“Is She A Down Syndrome?”

Recently, my wife and I packed up the family for an afternoon of hiking and exploring in Helen, Ga. We could not have asked for a better day. The kids loved the hike, the weather was perfect and memories were made.   After our hike we had dinner in Helen and we walked around the quaint little mountain tourist town.

My children are Ty (8), Karis (5), Katie (5), and Joy (22 months).   Joy has Down Syndrome(DS).   To be real honest this last detail about Joy is mostly irrelevant in our family.

To us she is just Joy.

She is a great blessing to all of us and rarely does her genetic condition affect us. This is so true that most of the time I forget she even has DS.

On our trip I had forgotten…

I walked with my older children, held my wife’s hand, and pushed little Joy in her stroller.   As we ate ice cream and waited to get our balloon animals, a well meaning young lady looks at Joy and smiles and says to Charyl, “Aw, Is she a Down Syndrome?’’

It doesn’t take long to come back to the stinging reality that our little girl is different and when other people see her they notice Down syndrome and not Joy.

As we walked back to the car that afternoon I had some big old crocodile tears well up in my eyes. As a parent nothing hurts more than when you feel like others do not see the value in your children in the same way you do.

While the conversation was innocent and the young lady was kind, I could not help but feel pierced in the heart by her words, “Is she a Down syndrome?” To a person who does not have a child with special needs this question may seem completely innocent and appropriate but somewhere in the last 22 months I have become one of those overly sensitive parents. Please forgive me. This is not like me.   I am not a particularly emotional or sensitive man.   I rarely cry, in fact I see this as a flaw in my character that I do not feel things as deeply as others, but I have become very sensitive about Joy.   I almost cry as I type this…because I can’t help but desire for people to see Joy as I see Joy. I want them to see HER and not her “Syndrome.” I want others to value her as I value her!

So, NO! She is not “A Down Syndrome.”

She is JOY!

She is made and crafted in the image of God.

She is valuable.

She is beautiful.

She loves to follow her sisters.

She loves to give hugs.

She has a smile that lights up the world.

She has siblings that can’t wait to get home from school to play with her.

She claps and cheers for everyone.

She wakes up happy.

She likes to help her daddy cook.

She is very opinioned and will not eat her carrots no matter how you try to sneak them in.

She is resilient.

She brings hope.

She is her mama’s heart!

She is her daddy’s heart!

Every life God creates carries the stamp of divinity. If we will take the time to get to know people we will be shocked by the beauty we can find in each soul.

I did not ask for, nor did a want to have a child with Down syndrome.   It will always hurt my soul that Joy will struggle with simple things that typical children take for granted.

In spite of my desires God knew better than I did.

I am so thankful that God knows what is best for me when I don’t know how to ask. I am so thankful He brought JOY into my home.

God’ s greatest gifts are often disguised as presents we think we don’t want or don’t need.

When you see a family that has a child with special needs, if you desire to interact with them, ask the person’s name.   Every person is more than their disability.   Say an encouraging word. The family probably needs to hear it.   Find something good you see in the person with disabilities and complement their ability.   It may be as simple as saying, “You have a beautiful smile.” It may mean the world to that family. Be kind and considerate.

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“A Person’s a Person No Matter How Small”

“A person’s a person no matter how small.”   This is the line that kept reverberating in my brain this morning as I read a number of gag worthy news articles about the murder, dismemberment, and sales of aborted babies.   You can watch the footage here if you can stomach it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjxwVuozMnU

I was trying to think of where the quote came from and it finally dawned on me that it came from a Dr. Suess’ book that I used to read to my children called, “Horton Hears a Who.” This little line from this children’s book written in 1954 embodies what we have all known to be true since we were children.

EVERY LIFE MATTERS!  

This is what the Bible says, “for YOU formed my inward parts. YOU knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I praise YOU for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.   Wonderful are YOUR works and my soul knows it very well.”

The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are LIFE, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Your conscience bears witness. No matter what your belief system, inside every person is a core belief that life has value. This is what we know in our hearts and minds to be true. People…Human beings are the pinnacles of Creation.   We are made with intrinsic value and worth.

What do we do? How do we respond?

We weep!

James 4:9 “Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.”

We weep for the children who are the victims of these murders.

Our hearts should break. We must not become so numb to the wicked acceptance of killing babies in the womb that we no longer feel it. This dismembered child could have been your child. These are not clumps of cells but people. These are little people full of potential to love, dream, hope and have families of their own. They are future neighbors, friends, and co-workers. They are the future businessmen, farmers, teachers, and mothers, fathers, and leaders that will never be.   They are a picture of potential that has been stolen, destroyed, and extinguished. We weep for the babies.

