faith, Family

Why Easter Is My Favorite Holiday

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A couple weeks ago, around Easter, I had it in mind to write about why Easter is important to me. Then I got very busy with other things, then we went away for spring break, then I made excuses about not having enough focused time and energy to do it. So here I am a few weeks removed from the holiday, but still thinking of it often. I need to write this. It’s as if the Holy Spirit keeps prodding me to do this. So here I am. Let me explain why Easter is my favorite holiday.

I love Easter for the same reasons most people do. Family gets together to eat lots of great food and hang out. Kids of all ages color eggs. 007 Gifts are given & received. Little plastic eggs are hidden everywhere for the kids to find. I personally enjoy hiding the eggs. The weather is warming up from winter so we can play outside and enjoy the warm sun. IMG_2125 There might be an extended family picture taken because everyone got dressed up for church. 005Little nephews play with my face. IMG_2124 Oh, maybe that’s just me. I digress.

Lots of people get dressed up for church on Easter. More people attend church Easter Sunday than any other time of the year. But why? Do people even know what is celebrated on Easter Sunday? If so, do they take the time to really think about what it means? I confess that I didn’t REALLY think about Easter too much until I was in college when a friend broke it down for me for the first time. Now, 20+ years later, Easter seems to mean more to me every year. Let me explain.

There is a component of Easter that involves the exchanging of gifts. We love to receive gifts, and we love to give good gifts as well. At Easter, we celebrate being given the best gift imaginable. All we have to do is receive it. The gift, of course, is Jesus. That might not mean anything to you because you don’t (yet) know who Jesus is. I won’t dive too deep into who Jesus is here, but trust me when I tell you that Jesus is love. The gift is his love. His love is so great for you and me that he willingly died a horrible death on a Roman cross to pay the sin debt we all owe to a holy, perfect, and righteous God. The crucifixion was on Good Friday. Then 3 days later on Easter Sunday, Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead! Jesus did this so we could be with him forever in paradise. Without his loving sacrifice and resurrection from the dead, we are all condemned to an eternity separated from God in hell.

Yep. This is truth whether you accept it or not.

There is no gift more valuable than that. And it is offered to us all. It is what we celebrate at Easter.

You probably have heard the children’s Sunday School song that says, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” This is also true. The Bible is all about God’s love for his greatest creation – you and me. Here is one example:

1 John 4:9-10 “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he first loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”

What makes Easter more impactful for me every year is this fact that God loves me. Not only that, but he wants a personal relationship with me. He wants me to spend eternity with him in heaven. He knows I mess up, and make lots of mistakes, and act selfishly and full of pride at times, but he loves me still. There isn’t anything I can do to earn his love, or for him to stop loving me. That’s God. The ultimate creator of all the world is a personal friend of mine.

Dang. That is awesome.

The older I get, the more I realize how amazing this love is. It compels me to love God in return. Not because he needs it or demands it from me, but because he is so good and I am not. His love compels me to be a better person, to love others, and serve God with my life. It’s a journey I’m happy to be on. It is THE journey. I can’t imagine life without God.

I could go on and on about this love of God for me, site a list of Scripture to prove it, and share clever quotes from professional writers, bible scholars, and preachers to formulate the perfect argument for how awesome God is and why you are missing out if you don’t believe what I do. But I won’t.

This is my story, written from my heart for the purpose of being transparent with you and hopefully encouraging you in some way. If that is the case, I’d love to hear from you. One of my favorite things to do is have real conversations with people about Jesus and his working in our lives.

Family, Fortitude

ConQuer Your Past Pains

If you’ve been ALIVE for any length of time, then you have pains. I’m talking about emotional pain. We all carry some “baggage” from our past – things we’ve said and done, or the things that others have said or done to us. It hurts bad. Or maybe we’ve become numb to the pain and we just kind of exist with it, like a prisoner on a life sentence with no chance for parole. Such pains are impossible to forget and seemingly impossible to get past. There is a desire to “get over it,” move on, and no longer allow the past pain to affect our attitude, outlook, and behavior today, but it’s hard. Are you nodding your head with me?

