1 Life Lesson – What does Billy Graham’s life teach you?

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Every life has a story. Every person makes some kind of impact on others. Over the years in ministry, families have approached me when a loved one was close to death and have asked me to talk with their relative related to eternity. Essentially I have been asked, “Would you please see if my relative is ready for eternity?” It has been my privilege to run those eternal errands and have those conversations. However, Billy Graham’s death reminds us of what is so much better: live today so that no one will ever have to wonder about your eternity.

As a professor of biblical counseling for nearly twenty years, I have taught self-reflection as a matter of daily living and daily discipline; the process known as self-counsel. This process includes taking the truths of God’s Word and carefully considering your own heart and life in relationship to their teaching. We each must learn to ask key questions to ourselves in order to live a life that honors God. In relationship to your life story and impact on others, the ultimate question is, “What kind of impact will you make?” When your life is over, what kind of life will you have lived?

Five verses help describe the life and impact of Billy Graham and provide me with a deep personal challenge to also live a Christlike life that honors and pleases God.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Billy Graham understood and proclaimed the love of God as demonstrated in the life, death, resurrection, and offer of eternal life through Jesus. You can’t read much about Billy Graham or his life without coming across this verse. He experienced God’s love and wanted everyone he knew to experience that love as well.

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?
Person after person have described Billy Graham as an old humble country preacher. Although he preached to millions, walked with presidents, kings, queens, and other dignitaries, and had a world-wide ministry, Billy Graham remained humble. The testimony of his life is one marked by incredible humility.

1 Timothy 4:16
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
Billy Graham lived a life of utmost integrity. No asterisks. No “except for…” No unanswered questions. They didn’t exist. One person wrote, “He maintained absolute marital fidelity and moral and financial integrity. He was an evangelist who lived the way he preached.” In the end, his life and ministry reflect Christ and he did not hurt anyone else’s life along the path because of his poor testimony. May God be praised.

1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Billy Graham’s life is marked by a simple public message, “Receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior for the forgiveness of your sins.” He is not known for his riches, his extravagant lifestyle, his automobiles and planes, or anything else in these categories. He lived in a modest log cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. It was there where he and his wife Ruth raised their children, and where they retired together after decades in ministry.

2 Timothy 4:7
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
The public testimony of Billy Graham fits well the stated testimony of the Apostle Paul to Timothy as he neared the end of his life. What incredible words. What an incredible testimony. How fitting for this imperfect man who allowed God to use him to spread the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ to millions. To God be the glory!

What about you?
What does Billy Graham’s life teach you? What life lesson can you learn? How can you be challenged?

As a husband, father, pastor, and professor, may Billy Graham’s life be another challenge for me to live the kind of life that exalts Jesus Christ, focuses on the gospel, and brings all honor and glory to God.

For a summary of the life and ministry of Billy Graham, check out the official memorial site here. Also his official Facebook page will provide you incredible insight and encouragement.

Pastor Kevin’s Blog | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey

© 2018 PASTORKEVINSBLOG.COM

Restless Mind Syndrome (RMS)

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Do you struggle from Restless Mind Syndrome (RMS)?

Overview

Restless mind syndrome (RMS) is a condition characterized by a seemingly uncontrollable urge to think continuously without rest, most commonly at night when one should be sleeping.

RMS can begin at any age and generally worsens as you age. It can disrupt sleep, which interferes with daily activities.

People typically describe RMS symptoms as abnormal, unpleasant thoughts in their mind that they cannot control or stop.

Simple self-care steps and lifestyle changes may help. Many times medications are also used to overpower a restless mind to help force sleep.

The Symptoms

The chief symptom is the inability to stop thinking when it is undesired, mainly at night but can be experienced any time of the day.

  • Sensations that begin after rest. The sensation typically begins after one sits or lies down, although it can also happen while driving, exercising, and getting ready in the morning.
  • Relief with entertainment. The sensation of RMS lessens with entertainment, such as movies, social media, YouTube, Netflix, video games, music, audio books, and reading. However, some report that entertainment does not help whatsoever.
  • Worsening of symptoms in the evening. Symptoms occur mainly at night.