We weep for the mothers!

We weep for women who are so scared and so fearful that they feel abortion is their only option. Our hearts should break for the young girl who is 15, 16, or 17 who has lost her virtue and has been left alone. We weep that no one is there to support her and help her raise the life that is within her. She has no mother or father with sense enough to tell her to do what is hard and right instead of what is quick and easy.   ‘Quick and easy’ is a lie she will have to live with for the rest of her life. We weep for the woman who has had multiple abortions. We weep for her because she is so lost that she does not value herself or the babies within her body. We weep that she has not been taught that she is valuable, that God loves her and God loves her babies that she is choosing to abort.

We weep for the men.

We weep for the men that view women as objects to meet their sexual needs. We weep that they do not understand that sex is designed to be tied to accountability. We weep that they will not know the joy of being a responsible father to the child that has been aborted. We weep because they do not know that true joy is not found in taking from others but giving of yourself as a protector and provider.

Jesus wept over a city in Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

I wonder if He is looking over America today He might say, “O America, America the nation that kills its children and mocks God’s messengers. How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

Those of us who believe in the value of human life must speak up.

Use your voice.

Use your voice in social media. Be loving but truthful in this area.   The truth is that social media is so much more fun when it is birthday cakes, summer vacation selfies, and pictures of what people are eating for dinner. But if you have a voice you need to use it for good.   Talk to people about the value of life.

Use your actual voice. Call your Senators and Representatives and tell them that this must stop!   Beg them to pass legislation that will end the brutal practice of abortion.   Plead with them to not allow any more taxpayer money to go to Planned Parenthood and other abortion industries.

Use your pen. Write letters to you political and church leaders and ask them to stand up for these children.

Use your parenting. Raise your children to value life. Tell your little girls that abortion is never an option. Let them know that even if they make bad decisions you will be there to support them and their child if needed. Teach your sons to be responsible men.   Talk to your children about the value of waiting till marriage to have sex.

Use your prayers.   This is the time that every believer of Jesus Christ should be calling out to Him on behalf of these children.

Share your faith. Your neighbor next door or your coworker down the hall may be contemplating abortion. You need to know them. You need to share with them the hope of Jesus Christ.   It is only in finding hope that you can erase hopelessness.

Use your pocketbooks. Give to agencies that seek to help women that have an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy. These places are called Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Thousands of children every year are saved because of organizations like these.

Proverbs 31:8 could not speak more clearly, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”

In the book “Horton Hears A Who,” these powerful words are given, “Don’t give up! I believe in you all. 
A person’s a person, no matter how small! 
And you very small persons will not have to die 
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!

God, help us to make these little people heard.

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KNOWING THEIR HEART MAY KEEP THEM FROM BREAKING YOURS

How do we keep our children from throwing their lives away and breaking our hearts in the process?

A few weeks ago I dropped my 5 year old twins off at Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our church. Both daughters cried and would not let go of me when they arrived with their group.   They made quite the scene as I attempted to pull away. I was frustrated with them and scolded them and told them to go to their class.   Looking back I know the day will soon come that I will be dejected because they will no longer want to hang on to me, instead they will want to let go of me. I have been told by a number of parents with grown children, “When they are little they step on your toes and when they get older they step on your heart.”

I have seen many broken-hearted parents with teenagers and young adults that have gone astray. I cannot help but believe that while young people will make their own decisions, there are some very practical things parents can do to keep their children from going down a path the leads to misery.

Recently, I witnessed some pretty disturbing things among teenagers and preteens. Here are a few:

Middle school age children, both boys and girls, addicted to pornography.

Teenagers cutting themselves with razor blades to ease the pain they feel.

Teenagers contemplating or even engaging in a same sex lifestyle in 8th grade.

Middle school and high school age children taking pictures of themselves naked and sending them to their boyfriend or girlfriend.

Teenage Stress…

Teenage Depression…

Teenage Despair…

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These are scary accounts you might expect to hear from hard on their luck, inner city kids, but that is not where these came from.

These stories came from upper middle class church kids at youth camp.

I recently was the evening speaker at my church’s youth camp. There were 323 sixth through twelfth graders along with over 100 adults. The students were awesome and God moved in a big way.   There were students giving their lives to Jesus, surrendering to ministry calls and many tears of brokenness over sin.

The reality of what kids are dealing with today versus 5-10 years ago is amazing!   Sin is still the same.

The internal struggle is still the same but availability, access, and the cultural moral compass have changed.

