I invite you to join discussions, it enhances the reading experience for everyone. Please share your thoughts, opinions and knowledge in a respectful manner. May we all learn something in our endeavor to educate our hearts and minds. I look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV (emphasis mine)

As we rush toward Christmas and a New Year, I pray the marvel of a loving God sending His only son to die for ALL your mistakes, sins and every indulgence of your flesh grips your heart and changes your life.

I pray your soul resonates with this passage:

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. Deu 10:17 NIV

I pray you truly know Him as your Lord, God, and Savior. 

Don’t just know OF Him, but know HIM. 

I know of several Hollywood celebrities, but I don’t personally KNOW them. I can’t call them. I don’t email them and I certainly don’t celebrate birthdays with them. I’m not invited to important events in their lives and they don’t care to come to mine.  We don’t know each other, no matter how many facts I know about them. I don’t know them. 

This same analogy applies to God.

Please, don’t let another Christmas go by without KNOWING who Christ is. Without allowing Him fully into your life. 

He’s mighty. He’s awesome. 

He shows no partiality—so it doesn’t matter how awesome you are. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how “bad” you are. We’re all equal in His eyes. That makes me want to sing JOY TO THE WORLD!

Also, we can’t bribe Him—good news for poor people (me). 

He’s done the work for us. 

He sent His son, Jesus.

Jesus died for EVERY sin then rose from the grave, conquering sin and death. 

All you have to do is believe.

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 NKJV

That’s all there is to it.

Please dear reader, take these verses to heart and let them transform your life. 

A New Year is coming…but no one is promised tomorrow.

So while you can, embrace the gift of God this Christmas. 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 NIV (emphasis mine)

Merry Christmas and Blessings from God this New Year.

I’ll be back January 2015.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Communicating with our Kids: Interview with Caleb Suko, Part 2

This is part 2 of the interview with Caleb from Sukofamily.org, author of What If… How to Kill Worry and Anxiety Before They Kill You about communicating tough realities with our children. If you missed last week, I urge you to go back and read his responses- they’re powerful!

Now let’s jump into the interview:

1.       Do you think Americans are hurting their children by not talking to them about what is happening to others around the globe, why or why not? How can they talk with their kids about these events and yet shelter them? How can we provide stability and knowledge?

If you want your child to be thankful, compassionate and unselfish then “yes!” I mean let’s face it ,99% of the kids in America are blessed materially. I understand that there are other problems like abuse and I don’t want to down play that.  However, I think it’s vital to give our children a sense of the global community, to know that if you have parents who live with you and you have a roof over your head and shoes on your feet then you’re doing better than millions of other kids out there!

I think parents need to do more than talk, they need to show. If possible take your kids to places where people are not as well off. Have them help in outreaches for orphans or the homeless. Take them on a short mission trip. Expose them to the needy and talk with them about ways they can help.

2.       It seems to me that there are many Christians lulled into a false sense of security. In 2 Tim 3 we are told that, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” While not every Christian will be beheaded or imprisoned, those who long to live a godly life in Christ will face some sort of persecution. Do you think that by sheltering our kids from other Christian’s persecutions we are not preparing them for the potential realities they could face?

I think it’s a different perspective that we as parents need to have. Yes, we want to protect our children from unnecessary harm but ultimately that’s not our goal as parents. Ultimately, I want my children to be willing to risk all for the sake of righteousness.  I want them be ready to sacrifice their comfort and safety for the sake of another’s, I want them to understand that living for Christ could be dangerous but in the end it’s worth it!

3.       That’s inspiring, Caleb. It takes Spiritual Maturity in the parents to come to such a place as you and your wife are in order to raise kids with such a selfless mindset. Your maturity is being enhanced as daily you have to trust God to not only provide for you and your family, but also to keep you all safe from various forms of danger and death. Explain how the tragic events going on around your children are shaping who they are. Likewise, tell us how parents can be a positive influence during such difficult times.

I try not to underestimate the power my life and my wife’s life has on our children. They watch how we react to these events, they can sense when we are nervous, anxious or angry. I think our responses as parents have a huge impact. It’s hard to say exactly how these events are shaping them; it may be something that we will not clearly see in their lives until years later.

My advice to parents is to pay close attention to how you personally respond to tragedy and difficult situations, and then allow your children to look into your life. Talk it over with them; don’t be afraid to tell them that you don’t know what’s going to happen next but make sure they understand and that they see in you a strong faith that is unwavering regardless of the circumstances.

4.       What advice do you have for adults who don’t like to face these realities? How can they prepare themselves and also communicate with their kids?

I don’t think anyone really likes to face the realities of war, death and disease! The only way I know how to prepare yourself is by daily stretching your faith and strengthening your relationship with Jesus! Also don’t avoid difficult tasks you feel God is calling you to do. There will always be trials in your life, face them with God at your side because each one is preparing you for something else God has in store.

