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.

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

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.

faith, Family

A Marriage Prayer

A while ago I wrote the following notes in my journal. I am compelled to share it with you in hopes that it will encourage you as it does me. Marriage is hard work and we desperately need the Lord’s help to love well.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for loving me with an everlasting love. Thank you for displaying that love to me long before I did anything in response to it. Teach me to love like this. Teach me to love like Jesus. My wife is a gift from you and I will love her as the best gift I have ever received. Give me creativity in the ways I can pursue her romantically. Give me strength to hold her up when she is tired. Give me eyes to see when she needs my attention. Give me ears to hear her heart. Give me the words to speak life into her. Help me to choose love even when things get hard. In Jesus name Amen.

What follows is my personal, raw commentary on the work of loving like Jesus in marriage. Where I use Angie in the text, please insert your spouse’s name and see if it makes the notes more personal to you.

Loving Angie will at times be inconvenient to my flesh. Love her anyways. Loving Angie will at times not make sense because she hurt me. Love her anyways. Loving Angie will at times be a challenge because she does not respond to it the way I expect. Love her anyways. When my marriage feels broken, love her anyways.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:25-33

Only God can give me the strength to love Angie unconditionally. My motivation to love must come from an intimate relationship with God. My love for Angie is motivated by His love for me.

When I find myself struggling to love and care for Angie, it should raise a red flag in my mind to take a sober self-assessment. I bet that my struggle is more about me than her. I have taken my eye off Jesus and his incredible love for me. Jesus’s kind of love has given me literally everything while still being a wretched sinner in desperate need of a savior.

When I put into perspective how Jesus loves me, how he willingly sacrificed himself by violent death on a Roman cross while I literally spit in his face with my selfishness, pride, and sinful rebellion, and how he continues to bless me though I can do nothing to deserve his favor, I find that when I actually receive that love from Jesus I am compelled to love in return. Not because I feel duty or obligation, but because my soul is filled to overflowing. Out of the abundance of love I have received I give to others. I can patiently and graciously endure rejection, stubbornness, harsh words, etc. and truly give without expecting anything in return. All that to say, and I don’t mean to simplify the key to loving relationship, but the truth is that when we can see Jesus, ourselves, and our life circumstances like this, we can love others well.

The bottom line is that when I’m not feeling like loving well, or I feel like I’m not being loved by others so I can’t love in return, I really need to take a breath, search my heart, and refocus from me to Jesus. Simple, but really hard sometimes. This is a mental and spiritual exercise that is strengthened with practice and perfected only after death. We are all a work in progress, but if we can wrap our minds around these ideas, we will gain traction in our relationships.

Another way to say it is that when I think another is unlovable because of their behavior, I should be very careful that I’m not judging them more harshly than I want God to judge me. In comparison to God’s holy perfection, I am a terrible wretch. If I do not see myself this way, I am deceived and my self-righteousness is sin proving my need for a savior. Jesus is our example we are called to follow. He loves despite my fears, faults, and failures, so I can do the same for others.

Not seeing the enormous gap between my depravity and God’s holiness is making God too small. Yet despite this gap, Jesus bridges it with his own sacrifice for our sake. He makes us saints before the almighty, holy God of the universe. That’s pretty cool. This is why we should preach the gospel to ourselves everyday. It keeps the focus on Jesus and not ourselves, enabling us to love others well. So there you have it, the solution to loving relationships is to simply preach the gospel to yourself.

faith, Family

God Is Man's Provider | A 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.

God is the source of all things.

Many men of the Old Testament were remarkable leaders, pioneers, and patriarchs in our early faith. One of these men was Abraham. He is known by many as the “father of faith.” And he bears this title because he was a man that was willing to adventure into the great unknown, taking one step at a time with God regardless of the human and natural consequences. When God invited Abraham to depart his hometown of Ur to go to a land he had never seen, he simply trusted God and launched out into the great venture of his life. He had no road map or awareness of the obstacles he would encounter along the way, but he understood that if God asked something of him that He would also provide for him. And God did, time after time.

