FeelMyFaith.com

Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Brian is the author of #TheWalk, a contributor to the Faith, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional, 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.

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.  
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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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Perspective on Ebola

The Ebola outbreak is all over the news this morning.  In a matter of hours the first Ebola patient will cross the border of America, and actually be in the state where I live.  The media is reporting that 50 medical workers have been infected and died while working with patients in Africa.  One worker, they report, refused treatment sacrificing himself to save the lives of others.  

What the news is not reporting is that these are not merely "medical workers" dedicated to medicine.  These are missionaries dedicated to Christ.  They are giving up treatment for themselves not because they are dedicated to a cure, but because they know who they are and where they will be in Christ.

I received this message in an email this morning from one of our Kingdom servants in Senegal.  What a perspective!  What if we were so sacrificial in our own communities for the cause of Christ?

_____________

There have been people sending me messages asking if we’re in danger because of the Ebola virus that has hit Western Africa, because so many have been infected and died from this disease.  We are a good long distance away from these areas.  However, that doesn’t give any of us an excuse not to pray.  Our eternity is secure (all the members of our family).  Also, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Tim. 1:7 NKJV

We must pray, with a heart of compassionate urgency, for those affected by this epidemic, that they have an opportunity to hear the Truth.  I do pray for the American missionaries infected with this illness, but they know in whom they’ve put their trust.  I’m not saying that the loss of their lives is not a tragedy.  It is!  It is cause for grief when anyone dies, especially from such a horrible illness.  But, to die for them is not a lasting suffering.  It is just for a moment.  Then, they are in eternity without pain or grief, and in the presence of a great God that has loved them and chosen them since the foundation of the world.

For those that suffer with this incurable disease, death for them means unending terror and suffering as they’ve never experienced in this lifetime.  Worst of all, they spend an eternity separated from our loving Almighty God.  It breaks my heart to think about those that would suffer so terribly, then succumb to death (which Christ has overcome) and would not enter peaceful rest, but into an eternity of suffering exponentially more horrible than what they have endured in life.

Oh, precious brothers and sisters, we are getting ever nearer to the time when our Savior and Lord Jesus will return to take us to the Heavenly Home He’s created for us (Hallelujah!).  But, there are so many that are lost without Him.  My whole being aches with the grief of this sometimes overwhelming lostness. As we stop to consider all that have died just in just the past few weeks in Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ukraine, Mali and other places around the world (that have not been media-worthy), we must be pressed with an urgency like never before to prepare so many others for this Glorious Appearance.  Because when that trumpet sounds, it will be too late.
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Public, Private, or Homeschool (Deciding Factors Part 3 - Freedom and Curriculum)

