The Power of Story

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The following guest post is by Creston Mapes, author of the inspirational thrillers Sky Zone, Poison Town, and Fear Has a Name. He has written for some of the world’s most recognized corporations, colleges and ministries, and has ghost-written seven non-fiction titles. His early years as a reporter inspire many of his novels.

The following excerpts are reprinted with his permission from the novel Fear Has a Name.

***

The husky man lurking outside the front door of Pamela Crittendon’s house carried a black leather satchel, like a doctor’s bag.

His face was hardened and pasty, with tiny eyes and a thatch of curly red hair. He wore all black, from his T-shirt and leather vest to his jeans and cowboy boots. And he stood uncomfortably close to the door.

The doorbell rang a third time.

Pamela’s head buzzed.

He clamped the doorknob. “Open!”

The hardware made a sickening racket.

“Get out of here!” Her stomach turned. “I’m calling the police!”

She rushed for the phone in the kitchen.

Boom!

Pamela halted, turned toward the noise at the door, and gawked in horror as the stranger bent over and drove his shoulder—the size of a medicine ball—into the door, splintering the wood frame.

BOOM!

• • •

After the home invasion, from which Pamela and her children escaped, the following conversation ensued between Pamela and her husband, reporter Jack Crittendon.

“I want us to get a gun,” Pamela said.

Jack’s face fell.

“How else will we defend ourselves if he comes back?”

Jack’s mouth sealed and his eyes narrowed.

“We can’t count on a patrol car coming by here once every few days,” she said.

He still didn’t speak.

“Your dad had a gun,” Pamela said. “Mine has one.”

“Does that make it safe?”

“Safe? Let’s talk about safe! There’ll be nothing left to keep safe if he comes back!”

Pamela waited, resolute.

“Look,” he finally said, “his coming back today raises the stakes, I admit it. I just think that before we buy a gun and learn to use it—which we can certainly do—we need to ask ourselves if that’s the best choice, the wisest choice. Is it what God wants? If it is, great; we’ll do it.”

Pamela’s head dropped into her hands. She didn’t want to talk about what God wanted. Not now. She knew what she needed and that was all there was to it. Her mind and body and spirit felt utterly spent, and the day was only half over.

“I understand you felt helpless,” Jack said. “We just need to make sure we both agree completely before we decide to keep a weapon in this house that can take someone’s life . . .”

• • •

In my book, Fear Has a Name, there’s been a home invasion. Time reveals that the young wife and mother in the book, Pamela Crittendon, is being stalked by a former classmate. She wants a gun in the house to defend herself and her children in case the fiend returns. Her husband feels they need to discuss some important issues — would it be safe to have a gun with two girls in the house; would you be willing to use the gun and shoot to kill; is this something God wants for us?

Gripping fiction can cause readers to think about things from a perspective they never had before, and perhaps even explore the issues in greater depth once they’ve put the book down.

One of my intentions when writing fiction is to cause readers to stop and think, and to contemplate controversial issues they may have never come to terms with before. All six of my books have reflected what God was doing in my life at the time of writing.

One of the biggest questions I was wrestling with when I wrote Fear Has a Name was, why do terrible things happen to good people, especially Christians? Why does God allow such trials for His children? This was burdening me. Here is a quote I found that we inserted at the beginning of Fear Has a Name, reflecting on those same weighty questions:

 “It’s a very long story, but the short version is this:

I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith

with the facts of life . . . I could no longer explain how there can be a good and

all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things.

For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery

and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a

good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

Bart D. Ehrman

Indeed, are we Christians supposed to skim over unfairness and atrocities — purposefully squelching any thought of them? How do we reconcile events like 9-11, the Holocaust, the ISIS beheadings, and things like home invasions, kidnappings, and random rampages?

I still don’t have a concrete answer. These things grieve me. My heart mourns for the people impacted. But, somewhere deep down in my soul, I know my Maker reigns. And that became the overarching theme of Fear Has a Name: “No matter what — even the unthinkable — God is in control. He is bigger. Mightier. On His throne. And I can trust Him; I must trust Him. Who else can I turn to in my distress, but the Maker of heaven and earth?”

We ended the book with several thought-provoking statements that I found in my research:

“Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be.

But it could not be a departure from the way things ought to be unless

there is a way things ought to be. If there is a way things ought to be,

then there is a design plan for how things ought to be.

And if there is such a design plan, then there is a designer.”

R. Douglas Geivett

 

“Thus it is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess him.

My hosanna has come forth from the crucible of doubt.”

Anne Fremantle

I wonder if a fictional story has ever had a profound or life-changing impact on you? If so, we would love to hear from you — on that, or any other thoughts or opinions this blog may have brought to mind.

