Page 1



Be patient.


Prepare your response. Connections

take time.

You’re still learning.

Say “I’m sorry.”

V I TA L M A G A Z I N E . C O M






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p30 Be patient.





Pushing the conversation about opposite sex friendships from boundaries to opportunities


Writing Your History Mark Batterson encourages believers to push from a “what if” to “if only” mindset Prepare your response. Connections

take time.

You’re still learning.

Say “I’m sorry.”

How to Lead Your Kids Through Life’s Tough Topics


10 principles of communicating as parents

8 VITAL SIGNS 11 THE LEAD • A Season of Introspection


12 PULSE • World • Nation • Church


Will Learning Look Like? • A Higher Call in Higher Education • Reading for Life

Max Lucado, Poet & Pastor Vital talks with the bestselling author about his favorite Old Testament story

p26 What Will Learning Look Like? The most innovative approach to the future of education will be the most human

The Balancing Act Take a deep breath. Here are four daily practices to find peace between work and home.



30 HOW TO LEAD YOUR KIDS THROUGH TOUGH TOPICS Don’t dumb it down, and other keys from a father and kids minister

40 WRITING YOUR HISTORY At the end of your life, will you have embraced regrets or opportunities?

46 CELEBRATING MALE-FEMALE RELATIONSHIPS Men and women can be more than friends; they can be brothers and sisters

54 MULTIPLIERS • Max Lucado, Poet

and Pastor • Small Change • Reinventing the Wheel

60 TEACHING • The Balancing Act • A Better Way to Change • A Different Christian

Answer to Halloween


Yo u r w o r l d f r o m a S p i r i t - e m p o w e r e d p e r s p e c t i v e



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“SPIRIT, WE NEED YOU NOW. GLORIOUS LOVE SURROUNDS US.” L o rd , c o m e a n d f i l l t h i s p l a c e . ” T h i s c h o ru s f ro m “ F i l l T h i s P l a c e , ” a n o ri g i n a l b y R e d R o c k s Wo rs h i p , k i c k s o f f S O A R : Spi r i t - E m p o w e re d Wo rs h i p ( I n f l u e n c e M u s i c ) . T h e n e w w o rs h i p co m p i l a t i o n f e a t u re s 1 1 s o n g s f ro m p a s s i o n a t e m u s i c i a n s a n d l e a d i n g m i n i s t ri e s a ro u n d t h e c o u n t ry.







very fall, American children return to school. Their parents make a big deal of the first day back: special breakfast, fresh clothes, new backpack and school supplies — the whole nine yards. Why? Because they want their kids to look forward to new stages of their lives with eager expectation. Some of life’s changes are easier to meet with eager expectation than others. Getting a good job, finding the right spouse, buying your first home, having children, sending them off to school — all good. The long-term joy associated with such changes outweighs any short-term sadness you might feel in the moment. Other changes are harder to bear. Losing a good job, conflict at home, the pressure of paying bills, the loss of a family member, a child gone prodigal — not so good. The immediate sadness you feel in such situations threatens to overwhelm any joy you felt in the past and might feel again in the future. Change is like the turning of the seasons at this time of year. The life and warmth and fun of summer gives way to the dying and cold and backto-school routine of fall. The sun goes behind a cloud, the leaves fall, the rains come, and we turn indoors. But fall is also a great time to turn inward, to think about what matters most. Introspection is the informal theme of this issue of Vital. We’ll take the opportunity to reflect on our relationships. In our cover story, kids ministry expert Brian Dollar outlines ten principles for communicating with your kids, especially about tough topics (page 30). Stephanie Nance addresses oppositesex friendships in life, at work and in

ministry (page 46). Charity Reeb uses her personal experiences as an entrepreneur and mom to open a window on the evergreen topic of work-life balance (page 60). In keeping with the back-toschool season, we’ll look inward at our personal progress and development. Our Thinking About section is completely dedicated to education. Carol Taylor, president of Evangel University, makes a case for the value of Christian higher education (page 24). Kent Ingle, president of Southeastern University, shows why innovative education equals real-life education (page 26). And for all of us who are no longer “kids,” I offer some reasons why it’s important to develop a habit of life-long reading (page 28). We’ll look into our hearts, evaluating how life’s changes are inherently spiritual. Gary Smalley writes about Scripturemeditation as key to navigating

life’s changes successfully (page 62), and Mark Batterson encourages living with purpose, not regret (page 40). As always, Multipliers profiles Christian individuals and ministries that are producing change in the lives of others. You’ll read about pastor and author Max Lucado (page 54), Kendall Altmyer’s creative use of pennies to fight human trafficking (page 56) and Rolling Rangers’ unique approach to disciple at-risk boys (page 58). I hope you enjoy reading this issue of Vital as much as the editorial team enjoyed putting it together. May your introspection lead to action, just as the seasons lead into one another, and in all things, may God bless you richly! George Paul Wood is executive editor of Vital.