Sometimes the sensations are difficult to explain. Affected people usually don’t describe the condition as a muscle cramp or numbness. They do, however, consistently describe the desire to keep thinking.

It’s common for symptoms to fluctuate in severity. Sometimes, symptoms disappear for periods of time, then come back. It is a spectrum condition with some people experiencing only a minor annoyance and others having major disruption of sleep and impairments in quality of life.

Causes

Often, there’s no known cause for RMS. Researchers suspect the condition may be caused by several phenomena.

Heredity
Sometimes RMS runs in families, especially if the condition starts before age 40.

Worry and Anxiety
Most who struggle with RMS when queried about the condition report worry and anxiety as part of the experience. Their thinking is focused on imminent, future, or unknown circumstances related to their relationships, vocation, responsibilities, health, and other such concerns.

Anger, Bitterness, or Malice
For some, RMS relates primarily to events in the past which were unpleasant, undesired, and possibly uncontrollable. Frequently when one has not dealt with the past in a godly way, anger and related sins become the usual response. When this happens, RMS often results.

Discontentment
RMS is common whenever someone experiences discontentment with some thing, some one, or God. The focus of his or her thinking is the unpleasantness of the moment, the circumstance, the feeling, or a relationship. The thinking is focused on areas of life that are uncomfortable, disappointing, and frustrating.

The Experience of RMS Itself
The more one struggles with RMS, the more easier it is to continue to struggle with RMS. The mind develops a habit where when a person goes into “neutral” and there is nothing specific to think about in a particular circumstance, then the mind naturally goes back to its regular pattern of thinking. The more one struggles, the easier it becomes to continue to struggle.

The Solution

There are two issues to address related to the solution for RMS.

First, thinking never stops for any person. The issue is not whether or not one thinks, the issue relates to whether or not the process of thinking is pleasant. Some people offer the wish prayers, “I just wish I could quit thinking.” “I just wish my brain would stop.” “I just my mind could rest.” These statements in context are understandable. What the person means is, “I just wish I could quit thinking in unpleasant ways.” The unpleasantness of the thinking process causes sleeplessness, more discomfort, higher anxiety, and generally moodiness. As these things increase, lack of sleep then further complicates the issue as it goes from one day to the next to the next.

Second, thinking is a process to help solve problems, lessen anxiety, and enjoy rest. God made thinking to benefit not torture the thinker. Thinking is part of worship process as well. One of the better passages to consider how this works is Philippians 4:6-9. Notice how this works.

Pray. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Here, Paul encourages praying. Whatever it is that you desire, about which you are concerned, or wish, bring that concern to God in prayer. Talk with Him about it. Ask Him. Discuss it with Him. Confess where you are struggling to trust God in your circumstance. Like Jesus, make sure you ask for God’s will to be done even in light of your personal desires.

Make sure this conversation with God is coated in thanksgiving or gratitude. In other words, recognize that God in His providential care uses the thing for which you are concerned to help you become more like Christ. This circumstance fits in God’s greater plan to help you grow in your character and conduct. Therefore, as you ask God your specific requests, also thank Him for being in control, working all things according to what is best to help you grow, and for loving you enough to provide those kinds of circumstances.

Consider/Meditate/Think. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). Paul provided a cluster of categories upon which you can land or rest your thinking. This takes work to break the habit of typical thinking. Instead of continuing to focus on the unpleasantness of your situation or future unknowns, think through these categories. Focus on those things that fit these qualities. Among other things, for sure the character of God, the love demonstrated in Christ on the cross, the implications of the gospel provide wonderful places to focus your attention.

Quality music that focuses on Christ, the gospel, your relationship with Christ, and the cross is also helpful. At least a half hour before bed (maybe even one hour before bed), turn off other electronic media, put away other books, and begin to focus your mind on Christ before ever going to bed. As you prepare for bed, play quality music with God-honoring lyrics. Focus on the words. Contemplate them. Make them your own.