I would like to offer what may be some helpful thoughts for Christian parents and youth leaders.

Youth today are further down the sin path then they were ten years ago.   Let me explain what I mean.

Ten years ago at youth camp there were usually a few boys struggling with pornography.

Today most of the guys are struggling and many of the girls are struggling with pornography.

Ten years ago you never would have thought to talk about kids struggling with same sex attraction in a church camp setting.

Today most of the youth have accepted homosexuality as a normative behavior.

I can remember in 8th grade it being pretty scandalous if you were kissing your girlfriend, and yet this generation has self-identified homosexuals in 8th grade!

All parents know that there are no guarantees in parenting but there are patterns and there are some wise decisions we can make as parents that will help our children. Here are some ideas that I think Christian parents must consider.

It may be (It probably is) worse than you think – When you hear about kids struggling do not automatically jump to the conclusion, “That’s not my child.” Maybe they’re not…but maybe they are. Most parents of teenagers who are seriously struggling do not know their kids are struggling.

Praise your children for things that are praiseworthy – It is very easy and even natural for us to see what is wrong with our children. We correct them and try to change their behavior to make it what is acceptable. It is so important that we parent according to the gospel. Jesus calls believers His children. When His Spirit convicts us of our sin it is a calling up and not a pressing down.   Satan uses fear and guilt. Satan reminds us of how bad we are and how we could never be accepted.   Many times I am afraid Christian parents employ Satan’s strategy in parenting.   We shame our children. We scold them and tell them how bad they are.   God’s Spirit of conviction in our life is different. He convicts us of sin, not to shame us, but to call us to be who we already are in Christ.   We are a son or daughter who was adopted into God’s family through the blood of Jesus. He tells us we are to act like who we already are…His children.   I am working to remind my kids of who they are and not who they aren’t. Find what they are doing and encourage them.

IT is OK to tell your children that there are things that are NOT ok!   We must not let the insane illogical world of culture dictate what is true in our homes. We live in a day of illogical confusion. We have laws to save endangered birds and also have laws that make sure we have the right to kill our own children in the womb. Our politically correct gibberish is creating a generation of confused young people.   Parent, it is ok to say that a white woman who claims to be a black woman is actually wrong and confused. It is ok to teach our children that a man that thinks he is a woman is not a hero but a very broken person in need of finding his identity in Christ. It is ok–no, needed–that we teach our children that a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex is not ok. It is important to teach your children that it is not ok to look at pornography.  This list could go on for a long time but basically you must teach your children truth based on the Bible and basic common sense. These are lost in our day.

Teens are begging for their parents to help them. They would not say it that way…in fact they would not verbalize it at all. The thing they think they want least (their parent’s love, discipline, and instruction) is the thing they are crying out for most. They are drowning!   Teenagers from the beginning of time have struggled with sex…body’s change and hormones rage.   All adults wandered through the awkward years of adolescence, but today is a day like never before. For centuries gone by, sexuality has always been a curiosity to teens but always something that was subdued until a time of marriage.   A man’s strong desire for sex would drive him to work and to be a responsible man.   A young woman’s virtue was her highest prize.   A combination of unlimited free pornography, unlimited Internet access and most kids having smartphones has changed everything! Porn is the ocean in which our children are drowning. Some just feel like they cannot do anything to get free.

We need to give them a plan.  It is not enough to say pray and read your Bible. They don’t need shame. They need help. They don’t need you to yell at them.   When most parents find out their children have some great sin issue or struggle they blow their top, yell and scream, and threaten to lock their children up for the next 10 years. Most of the time these kinds of reactions only cause more separation between the child and parent.   Parents should be hurt and even angry that their child has drifted into the deep waters of sin, but they must use that deep emotion to help their child develop a plan for getting out!   Some issues need professional help. Sometimes it may be some simple levels of accountability.   Every situation is different and requires wisdom and a long term plan for help. Maybe you are thinking, “I have no idea how to get my child help!”   Start with the local church you attend. Ask a pastor. That is what they are there for. If they cannot help you, they can point you in the right direction.

We do not need to put undue weight on them.   They “need” a cell phone because everyone else has one. We give them one because every other parent has given their child one, but what if they actually don’t “need” one.   What if giving them a phone is not helpful but really the weight that pulls them down in the ocean of porn. Remember a phone is not a phone anymore. The thing they use their phone for the least is actually calling people. It is an eye gate to the world. It is an information center. It is the key to everything social.   Their phone holds the key to everything they will find their identity in. Is that what you want for your 12 year old? It is the object that shapes our child’s worldview.   I don’t even know if they make “just phones” anymore. Be very slow in making the decision of when your child will get a phone. Be very fast in taking their phone away if they are struggling.   I don’t let my 18 month old play with knives because she will hurt herself. Most young children are not ready for smart phones when they receive them. We are giving our children a tool to hurt themselves.