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How to Experience God’s Presence through Prayer

Linda Evans Shepherd

Today’s guest post is by Linda Evans Shepherd a nationally known Christian speaker and a best-selling author. She’s the president of Right to the Heart Ministries, and the founder of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. Her online and speaking ministries have seen well over 300 thousand people come to Christ and is viewed by over 45,000 people daily. She’s been married to her husband, Paul, for 35 years and has two young adult children; Jim a software engineer and Laura, a survivor of a year-long coma following a car accident when she was an infant.

Theologian and author Stanley G. Grenz once wrote in his book, Prayer, the Cry for the Kingdom, “The greatest challenge that we face today is the challenge to pray. Meeting this challenge requires that we merely cease talking about prayer and begin to pray.”

I agree with Grenz. Knowing how to pray will make an incredible difference in our relationship with God and also in our lives.

Look at it this way. Imagine you’re a young, single man and you’ve just asked the girl in your accounting class for a date because you’re genuinely interested in getting to know her. The two of you agree to meet at your favorite coffee shop to chat. When you’re finally sitting across from her, sipping a mug of steaming mocha latte, you ask, “How do you think you did on the test this morning?”

She shrugs. “Fine.”

“So, tell me about your family?”

“Not much to say, really.”

More silence.

“How are your classes going?”

“They’re going.”

It’s so quiet you can hear the crickets chirping.

Can you imagine how you would feel if the conversation stayed on this level, especially when you knew this interesting young woman was holding back? You would have to wonder if she was bored, really didn’t want to hang out with you, or perhaps was just nervous.

Regardless of the reason, if the conversations between the two of you stayed forever stalled, it would be difficult to grow a deeper friendship.

Imagine your prayer life following this example. Maybe that’s not so difficult to imagine because all you ever pray is an old line like, “God, bless me and mine. Amen.”

If this is you, know you’re not alone in your struggle to communicate with God. But regardless, it’s hard to build a deeper relationship with God when your prayer life is stuck in neutral. Sure, God still loves you, but think of all you’ll miss by not becoming more invested in your relationship with him.

But what if the problem is that you really don’t feel comfortable talking to God and you worry you might say the wrong thing to him.

I can understand this concern. I mean, God is the most awesome and powerful being in the universe. But treating God like a stranger you just met on the subway is not the answer. Perhaps what you really need is a few basic conversation starters, such as these prayer ABCs:

  1. Acknowledge him. Let him know you’re thinking about him. “Hi, Lord. I love you. Would you go into my day with me?”
  2. Bring it. Tell him about your concerns or needs. “Lord, I’m worried about making rent this month. Would you show me what to do? Would you provide for my need?”
  3. Chat. Tell God whatever is on your mind. For example, you could tell him about your day, problems, job, family, bank account, or mother-in-law, just as if you were talking to a good friend. “Lord, did you see the family at dinner tonight? I’m worried about little Bobby. He seemed so quiet, and I’m wondering if something’s wrong. Would you comfort him and give me wisdom to know how to talk to him about what’s going on?”

Sure, God already knows everything about whatever topic you might bring up, but that’s not the point. The point is, just like in any relationship, you need to communicate because communication builds intimacy. Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing because God already knows your heart. God is big enough to take your joy, your tears, your fear, your frustrations, your anger, and even your tantrums. But what he doesn’t want from you is a cold shoulder. Whatever you bring to God, he’ll help you through. Then when you look back, you’ll see his fingerprints on the things you brought to him in prayer.

You can get Linda Evans Shepherd’s ebook Experiencing God’s Presence, Learning to Listen While and her other ebooks on Vyrso today.

Have you found new avenues of growth in your prayer life? What are some recommendations you would have for our readers trying to cultivate a prayer life?

 

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Yes or No?

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Today’s guest post is by Jeff Shinabarger, a social entrepreneur and the author of  Yes or No and More or Less. Jeff and his wife, Andre, live in Atlanta where he is personally engaged in over 100 start-ups focused on solving problems through the non-profit, Plywood People. 

Have you ever considered that two small words have the ability to change everything? Yes or no.

Most decisions ultimately come down to the moment when you choose to say yes or choose to say no. I believe that the words yes and no are the most powerful words in the dictionary. They define what we love, what we will be known for, and what we will do with our lives. Yes and no begin new stories and end old plot lines. They are definitive words: words that significantly change the trajectory of life.

When you say yes or no, you give new direction to where you are going and what is still to come. Yes or no determines the hours you will spend in a job. Yes or no makes a commitment to a lifelong relationship. Yes or no shapes your character in times of stress. Yes or no brings you breathlessly to the doctor’s office to hear the heartbeat of a child. Yes or no commits you to buy and pay for a car and even a house. Yes or no is what leaves you anxiously waiting to hear if an investor chooses to give your idea funding or supports your social cause to help people in need. Most decisions come down to two small words that define everything. Those two small words are yes and no.