So how do you get over the past? The million dollar question has a pretty simple answer. Simple, but not easy. The first step is to realize what you’re REALLY trying to accomplish. What does it REALLY mean to get over the past?

You can’t change what happened. There’s no time machine that can send you back to relive the past. What’s done is done.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that your situation is hopeless. What I’m saying is that you first have to be clear about what you can and cannot change. You CAN get over your past (as I’ll explain). But you can NOT change events that already occurred.

The good news is that you don’t have to change the past in order to get over it. What you have to change is the MEANING of the past.

Think for a moment. Was there ever a time in your life when something horrible happened and you thought, “Why is this happening to me?” But then a few years later you looked back and you could answer that question. In retrospect, you understood why it happened. At first, it seemed like the world was caving in. Later, it all made sense.

In fact, very often, we eventually realize that bad times are part of a process that leads to something good!

It’s the events that FOLLOW bad times that determine the ultimate meaning of those times. In other words, it’s your future that determines your past; not the other way around. And since YOU are in charge of your future, then YOU determine the meaning of your past.

It’s interesting to think about this in the context of an age-old question: Do we have free choice or is everything predetermined? The answer is YES. Everything is predetermined AND we have free choice.

It’s like when you play a card game. You get dealt a hand. And you have no control over the cards you get dealt. It’s predetermined.

But you also get to play that hand. You also have free choice.

Ultimately, it’s the COMBINATION of the hand you’re dealt and the way you play it that determines the outcome. And it’s the outcome that shapes your view of the original hand you were dealt.

God deals you a hand. There’s nothing you can do to change that. But you get to play that hand. You get to respond to the events of your life. And it’s your response, your actions in the future, which determine the meaning of the events in your past.

So how do you get over the past? You don’t have to get over the past. The past is over! What’s important is the MEANING the past has for you NOW. And the MEANING of your past is determined by your actions in the future.

The people who have the best lives/ marriages/ relationships are people who went through hell in some way. They “got over” their past because they used it as a catalyst to IMPROVE their situation. In other words, the painful events inspired them to change themselves.

If you make the right moves, you will come to view certain events as birth pains that led to a new AND IMPROVED life/ marriage/ relationship. THAT’S how you “get over” the past.

It’s strange how life works sometimes, but if you play your hand right, your hurts become part of your healing. And, in fact, when it comes to relationships, it’s usually bad times that awaken people to search for new ways.

Thanks to Mort Fertel for doing the heavy lifting on this article. I’m grateful for his insight on the illustration about the cards we are dealt.

faith, Family, Personal Development

Being A Student of Marriage

The following is direct from a trusted resource called Hitting Home with Dr. Raymond Force. He is a pastor, speaker, counselor, and coach who is passionate about helping people enjoy healthy relationships. I found the following to “hit home” with me because I’m an avid learner with special interest in personal development and human behavior. I agree very much with what he shares about his own experience, and am convicted to do a better job at sharing what I learn with my spouse as part of my leadership responsibility at home. I trust you will find encouragement from Dr. Force’s message as I have.

Consumers Consume Themselves – Dr. Force

Lately, I have been analyzing my own marriage. I have been looking at key components that have enabled us to connect at a very high level for the last 26 years.

One of those components involves a spirit of learning that has been present at almost every stage of our marriage.

The scriptures tell us “with all thy getting get understanding”. (Proverbs 4:7) In short, we are to be a people that covet and yearn after knowledge more than anything else in life.

By God’s grace, I believe my wife and I have been learners rather than feelers in life. This is important because when spouses are just feeling their way through life, they only tend to change once the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.

There have been many couples that I have coached and counseled that are feelers instead of learners. One of my main goals with these couples has been to encourage a spirit of learning in their homes.

Some of these very same couples, however, proved to be slow at moving from a feelings-dominated approach to a principled-driven approach to living. Consequently, I was often left with one option with these couples: Provide listening support and wait for the pain of staying the same to become greater than the pain of change once their unlearned ways bore the fruit of bad feeling and disunity. Once this occurred, they would often change, but only after their poor choices would evoke difficult feelings in their lives.

Afterwards, these very same spouses would often admit that they should have listened to our original advice. However, since they were feelers instead of learners, the blueness of the wound was often required to cleanse away evil.

