If you want to go further, do what David did in Psalm 37:23.  Do life at a walking pace, with the Word of God in hand to light the path before your feet.  If you live like that, you don’t need all the answers, you need only one.  What’s the next step?

    We need to be asking more questions like "What's next?" rather than questions that begin with "When?"  Your phone may know exactly "when" you will arrive, but God is less concerned with the "when" and more concerned with the “way” you get there.  

    At one time the Christian life was actually known as “the Way” (Acts 9:2).  Living long for God has never been referred to as “the When.”



    Order your copy of Brian's new book #TheWalk:



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    First Step Promotion #TheWalk Book

    THE WALK - FIRST STEP PROMOTION!!! HOW YOU CAN HELP

    Truth is - you can order a copy of #TheWalk RIGHT NOW at my estore:https://www.createspace.com/4961701 or on Amazon at:http://www.amazon.com/The-Walk-those-ready-far/dp/1502472333/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412363753&sr=8-1&keywords=brian+branam

    If you can hold off - HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP. On Tuesday I am going to offer the print edition of #TheWalk at $14.99 ON AMAZON ONLY instead of the retail price of $16.99. The goal is to sell 500+ copies in 48 hours. BUY YOUR BOOK ON TUESDAY ON AMAZON!!!

    SHARE #THEWALK Book with your friends and encourage them to buy a copy on Tuesday as well. I AM GOING TO POST AN AD YOU CAN SHARE ABOUT TUESDAY'S FIRST STEP PROMOTION

    WHY? One of the reasons I am excited about #TheWalk is not only is the book full of wisdom for life, but it is full of Scripture and the gospel. Sadly, many Christian books published today have a lot of great information in them, but they do not have a clear invitation for a person to be saved. #TheWalk contains a clear, simple call for a person to respond to Christ in repentance and faith.

    By concentrating sales of the book on a certain day, the book will pop up on Amazon and other sites as recommended reading for customers purchasing books in similar categories. Yes, it will pop up in Christian living, but I am hoping it will also search in "management" and "family" categories.

    I am praying for God's favor on this project and that we will see many people come to Christ. There will be other promotions announced along the way - and some fun stuff as well!!! I hope #TheWalk becomes a community as we read it together and learn to break life down into one simple question, "What's the next step?"

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    #TheWalk Book is Here!!!

    It has been quite awhile since I have posted to FeelMyFaith.  I have a good excuse.  I have been writing!

    I have started many books, but I have never finished one.  I am happy to announce, however.  That is no longer the case.  On October 3, 2014 I became a published author with my first title #TheWalk.

    This book has been an incredible experience to write from inception to publication.  It all began with a great deal of frustration about the status of some goals in my life and a morning of praying, no - more like whining, to God.  As I prayed/whined I cam across a verse in Psalm 119:133, "Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me."

    Steps!

    You can't accomplish goals unless you are taking steps.

    Through an incredible study of the concept of "walk" and "steps" in Scripture I came to a life changing question that has revolutionized my prayer life.  Instead of asking God "why" I have learned to ask God "what."  More specifically, "What's the next step?"

    Through this prayer God has helped me to focus less on my dreams and more on my days.  As a result I have seen more things come to fruition and carry a sense of blessing with them than ever before.

    In the coming days I will be releasing more information about #TheWalk.  There will be promotions, sales, and conversations.  You can be a big help in getting the message of #TheWalk into people's hearts and hands.  The thing I am most excited about with #TheWalk is that there is a clear presentation of the gospel throughout.  More than selling copies, I want to see people saved.  I am praying for God's favor on #TheWalk as a means of spreading the gospel.

    Thanks to everyone who said, "I can't wait to read it."  You kept me going!

    For information and updates, keep visiting the blog, but you can also join #TheWalk community at:

    Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/TheWalkCommunity

    or

    Twitter:  @ReadTheWalk, https://twitter.com/ReadTheWalk

    Buy #TheWalk on Amazon




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    Mis-Giving

    Have you ever thought about how much it costs you just to get through a day?  The clothes you wear have an initial cost in their purchase but they also take up space in a closet or a drawer (or perhaps a floor).  It costs money to launder them.  Your drive to work or wherever, costs money.  Everything you eat has a monetary value.  Every place you go that requires electricity, that cost is passed along somehow in the goods and services that business offers.  As there are utility costs associated with your home there are those costs associated with every business.  It costs you money to watch television in the evening, or to enjoy a book, or for a newspaper subscription.  You lay down in the bed at night.  How much did the frame, mattresses, sheets, blankets, and pillows cost?  If your wife is like my wife, you have a small fortune invested in decorative pillows! (I love you Shannon!)

    Let's face it.  Life takes air, water, food, and money.

    Why are we surprised that there is a monetary cost with spreading the gospel?  My purpose with this post is not to defend paying the preacher.  Paul does an adequate job of this in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and again in


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    My ALS 50 for 50 Challenge, A Twist


    ">ALS Challenge with a Twist from Brian Branam on Vimeo.