Communicating with your kids has to be ongoing. Don’t wait for tragedy to hit. Start now and make it part of the daily routine. Discuss the events of our lives and of the world around them and help them to see it in light of God’s Word.

5.       As we wrap up this interview I’m reminded of Esther 4:14, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" If you could go back to this summer, when you were still “safe” in America, would you make a different decision regarding returning to the Ukraine? Would you have stayed here in order to shelter your kids from what they are experiencing? Explain. 

Absolutely not! In fact, I can’t really say I feel any safer at this point in American than I do in Ukraine. What people don’t realize is that “safe” is often much more a feeling then it is a reality. Most people take great physical risk every day just by driving to work! I’d just rather take that risk here in Ukraine, while preaching the Gospel and ministering to God’s people!

Thank you, Caleb, for taking the time to answer these tough and in-depth questions. I know your answers spoke volumes to me as a parent. I pray God continues to use you and your family and protect you all in the days to come.

Thanks for shining His light and being about His Kingdom.

God bless.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Communicating with our Kids: Interview with Caleb Suko, Part 1

I’m pausing my series on Hindrances to Becoming Like Christ to bring you a two part interview with Caleb from Sukofamily.org, author of What If… How to Kill Worry and Anxiety Before They Kill You

Caleb and his wife are missionaries, and parents, in the Ukraine. Their lives are much different than the average American Christian—for starters, they have to think about evacuation plans if the war comes closer to their home. They also have to raise their kids in a violent and unstable society that is undergoing massive change.

If you’re a parent or someone in a youth leadership position—and even if you’re not—I highly encourage you to read this two part interview.

This message is important as things around the globe are becoming more unstable.

Many argue we are living in the “last days”. 

Likewise, others denounce that, saying there have always been times like these. 

There has always been murder, war, hatred, adultery, pornography, drugs, slavery, etc.

However, I contend that there has never been a time exactly like this: A time when children have instant access to knowledge through social media and technology.

Adults exert so much effort sheltering kids from certain realities (such as the beheadings of Christians in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine) but we almost passively allow our children to be bombarded with messages of sex, drugs, and violence in the form of “entertainment”.

It’s ironic and it’s making our children unprepared for the harsh realities of this world and what is coming.

I cannot say with certainty that America will have another 9/11 event, that there will be a draft  like in Vietnam, that we will experience another Great Depression, or that we are headed to WWIII. 

But I can tell you there are places in our world that are experiencing events similar to these. 

There are children who face uncertainties that many American’s think “could never happen here.”

But we are wrong.

It can happen anywhere. At anytime.

Now, on to the interview:

1.        A few months ago America commemorated the 13th Anniversary of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. As I thought back on that day and I looked at events currently transpiring around the globe, my heart was sad. I was also shocked to realize a generation of kids is being raised with little awareness of that tragic day. We shelter them from seeing the videos of planes flying into the twin towers and people jumping from the buildings. To top it off, we seem to have a “hushed” mentality of how we speak about it, leaving our kids in the dark about what that day meant. And I’m frustrated by how hard it is to filter our kids from so called “entertainment”. I have to admit, I’m struggling to find a balance between sheltering my kid and knowing how much information to give. Can you give some insight on your thoughts on this?

My wife and I simply try not to go out of our way to hide things like death from our kids. We also don’t go out of our way to expose them to it. I have always felt that American culture has a very skewed view of death. On the one hand children see killing in movies, games and on tv daily and on the other hand they have probably never seen someone die and if they did go to a funeral, it’s not likely that it was open casket.

In many parts of the world, when a family member dies, the body is in the home and it’s the family that deals with it. This may not be pleasant but it is healthy for our understanding of death and it does help people through the grieving process.

2.        Caleb, you were on furlough in America when the fighting began heating up in the Ukraine. Yet you and your family decided to return there despite the dangers. How did you speak to your children about your decision?

Honestly, it wasn’t even something that really came up. Our main concern was, “what do we do if we can’t go back?” We have family in Odessa, so we’d been talking with them on Skype regularly and no one in our family felt any reservations about going back.

Once we got back we did talk with the kids about what would happen if the war started moving in our direction. I wanted them to know that we did have a plan so that they wouldn’t be surprised if it came to that.

3.       When I wrote my book, “The Precipice” I used modern events as the foundation for my fictional stories. Yet as I read your blog, I feel as if my book is coming to life before my very eyes! You posted recently about another church being seized by armed men, about an elderly church member being killed during a supposed “cease fire”, staggering accounts such as:  70% of the Church fleeing, people going hungry and a pregnant mother dying protecting the life of her other child, as well as about a good friend of yours being drafted into the military. Life is changing fast in the Ukraine. There’s no way to shelter your 5 kids from this information. How do you and your wife communicate with them?