Obey God. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Where you know to do what is right, do it. Don’t let yourself stop short of obedience. Talk with other people who can help you determine how best to obey. Determine what your options are to not respond selfishly. Consider what it means to love creatively. Then do those things. Need to forgive? Forgive. Need to creatively love? Do it. Need to serve? Then serve. Obedience is an important step to help you stop RMS.

The Result

Once you have meditated on what honors God, prayed throughout the process, and then consistently obeyed, you will enjoy the peace of God. It will not happen overnight or in a couple of nights; however, do not let that stop you. In a matter of days, your RMS will lessen. God’s peace impacts your entire life, including when you lay down to sleep. You are choosing to use your mind and the thinking process to put you in a better place. You take what normally is an unpleasant process and use it instead to give you strength. You sleep better because your mind is on Christ, trusts God’s character, and uses your energy to serve God and others rather than yourself. You never quit thinking; instead, your thinking takes you to a better place with God and others. You enjoy the peace God brings to you.

 

Pastor Kevin’s Blog | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey

© 2018 PASTORKEVINSBLOG.COM

Reflections on the Murder of Hailey Owens – 4 Years Later

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Four years and a murder conviction later, here is the original reflections I wrote the day after little Hailey’s murder. I reread these today and think so many of these thoughts still apply today. May God continue to help comfort the family and our community as we consider her murder.

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There are some days like last night, February 18, and this morning, when I am reminded of what I hate most and love most. The news of Hailey Owens’ abduction in Springfield and the subsequent news of the alleged abductor being a Springfield School District employee shock us to our very roots. We are left as a community in tears, out of breath as we try to contemplate the plight of this little girl. We wince when we begin to allow our brains just for a moment to consider what may have happened.

What we hate…

The overwhelming sense of our community is shock to think that one of us would choose to take the life of a child innocently outside at home after school on a gorgeous afternoon. We hate that one would even consider, much less perpetrate, this kind of crime. We hate that our world is so broken. We hate that our children do not have the privilege of living in the relative safety of generations past. We hate that when our children ask to go outside we are not sure what answer to give. We hate feeling the victim of those in our communities who would do us injury. We hate to think that a school employee – the very ones we tell our children to trust – may be the one who will do them harm. We hate sin.

What we love…

Community. Last night when I called the Springfield Police Department (SPD) to offer any help they could use overnight, the 911 operator graciously said she would add my name to a fast-growing list of those in our community who were asking how to help. The SPD had no shortage of people who were immediately making themselves available to leave the comfort of their own homes to do whatever was necessary overnight to serve them and serve this dear family. The SPD have shared stories of eyewitnesses who independently and sacrificially chased the abductor by foot and car. Strangers – united only in geographical nearness – willing to sacrificially serve others. We love our community.

Compassion. Social media tells the story of this community’s care and concern for others. From television anchors to politicians to pastors to school employees to dads and moms all over the Ozarks, this community hurts. There is heartbreak. We hurt with this family. You can see the sadness. As I engage people today in the businesses around this community, there is a sense of sobriety. When you harm one of us, you harm us all.  We are at a loss. Our community was so hoping she would be found safe and sound. We were waiting to hear of the hero who saved her. Instead, a sad ending that no one wanted. We hoped with this family. We love our compassion.

Anger. Again, social media tells the story of the anger in the hearts of this community. Questions…so many questions. How can a school employee – anyone, really – do this? What went wrong? How does this happen? Our questions and outrage toward sin easily turns into outward wishes of justice, revenge and some sense of “eye for an eye.” We certainly do not love all that is said in anger; however, anger toward sin against others is right. We love our anger.

Concern. Thousands have stopped what they are doing and have prayed for this family. When the AMBER alert text spread across the cell phones of this community, people began to pray. Person after person signed into Facebook or Twitter to share their commitment to pray for this family, the police officials, the children impacted, among so many others. Today as the news broke that it was a school employee, many also committed to praying for the school children, staff, and administration. People from all over the world have joined in with the Ozarks through social media in prayer for us. The seriousness of this crime reveals the concern that we have in this community for each other. We love our concern.