Choices happen every minute of every day, but some choices have more weight than others. As much as we fret about what to wear in the morning or where to go on the next big date, those moments don’t compare with life choices that define where we live, what we do, and who we spend our life with. If you think about the last year, there is a good chance you can remember a minimum of three choices that defined your year. If you consider your entire life, you will recall probably 10-15 decisions that defined what you are doing today and the story you are living. They were defining moments in which you said either yes or no, turning points that forged a path in a different direction toward where you are today. Depending on which little word you use in each situation, it moves you either to a new place or away from that very same place.

Decisions are moments of choice. It’s this or that or the other option, and there are often more options than we realize. Decisions start and end with you. I can’t make a decision for you; it’s on your shoulders. Sometimes that weight on our shoulders is heavy. Oddly enough, the heavier the decisions, the higher our shoulders rise. The tension tightens the neck as the stress seems to yank shoulder muscles up toward our ears.

Day after day, you choose your future. Sometimes other people make decisions that affect you, but you still choose your response as a part of the equation of what happens next. Many decisions are easy, but some weigh more than others. I am thankful that we were created in a way to make decisions; we were given the choice of how to live and what to believe. I do believe that in the end God will have ultimate determination of the world, but we have been granted the freedom to live and make choices in this beautiful and broken world. Even in environments controlled by others, we always have the option to follow that law or direction, or not.

The questions keep coming in every stage of life. Whether it’s far in the future or right in front of you, it’s always a good time to consider your process for making a crucial decision. Sadly, I can’t tell you what to decide. (Imagine how successful I would be if I could!) I do, however, believe I can assist you in becoming a decision maker.

The key question I ask throughout my book is simply: What do you do when you don’t know what to do? My hope is to offer you some practical ways to navigate when the path to yes or no is difficult to discern. I want to give you action points to assist you in thinking through how you make choices not just on your own but alongside the people you love and trust.

You might wonder why I care so much about helping people, like you, make decisions. I believe many of us see things in the world that are broken and feel a deep desire to fix them. We want to be problem solvers. But we will never solve a problem unless we are willing to make decisions that others have not been able to make. I believe that you and your friends have the ability to solve problems that impact people and I want to help in that process.

If you want to become a better decision maker, I invite you to check out Yes or No. We created a simple website, www.YesOrNoBook.com, where you can take a free assessment to determine your decision making style as a starting point for your journey of becoming a decision maker.

***

Get Jeff’s newest ebook, Yes or No today on Vyrso! Learn how to make better decisions and become a problem solver that impacts people.

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Addiction: A Contemporary Problem with Historical Roots

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Today’s guest post is by Michelle Griep, an accomplished novelist and author of A Heart Deceived, which you can get for just 99 cents through September 26. 

What comes to mind when I say Jane Austen? Hold on. Let me guess:

  •  Swirling ballroom scenes
  •  Dinner parties galore
  •  The dashing Mr. Darcy

Any of these answers would be right, of course, but you’d also be correct if you’d shouted out opium usage. Austen’s mother used opium to help her sleep, and her father was an agent in the trade. Elizabeth Barrett Browning took opiates every day from the age of fourteen, Sir Walter Scott consumed six grams a day, and Samuel Coleridge was a regular user.

Yes, indeed. I hate to burst your bubble of the romantic days of yore, but opium addiction was an issue to be reckoned with.

The first written account of the non-medicinal virtues of this drug is in De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, published in 1821. He advocates opium usage not as a pharmaceutical pain reliever, but as a trip into “an inner world of secret self-consciousness.” Sounds positively hippyish, eh?

Had Mr. Darcy been hanging out in a nearby opium den, these are the symptoms Elizabeth Bennett should’ve looked for:

  • Red or glazed eyes
  • Confusion
  • Slurred or rapid speech
  • Loss of appetite
  • Apathy or depression
  • Frequent headaches
  • Insomnia

While Jane Austen preferred to write of dances and dinners, I dove into the seamier side of things and made the hero in A Heart Deceived a recovering opium addict. Why?

Because addiction is a contemporary problem with historical roots.

It’s just as hard for my fictional character in this story, Ethan Goodwin, to turn down a bottle of laudanum as it is for a real person today to pass on a hit of meth. With God’s help, it can be done—which is exactly what Ethan discovers.

Ethan has been on the run all of his life—from family, from the law, from God. After a heart-changing encounter with the gritty Reverend John Newton, Ethan would like nothing more than to become a man of integrity—an impossible feat for an opium addict charged with murder.