ural communities in Moldova or Romania. Spain’s Mellila enclave in North Africa. A city crowd in Hungary. These are just a few locations impacted by partnership between Assemblies of God World Missions and Convoy of Hope Europe, which bring material relief and a clear presentation of the gospel to communities in need across Europe. Convoy of Hope Europe completed more than 250 projects in 39 European countries by 2015 and has planted more than 40 churches. Hal Donaldson, Convoy of Hope president, says, “The impact on entire communities through outreaches by Convoy of Hope Europe has far exceeded our expectations. As God continues to open doors we will continue to walk through them.” “We have seen these Convoy outreaches establish churches very quickly in communities that are especially challenging. God’s hand of blessing is clearly evident in this creative and unique means of church planting,” says Paul Trementozzi, AGWM Europe regional director. (Photo courtesy of Convoy of Hope Europe)






eligion News Service (RNS) reports Steve Green of Hobby Lobby’s Bible curriculum is “a hit” in Israeli schools. The program incorporates “cuttingedge computer graphics” and 3-D animation and is referred to as “TAMAR,” a combination of the Hebrew terms for “Bible” and “augmented reality.” Sixteen Israeli high schools have completed the pilot program, and another seven have requested the curriculum for next year. Israeli law mandates that all students are taught courses on the Hebrew Bible, so the Jewish students learn biblical concepts in the original Hebrew. Nadavi Noked, a teacher in Jerusalem, told RNS the new curriculum has been “a very positive experience.” “It’s made Bible study more interesting, more relevant,” Noked says.

This summer, Japan was recognized as the 22nd Ethnic/Language Fellowship in the U.S. Assemblies of God, PE News reports. Daisuke Yabuki was elected as president of the Japanese Fellowship and Yoriko Yabuki as vice president. The Yabukis, previously appointed as missionaries to Japanese-speaking Americans, held the first Midwest Japanese Conference in 2012, later adding conferences in the Northwest, Kentucky, Hawaii and New York. “Before, we were missionaries holding conferences in the hope of one day becoming a fellowship,” Yoriko says. “But now, as an official fellowship, people see us in a new light and want to become a part.”

WHICH COUNTRIES THRIVE ON TEAMWORK? A survey conducted by The Marcus Buckingham Company reports that workers in France, Canada, Brazil and Argentina are most likely to agree with the statement “My teammates have my back.”




Almost a third of China’s Great Wall has disappeared, according to several sources. Reports indicate that over time, 1,962 kilometers of the Wall has been destroyed, some due to natural decay, and others as a result of human activity, such as stealing bricks. According to Chinese laws, individuals who take bricks from the Great Wall can be fined up to 5,000 Chinese yuan — about $800 U.S. dollars.


t's a difficult and unfortunate truth that Christians aren’t always the most likeable people in the world. Which brings up a tender question: How much of that is our fault?

For those of us seeking to live a life that is pleasing to God, it's tempting to get caught up in the details. And while our convictions are important. They're not nearly as important as the greatest command we've ever been given: love God and love one another. That's likeability.

The Likeable Christian makes the compelling observation that Christians can spend more time defending their faith rather than living it out. Justin challenges us to take a hard look at the way we treat people and revisit the way Jesus lived. - Christine Caine founder of the A21 campaign and bestselling author of Unstoppable






his September will mark 14 years since the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. If you’ve kept up with the development of the New York City skyline since, you’ll know the new One World Trade Center, or “Freedom Tower,” has been erected in its place. As the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, it stands at 1,368 feet — the same peak as the original North tower. It’s a height visitors can reach in just a 47-second educational elevator ride at the One World Observatory, which opened this May. Though the location is one of tragic significance to Americans, David Checketts, CEO of the company that operates the observatory, wants it to be seen as a site of pride and celebration. “This space was used as a fist pump. We put it back up and now, looking forward to a future filled with promise,” Checketts told CBS News.