Parents must make sure their children have safe, Godly people to talk to other than themselves.   At church youth camp I was again shown the importance of Godly spiritual adults.   I was reminded that the day will come where my children may not feel like they are able to talk to me about a particular subject because I am their authority figure and I make the rules. They must be able to talk to someone!   I am so thankful for youth pastors, girls’ directors, small group leaders, and Sunday School teachers because they are that safe harbor where kids can go to talk. You must get your kids around Godly adults and leaders other than you that you trust. If they are not going to talk to you, then who will they talk too?

God’s Word is the best counselor. I am starting to get on a regular basis questions that I was never asked 5 years ago. Things like: “I have a child that is a girl, but wants to be a boy. What do I do?” or “How can I help my child who is attracted to the same sex?” or “My child is in Middle school and has been sexting. What do I do?”   Because these issues are different than issues parents have dealt with in the past sometimes we feel inadequate…which we are.   I have found that the best advice for parents is not something new, but something old. We must choose to believe God’s word and use it as counsel.   While the problems may be complex, the answers are simple.   We are sinners in need of Jesus. When we repent of our sin and live in a way that is pleasing to God, eventually our heart changes. Transformations are rarely overnight…they take time, but God’s word is true and He knows us better than we even know ourselves.   We must choose to believe about us what God says about us. The best counselor a parent can know is their Bible!   Most parents feel inadequate to help their children because they do not know what God’s word says or where to find it.   Here is a novel idea for all parents: Read your Bible everyday. Pray for your children everyday!   Don’t miss church and be among other Christian parents!

What I Am Going To Do To End Racism

We are on the heels of yet another heart breaking senseless crime. Another young white guy has murdered a mass of people.   This recent mass murder is a little different than some of the others. This one was clearly motivated by racism. This young man in his deranged mind justified the killing of 9 innocent people at a church prayer meeting.

What horrible irony. The place you go to find hope and forgiveness would be the place that he would bring death and destruction.

What if we could end racism? What if the answers are already there?

I can tell you the answer is not in passing a law, having the right person in public office, or going on a social media rant.

This murder has caused a lot of attention toward the Confederate Flag and whether it should be taken down from certain public areas.   Some use the flag as a symbol of pride and to some the flag is an object they have always associated with racist people.   Maybe the flag should come down, but the flag is really not the issue. The issue is always the same. It is a matter of the mind and heart. This is where we are losing.

I grew up in the Deep South. As a Caucasian male I don’t pretend to know what it is like to an African American person. I don’t know how hard it is. I don’t know how a black man sees me, or what feelings well up within him when he come in contact with a white man.

I do know that I grew up in a culture that verbalized disgust when a white woman and a black man were together. I grew up in a culture where there was always some level of fear when young black men were around because the perception was that they were angry and would commit some crime. In the school I attended black people hung out with black people and white people hung out with white people. While I had many friends that were black I did not hang out with them outside of a school setting. We played sports together, were in the band together, and sat next to each other in class but there was always a clear distinction between black and white. There was a always a clear level of separation that was seen most clearly on Sundays at church.   These are just the facts of how things were and how in many places they still are.

As I have grown in the Lord many of my personal views have changes. I have come to fully realize that every person is incredibly valuable because Christ made us.

Galatians 3:28 says, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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This tells me that the Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends race, socioeconomic status and gender. In Christ we all have value.   We are one church under His blood. The precious blood of Christ was shed for every man.

Because the world is broken and people are naturally sinful I am sad to say that racism will not end.

Many will take this tragedy and use it to politicize their particular agendas.   Many people will use this opportunity to throw out more hatred. Neither of these responses helps anyone.

Racism will probably never end…but I just might be able to end it in my family.

I cannot change the pain and anger that people feel in their hearts, but I can teach MY children.

Here is how I am going to end racism in my home.

I am going to teach my children what God says about people. I am going to teach them that God loves people so much He gave His life to save them. John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

I am going to teach them that we should love people and give our lives in service and love towards others. Matthew 22:39 “…’Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I am going to teach them to do to others, as they would have others do to them. Matthew 7:12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

I am going to teach my children to value other people and cultures. 1 Corinthians 9:22 “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.”