Continuing a discussion on deciding factors for choosing your child's education.
I would like to address two deciding factors at once in this point.
Personally, this is where I am beginning to part ways with public education.  I see great educators who love kids with their hands tied by bureaucrats.  Most decisions are being made by Washington and very few are being made locally.  I see more elitists at the top assuming there is no intelligence in the people who are actually gifted to educate children.  I see more passion for an ideology than I do for my child.  
I may be very jaded here, but my kids now both attend private school and I teach two hours a day in that same school.  The kids in our school, which is a Christian school, are just as flawed as the kids in any other school; but I can pray with my kids.  I can customize certain experiences for my classes based on who they are.  We can use the Bible as a text for life.  We can stop the course of the day and assemble for worship.  We can teach Creationism and intelligent design.  We can tell the real story of American history.  We can discuss both the flaws and the faith of our nation’s fathers.  We can purposefully lead kids to Christ and not fear losing our jobs.  
As a parent, I value freedom.  I do not value psuedo-freedom which says you are free to express your beliefs as long as it is doesn’t contain any ounce of the Christian God, opposition to homosexuality, the right to life for the unborn, or any perceived conservative thought.  
At this time in our lives we are not paying for private Christian education because we think it will lead our children to be greater Christ followers.  We are paying for freedom.  We are paying of the peace of mind of knowing our children will not be subjected to some sort of sensitivity training which leads to a compromise of Biblical morality.  We are paying for knowing the people choosing the curriculum.  We are paying for less government intrusion and greater freedom in customization of curriculum for our children.    Without a doubt, homeschool and private school offers the greatest degree of customization in curriculum and freedom of thought than public education.  
I know there is a lot of debate about Common Core in its motives, creation, and content, but aside from the propaganda, I have heard nothing good from the educators who are being forced comply with its standards.  Common Core seems to be a more radical ideological culmination of something public education has been setting itself up for, for quite some time.  For too long we have been teaching toward tests rather than teaching kids how to think.  The problem is now a radical leftist agenda is writing the tests.  Public education has become little more than government school.  
Public education in America was first introduced mainly by the churches as a means of preserving freedom and Christian values in the culture of our nation.  It was deeply rooted in the local community.  Now public education is a means of advancing an agenda and it is strongly dictated by the NEA and the federal government.  
If you choose for your child to go to private school or homeschool as a means of avoiding bad kids or placing them in an environment with better kids, wrong reason.  If you are choosing private school over public school because you think it will make your kids better than other kids, wrong reason.  If you are doing your homework and investigating philosophies, ideologies, and making choices based on deep conviction, now you have something to work with.
Can a child of faith survive in the public school environment?  Absolutely, but you as a parent must be more vigilant than ever.  This should hold true for all education, but especially for those who choose the public route, you need to be a student of history, science, and the Bible.  Read the books your kids are reading.  Stay on top of the content.  Keep your kids connected in a church that teaches the Bible faithfully.  Keep the conversation going with your kids.  Ask them what they are learning.  Don't be afraid to ask your pastor questions and for support from your church.  Be open about it - this is what my child learned at school this week, what do you - Sunday School teacher, pastor, youth pastor, mentor, friend, other parent - think about this?
Last year we actually had a doctrinal issue arise from something being taught in our private school and a group of parents in our church approached me about it.  As their pastor, I was more than happy to use it as a moment of information, teaching, and discipleship.  Any good church leader would be happy to help and support you as a parent as you journey with your children in education.  

Education doesn't mean we always have to agree.  In fact, if there is no disagreement, it is probably indoctrination rather than education.  Yet we must approach education with some standards, some semblance of deeply held belief.  
What I am about to say should be true of any parent to some degree, but especially so of public school parents; be prepared to offer critical thought in the home that can fill in the gaps or combat the ideology public education will be pressing upon our children more and more with Common Core.  You can’t assume that what your kids are learning in school is what you learned in the classroom in 1985 - it’s not even in the same galaxy.  
As a parent, with any educational choice, you must also be a student.  Know what your kids are learning, stay involved, and disciple your children in the Word. 
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Public, Private, or Homeschool - Deciding Factors - Which is affordable?