Trial and error may work, but it is often time consuming, unnecessary, and heart-wrenching.

My Wife and I

My wife and I read, listen, and watch people all the time. We try to be aware of 10 things happening around us at all times.

Upon seeing each other, we will often start a conversation by stating something that we read or noticed about other people or ourselves that day. Quite simply, we can often be found hashing out wisdom with one another, and this has proved to provide a number of pleasant unintended consequences for us:

1. It raises our marriage to a level outside of ourselves.

You will never be a part of something great unless you operate outside of yourself. We are mortals created to operate in an immortal atmosphere. If all you do is follow your flesh and the passions thereof, you will never quite function at optimum capacity.

2. It takes the focus off of our mistakes.

I say it all the time. If my wife and I wanted to, we could bring plenty of case files to our little emotional skirmishes that we have from time to time. However, setting our minds and conversations on things above (Colossians 3) has a way of making even our mistakes toward one another seem a little smaller.

3. It provides an incredible point of connection.

I feel so sorry for couples that are not learners. Without a spirit of learning in a marriage, couples are left to trying to find unity in merely mutual hobbies, exciting forms of entertainment, or fun activities. Though I am not against any of the previously mentioned bonding points, there must be something more than these in order for couples to connect at a deeper level.

A Charge to Men

I am a firm believer than most men need to shut the door on the man cave and go back to the study. Read, talk about what you are learning, and promote teachable moments in your home.

A family that only consumes will eventually consume itself.

Promote a spirit of learning in your home and you will be surprised at all the areas that are positively affected.

The word amuse literally means not to think. Though I am okay with vegging from time to time, I find that thinking in my free time yields incredible results, especially in marriage.

If you want to feel good about one another, start thinking a little more. It’s commanded. It’s needful. It’s more than beneficial.

– Dr. Force

faith, Family, Personal Development

You Are Not A Failure | Letter To My Son

I’m sharing a series of “letters” originally written by Vince Miller. I regard Vince as a trusted resource for wisdom and insight on faith and family especially as it pertains to men and fathers. His bio is at the bottom of the post. Look him up. What follows is his work entirely. Vince communicates the messages I want my son to hear in a far more clear and concise way than I could ever say. Consider using these as conversation starters. I encourage you to share these letters with the important men in your life.

Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.

John Wooden

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.

Johnny Cash

Son, you will fail; this happens. But this does not mean you are a failure. The assumption that “you are a failure” is a powerful and defeating thought that can paralyze a man. It’s a recording that sometimes plays in the mind that men struggle to silence. It’s one of the five powerful voices I believe all men hear (if you remember my previous letter on this subject). I think this is partially because many men falsely believe that to be a man, we must “man-up” by appearing strong, confident, and courageous, even when we feel weak, confused, and lost. This false belief thus devastates men in moments of failure. Which is why when we fail, we sometimes believe we are a failure.

Please note, experiencing failure and feeling the impact is a good thing for all men. The last thing we need is insensitivity to this pain. Appropriate levels of pain, in the form of regret and guilt, are good for all men. And why? Well, because pain is an indication of pending danger. Insensitivity to pain will only lead to callousness and other, more harmful decisions to self and others. Yet, inflicting needless suffering on ourselves by allowing a failure to convince us that we are a failure is also not helpful. While you and I are both sinners, we are redeemed by Christ and given a new identity as sons of God. Your identity is marked permanently not by your failure but by His grace, and your identity is forever changed. Accepting this is sometimes too good to be true, so it’s easy for men to go back to the perpetual failure of the former life and the old yoke of slavery.

..and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:1

As men, we live in this great tension, and here is how I describe it. First, our former identity is marked entirely by sin. In fact, the Bible calls us “sinners.” Yes, God’s Word is clear; our identities before Christ are marked by perpetual sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) So in one sense, and at one time, all men were perpetual failures. We were, (notice the use of the past tense of the verb,) a complete and total failure.

Second, yet we also know that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) And this gift results in us having the opportunity to believe in his name, giving us “the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Jesus also says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) So your identity has changed from sinner to son, from failure to friend.