I am going to invite people of other races into my home. 1 Peter 4:9 “Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.”

I am going to teach my children that we do not judge someone by the color of their skin but the content of their character. John 7:24 “”Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

I am going to show them the evil of prejudice and teach them the beauty of love. Romans 12:9 “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

I am going to (if the Lord allows) open my home to foster children of whatever race the Lord sees fit.   James 1:27 “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

I am going to beg my children to not repay evil with evil but to repay evil with good.  Romans 12:21 “Do not overcome evil by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I can’t end racism…but I can make a difference in my home. I pray my son will not be the deranged young white kid with hatred in his heart towards people of a different skin color.

I pray my children will not be the problem but the answer.

We end racism one decision at a time, one heart at a time.

The answer is almost never in legislation or anything in the realm of politics. The Bible has already showed us how to end racism. We just have to obey it.

There is hope. Close friends of mine, who are Caucasian, have become foster parents of three young African American children. I am so thankful for this. One of the children is a girl and she has become best friends with my little girls.

One of the three children is a baby who just turned one and had a birthday party that we attended. It warmed my heart to see my 7-year-old son blowing on the belly of this baby just like he blew on his sister’s belly.   He didn’t even think about the difference in skin color. He just loved the baby.   I pray that my children will grow up to love people…all people.

The families of the victims in the Charleston shooting have showed us what Christian character and love look like. In the midst of the deepest pain they chose to publicly forgive their enemy instead of pile on more hate. Let us all learn from their example.

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10 Things I’ve Learned In 10 Years Of Marriage

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was one of the most defining moments of my life. All the people that I cared for showed up (minus a few that hadn’t been born yet).   My best friend stood beside me. My hands were sweaty and my knees were weak. There was a harpist playing a beautiful melody as couples walked down the aisle dressed to the nines. And then the moment happened…the automated bells tolled and the doors swung open. There she was, my love, my dream girl, my to wife to be! I have never seen a prettier sight.  I was 23 and she was 22 (that seems awful young to me now).   We were two kids in love with a lot of dreams. I am usually not too nervous in front of groups of people, but I was really nervous that day. I answered the preacher and looked into her eyes and meant every word I said. That was an amazing day that I will never forget.

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From that day to this day seems like the blink of an eye. I have a belief that the more you are enjoying your life the faster it goes. We are 10 years into this journey together. I pray we have at least 40-50 more together.   Life has gone by at the speed of light and every year it gets better and every year it moves faster.   I wanted to take just a minute to reflect and share some lessons I have learned in the last 10 years with my amazing wife, Charyl.

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It gets better and things change. Our first year of marriage was not horrible but it was an adjustment. Every year we know each other better and love each other more.   Don’t give up. Maybe you are in year 1 or 2 and you feel like you have been tricked.   Stick with it. As you grow together you begin to grow together. The more life change you experience together the more you learn to trust one another.

Here are just a few of the changes that we have been through in 10 years:

We have lived in 7 different houses.

We have had 4 children.

I added between 20 – 35 extra pounds.

Charyl got more attractive (if that was even possible).

Together we have had 8 different jobs or career changes.

Our income has gone up. Our expenses have gone up.

We have had 2 dogs.

We have had 7 different cars.

We bought and sold a house.

I have infinitely more gray hairs than I had when we got married.

We have made more new friends than we can count.

I have been to 7 different countries.

Charyl started a very unexpected business that has become a career and ministry (Premier).

I have been a youth pastor, middle school pastor, young families and college pastor, senior pastor, and am currently the discipleship pastor.

Charyl went from RN to Jewelry lady.

We became special needs advocates (particularly for families who have a member with down syndrome)

Jesus has been with us every step of the way. He has never left us. He has never forgotten about us.

He has been most near when things have been most difficult.  

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Happy Wife, Happy Life (Or if you are a woman: Happy Man, Happy Land) – Maybe you have heard this statement, “If momma aint happy then nobody’s happy.” When Charyl and I got married my mother gave me some advice that I almost blew off at the time. She said, “Rick, your job is to help Charyl not be stressed.”   In the last 10 years I found this to be a peach on the tree of wisdom. I heard Tony Evans say that if you want to know where you are spiritually as a husband, then look at your wife.   She is a reflection of you.   I have found when I have not been the husband I need to be it affects Charyl. When I do not love, serve, and make time to meet her emotional needs then it affects everything else in our home. She is the heart of our home.   Husbands would do well to give great attention to the heart.   This is an area I hope I am growing in.