(Continuing the topic of choosing education for your kids; deciding factors).
Affordability.
Once you have your options before you, count the beans.  Which of them are affordable for you?  Don't think that public ed. comes free.  Oh no, you will pay!  And if somehow you will not pay, you will sell gift wrap, gourmet chocolates, and all sorts of knick-knacks to make up the difference.  Public school is cheaper, but it is by no means cheap.  You should also know that the further your children go in public school, the more they will pay as their activities increase.  This is especially true if your child is athletic or artistic.  As government budgets become more strapped fees for extra-curricular activities grow higher and higher.  It is not unusual for a public school cheer leader or football player’s family to throw in $500 or $1000 just so their child can be on the team.
Homeschool and private school come with some sticker shock as well.  If you homeschool, you will probably lay out a few grand just to begin.  However, there are some incredibly thrifty homeschool moms who cut coupons and create shampoo out of peanut butter who can show you how to get radical and cheap.  Thriftiness is something I find inherit in the homeschool movement and it is a unique art form all its own.  My former church actually hosted a homeschool bookstore exchange.  Those involved demonstrated a very Acts 4 and 6 type of common sharing that made education possible for other families.  It was incredible to watch.  There are probably others who can speak more to the coops and creative solutions than I and I would invite your comments.
The greatest sticker shock is no doubt to be had in the private school.  The private school sales pitch can at times seem like a spill for the timeshare condo.  They show you all the wonderful things that can be yours and then sit you down with a very persuasive fellow who can change your perspective on spending tons of money on their product and never having the necessary finances to go on vacation again.  
I will talk about this under the deciding factor of freedom, but with the sticker shock does come a great deal of freedom.  Private schools are not under the same constraints as government funded schools.  Without government support, funding must come from somewhere, and you may weigh the facts and find the price well worth it.  With a quality private school there is a greater likelihood you get what you pay for.  
Well run private schools are also good about finding options for families.  Truth be told, most students in the school probably don’t pay the top line sticker price.  There are scholarships, grants, and private subsidies that make private education affordable.  However, every family is expected to make some sacrifice.  You may not pay equal price, but you will be expected to make equal sacrifice.  Most families, contrary to stereotype, that choose private school are not swimming in dough.  Most of them are making a great sacrifice financially because that choice fits what they are trying to accomplish as a parent.  In any event, if you just want free or cheap, private school is definitely not an option.
At the same time I would warn against going into debt to fund K-12 education.  I see some families dying on the financial vine out of guilt.  Part of discipleship is stewardship.   If paying more fits your educational philosophy and it helps you accomplish your goals for your children, then sacrifice.  But don’t go private school out of guilt or pride.  Financing fear is foolish.  Don't be deceived in thinking that taking out a loan for the 3rd grade will get you a better seat in the Kingdom. 
Currently my wife and I have chosen to pay for our children to attend a private Christian school in our community.  This year will be the first year both of our children are in the school together.  Transitioning financially from public education to private education has not been easy, but we love what we see happening in the school we have chosen.  I am very involved in many of our local public schools and would feel comfortable with my children attending them, but for our goals at this time in the education journey, we do want more than book learning.  We found that if we are willing to pay more, we will receive more from our private school what we are looking for than our local public schools can offer (I will discuss this more in freedom).
As our children enter their teenage years we are looking not only for books, but for philosophical and moral support.  During your child’s elementary years you will probably find it easy to get involved in your child’s school.  Once they enter middle school and high school, the doors seem to come with tighter locks.  In some sense, we are now paying so we can stay involved.  
Academically our goal is to expose our children to the highest degree of challenge possible and we found an affordable (with sacrifice) convergence of these things in the school we have chosen for them.  With this school there are also some people on staff who offer services for our children’s advancement that we could not find anywhere else.  For instance, our school has someone on staff who is incredibly specialized at helping students prepare, apply, and get acceptance in the best universities.  She is not your normal guidance counselor.  I have told my wife often that what she does is worth the price of tuition. 
Look at your wallet and decide.  What is affordable?  Yet in any venue of education you choose, be prepared to pay.  What you have to consider is how much will I pay, and for what am I paying?