Thus it was no different when God told him to adventure into the unthinkable—a human sacrifice of his only son Isaac on the Mountain of the Lord. Yet, strangely enough, Abraham did the unthinkable; he quickly obeyed. He took his son and the wood they needed and climbed the mountain immediately. Along the way, Isaac’s inquiry on the way up the mountain still startles mothers and fathers today.

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

—Genesis 22:7-8

God is The Provider—not us

Abraham walked into a teachable moment that men need to learn. God is the original and only Provider. God is the one who provides for the needs of all mankind. He owns all things. He knows all things. He sees the future of all things. So he provides exactly what we need to be given and when since he owns, knows, and sees all things from beginning to end. He can provide all that we need at the given moment we need it, which is why Jesus instructs us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is through a daily and regular provision that God keeps us reliant on Him and from becoming reliant on self.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

—Jeremiah 17:7-8

Every man has needs. The question is whether we look to ourselves as the source of those needs or trust God for them. Wise men understand that it is God who provides. But often we believe we, “the man, the leader, the husband, the father” are the provider. Are we called to be responsible? Yes. Are we called to act like men? Yes. Are we the original provider? No.

Self-reliant men do not stand for long before the Lord, and Abraham was the father of faith because he understood there was one who provided, and he, Abraham, was not it. Yet Abraham was a virtuous, strong, wealthy man of God who understood this one thing; God is the source of all things. He is Lord of my life; therefore, I must quickly obey.

Here are three things a great man remembers.

One | God provides to faithful men.

I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.

—Jeremiah 17:10

God loves to provide. It’s His great joy. And God is generous in the way he provides—love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness come in endless quantities because his supply is unlimited. However, in light of this, our response should be the free sharing of his riches with the world. But often, we selfishly withhold these resources. And God never entrusts a man who withholds his free and generous resources. Instead, he seeks men who can steward them appropriately, and he searches their hearts, even tests them along the path of life, and gives according to their ability. While God loves us regardless of our conduct, He provides to those who conduct themselves rightly—these are his faithful men.

Two | God provides what brings Him glory.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

—2 Corinthians 12:9

Man exists to bring glory to God. As a result, God provides for us in ways that give us more opportunity to draw attention to his glory. This may well mean that He will choose to provide for our needs in ways that we don’t expect. The Apostle Paul lived with a deficiency that he asked God to remove. God declined because He wanted Paul and those around him to know that God’s “grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I [Paul] will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.—2 Corinthians 12:9.

As God’s man, Paul understood that God’s strength came not from his power but the Father in, through, and by his weakness. This is counterintuitive for most men, but Paul accepted God’s decline because he knew that God provides what brings Him glory. And God is not looking for self-reliant men that want to bring glory to themselves. Instead, God is seeking God-reliant men in whom our weaknesses bring attention to God’s ever-expanding glory. This is a hard-learned lesson for many men because we misunderstand the grit and gumption that God seeks.

Three | God is the provider, and the means of provision, man must trust.

God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.

—Genesis 22:8

Whatever needs you may have, God is the source of satisfaction for those needs and the means of meeting those needs. We as men need to invest a whole life in trusting Him to do this perpetually. And for many men, this is challenging, humbling, and often does not work the way we want. Yet we must learn to pray for His provision, and trust He is listening. We must learn to wait for His response, and trust His timing. We must learn to not play the follower and let him provide to bring glory to His name and not ours. God is the only reliable provider we have, and as we do this, those around us learn the character of a God who provides for us and can provide for their needs as well. As Abraham said, walking up a mountain where human sacrifice plagued his mind, “God will provide for himself.

Son, we live in an uncertain world. Our source of income could end tomorrow. Our investments could take a catastrophic dive. Our health could change in an instant, and one day I will not be with you. While life looks secure today, tomorrow might be different. Whether secure or insecure, we have a God who provides. Whatever your need, trust him, and He will be faithful to you.

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 16 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