So, how do we respond as individuals? How do we respond as a community?

We remember. On a day like today, we are reminded that life is short (James 4:14). None of us are guaranteed any day. Every day we are granted by God counts. We recall that Paul challenged us in the New Testament to “Walk carefully … redeem the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Many days will not turn out the way we hoped. Often we are confronted with the fact that the world around us is broken, filled with evil, disappointments, and enigmas. However, it is in this context that we must remember. Remember that God loves us (Ephesians 3:14-19). Remember that God gives us grace to handle the pressures of today in Christ-honoring ways (1 Corinthians 10:13). Remember that God understands the murder of the innocent (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus, God’s son, suffered a cruel death as the perfect, sinless Son of God. So, we remember.

We recommit. We recommit to live like today matters. We want today to be special. It is so easy to miss today in anticipation of what comes tomorrow or in contemplation of the past. Today, though, has been granted to us by God (Psalm 118:24) and we are responsible to take full advantage of today’s opportunities. However, this is difficult. Life is so full and often overflows with activities, responsibilities, and various pressures. Therefore, it is in the midst of a busy life that we recommit to living every day for God’s honor (2 Corinthians 5:9). One of the key areas we live in light of God’s honor is in sharing the hope that we have in humanity through Christ. We recognize the fact that Jesus powerfully works in people and that no one is beyond the hope of life change in Christ. So we can we commit to sharing and living out that hope in our community among people. It is a hope that changes lives. It is a hope that allows you to see through the fog of difficult circumstances. It is the hope that could have kept Craig Michael Woods from committing these atrocities. It is hope of a relationship with Christ that changes everything (2 Corinthians 5:17) So, we recommit.

We resolve. We resolve to love our neighbors. Loving your neighbor is the most important thing outside of loving God (Matthew 22:37-40). Sometimes, in the busyness of life, we forget to carefully help and love our neighbors. We must remember that our first priority begins in our own homes where we find our closest neighbors. So our children, our spouse, and our other family members must be a priority each day; in addition, also our other neighbors must be utmost concern. We praise those who went out of their way to try to protect Hailey. We recognize that many of us should be more aware daily of the situational difficulties of those that are in our path and in our neighborhoods. Part of being a loving neighbor is simply being a good citizen and watching after fellow mankind. Therefore, we determine to make our neighbors a priority. So, we resolve.

We request. We request that God would grant comfort and mercy for the Owen family. We take God at His Word when He says He will provide grace when we ask for it (Hebrews 4:16). We request comfort and mercy for us. Those of us who are fearful, those of us who are struggling, those of us who are trying to piece all of this together in a way that makes sense to us, we pray  God for comfort and wisdom. We also pray for God’s help as we consider Craig Woods and his family. No doubt there are many of his family who are also struggling today and we request that God would give them comfort and mercy in the midst of this terrible circumstance. So, we request.

We rest. As we try to consider all that’s taking place in this community and consider the horrible evil that has happened, we rest in God’s love and control. We confess that we do not know why God allows for evil in His plan and how this ultimately fits His purposes, yet we choose today to trust God. We choose to rest and consider God’s gracious and kind-hearted way of helping and loving people. We rest in God’s beneficial care. We trust his character and that He is with us. He provides grace and courage to face the challenges of today’s struggles (Joshua 1:9). So, we rest.

We move forward from here…

Words cannot express the deepest sense of hurt, injury, disappointment, and loss of innocence we all feel as a community this day. However, we respond to this day not in hopelessness because we hope in God. We respond to this day not in paralyzing fear because we realize there’s more we can do. We respond to this day not in despair of mankind but in the hope of change because of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Kevin’s Blog | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey

© 2018 PASTORKEVINSBLOG.COM

 

Dear God and Parents, Help Our Children

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18 School Shootings since Jan 1

From Fox 26 Houston – these include accidental shots fired where no one was hurt as well

At the beginning of every school year I pray, “God please keep the children in our schools safe from violence and anyone who would desire to do them harm.” This year has been a particularly rough year. February 14th in Parkland, Florida, seventeen were killed by another child.