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Marriage Is Not 50/50 Or Even 100/100 – I believe the best marriages give all they can don’t expect anything in return. The best ratio would be 100/0 or 100/not my responsibility.  As long as you are expecting something in return you will struggle. Appreciate what your spouse does. Don’t act like what you are doing is harder or more important than what your spouse does. Never belittle them. Your job is to build them up and not tear them down.

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Time Is Short So Don’t Waste It. The first ten years have blazed by. Life has only picked up speed.   Take time each day to hug your spouse, kiss your spouse, pray with your spouse, and talk to them. Go Home! Work is hard and long. If you don’t go home then you will grow distant from your spouse. Date your spouse. Try to make a time weekly or at least a couple of times a month where you just focus on one another. Family time with the kids is vital but it is even more vital that you connect with one another in a setting where you can really talk with no stress and no distractions.

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Little Things Will Kill Your Marriage Or Make It Stronger – Most fights are over little things. He didn’t put is clothes in the hamper. She didn’t remember to get what you asked her to get at the store. Instead of flying off the handle, build a bridge and get over it. They are not perfect and neither are you. Growing your love for one another is also built on little things. Pick up flowers for no reason. Hold hands with one another. Leave notes for one another. Look for little things to appreciate in one another. When you see something, say something. Never let a complement go unsaid. Words have the power of life and death…particularly in a marriage.

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Marriages Are Not One Size Fits All – There are so many marriage books out there but your marriage is not like any of them. Principles can help but your marriage is like you…it’s unique. A system that worked for your parents may not, probably will not, work for you. Make your own normal.

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Your Children Will Bring You Together Or Push You Apart…You Choose Which.   Children are one of life’s greatest blessings. They can bring so much joy to your life and your marriage.   If you make your children the most important thing in your life then your marriage will suffer…it may even die. I have witnessed too many couples that had children and forgot about each other.   The best thing you can do for your children is having healthy marriage. Do not let your children drive a wedge between you and your spouse.

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Marriage Means There Is Someone With You At The Hospital. When you are a teenager, love and marriage is all about emotion and romance. Most of the romance revolves around attraction and the hope of a great sex life. This is all well and good but as your grow older you realize that there is nothing better than living with your best friend and knowing they will be there for you for better or worse, through thick and thin. Romance turns to something more beautiful called commitment.

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Find Something You Like To Do Together. We watch “Chopped” together. This is a cooking show that is on Netflix. My wife and I don’t watch much TV. We really don’t have time. But there is a brief moment at the end of most weekdays between about 8:30-9:30 that the kids are asleep and we still have enough energy to talk. We talk for a few minutes and then we watched Chopped.   We don’t say much. We might hold hands but it is the simple act of being in the presence of one another. Enjoy each other’s company.

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Without Jesus We Would Not Make It – Pray for each other. Worship together. Make church attendance a non-negotiable of your home. Have family worship time at the dinner table at least a few times a week. There is NOTHING more important in your marriage than keeping Jesus as the foundation. There are not many things that make us more like Christ than the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through marriage.

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Selling Death To 4 Year Old Girls

It seems to be increasingly difficult to raise God honoring children in a culture that celebrates dishonoring the things of God. Halloween is a particularly frustrating time for me as a parent because every store I take my children in is filled with scary and creepy things.

I recently took my 7-year-old son and 4-year-old twin girls to get a happy meal at McDonalds. As you probably remember yourself this is quite a highlight for small children. Any time I ask my children where they want to get something to eat it is always McDonalds. It is not because of the salty fries, crusty cheeseburger or overly processed nuggets. It is always because they know they will get a toy. McDonalds is a genius at marketing to children. They usually put a toy in the box that is really popular in the culture. This particular trip my little girls got a toy from “Monster High.” I have never seen the show and I do not really plan on it, but the toy is a box filled with activities that feature teenage vampires and monster girls who are dressed like prostitutes. The activities on the inside are two sticker books filled with stickers of crossbones, skulls, vampire teeth, and hearts with teeth in them. Also in the activity box are pictures that teach you how to draw a skull with a bow on it.

The dictionary defines a vampire as “a preternatural being, commonly believed to be a reanimated corpse, that is said to suck the blood of sleeping persons at night.”

For our children the line of what is good and evil is becoming more elusive. Vampires are no longer evil. They now sparkle, fall in love with humans, and only suck the blood of deer…unless they get real hungry, then humans watch out.