    I took the ALS challenge from Joel J Dison, but I want to add a twist. My friend ChrIs Jones has been trying to move his family to sLOVEnia to be missionaries for the 2.5 years that I have known him. He has sold his business and his stateside stuff, his kids are enrolled in school in Slovenia, he is ready to go. They need to be there by Sept. 1. They are $2500 per month away from their goal. I issue a new challenge for every follower of Christ watching this video. Share this with your friends. I need 50 for 50! 50 people to pledge $50 per month for a year so the Jones family can get on mission in Slovenia. Let's send them!!!! Donate here: http://www.send.org/info/jones/
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    Rival Racers Share Their Story

    In January of this year, car owner Randall Hill of Hill Motorsports was in my home asking for prayer for a rival driver, the Bad Boy of Dalton, Craig Reece.  In mid-July Craig found new life in Christ and came walking into the church I serve.  After the service two of the great teams in dirt track racing stood together in reconciliation through the power of the gospel.  A few weeks later these men allowed me to interview them about their story.  I could not have preached a better sermon about the power of sharing your story than these men demonstrated that day.  If you are a racing fan, this is an interview you will not want to miss.  If you are a Christian, this is a powerful demonstration of the importance of sharing your story.  You may not know a lot of theology, but you know what Christ has done for you.  Share your story, people are dying to know.


    ">Rival Racers Share Their Story from Brian Branam on Vimeo.

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    Parent Resources for Conversations with Your Kids about Media (The Topics Series)

    The Topics Series
    Parent Resource Sheet
    Media, Movies, Apps, and Games


    Biblical Truths we can’t ignore:

    1. Human nature has been ruined by sin.
    2. God has given us His son to redeem us from sin.
    3. God has called the redeemed to live a holy life. 
    4. Satan has a real agenda to pervert truth and steal, kill, and destroy life.
    5. Media choices may not condemn us, but they will desensitize us to the truths of the gospel that are supposed to impact our life.
    6. Parents are given the responsibility to disciple their children and to be the guardians of the home.
    7. Kids don’t think like adults.  There is less of a discernible line in their minds between fact and fiction.  They need parental guidance.
    8. Even though there are no Bible verses that speak directly about our modern day movie rating system, video games, or apps - there are plenty of principles the Bible teaches that should govern our approach to media.


    Romans 12:1–2

    1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

    Proverbs 4:23

    Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. 

    Matthew 15:18–20

    18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” 

    1 Corinthians 10:31

    So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 

    Proverbs 10:23

    Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. 

    Philippians 4:8

    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

    Colossians 2:8

    See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

    Romans 8:5–12

    5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 

    Psalm 101:3

    I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. 

    Use Discernment:  (by Kris Roberts, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/mind-over-media-kris-roberts-sermon-on-entertainment-67516.asp)

    M – Message – What is the message and how is it coming across?
    E – Effect – What effect does this have on me?
    D – Damage – Will I suffer damage from this? (ex. unhealthy fantasies)
    I – Instead – What could I be doing instead? (ex. productive, constructive)
    A – Ask God – Does this glorify God, - 

    Our discernment usually begins with one question - will I enjoy it or do my kids like it?  Personal happiness, displeasure, or personal taste is not the standard.  We should be more concerned that our media choices reflect obedience to God - John 14:15.


    9 Facts About Social Media You Should Know - Joe Carter (http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-social-media/)

    1. If social media companies were countries: Facebook (over 1.1 billion users) would be the world's most populous, behind only China. Google Plus (693 million active users) would be number three and Twitter (554 million users) would be fourth, ahead of both India and the United States.

    2. One out of every seven minutes spent online is on Facebook. Each day Facebook users spend 10.5 billion minutes (almost 20,000 years) on the social network (excluding mobile devices).

    3. Every minute of every day: 684,478 pieces of content are shared on Facebook; Instagram users share 3,600 new photos; Foursquare users perform 2,083 check-ins.

    4. There are 58 million tweets per day; 9,100 happen every second. 222 million Twitters don't tweet but watch other people tweet.

    5. The average Pinterest user spends 98 minutes per month on the site and 14.2 minutes per visit, has 171 pins, 229 followers, 3 boards, and 28 likes.

    6. Women account for most users of social media. The male vs. female ratio of social media users: Facebook - 60% female/40% male; Twitter - 60% female/40% male; Pinterest - 79% female/21% male; Google Plus - 29% female/71% male; LinkedIn - 55% female/45% male.

    7. Older users account for the recent growth of social media platforms. On Twitter the 55-64 year age bracket is the fastest growing demographic with 79% growth rate since 2012. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook's and Google Plus' networks are the 45 to 54 year age bracket at 46% and 56% respectively.