This is our worst nightmare as parents and a nation. When we kiss our children goodbye and send them out the door to school, we prayerfully ask God to protect them. Our school systems work diligently with local police to keep our children safe.

As my friend Randy Wright posted, “Every parent of a school-aged child knows that getting their kid out the door in the morning becomes a series of daily rituals, whether it be having breakfast on the table at a certain time, leaving the same amount of lunch money by the door, or even throwing in a hurried hug and a quick kiss at the door. Today those rituals suddenly ended for several families in the community of Parkland, Florida. No breakfast on the table tomorrow, no lunch money, no hugs…no kisses. All tragically replaced by the unbearable pain of loss and the overwhelming grief that no parent should ever experience.”

The gun control and access issue can be debated on a different day on a different blog. Guns are simply the weapon of choice. Guns do not plot, do not plan, do not hate, nor do they seek to kill. Children and adults do.

The problem in our schools is the hearts of our children. The problem with our children begins with parenting and the structure in the home. The problem in our homes is the destruction of the family and the neglect of faith in God.

To fix the problem of violence in school begins with the home and parenting, because the hearts of our children are both impacted by what takes place at home and through their interaction with their parents.

Parents, learn to treasure hunt

The heart of every child is what generates behavior; behavior helps reveal the heart. There is a tendency to primarily focus on the behavior of the offending person, and by extension, keep our attention at the behavior level. However, the heart of your child is where the real action is.[1]

Learn to ask heart-searching questions. My good friend Paul Tripp suggests the importance of asking questions that are similar to conceptual velcro. Ask a question, that when it drags across the heart of your child, brings with it information you can use to help your child.

  1. Ask your child about school, friends, and his or her day with patience, listening carefully for all the facts (Proverbs 18:13, 15, 17). You do not want your child to believe you ask questions as a judge; instead, ask questions as one who seeks to get past opinions and desires to really hear the child.
  2. With compassion, help the child to participate freely and without fear in the conversation. Many children are afraid to engage their parents in conversation because of the response of the parent. It is essential to seek to understand your child. Compassion should drive you to want to listen in a way that makes the child sense a freedom to express his or her ideas openly.
  3. Let questions grow out of facts received. Often when discussing issues with children, parents speak from destination or conclusion rather than process. It seems as if the parent’s mind is made up before the conversation begins. Instead, listen carefully for the facts and then let your next question grow out of what is heard – not what you believe you will hear or what you have already determined.
  4. Ask follow up questions that help you understand the child’s vocabulary, clarify the meaning, and help you understand the series of events. Often what the parent understands a word to mean is not what the child means. Here’s a series of questions and statements that could help you. “When you said ____, did you mean ____?” “Let me rephrase that back to you to make sure I am hearing you correctly.” “So walk me through not what normally happens but what happened today.”
  5. The kind of question you ask is vitally important. How/What/When/Where questions tend to work better than Why or Yes-No questions. When you ask a Why question, you typically encourage an excuse of some kind. For instance, “Why did you respond the way that you did?” The child will answer, “Because ____ did this.” Instead, you could ask a What question and get much better information. “What did you hope to accomplish when you …” Now the question can pull across the heart and provide you information regarding the child’s motive, not just an excuse.
  6. Do not settle for vague answers; get specifics. Your goal is not to hear what typically happens in your student’s day; rather, it is to learn what happened today. What is on the child’s mind today? What has the child’s imagination, thoughts, and heart captured today?

Learn to follow through with questions that give hope, instruction, and direction. The parent teaches the child how to process his or her day, thoughts, actions, and reactions as the parent asks the right questions and follows up with even better questions and comments.