WHO’S GOT YOUR VOTE? New research from Gallup shows that Americans’ support for nontraditional presidential candidates varies by the voter’s religion, but is overall on the rise. For example, research shows 74 percent of Americans say they would support a well-qualified presidential candidate who happened to be gay or lesbian. Just eight years ago, only 55 percent answered affirmatively to that question. Further inspection of that statistic shows that 92 percent of atheists would vote for this candidate, whereas 82 percent of Catholics and 62 percent of Protestants would.



ighty-three percent of hearts beat true for the red white and blue, according to research from the Public Religion Research Institute. At least, that’s the portion of Americans who say it’s important to show public support for our country by doing things such as displaying the American flag. Sixty-two percent of Americans believe that God has placed the United States in a significant role in human history, and 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe this to be true. Forty-five percent of Americans, however, feel the U.S. has departed from its Christian roots; 14 percent say it was never a Christian nation in the first place. Sixty-nine percent of Americans surveyed report that belief in God is an important component to being “truly American.”

AMERICA’S (ALL) ONLINE Pew Research says 84 percent of American adults use the Internet. Among those in suburban or urban areas, 85 percent are online. Rural residents aren’t so different; 78 percent of them surf the web.



THE HIGH COST OF RENT After the housing crash, the rental market saw a huge boom, increasing demand — and rates. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently reported about half of all renters in the States are spending more than 30 percent of their income on the cost of housing, and approximately 25 percent owe rent checks that amount to over half of their monthly pay.

“Peter Haas brilliantly and hilariously walks us through the misconceptions of ‘making it,’ ‘getting there,’ and ‘arriving.’ ” —Robert Barriger, lead pastor, Camino de Vida, Lima Peru, author of Honor Found






tudents around the country will join hands and hearts in prayer on September 23 for the annual See You at the Pole (SYATP) event. Whether or not Christians gather around a flagpole that morning, one campaign hopes they gather around their local schools throughout the year. Our Schools Matter is a new emphasis of The Human Right movement, a global initiative of the Assemblies of God, and Youth Alive, its local missions expression. “The schools really serve as a hub for the community as it relates to reaching students,” Scotty Gibbons, national youth strategist for the AG, says. The campaign calls churches to identify the needs of a specific public, private or home school community and to use September 20, the Sunday before SYATP, to launch an effort to meet that need. Gibbons believes this “builds a bridge to the school and builds trust.” “There’s not a school in America that does not have needs,” he says.






esearch confirms what pastors have hoped to be the case: People like events. Across religions, groups are showing up to conferences, concerts and dinner parties that are affiliated with a faith community yet hold a different purpose than a traditional worship service. Churches and individuals agree that religious events foster community and provide visitor-friendly opportunities for newcomers. Eventbrite, an events marketing company, noticed this trend; they found 74 percent say a religious social event made them feel more connected to a faith community. Seventy percent say these events fostered new relationships with others of similar beliefs, and 50 percent of the religiously unaffiliated attend these events, too. So, your church’s potluck dinner? Maybe it has a greater purpose after all.

While 2014 wasn’t the largest year for church growth, it was for giving, according to Giving USA. Americans gave a record $114.9 billion to religious groups, donating 2.5 percent more than the last year on record. The Southern Baptist churches received more than any other organization, bringing in three times more than United Way, who collected the secondhighest amount of donations. Overall, Southern Baptist churches raised more than $11 billion. The Evangelical Free Church of America reports that in recent years, individuals have been increasing their donations to camps, conferences and child sponsorship. Donations to church institutions have consistently outnumbered giving to secular charities, with worship-related organizations receiving 31 percent of total contributions.


— Pastor Jentezen Franklin, at the 2015 Hillsong Conference in Sydney, Australia

FOR MOST WOMEN, FAITH < FAMILY In a recent Barna survey, only 36 percent of women had gone to church within the past week. Thirty-three percent of women say church attendance is “very important” to them. If church isn’t as important to the rest, what is? Sixty-eight percent of women say family relationships are their top priority. The least amount of women choose work as their main focus; just five percent report this was number one in their life.


Introduce your kids to brave Bible heroes with these interactive apps. Available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Stories from the Bible leap to life for your kids Leaders from the Bible leap to life in inspiring comics and graphic novels for kids. Available in English, Spanish, and as eBooks.