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I took the toys from my girls and threw them in the trash. I was not cold hearted and I told them I would replace them with a more appropriate toys. I tried to use this moment as a teaching moment. I told my son and my girls that as followers of Jesus we do not celebrate death. I tell them that Jesus came and died the death we deserved so that we might have eternal life. (John 10:10)

Death is not our friend.
Sin brought death into the world.
We will not and cannot celebrate what sin brings.
We cannot celebrate that which separates us from our loved ones.
Death brings depression and despair.
We celebrate joy, hope and life.

I think there has been a not so subtle shift to an acceptance of satanic things and most parents have not even noticed. Horror movies, teen vampire romance novels, and a host of other things that focus on the occult, demons, monsters, evil spirits and witchcraft have been infused into the lives of our children. Is it any wonder that so many young people are taking their lives.

Children and teenagers are naturally drawn to spiritual things. Even if children are not brought up in church or have no religious affiliation they will seek out that which is spiritual, be it good or evil. There is an unseen battle going on for the hearts of my children and for the hearts of your children (if you have them).

With Halloween on its way if you are a Christian parent you should pause and think about how you want to direct your children to think about the Holiday.

In our culture Halloween is largely a celebration of fear and death. If you do not believe me then go to your local Wal-Mart or CVS and count the number of skeleton, witch, and zombie paraphernalia available. As a kid Halloween was one of my favorite Holidays. Cool weather, candy, and dressing up are fun for any kid.

Here are some ways I am going to enjoy October 31st with my family without embracing the culture of death.

1) Have Fun – Not every day do you have a chance to dress up with your kids and walk around and get free candy. I am going to take tons of pictures of my kids and let them be princesses, a flower and a super hero…heck I might even dress up myself.

2) Change the Focus – We celebrate Fall. We celebrate the cool weather. We celebrate dressing up as our favorite characters. We celebrate candy. We celebrate Reformation Day (October 31 is the day the Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the church at Wittenberg. If you don’t know what that means then you should really Google “Martin Luther Reformer”…it’s kind of important)

3) Dress Up – Every child likes to dress up for Halloween. It is one of the highlights of their year. I can remember being a kid and all of the thrill and excitement that came with finding the perfect costume. I only allow my children to dress as something positive and not scary or evil.

4) Teach Your Children why you do not celebrate scary things at Halloween.

5) Use Halloween to the Glory of God – be kind to your neighbors. Do not hide in your basement or turn all the lights out in your home. This is the one time a year you actually have people coming to your home. Buy the best candy on the street. Be the house every kid wants to go to because you give out full candy bars. Have a block party in your yard. My Brother-in-law looks forward to Halloween every year. He gets to know his neighbors and grills hotdogs for everyone that comes by. He told me he gave out something like 200 hot dogs last year and all of the neighbors were so appreciative.

6) Love the Zombies – I have to be real honest, it bothers me when I see a cute 5 year old dressed as a zombie and he is holding a pretend severed head in his hand. I want to slap his parents for allowing him to dress like that. But I am not his parent so my job is just to love him and make sure I give him some good candy. He may come to my church one Sunday.

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Don’t Hate On Haiti

I write this as I am on a plane on the way home from the amazing country of Haiti. Haiti was in the news a lot a few years ago when a very severe earthquake hit the country and thousands of people lost their lives. Much of the publicity from the media towards the nation of Haiti shows a nation of poverty and hopelessness. It is true that Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world. However there is so much about Haiti to love. I want you to know what I love about Haiti. I spent 5 days with a pastor named Lesly Bertrand who has planted over 30 churches in the last 35 years in Haiti. It grieves him that much of the publicity towards Haiti is negative. Pastor Lesly loves his country and the people of his country and he wants the world to know that Haiti is an amazing place. I agree with him.

On Saturday we flew into Port-a-Prince and found a whole different world from the one we left just two hours earlier in Miami. Once our team exited the airport we found many people wanting to help us with our bags. Many of these were young children with hunger in their eyes just hoping the rich Americans may give them a little bit of money. Port-a-Prince is a very busy city that is packed with people, vendors, dust and smoke. It is a bit overwhelming. The rules of the road seem to be chaotic while the horns on the cars never stop beeping. The scenery quickly changed as we left the city. We had a beautiful scenic drive to the mountains of Haiti. Most people don’t know that Haiti has some of the most beautiful country imaginable. The mountains are a mix of the Blue Ridge Mountains, mountains of Israel and a tropical island. This is an inspiring hot country that yields an abundance of amazing fruit. While in Haiti we had fresh organic bananas, mangos, watermelon, avocado, pineapple and a variety of other fruits. The people of the mountains were all warm and friendly. They live a quite and peaceful agricultural life. They live off of the land and off the farm animals they raise. The farming they do is 100% by hand. Each morning in Haiti you need no alarm clock as the air is filled with the sounds of roosters crowing everywhere.