My other character in A Heart Deceived, Miri Brayden, teeters on a razor’s edge between placating and enraging her brother, whom she depends upon for support. Yet if his anger is unleashed, so is his madness. Miri must keep his descent into lunacy a secret, or he’ll be committed to an asylum—and she’ll be sent to the poorhouse.

When Ethan shows up on Miri’s doorstep, her balancing act falls to pieces. Both Ethan and Miri are caught in a web of lies and deceit—fallacies that land Ethan in prison and Miri in the asylum with her brother. Only the truth will set them free.

***

Get Michelle Griep’s ebook, A Heart Deceived, for 99 cents through September 26. Be sure to check out the 100+ fiction titles we have on sale for 99 cents!

 

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Pursuing Justice in a Too-Easy-to-Quit World

overrated-are-we-more-in-love-with-the-idea-of-changing-the-world-than-actually-changing-the-world

The following is an excerpt from Eugene Cho’s book, Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World than Actually Changing the World? (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 118, 122-125.

Today, it’s just so easy.

Easy to change.

Easy to quit.

Easy to abandon ship.

Easy to file for a divorce online.

So easy to do whatever.

In Luke 5 we read about what most scholars speculate to be four friends who encounter a man who was paralyzed. They felt compassion for the man and wanted to bring him to Jesus for healing.

Let’s be real here—it probably wasn’t an easy task. We don’t know how long or how far they carried this person. We don’t know the conditions of the road or path. We have no idea how heavy this man was, but to carry a grown man who could not help himself move was, and is, no easy task. In short, it was a commitment.

So these guys carried this man to the home where Jesus was speaking, believing that Jesus could do something to help. When they arrived, they saw that the home was packed. There was a huge crowd. Standing room only. There was absolutely no way in. Story over. They had every reason to give up.

Put yourself in this situation. Imagine if it were you. You see the huge crowd. You’re tired. You’ve just carried a grown dude for some fair distance. You probably say, “Sorry, dude,” and give up. Fair enough. So you hold up your phone, snap a selfie of yourself frowning, with the invalid and the crowd in the background of the picture, then cross-post it to Facebook and Twitter with this comment:

Way too crowded. Maybe next time. #TryingToHelp #Invalid #Jesus #YOLO

You’d get lots of likes, several affirming comments to your post, and seven retweets. The story could’ve ended there. We would all applaud with a polite golf clap. We would say, “I don’t blame you. You did what you could.” Isn’t that such a common saying nowadays? You did what you could.

Sometimes we underestimate not just what we can do in our lives but what God can do in our lives. These guys did not give up. They had faith that God could act, that He could heal. They were compelled by their compassion for this man who understood the pain of being marginalized, ostracized, and ignored.

They considered their options and came up with a solution they probably thought was a bit crazy at first. If they couldn’t bring this paralyzed man through the door, they’d lower him down into the home through the roof.

Once they decided that lowering a man in from the ceiling would be a good idea, they needed to figure out how to do it. While I’m no expert on house structures of the first century in Israel, they likely had to walk up some steep, narrow stairs on the side of the home and then hoist him up onto the roof. Together they lifted 150 to 200 pounds of unwieldy weight.

Once they figured that out and did it, they then had to dismantle the roof itself. I hope the homeowner had insurance. Once the roof had a sizable hole in it, the man had to be lowered into the room. Imagine the yelling and commotion from within the crowded home. Everyone in the room looked up at the roof.

And then, of course, Jesus healed their friend and commended their faith.

What a moment.

This story inspires me for several reasons. These men had compassion. They cared. They saw the invalid as someone worthy of attention.
They had faith in Jesus. This was fairly early in Jesus’s ministry, and I’m certain that these men still had many questions about Jesus, but what they knew, heard, felt, and experienced was enough for them to have faith in Him.

They worked together to make this happen.

When I say we’ve got to be tenacious, I’m not suggesting that we have to be tenacious by ourselves. Sometimes we’ve got to look for like-minded, like-hearted, and similarly tenacious people, and either join them or recruit them to our cause.

Their creativity inspires me. They probably had to convince people that though it seemed crazy, they could do it. They didn’t quit. They had a goal in mind. It may not have been pretty. They might’ve said a few choice words along the way. They certainly messed up a roof. Maybe they dropped the man at one point. I’m sure they were sweaty, but they believed that his life mattered.

Maybe it seems kind of self-centered, but when Jesus looked up and saw them opening up the roof, the Bible says that He saw their faith. The faith of the men helping. Then Jesus told the disabled man, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).