For a complete list of Kingstone titles, visit



A HIGHER CALL IN HIGHER EDUCATION A university president reflects on the unique value of Christian learning CAROL TAYLOR



president of Evangel University, one of my great joys is meeting with alumni and asking them if they ever imagined the journey they would take when they were students. So far, 100 percent of the responses have been, “No, I never imagined my journey.” We then talk about how their experience at a Christian university or seminary shaped them. As I have reflected on those conversations, I see four qualities that I believe most define the unique contribution that

Christian colleges and universities can bring to those journeys. People of the Book First, Christian higher education produces people of the Book. At the center of the Evangel University seal is the word Truth. It rests on an open Bible, behind which is a cross. I believe the Word and the cross remain at the center of our Christian colleges and universities. Abraham Kuyper, Dutch theologian, statesmen and founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, said: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Secular education today places man, not Christ, at the center crying “Mine” where all truth is relative. If we begin with the commitment that Christ is over all and at the center of all, then our campuses become safe places where, under the lordship of Christ, we ask probing questions that are less about indoctrination and more about equipping students to think critically and deeply within a framework of biblical truth. We strive to live what Jesus said was the first and greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself ” (Luke 10:27). The conjunction that appears in this verse is not “OR” but “AND.” It’s all three, mind AND heart AND soul – integrated, undivided, seamless. When we pursue truth, beauty, virtue and service as loving God, our pursuits become acts of worship; we wonder at His creation and stand in awe of His revealed truth. As we are captivated by His beauty in the arts, nature and great literature, we are transformed in the process. People of the Spirit Christian colleges and universities also produce people of the Spirit.


They nurture both the intellectual and spiritual lives of students and community. Gerald Hawthorne, professor of Greek and New Testament exegesis at Wheaton College, concluded after careful study that: Surely contemporary crises are no less great, the pains of the world are no less meliorated, the challenges to one’s strength, wisdom, patience and love are no less demanding of resources beyond human resources than they were in the first century, and followers of Jesus today are no more sufficient for all these in and of themselves than were his followers yesterday. Furthermore, God’s program of enabling people to burst the bounds of their human limitations and achieve the impossible is still in place and still effective – that program that involves filling people with his Spirit, filling them with supernatural power. It is the Spirit who draws all men and women to Christ, breathes life through God’s Word, protects, provides, expresses our deepest longings for worship and prayer, transforms us, gives wisdom and guidance and inspires. Therefore, it empowers the best in our scholarship and service. People with a Vocational Call Christian colleges and universities also produce a deep sense of vocational calling. We believe deeply in a theology of vocational calling and that every student is called to a life of meaning and purpose, ultimately for the glory of God and to be of service to the Church and the world. A Gallup-Purdue study released last spring reported that the best preparation for ministry, work and life is in the personal investment of faculty and staff in the lives of students. The Gallup-Purdue researchers interviewed more than 30,000 graduates from U.S. colleges and universities to learn more about the long-term success of graduates both in terms of their work and their lives. They found students’ experiences in college most influenced their well-being and work lives. In particular, what mattered most was having at least one professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. Internships and involvement in extracurricular activities and organizations were also important. The study concluded that: When it comes to finding the secret to success, it’s not “where you go,” it’s “how you do it” that makes all the difference in higher education. This is exactly what many Christian colleges and universities have been doing since their founding. As a people with a vocational calling, we go beyond career preparation. Gordon Smith expresses it well in his book Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential:

As we are captivated by His beauty in the arts, nature and great literature, we are transformed in the process. We must restore to our communities and to our language an understanding of vocation as calling – as something that is fundamentally sacred and that enables us, in response to God’s call to embrace what God would have us be and do in the church and in the world. A biblical theology views all vocations as potentially sacred when embraced as a response to God’s call and offered in service to Him. People of Vision Finally, Christian education produces people with a vision for service. In his wonderful book Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education, David Dockery quotes Bernard of Clairvaux: Some seek knowledge for The sake of knowledge: That is curiosity; Others seek knowledge so that They themselves may be known: That is vanity; But there are still others Who seek knowledge in Order to serve and edify others: And that is charity. At the center of our academic pursuits is a desire for our work to be of service and edify others. Christian colleges and universities should remain steadfast in our commitment to educate and equip men and women who reflect God’s mission in the world. That means continuing to train ministers and missionaries, men and women who will live out their vocational callings across every academic discipline, who will see their good work as service offered in humility to fulfill His call as a faithful witness in the world.

Carol Taylor , Ph.D., is president of Evangel University and an ordained minister. She serves on the board for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. This reflection is adapted from her inauguration address at Evangel in October 2014.