Third, we must choose to live in this new identity as sons and friends. Yet we know, the voice of the past will call to us. In moments of failure, we will be tempted to listen to the voice of the former man and the old identity. It will call to you and say, “I am a failure.” Its call will be compelling and clear because only you will hear its voice within your mind. This voice will present evidence to you from your own life to support your incorrect perceptions. Do not doubt my words, son, the courtroom of your mind will offer a convincing case. And yet, the tension between a former identity and your new identity has a present reality. 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

Think about that and ponder on it for a second—you are the “righteousness of God.” Let that set in. That’s your identity. You are not a failure. You are instead a son of righteousness

So the next time you fail your response should be to understand the pain, accept it, learn from it, and then before the failure begins to poison your thinking about your identity, bring to mind that Scripture says, you a “son of righteousness” saved by God’s grace. You are not a failure. Do not let that thought preach to you, rather let the truth preach to you. And why should you do this? Because the most important thought about you is not what others think about you, what you think about you, but what God thinks about you. This is the only thought that matters.

As you learn to do this, you will discover something about the fails in your life—that God is up to something. That he is working out something magnificent in you every time you fail. He is teaching you to trust more and more in him. Notice what the apostle Paul says about his perpetual failing.

But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Do you see it? Failure gives way to opportunity—the opportunity to trust less in self and more in God. With failure, we encounter grace, discover perfect power, contentment, and the paradox of strength in weakness. For the man who is strong in himself is not strong; he is only pretending to be strong. Instead, the man who embraces his weakness (through failure) is genuinely strong because he is strong in God.

I love you son. Remember you are not a failure. Dad.

Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 18 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God’s Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men’s Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org. See his latest book and small group study Called to Act: 5 Uncomplicated Disciplines for Men.

faith, Family

The Power of Your Beliefs | Letter to My Son

I’m sharing a series of “letters” originally written by Vince Miller. I regard Vince as a trusted resource for wisdom and insight on faith and family especially as it pertains to men and fathers. His bio is at the bottom of the post. Look him up. What follows is his work entirely. Vince communicates the messages I want my son to hear in a far more clear and concise way than I could ever say. Consider using these as conversation starters. I encourage you to share these letters with the important men in your life.

he ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will let our minds dwell upon.

Dallas Willard

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.

Philippians 4:8

Son, it matters what we think. It affects everything about us as men. When I was younger, I didn’t think it mattered, but with years comes wisdom, and I have come to discover that every thought that spins around in our head has consequences. The music you sing along with, the language you hear, the media you read, the marketing you believe, and even the thoughts you have about yourself all affect you. They alter your feelings, beliefs, and attitudes that, as a result, change your behavior sometimes a little at a time and other times drastically.

So let me illustrate. When I was 12 years old, I remember standing on the basketball court with a group of other young men during a gym class. I vividly recall another friend coming up and bursting into our conversation, and he began to share with the four of us about Tony’s first sexual encounter over the weekend. He spared no detail. Then he closed off the conversation with this statement, “Guys, I guess Tony became a man. Tony became a man.” And then he dropped the mic and walked away. And even though a 12-year-old boy does not understand what it means to be a man, this thought was compelling to me about manhood. At this moment, a belief and belief system were forming in my mind, and it was perhaps one of the most potent ideas I heard at age 12. And you should know this influenced my thinking for several years. I fell for this false belief because I did not have a father present or a Christian voice in my life. And I clung to this belief, and the supporting system of belief as my hope for manhood—resulting in several bad decisions.

The following are my thoughts on our beliefs as men. I pray this serves you well in life as you make decisions about what you choose to believe.

One | We Construct Beliefs and Belief Systems

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

Isaiah 55:8

So we are thinking and believing beings. This is what makes us human. In basic philosophy, we learn that the one thing that distinguishes us from all other creatures is that we do not act on instinct alone. Human beings can think and construct systems of belief about life. This means that as we are exposed to inputs of data, we make judgments, develop concepts, and inferences about life that result in ideas and images that make up our beliefs. These ideas and images are compelling.