Now that’s a better ending to the story. And imagine this tweet instead:

We did it! Jesus saw the man, healed him, forgave him! #Thankful #PraiseJesus #RaiseTheRoof

***

Interested in reading more? Download  Overrated by Eugene Cho for just $9.59 on Vyrso today!

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The Blessing of Bread – Guest Post by Jamie George

love-well-living-life-unrehearsed-and-unstuck

Today’s guest post is written by Jamie George, the author of Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck, and pastor of The Journey Church in Franklin, Tennessee.  

“Give us this day our daily bread.” — Matthew 6:11

In order to steer ourselves toward His glory, we need navigation. In order to fuel this vehicle and keep it on mission we need nourishment. We start with the physical:“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Our daily need for food is meant to be a constant reminder. We are not our own source of sustenance, we are creatures in daily need.

It would not have been lost on Jesus’ hearers that their ancestors looked to God literally, each day for daily bread or something like it. When the Israelites were wandering around in the desert for 40 years after their refusal to trust God, He displayed His faithfulness by providing for them manna from heaven.  This manna was unusual. It was like a bread source that could be used for various dishes in various ways, and provided daily nourishment. Daily.

Whatever was not used that day went bad. What was needed would then be provided the following day. Jesus hearers would easily have made the connection.

“Give us this day our daily bread” is a declaration of dependence.

Some of us have trouble receiving. We don’t like asking for help. It makes us feel weak. Praying this prayer is acknowledging that I am weak.

“Consumerism is a narcotic that dulls the awareness that we are in need. By buying what we need, we assume control of our lives. 

We replace a sense of need with a sense of ownership, and our sense of neediness recedes . . . . Needs prepare us for a life of receptivity. Every so-called limit is access to a gift.”

—Tell it Slant, Eugene Peterson

If you are fully self-sufficient then you have no need for love. If, however, you are in need, you are in a place of receptivity. You are prepped for love. Many of us are ambitious about giving love away, but have we learned to be just as ambitious in our desire to receive it?

***

Want to read more from Jamie George? Check out Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck today!

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Wisdom Is Learned

Seeking Daily the Heart of God

Today’s guest post is by Boyd Bailey, author of the Wisdom Hunters devotionals—on sale for just 99 cents each—as well as the founder of Wisdom Hunters Inc., a ministry that’s impacted people in over 86 countries through a daily-devotion blog and devotional books.

“The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity . . .” —Proverbs 1:1–3

There is a definite educational element to wisdom. It does not happen in a spiritual vacuum or without intellectual effort. Those who excel in becoming wise learn to educate themselves in the ways of wisdom. They read the Bible and other writings that define wisdom, with a filter of faith in God. There are wise sayings outside of Holy Writ, but beyond the context of Christ, wisdom drifts into a cheap imitation in worldly wisdom.

Therefore, for wisdom to be the most meaningful, it must incubate and grow in a teachable and humble heart. A seed of corn does not germinate on the surface of hard soil—in a similar ecosystem, seeds of wisdom bring life and insight to a heart moistened by heaven’s righteous rain. Lifetime learners understand the need to always gain wisdom. Moses, upon a foundation of faith, was educated in wisdom in preparation to become one of God’s chosen leaders.

“And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22).

However, it’s from an unselfish motivation and a humble attitude that the Lord’s wisdom is able to transform a life. Wisdom is not for personal gain, but for the propagation of Almighty God’s agenda. A once wise man becomes a fool, when he uses divine insight for individual advantage, instead of the good of the group. What is God teaching you? How are you growing wise in your parenting, marriage, and decision-making skills?

Educators in wisdom are all around—pray for your pastor to sit at the feet of Jesus in prayer, so his mind might be molded by the Holy Spirit’s insights and instruction. Look for wisdom from faithful saints who penned timeless words, while they worked through their suffering and triumphs, as disciples of Jesus. Wisdom comes from PhDs, village preachers, and everyone in between. Wisdom abounds where the wise are found. Remember, the less you talk, the more wisdom you gain—as you listen to learn.

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance . . .” (Proverbs 1:5).

So, be a student of your Savior Jesus’ wisdom and you will never lack for knowledge. Wisdom is what attracts your children and grandchildren to want to be with you. The wise age well—like a robust wine—while fools flounder in insecure ignorance. Wise Christians are continually educated in wisdom, so that they can prayerfully educate others.

“. . . so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known . . .” (Ephesians 3:10a).

* * *

For a limited time, save on 11 inspirational devotionals by Boyd Bailey, founder of Wisdom Hunters.

Get all 11 titles for just $10.89!