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Public, Private, or Homeschool (Deciding Factors Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article I wrote entitled Before You Bury the Bus on the topic of using sheltering as a strategy for raising our children.  In that post I mentioned the education environment.  In response, Bridgette asked,
“Hi, Brian - Do you think choosing to home school strictly for the purpose of sheltering children from the evil they may face in public school, or even Christian school for that matter, is 'burying the bus in the Mojave'? I can see how that could be literal 'withdrawal' so is it more biblical to prepare children for the things they are likely to face in school rather than avoiding them altogether? ... I realize this could potentially open a can of worms via the comments, but its becoming a hot topic in our home this summer as we prayerfully make the decision to continue homeschooling or not.”
This is a great question and one in which there are a wide variety of strong opinions from both educators and parents.  To answer this, there are two categories to keep in mind: 1) mistaken assumptions and 2) deciding factors.  Last week I dealt with mistaken assumptions.  It is a mistake to assume, in any educational venue, that one will accomplish a greater degree of sheltering or engagement.  We must separate fear from fact and make good decisions on good information.  Choosing out of fear is often misleading.
With the next few posts, I want to address deciding factors in choosing a path for your child’s education.  Those deciding factors would be: 1) the choices you actually have 2) quality of education 3) affordability 4) freedom 5) curriculum 6) parental involvement 7) your parental commitment.
The choices you actually have.
For a single mom or dad who works long days just to keep the family afloat, homeschooling may not be a viable option.  If both mom and dad are working, plopping the kids down at the kitchen table with a textbook and leaving them for 8 hours to do it on their own is not education; that’s called busy work.  
If you live in an area where there are no private schools, well, that makes it easy to strike one choice from your list. If your child has been expelled from public school, to the dinner table for class he will go unless there is a private school nearby that will accept him.  
Once you see the choices that are before you, sample them.  As I said in my previous post, get real information.  I would not allow the “I heard” story to be considered as fact.  Sample the homeschool curriculum.  Make a visit to the local prep school.  Make an appointment at your local public school.  When we were choosing a school for our daughters when moving to a new community we made a day of visiting our options.  We found most all of the schools were incredibly accommodating and welcomed our investigation.  I would recommend that you call and set up an appointment ahead of time.  It seemed to me that the larger the school the more difficult it was for them to accommodate a walk in visit.  Yet in those same schools, a few days notice made all the difference.
In our previous community both of our attended public school for three simple reasons.  1)  Neither of us were willing to homeschool our children.  2) There was no viable, affordable private option within a reasonable commuting distance for us at the time.  3)  We knew a lot about our community school and felt comfortable with it.  None of this made us any more or less of a Christ follower.  It made no statement about how much or how little we loved our children.  It said nothing about how naive or worldly we were.  
Look at what is there.  That’s really all you have to decide on.  The rest of it is called worry or anxiety, and the Bible never offers a high opinion of either.
Quality of education.
While it is true that there are a myriad of ways schools can be rated according to test scores and student/teacher ratios, all of which is easily accessible online, before you go to greatschools.com you must personally answer a critical question.  What is education?
Test scores are misleading and teacher/student ratios aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  A horrible teacher of 40 is a horrible teacher of 4.  The number of students in a classroom does not determine how qualified for the task a teacher is.  Small class sizes do not make bad teachers great.  Instead of asking how are the ratios, ask rather, how are the teachers?  Also ask, what are they teaching?
These questions will inevitably bring you back to your philosophy of education.  When our children were in elementary school we wanted them to learn math and science.  We wanted them to be able to write sentences.  We expected the school to keep them safe, but we did not expect the school to lead them to Christ.  We wanted a school that would help them become capable academically.  We wanted book learning and our local elementary school was on target.
There was a private Christian school just down the road from our church, but academically it was subpar.  I was involved in that school as well and felt a lot of unrest and instability in the organization.  Although the faculty were sincere followers of Christ who had a heart for children, the school did not offer what we needed to accomplish our educational goals for our children.  Again, we discipled them, we needed someone to help them grow academically.   Eventually the school closed.
That being said, philosophically and practically for our family, there was nothing homeschooling or a private school could offer us that trumped our choice of the public school.  We discipled our children both in and out of the context of their experience in public school and all went well.  
This does not mean that I believe a public school is morally neutral.  No doubt there is a more liberalized climate of content both morally and philosophically in public schools.  Along the way, there were books and films the school wanted to expose our children to which we objected.  The school officials were incredibly accommodating.  They were sensitive to our beliefs and offered our children alternatives. 
I should say that they were not sensitive to us because we barnstormed the office or pitched a sanctified fit; neither of which is Christ honoring.  I believe the school was sensitive to us because we served the school and we were constantly involved.  It actually came to the point that my wife and I were often asked to pray or to offer a devotion at parent sponsored events.  
I will discuss this in a forthcoming post, but the key to education according to Deuteronomy 6, which we are using as our pattern text, is parental involvement, strategy, and intentionality.  This holds true for any venue of education, private, public, or home.  Parents must be involved.  If parents are merely passive onlookers the educational process crumbles at its foundation. 

More to come.
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The "Me" Monster Church Has Become (from David Prince)

David Prince has posted an article to the ERLC website that I think needs to be seriously considered. The longer I am in pastoral ministry the more I feel like an event planner instead of a  minister of the Word (Acts 6:2).  My week looks less and less like that of the apostles and more and more like that of a cruise ship director.  The staff spends more time choosing whether the next fellowship meal will be chicken or burgers than it does in prayer.  I think this is only symptomatic of the mindset of today's consumer driven, Me-centric church.  I am appreciative of David for sharing his thoughts on how this mindset is especially impacting church ministry and preaching.  

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A morally Christianized narcissism has invaded many churches where congregants read the Bible and hear sermons in a pursuit of individualized self-improvement. Corporate worship is often understood as a matter of convenience in assembling individual Christians who seek individualized answers to individualized questions. The result is a malformed expression of Christianity in which the church is seen simply as a tool to help each individual grow spiritually. Thus, the church exists to provide us the support we need for our personal discipleship.

Read the rest at: http://erlc.com/article/the-me-monster-unleashed-in-todays-churches.


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