Beliefs require two things to become a belief: first, a believer (that’s you), and second, an object or proposition (that’s something you believe in). You are a believer who comes in contact with objects and propositions every day. Over time, you construct beliefs, and a cluster of these beliefs results in what we call a belief system. When we strip this down, a belief system is simply ideas and images about various parts of our life. And they influence how we view family, work, education, money, politics, and our faith. A true belief system is a good thing, and false belief system is bad—thus the words from the apostle Paul to the Philippians above. When you think about things that are honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent, you get better inputs and thus better outputs. The point being you construct them, good and bad.

Two | You Are Controlled by Your Belief Systems

For as he thinks within himself, so he is.

Proverbs 23:7

This principle is probably not a shocker. 

This is why a beautiful woman thinks she is ugly, or a skinny woman thinks she is obese. Her self-perceptions and the ideas and image she has constructed are now controlling her believing process and her actions.

There is evidence of this rule throughout the Bible. Take the David and Goliath story. Why did Israel not send a man out fight with Goliath? Because they were being controlled by the belief that they could not defeat Goliath. Goliath’s challenge was too outrageous for them—then along came David. And here, we see a teenager with a different belief and belief system. He believed that God could defeat Goliath—and that if God was going to use someone, it was him! This radical belief uprooted everyone’s belief system, and it defied human logic, but it was spot on.

Therefore we can conclude that even though belief systems are what make us human, and what we use to make sense of the world around us, they are not always correct. They can be repetitively wrong and therefore control us. And as we know, these belief systems have power and direct how we think (our thoughts) and what we do (our behaviors). This is why men hesitate to act out in faith; they have human beliefs and human belief systems that compete with God’s system of faith. This is also why many men get stuck in repetitive cycles of sins; they have a belief or belief system that is entirely inaccurate.

This leads to the third point.

Three | We Have Corrupt Belief Systems

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:5

Yes, not only corrupt beliefs but also corrupt belief systems. We have corrupt belief systems at the core. Note that the writer above states our intentions are the real problem. It’s not just our thoughts or behaviors, but the aim of our thoughts and behaviors. This is the nature of human corruption at the deepest level.

So we can conclude that corrupt belief systems distort everything, including how we view God, spirit, soul, mind, and body. They corrupt our entire being.

And remember what is pervasive about these corrupt belief systems is that they are not uniform. They are different for every person. So this means my corrupt beliefs may be different from yours, yet still corrupt. And this corruption is profoundly personal and can involve long heritage, and when we combine this long heritage with a deep personal commitment, it can be hard to break. That is why battling repetitive sin or breaking a long-term habit is laborious; it’s because we have years of corrupt patterns that are rewarding us in some way, and it’s hard to destroy old beliefs, systems, and the powerful rewards and patterns that go with them.

Overcoming corrupt belief systems can feel like asking someone to jump into deep-water, without a life vest when they don’t know how to swim. For many, this is a paralyzing look over the bow of a great ship. This is why beginning a personal relationship with Christ is often challenging and simultaneously stimulating. The experience is eye-opening.

And this leads to the final principle.

Four | God must Reveal The Belief System

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

This is why Jesus came to our world. He came to reveal the only way, the truthful way, and the one that leads to life as it was intended to be lived. God saw that our beliefs and belief systems were corrupt, and because we could not find the way on our own, God had to reveal the way. And he does this—in the person of Jesus Christ.

This bold and often divisive statement by Jesus is the revelation of a new way to believe. And every time we discover another truth about his way, God opens our mind to another reality.

I have had many moments in my life where God has revealed the truth to me. Moments where I have discovered the power of his grace over the law of my sin, the impact of what Christ did in the resurrection versus what I could do on my own, and the infinite power of a relationship with God over my religious activity. And these moments are revealing in fresh new ways every day, as long as I am keeping myself close to the truth in God’s Word. God reveals something to me every single day. And it has been an “awakening.”

Son, we live in times that are changing. You will be exposed to thoughts and beliefs through friends, teachers, coaches, supervisors, famous stars, and even pastors and leaders that are opposed to God’s Truth. I pray that you will test these thoughts and beliefs and compare them to the truth in God’s Word. His truth is good, search for it, and hold fast!

But test everything; hold fast what is good.

1 Thessalonians 5:21

I love you son, Dad.

Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 18 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God’s Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men’s Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org. See his latest study Men & Marriage: Overcoming 6 Unspoken Tensions.