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Why You Shouldn’t Fall in Love

Dating Like Airplanes

Today’s guest post is by Caleb Breakey, former journalist and author of Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church. Breakey’s latest book, Dating like Airplanes: Why Just Fall in Love When You Can Fly?, offers a biblical roadmap for Christians dating in the modern world, and poses the question: why just fall in love when you can fly? Perfect for pastors, counselors, and anyone in the dating world, get Dating like Airplanes for just $7.79!

 

1. For many, dating is considered a lifestyle. How can we redefine dating so that it reflects biblical principles without being legalistic? 

We get back to the why.

Why does God give us relationship guidelines? To be cruel? Or to protect us and bless us? Then we stop making “Christian dating” about what not to do and start making it about what we do.

We sit in circles and discuss the kind of Jesus love that gets to know the other in a way that’s so far beyond physical attraction (Proverbs 19:2). The kind that goes above and beyond in showing honor (Romans 12:10). The kind that radiates patience, kindness, and truthfulness to the other, always doing what lifts up (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). The kind that clothes itself in humility and makes itself a servant to helping the other progress in character (1 Peter 5:5).

The kind that builds respect by treating the other as though he or she were a brother or sister—and the very temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). The kind that speaks to the other with integrity and dignity (Titus 2:7–8) and refuses to lust with its eyes (Matthew 5:27–30). The kind that does everything it possibly can to keep the other sexually pure and emotionally whole, even if it means seeking help outside of the relationship (1 Corinthians 6:18; Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 27:12). The kind that cries out for God to search itself for mixed motives and manipulative ways (Psalm 139:23–24). The kind that always plans ahead, knowing that it wants to do what’s right but far too easily chooses what’s wrong instead (Matthew 26:41).

Above all, the kind that ignites a beautiful romance by helping the other seek God first in everything (Proverbs 16:3; Matthew 6:33). The kind that sets its mind to helping the other lay up treasures in heaven, live by every word of God, and exude intimacy with Jesus (Matthew 6:19; Matthew 4:4). The kind that challenges the other to dive deeper into the abundance of Christ, gaze at his beauty, dwell on his loving-kindness, and praise him for all that he’s done (Psalm 27:4; Isaiah 63:7).

2. Do you believe there’s one special person out there for everyone? Why?

The world sells us the whimsical idea that if you just keep searching, eventually you will find your soul mate—the one person in all of creation who will fill your heart with joy, dry your every tear, and hang on your every word.

This is a lie.

Great relationships don’t happen when you find your “soul mate.” They happen when you find someone who shares your desire to fly, who wants to point to Jesus in all things, who chooses to give what’s needed most over what’s wanted now.

And this is great news.

If it were true that there were only one perfect person for you, it would be easy to question whether or not you found the right person when things got rough. In fact, you might even use this logic to justify ending a relationship and moving on to the next person you think is “the one.” This is how many people date today, always looking for the one, always hitting a snag in the relationship, and always moving on to the next person.

If you subscribe to the idea of the one, let it go. Instead focus on being the one. Focus on flying in love.

3. Many people enter into relationships believing they can change their partner—particularly if their partner isn’t a Christian, but they want them to be. What advice do you have for those people?

Going into a relationship looking to change someone is to set yourself up for extreme difficulty and pain. Relationships are not the best place for evangelism, nor are marriages the best place for trying to reform someone’s character or heart.

The entire purpose of a relationship is to discover whether or not you and your other are fit to marry. But God doesn’t want us marrying unless it’s to someone who shines with the light of Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:14). Reason tells us, then, that if someone doesn’t know Jesus, the relationship shouldn’t ever begin.

I know that isn’t easy to hear.

Perhaps you recently became a Christian but your other is not. Perhaps you’re dating a nonbeliever in hopes of introducing him or her to Jesus. And all you want is for another Christian to listen to you instead of telling you to break up.

This is a tough one, friend.

Dating someone who doesn’t know and love God is asking for a tremendous amount of heartache. If not now, then when you’re married. And if not in your early marriage, then when you have children.

So if your other doesn’t know Jesus, the very best thing you can do is break it off, surround yourself with brothers and sisters who will love you through your grief and mourning, and cling to Christ.

4. What inspired you to write Dating like Airplanes?

My wife and I traveled an unconventional road to romance. We met at ages 11 and 14—you might say that’s when we first “fell in love”—liked each other more and more as the years passed, and finally got to the point where we idolized each other. So her father separated us for two and half years—no communication allowed.

This led both of us into intense heartache and eventually extreme heart change, from each other to Jesus. And after 30 months of not knowing what it all meant for our relationship—or lack of one—her father said I could start seeing his daughter, and it was like nothing had changed between us.

At ages 19 and 17, we started dating and tried to honor God throughout our relationship. But most of the time we didn’t know how and suffered for it. That’s why writing Dating like Airplanes was so important to me. I wanted to explore how to follow Jesus in the real but raw aspect of dating so that others could do their relationship in a more Jesus-powered, beautiful way.