    8. We interact with our mobile devices 40 to 80 times a day. 91% of mobile Internet access is for social activities. 73% of smartphone owners access social networks through apps at least once per day. 50% of smart phones connect to Facebook every hour of every day.

    9. 45 percent of church staff use Facebook every day. 51 percent of churches said that at least one of their senior staff regularly blogs or updates social media. 56 percent allowed or encouraged staff members to update their personal social media pages while at work. 46 percent of churches say that social media is their most effective outreach method.



    7 dangerous Apps that parents need to know about, A look into the some of the scariest Apps for your kids
    by Kristin Peaks  (http://www.checkupnewsroom.com/7-dangerous-apps-that-parents-need-to-know-about/)

    I work in public relations at Cook Children's. It's my job to be on social networking sites, peruse the internet and keep up with the latest Apps offered on smartphones. It's a great job and I love what I do, but over the last couple years, I have learned so much about the dangers of Smart Phone Apps. It's downright scary.
    Technology, especially if you're a little behind the times, can be very deceptive. Your kids may be downloading Apps that you think are innocent and just a simple way for them to keep in contact with their buddies, but unfortunately, this isn't always the case.
    To keep your children safe, it's best that you monitor their phone. Look through their apps, texts and pictures. They may feel that you're invading their privacy, but let's be honest... You're paying the phone bill, so you can do whatever you want! So, as you monitor your kid's phone, keep an eye out for these 7 apps you may not be aware of, that in my opinion are very dangerous:
    Yik Yak - This App is one of the newest and one of the most dangerous. It allows users to post text-only Yaks of up to 200 characters. The messages can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking. Users are exposed to - and contributing -sexually explicit content, abusive language and personal attacks so severe that schools are starting to block the App on their Wi-Fi. Although the posts are anonymous, kids start revealing personal information as they get more comfortable with other users.
    SnapChat - This App allows users to send photos that will disappear after 10 seconds. Once the recipient opens the picture, the timer starts. Then it's gone. From both the sender's phone and the recipient's phone. However, the recipient can take a screen shot of the photo and have it to share with others. This App enables kids to feel more comfortable "sexting" with peers.
     
    KiK Messenger - This is a private messenger app and is coveted by those under 18 for a number of reasons. The App allows kids to send private messages that their parents can't see. There is very little you can do to verify the identity of someone on Kik, which obviously poses the risk of sexual predators chatting with your child. And again, this is an easy tool for sexting.
     
    Poof -The Poof App allows users to make Apps disappear on their phone with one touch. Kids can hide every app they don't want you to see on their phone. All they have to do is open the App and select the ones they don't want you to see. Very scary! The good news about this App is it is no longer available, which isn't uncommon for these types of Apps. But, if it was downloaded before it was deleted from the App store, your child may still have it. Keep in mind that Apps like this are created and then terminated pretty quickly by Android and Apple stores, but there are similar ones being created constantly. Some other names include: Hidden AppsApp Lock and Hide It Pro.
     
    Omegle - This App has been around since 2008, with video chat added in 2009.  When you use Omegle you do not identify yourself through the service - chat participants are only identified as "You" and "Stranger". You don't have to register for the App. However, you can connect Omegle to your Facebook account to find chat partners with similar interests.  When choosing this feature, an Omegle Facebook App will receive your Facebook "likes" and try to match you with a stranger with similar likes. This is not okay for children. There is a high risk of sexual predators and you don't want your kids giving out their personal information, much less even talking to strangers.
     
    Whisper - This is a meeting App that encourages users to post secrets. You post anonymously, but it displays the area you are posting from. You can search for users posting within a mile from you. A quick look at the App and you can see that online relationships are forming constantly on this App, but you never know the person behind the computer or phone. One man in Washington was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl he met on this App just last year.
     
    Down - This application, which used to be called "Bang with Friends," is connected to Facebook. Users can categorize their Facebook friends in one of two ways: they can indicate whether or not a friend is someone they'd like to hang with or someone they are "down" to hook up with. The slogan for the App: "The anonymous, simple, fun way to find friends who are down for the night." If that alone doesn't scare you, I don't know what will!


    This list is important, but understand it will not stay current.  The app marketplaces change every day.  Some apps that are censored by parents, are simply redistributed with different names.  It can be overwhelming to keep up with your kids and their online habits. But just remember to check their phones often, and even more importantly have real life conversations with them. Rules do not replace values.  Rules may be a starting place, but teaching your kids the importance of sharing your Biblically based values is the only true guard for their heart.  Discuss the dangers of the Apps and make sure they understand the need to keep personal information private. 

    Resources:
    PluggedInOnline - pluggedin.com - movie, books, and television reviews by Focus on the Family.
    Covenant Eyes - covenanteyes.com - internet safety, accountability, and filtering.

    Protect Your Family Online - A How To Guide for Parents - http://www.covenanteyes.com/learn-to-protect-your-family-with-this-free-how-to-guide/?utm_campaign=porn-stats



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