WHAT WILL LEARNING LOOK LIKE? The most innovative approach to the future of education will be the most human KENT INGLE



hange is a fact of life. With the advent of the Internet and instantaneous communication, change is rapidly becoming a constant reality of every day in life. The world is one way when you wake up, and by the time you go to sleep, it’s already changed. This “Information Age” that we live in comes with new challenges and changing needs. With this reality, the job of educators is to develop innovative methods of preparing students for this new world. So what does the next

generation of learning look like? Well, the first thing to ask is what will the needs of the next generation look like? Lessons in Humanity Since much of education is geared toward equipping students for employment, future changes in the workforce directly affect the path of education. As with the Industrial Revolution, the greatest vehicle of change in today’s Information Age is technology. The main difference is how it is changing education. While technical advances are leading progress in the world, they often present certain challenges. One aspect of these challenges is displacement. As we continue to improve in manufacturing robotics, information systems, and program software, the need for a human operator is rapidly dwindling. Technology won’t replace humans; it will only displace them, which will require many to return to colleges and universities to improve their education. So the need for humans in machine-like jobs is declining. The need for humans in jobs that will utilize “human” skills such as decision-making, visioncasting and overall leadership is increasing. These skills can’t be fully taught but are developed ultimately through experience. This is something for which educators need to prepare. The other aspect is outsourcing, which is more unique to our time, especially in terms of scale. Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat is probably the best, and certainly the most famous, work on this topic. His book details how the Internet has globalized the job market. So now, you’re not only competing against people in your community or nation for a job, but also


people halfway across the world. To use Friedman’s example, if you’re an accountant whose primary job is to complete tax returns, there’s someone in India who can now do your job for half the price, and send it back instantly. This outsourcing along with technology’s displacement means those entering the American workforce must either focus on becoming specialized or moving into management. The need for generic or unskilled labor is decreasing. The need for specialized labor and leadership is increasing. Even a specialist, if they are inexperienced, will struggle. The key to developing these skills is real-world experience. Here’s an example from Southeastern University, where I’m president. Along with many other institutions, we are dedicated to developing innovative, need-based programs. In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics had projected a growth of over 1.2 million jobs in the field of nursing by 2020. SEU perceived a need, and within two years developed a state-of-the-art nursing program that focuses on giving students real-world experience. So what does this boil down to? A Real-World Education The Information Age is being accompanied by its own tech revolution. This revolution is drastically altering the needs of the workforce, and these alterations require innovative changes to education. This new generation of learning must train up leaders – people who can answer the “Why?” questions or do specialized jobs. We must equip them with “hands-on” experience and empower them to be decision-makers. In short, the theory in education must be accompanied with real-world exposure. Let me give you an example from Europe. During the 2008 recession, German companies were looking at massive layoffs just like the rest of the world until the government introduced kurzarbeit or “shortwork.” Kurzarbeit was a need-based program where the government compensated companies if they would hang on to their workers while reducing their hours and send them back to college part-time. In other words, Germany created the largest, most effective internship program because that’s what the German people needed. It worked. Not only did Germany experience virtually no rise in unemployment, but they came out of the recession with a highly-skilled workforce. When the workers who participated in kurzarbeit were interviewed by PBS, they almost universally said the same thing: The best part was seeing their education in action. By mixing education with real-

The future workforce needs people who are decision-makers and can answer the “Why?” questions ... world exposure, they maximized their return on their education. Similarly, not long ago we launched an initiative at Southeastern called “Church Plant University” (or Church Plant U). It is a program which connects students with church plants around the nation so they can gain real-world experience. What separates opportunities like this from an ordinary internship? Instead of fetching coffee or doing simple data entry as many interns do, students will be intimately connected with the workings of the company or organization. They will be shadowing and participating in the activities of the pastors and other leaders as they experience the many dynamics involved in the process. They learn how to deal with people and manage the many human dynamics involved. They discover what their strengths and weaknesses really are. Are they too confrontational? Are they vision-oriented at the cost of the details? These are elements of their “divine design” that are understood only through experience. This also allows them to “test the waters” to ensure that the field of work is really something they should be pursuing with their lives. Again, what makes this different from an internship is that they experience what the leaders of the organization experience. They are participating in leadership and are part of the hands on work instead of simply observing it. The future workforce needs people who are decision-makers and can answer the “Why?” questions of their managers. Both of these attributes require more experience and exposure to real-world scenarios than simple theory. This is why the next generation of learning is going to rely on roll-your-sleeves-up opportunities in the classroom of experiential learning. These are as important as the lessons learned through a teacher.