5. What’s the difference between flying and falling in love?

When I think of falling, I think of being out of control. There is no way to slow down. No way to navigate. Just free falling to the inevitable crash. This isn’t exactly the best image when it comes to you and the person you’re giving your heart to.

That’s when I asked, “What if you could fly instead of fall? What would that look like in a dating relationship?” The answer is that it would be steady. Controlled. Much easier to navigate and glide to wherever you want to go.

So I went to Scripture to see if flying were possible.

And it is.

I define flying as giving the other person what’s needed most instead of taking what you want now. This selfless act mirrors Jesus and is the purest expression of love you could ever embrace. The wellspring from which marriage-ready relationships flow. It’s the basis of Dating like Airplanes.

But back to the question—the difference between falling and flying is this: Falling in love breaks bones. Flying in love protects them and pursues the beautiful way of Jesus in your relationship.

6. Your book aims to ascend “to the kind of romance you so desire but doubt is possible”—what do you mean by this?

Deep down everyone wants a beautiful romance. Everyone wants a prince or princess who loves them, wants them, is committed to them, and never turns toward another person. Someone who is pure, loving, forgiving, thoughtful, humble, others oriented, and a servant.

Most people believe this is a fairytale. But that’s only partly true.

There are no perfect people out there. But there are people who believe God’s Word contains the secret to a beautiful romance, seek it passionately, and find it. In Dating like Airplanes, I try to help people get past fairytale thinking and start pursuing the beautiful way of Jesus in how they do relationships.

7. What role does the church play in someone’s dating relationship? 

When entering a relationship, you can have all sorts of resolutions and willpower. But the fact is, no one can stay strong forever. We all break. And when we do, everything falls apart . . . and trying to tie it back together is a long, tedious process.

Having the support of another in your relationship is huge. This person can be there to talk with you through your feelings and your struggles and also push you to stick to your convictions. This is where the church can play a vital role in the dating relationship.

Opening your relationship to several people who love you allows you to be bolstered with prayer, encouragement, and support. The older I get, the more I experience the amazing power of Christian community and prayer. We may never understand how it all works, but God has clearly shown us in Scripture that these aspects play a beautiful role in his economy.

Find people to pray for you and your relationship, keep you accountable to God’s standard, and be specific in your requests for help.

8. How can we equip millennials for healthy dating habits?

Talk with them about the why. Talk with them about the amazing power of reflecting Jesus—reflecting the ultimate love one person can give another—in their relationships. Discuss what they can do to set themselves up for a beautiful relationship, not just thump them with rule after rule of what not to do.

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There’s never been a more important time to reevaluate how we view dating and relationships. Get a biblical perspective, with powerful and relatable advice: download Dating like Airplanes: Why Just Fall in Love When You Can Fly? for just $7.79 on Vyrso!

 

 

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Why Are We So Quick to Leave the Church?

The Unfinished Church

Today’s guest post is by Rob Bentz, the pastor of small groups at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs and a featured blogger for SmallGroupMinistry.com. His first book, The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress tackles the harmful attitude that’s becoming a cultural norm—the one that says: “I love Jesus, but hate the church.” Drawing on his experience as a pastor, Bentz helps those disenchanted with the church to rediscover its importance for the Christian life by examining the biblical, theological, and historical reasons why Christ’s followers should embrace gospel-centered community—even when it’s hard. Pre-order this honest look at the church for just $7.79!

I like to eat at Chili’s. I like to shop at Eddie Bauer. I like to sit down for coffee and conversation with friends at the locally owned coffee shop. And I typically enjoy my experience at all three of these favorite locations.

But occasionally, something can get a bit sideways. Sometimes the food is served cold, or they don’t have my size, or every seat in the establishment is full. Yet, I return again and again, offering a measure of grace to the places and people I value.

I suspect you have a few favorite places, too—places where you enjoy the products, the familiar faces, and the atmosphere so much that you’re willing to overlook a few mishaps.

Yet one environment that rarely receives this sort of social grace is the very place where it ought to be on display the most: the church.

Recently, a woman told me that she decided to leave her church community because of one difficult and awkward interaction. One! One rough conversation. One less-than-pleasant experience. That’s all it took to for her to say goodbye. The church that she called home for years is now just some place that she used to go.

She’s not alone. Many people leave their church community for seemingly insignificant or overblown issues. The question we must ask is why? Why is the first choice to pull up roots and move on? Why is the knee-jerk reaction to leave? This isn’t how we respond to our favorite coffee shop. We don’t get our feelings bruised, puff up our chest, and boldly decide never to return.