One thing we don’t do is we don’t sit and watch the news about Ukraine all day. There was a period a couple of months ago when things were escalating very fast and I started spending too much time on the news sites. I began to feel that it was wearing me out and I made a decision that I just couldn’t do that anymore.

I check the news now once or twice a day online and that’s it. If things are heating up we talk with the kids about it around the dinner table. Sometimes they come home with questions because their friends have told them something, so we try to deal with that as it comes.

We also spend time as a family praying for Ukraine and I think that’s one of the most important things we do. I want our kids to realize that ultimately God is still on the throne.

4.       That’s powerful, Caleb. Praying with your kids about the Ukraine, letting them hear you petition God and trust Him through prayers with things that are unsettling. I can see how that is very important. Can you tell us about the fears your kids have with the unstable world around them and how you and your wife address it.

Believe it or not they’re pretty much regular kids and they don’t seem to be too bothered by the war at this point. Last month we crossed the border from Ukraine into Moldova on the way to a conference, the kids had fun counting the army tanks we saw.

5.       That’s mind blowing to me as an American! How normal things like tanks can become to daily life, yet through various historical books I know that is a very normal occurrence. You mention in one blog post that during times of war, priorities change. Tell us about how your family’s life has changed because of the events transpiring around you. Both the good and bad.

The one word that comes to my mind is “focus.” Whenever tragic events like this occur in the world around you it forces you to focus on those things that are most meaningful and on those things that you know will last even if your home and life as you know it are destroyed.

The other major difference is in planning. No one here is planning long term. Of course, that can be good and bad. The good part is that it simplifies life for you; the bad part is that certain things just won’t happen without long term planning.

Join us next week as we continue this interview.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hindrances to Becoming like Christ, Part 6: Ungrateful Hearts

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.”
Psalm 107:1 NIV

This is one of many passages that instruct us to THANK God because HE IS GOOD!

As I reflect upon this Thanksgiving season I’m wondering how THANKFUL we are.

I wonder:

Have we forgotten God’s goodness?

Do we overlook His loving provisions?

Are we undervaluing His blessings?

Do we think WE’VE accomplished things without Him?

Have we forgotten that all we have is FROM Him? (I’m not saying we don’t work hard, but everything—even our abilities, strength, jobs, and talents come from Him. Outside of Him we can do nothing)

Are we truly THANKFUL?

It’s hard for me to see grateful hearts as people rush from Halloween straight into Christmas—almost completely bypassing Thanksgiving. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if people were rushing to celebrate the birth of Christ, instead of obtaining material goods.

It’s like Thanksgiving is an unwanted and underappreciated holiday.

I can’t help but think that our culture is like this because we’ve forgotten to be GRATEFUL.

As a society we focus so much on what we DON’T have, and what we WANT to have, that we forget to set aside time to be THANKFUL for what we DO have. 

As Christians we shouldn’t need a holiday to remind us to be thankful, but since we do have this holiday, why are we not showing the world what it means to be truly thankful?

As I type this, its 14 days till Thanksgiving, 15 days till BLACK FRIDAY, and already people are lining up outside stores for the “special buys” offered to entice people to spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need (this is not a dis on those who do black Friday shopping, so please don’t take it that way).

For 15 days people are going to stand in line for material goods?

I can’t wrap my mind around it.

First, I wonder how they get off work for that long…or if they work. I mean, who can devote that much time to standing in line?

Next, I wonder if they’d stand in line to go to church? 

(To be honest, I’m not sure I’d stand in line that long for either.) 

I also wonder what is so good of a deal that they through the ordeal of standing in line for days on end. Do they really need an item that badly or is it just for “fun”? 

That people do stand in line that long for material goods makes me think we, as a society, are far too focused on material goods.  

So I’m asking you:

Are you already thinking more about Christmas than Thanksgiving?

If so, are you thinking of the birth of our Savior or about buying gifts and/or receiving gifts?

How can you not only be more thankful but show that gratitude to others? 

I can’t help but think that in order for our culture to change, for our kids to learn Gratitude, that the Body of Christ must first learn to GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD, FOR HE IS GOOD.

Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world (John 15:19 & 17:14, James 4:4, 1 John 2:15 & 4:5, 1 Cor 5:9-10, 2 Cor 4:18 & 5:6, Eph 2:19, 1 Peter 2:11, Rom 12:2, Psalm 119:19, etc).

That means, we shouldn’t be acting like the rest of the world.

I challenge you to ask yourself where your focus is.

If it’s not aligned with God, I pray you take time to find a grateful heart.

The Bible says a tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44-45, Matt 12:44, Proverbs 4:23)

What’s your fruit this holiday season?

Hint: your focus will point you to where your heart is and what type of fruit you're producing. 

Happy Thanksgiving. BTW: I’m grateful to you for reading my blog. See you in Dec.