  1. “What is important to you right now?” Followed by the question, “What should be important to you right now?” If the child has had a tough day at school, if someone is picking on him or her, if there are instances of bullying, if the activities of the day were unpleasant, this question seeks to discern the child’s priority. Are they bothered most by being frustrated or embarrassed? Do they believe someone was wrong for blaming them? Do they hate the way another person is treating them? Potentially what is important to the child is not what is most important, what God would have them think or want, or what actually honors God.
    Also, parents be very aware here. What is most important to you may not be what is most important to God. We want our children safe and should respond appropriately with the right authorities and with the right attitude. Potentially we have the wrong priorities. Our poor attitudes toward others, pressure, authority, and circumstances generally may be teaching louder and with more clarity than the words that we use.
  2. Ask questions from a logical flow. What is going on (situation)? What did you do (response)? What did you think (thoughts)? What did you want (motives)? In the way you ask your questions, you are giving the child an opportunity to both learn how to ask questions to self and are helping the child learn a process for the future.
  3. Furthermore, ask questions that help with a logical flow of planning for the future. When this goes on…, what should you want (motives)? What should you think (thoughts)? What should you do (actions and reactions)? Then help the child make a plan for the future.

Parents, Learn to Understand the Heart Under Pressure

In everyday situations, pressures, and circumstances, God desires to grow your child through them. As your child then responds to his or her daily pressures, you want to consider the areas where God desires to work. What does God want you and your child to see about your child’s heart in the way he or she responds to the situation? How can your parenting be more precise and effective? Is your and the child’s goal to change the circumstances or respond to the circumstance in a way that honors God and builds Christlike character? How can you pray for those involved at school (or wherever the pressure is from)? How can you pray for your child? How can you bring glory and honor to God for how we return good for evil?

Parents, Think Carefully Through Your Goals

Your child will typically want to respond in four ways: 1) Out of a strong feeling-orientation rather than a pursuit of faithfulness to Christ; 2) From a negative self-perception that results from responding to the pressures rather than an accurate view of self in the midst of suffering; 3) From an unforgiving spirit rather than a forgiving spirit; and 4) From fear of man or pride rather than fear of God.

In each of these areas, there is much work to do in order to help you and your child both respond to these various pressures in ways that honor God.

For Your Consideration

Will you begin to pray for our children, our homes, our culture, our school systems, and our local police?

Parents, will you seek to engage your child every day in open and honest conversation that seeks to teach your child how to deal with pressure-filled circumstances in ways that honor God and help your child grow in Christlikeness?

School children being led by police

School children being led away from school by police in Parkland, Florida.

[1] I appreciate my good friend Tim Keeter and his thoughts on bullying. Tim is working on a book related to this topic. I appreciate his willingness to share with me in order to help us think through this issue.

Pastor Kevin’s Blog | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey

© 2018 PASTORKEVINSBLOG.COM

Israel – The Ten Day Journey

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Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives

I was asked if I could put together one blog post with all the days and their corresponding journal entries of our trip. That sounded like a good idea to me, so here it is. As you click on each link, it will open a different page.

Intro: Traveling to Israel

Day 1: Anticipation and Prayer

Day 2: Northern Israel – the Coast and the Jezreel Valley

Day 3: Around the Sea of Galilee

Day 4: Through the Wilderness into Jerusalem

Day 5: The Garden and the Wailing Wall

Day 6: The Dessert

Day 7: Golgotha and the Garden Tomb

Day 8: Joppa and the Valley of Elah

Wrap Up: Final Day Wrap Up

I hope that you will profit from looking at the pictures, considering the various devotional thougts, and taking time to consider Israel.

We had a blessed time. My friend often says, “A bad day in Israel is better than a good day at work.” No doubt that is true. Our days were excellent. Kelly and I were so blessed to be given this opportunity.

May God bless you as you consider the land of His people, the Holy Land.

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Model of Jerusalem near the time of Christ

Pastor Kevin’s Blog | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey

© 2018 PASTORKEVINSBLOG.COM