Perhaps walking away from our community of faith is easy because we see so clearly the faults of our faith family. Perhaps it’s just too difficult for sinners to look past the sins of others to get a true glimpse of how God sees them.

It seems as though we easily forget that we’re all broken people. We forget that we’re all striving to live out our faith in Christ in honest, real, tangible ways the best way we know how. We forget that God is at work in each of our lives, redeeming us from the ways we’ve been beaten up by the sins of others and by our own sinful choices and struggles.

Without a clear and accurate picture of Jesus’ sacrificial payment on behalf of his people, you and I won’t see each other accurately. We will see the sin that’s stained us. We will feel the rough edges. When we dismiss other members of God’s church so quickly, we’re ultimately dismissing God and his sanctifying work in the life others.

To be a part of God’s church requires more relational grace than is easily given. It challenges us to see one another as God sees us—redeemed men and women who are part of a community that God is redeeming called his church. This is something to fight for, wrestle with, and champion—not something to simply turn and leave behind.

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Learn more about why the church is an integral piece in the Christian life and how the modern church can embrace gospel-centered community: pre-order The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress today for just $7.79!

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Dads: the 2 Most Important Things You Need to Model

The Shepherd Leader at Home

Today’s guest post is by Timothy Witmer, author of The Shepherd Leader at Home: Knowing, Leading, Protecting, and Providing for Your Family. Dr. Witmer is also professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and he has been the senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church since 1986. In today’s post, Dr. Witmer takes us through the two most important things dads need to model:

1. Put the Lord first

On Father’s Day, I’ll be in the same place doing the same thing that I’ve done for the past 35 years. No, not in my church preaching a Father’s Day sermon. Actually, despite the fact that I’ve been in ministry for 35 years, I’ve never preached on Father’s Day. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I remember many services in the brightly painted, white, clapboard chapel nestled on a mountainside overlooking Pine Creek, one of the most beautiful valleys you could ever imagine. The sound of the church bell rings across the valley, signaling the beginning of the service. The opening hymn is “Faith of Our Fathers,” sung to the accompaniment of a foot-pumped organ that sounds more like an accordion. To my right, I can hear the clear tenor voice of my dad. Soon we will hear a simple, clear, heart-stirring challenge from the lay pastor about the need to take our biblical responsibilities of fatherhood seriously.

As I’ve sat in that pew over the years, my heart has overflowed with gratitude to God for what I learned about fatherhood from my dad. The very fact that we were there reminded me of the importance of keeping my priorities in order. It was 10 a.m. on Sunday morning and we were on vacation. It was my parents’ only Sunday away, but we were in church. It was never debated or in doubt. We were going to worship the Lord. Dad was the hardest-working man I’ve ever known, but church attendance was never compromised all year long. The Lord was a priority.

2. Make time for family

We were also there because my dad saw the importance of making time for family. Our annual trip to the mountains became an anchor in our lives. It was a time of fun and outdoor activities fueled by lots of fattening food. But most importantly, there was extended time together in which long conversations and laughter echoed from the back porch across that same valley. Relationships were deepened and mutual respect grew.

I suppose the bottom line is that my dad modeled these priorities. He was a good example to his four sons. The priorities of faith and family cannot be taught by mere talk, but must be modeled. What makes us think that our children will take seriously things that we don’t? Dad didn’t talk a lot, but his actions clearly communicated the importance of faith and family. Words from the last stanza of “Faith of Our Fathers” are appropriate here:

And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

Be the father God designed you to be

I must admit that, as I’ve sat in that pew over the years, I’ve often been convicted of my shortcomings—either by the pastor’s message or by my own reflections that flood into my mind. But I’m also reminded of the forgiving grace of my heavenly Father and the persistent presence of his spirit to help me to become the dad and husband that I ought to be.

So that’s where I’ll be, again, this Father’s Day. My dad’s been with the Lord for some years now. I know I’ll have difficulty singing “Faith of Our Fathers” as the tears well up in my eyes. My efforts to keep the tears from spilling down my cheeks are futile. My wife is ready with an understanding look and a tissue or two. She is ready because she knows what this means to me. She knows what I’m thinking. But she also knows that my tears are not tears of sadness, but tears of gratitude to God. Now there are the voices of my children and grandchildren around me, hopefully learning the same lessons that I learned for so many years from my dad in that brightly painted, white, clapboard chapel on the mountainside.

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Learn more about the importance of fatherhood and how to be a strong leader at home. In The Shepherd Leader at Home, Dr. Witmer offers a biblical framework for knowing, leading, protecting, and providing for your family. Get this highly respected and well-loved resource: download The Shepherd Leader at Home today!

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