What the people of Haiti do not have is part of what makes them so special. In America we live for entertainment. In the mountains of Haiti they have very little in the form of entertainment. Most places do not have power and the people are extremely poor. What they lack in material possessions they make up for in time spent together. The people in the communities of Haiti all know one another. They live in very tight knit neighborhoods that will stop whatever they are doing if someone in the community needs help. Very few of the people of Haiti have transportation other than their feet. Those who do have transportation (usually in the form of a small motorcycle) are more than ready to allow who ever needs a ride to ride with them. It was not uncommon to see 4 people on one of these small motorcycles. Most Haitians do not have a TV so they sit around and actually talk to each other (I know…crazy right?).

The churches in Haiti taught me so much. On Sunday I was blessed to preach in a church that crammed over 100 people in a small tin building that was literally held up with sticks. It was hot and this American was covered in sweat. None of the Haitians were aware that they needed a nice building and air conditioning to worship God. The worship of the people was so strong and pure.

These people have nothing.
They literally need to trust Jesus for everything.
They are totally dependent on Him even for their next meal.

The church did not have a sound system and it didn’t need one. Most songs are sung with only the instruments of the people’s voices. They do not sing with their voices alone but they sing with their hearts and souls. They all sing as loud as they can with their hands lifted in praise to the Lord. The services are long with much prayer and singing. The sermon is on average one hour and if you do not preach that long then you have done the people a disservice. All of the children are in the service with the adults. From newborns to children of all ages they are in the worship service for the duration. I was amazed at the children. Small children did not complain or move during the long and hot service. They were perfectly behaved (Most of them just stared at our team the whole time). Oh and how the church prays! They do not pray with arms folded in silent introspection. They do not ask one person to pray. They all pray…out loud! They attack the throne of God with begging and pleading. They lift their hands. They lift their voices and they beg God to answer them. They seamlessly flow into a song from the prayer time. It was such an encouragement to see these brothers and sisters worship.

I was in Haiti with Pastor David Bridwell and my dad (Tom Hermann). Pastor David and I were commissioned to lead a pastor’s conference of mountain pastors. We taught the book of 1 Timothy and some basics on sermon preparation and planning. My dad taught one night on prayer and served as our prayer warrior and personal bodyguard.

Pastors came from all over to the conference. We ended up with about 40 pastors in attendance. The pastors were so attentive, loving, and encouraging. They loved to talk about the Bible and what God is doing in their churches. Many of the pastors walked for hours to come to the conference. About half of them would sleep on the concrete floor of the mission house during the night because it was too far for them to travel home. The pastors woke up at 5:30AM singing praise to God. It was so sweet to hear these men wake up with praise on their lips.

The pastors in Haiti don’t get paid. They labor, study, give, listen, pray, counsel, visit and 100 other things that pastors do for riches in heaven. They do not complain about this. This is just the way it is and they count it an honor to serve the Lord.

For the two days of the pastors conference there were men and women that prepared meals for the pastors. To me these meals were good but seemed pretty basic, beans and rice and some form of meat and vegetable. It blew my mind when Pastor Lesly told me that this will be the best meal some of these pastors will have all year long.

WHAT I BRING BACK

I want to be thankful. I want to be mindful of all the blessings I have. I don’t want to simply live in comfort but do all I can to help others. I want to remember the face of the little girl who was about 3 years old at the church service I attended. I reached out to shake her hand and she looked at me with wanting eyes and rubbed her belly and communicated, “can you give me something to eat?” I would have taken her home. I would have given her whatever I could, but this was her life. Her existence would be one of struggle. God did not give us riches in America to horde but to invest. I pray I will remember that the church is global and there are millions around the world who do not even have their basic needs met. If I won’t help them, who will?

I want to love my community more. I want to see people in Greensboro come to Christ. I want the members of the church I pastor to have a heart to see their lost neighbors come to faith in Jesus. I want to take more people to foreign countries so they can understand how important it is that we as Americans be involved in what God is doing in the world. We can be such a blessing to these believers if we will take the time to open our eyes to the needs in the community and the needs of the world.

Haiti is full of beauty and wonder. It is a place that has captured my heart. I will pray for my pastor friends. I will continue to invest in their lives. I will be a better pastor to my people.

If you have never left the comfort of your community to go somewhere and share Jesus I pray you would obey the Lord’s commands and take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Save some money, go on mission. When you go to change the world you will find out that it is your world that will be changed.
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