Kent Ingle is the president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He is the author of This Adventure Called Life (Influence Resources) and 9 Disciplines of Enduring Leadership (Salubris Resources). Learn more at



READING FOR LIFE Three ways the written word shapes character GEORGE PAUL WOOD



he sun was hot,” my son read aloud to me from his Bob Books. “Pop had a top hat. Mom had a red wig. Peg had a big cap.” “That’s great, Reese!” I praised him as he correctly pronounced each word. My mind was elsewhere, however. I had laid aside the latest Daniel Silva thriller to help Reese read onesyllable words phonetically, but now I wanted to get back to my novel. Reese’s mind was elsewhere too — on the Minecraft game he had been playing on his iPad. Both my novel and his game were more exciting than Pop’s top hat, Mom’s red wig and Peg’s big cap. Still, I focused Reese’s attention (and my own) on the book until he had finished it. Why? Because

reading is a good skill, and practice makes permanent. It is an economic necessity in the Information Age. It is an enjoyable activity that fills leisure hours with pleasure. And most important, reading shapes character. It does so in three ways. Enlarged Understanding First, reading enlarges our understanding of the world. Nonfiction books do this in an obvious way. They provide information. Biography tells us about a specific person, history about past events and science about physical processes. A healthy mind requires a steady diet of such facts. Understanding is more than a repository of factual information, however. It is a worldview, a way of


making sense of the facts by placing them into a coherent moral vision of reality. Non-fiction books do this, of course — especially works of theology, philosophy and ethics. In my opinion, however, fiction does it more effectively and enjoyably. Take J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a factual matter, Middle Earth does not exist. Neither do hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves and rings of power. And yet, Tolkien’s books show that good and evil are at war with one another, that a desire for power corrupts even the well intentioned and that mercy triumphs over judgment. By taking us out of the real world and placing us smack dab in the middle of his imagined one, Tolkien enables us to look at things with fresh eyes and a new perspective. A healthy mind requires a steady diet of such moral imagination too. Deepened Empathy Second, reading deepens our empathy for others. This is especially true when it comes to reading fiction. Both scientists and literature professors agree about this, by the way. For example, Scientific American reported that “literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.” And Gary Saul Morson, a literature professor at Northwestern University, argued, “By identifying with a character, you learn from within what it feels like to be someone else.” Think of Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32), for example. As you read the story, Jesus invites you to experience the unfolding events from each person’s point of view: the pigsty prodigal who wants to go home, the waiting father who longs for his son and the elder brother who resents his father’s grace toward his younger brother. Whose perspective should you adopt? By looking at events from each character’s point of view, we see that both the prodigal and the elder brothers’ choices lead to the same dead end of legalism. The prodigal wants to earn his salvation, and the elder brother resents that he hasn’t done so. The father’s perspective is the one Jesus wants us to internalize: “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” If we cannot empathize with the waiting father, then, we do not believe in God, who is gracious toward sinners.

Sharpened Focus Third, reading sharpens our focus on which course of action is best to take. Books that focus on self-help, leadership and organizational management do this in an explicit way. They provide you with a detailed map to a specific location. That’s why they have such straightforward titles: How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Leading Change — all excellent books, by the way. For me, however, biography and history sharpen our focus even better. They do this by showing how people in the past responded to crises that are similar to those we experience in the present. Based on what did and didn’t work for them in the past, we can form a plan of action in the present. Many Christians in America despair of the direction our nation is heading, for example. They point to negative trends in religious belief, sexual morality, race relations and economic equality as causes of their discouragement. I get the discouragement. Sometimes, I feel like America is a lost cause. But as a close reader of history, I know that America has seen times of moral decline and spiritual revival before, and there’s no reason why it can’t experience renewal again. As T.S. Eliot wrote: “There is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory.” History, in short, belongs to those who show up and make it.

[Reading] enlarges understanding, deepens empathy and focuses actions.

Reading for Life Developing the habit of reading is important. Beyond being an economic necessity and an enjoyable activity, though, it forms character. It enlarges understanding, deepens empathy and focuses actions. And if we read the Bible most of all, it will make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). That’s why I set aside what I want to do and pay attention to what my son needs me to do. This is the essence of being a parent, as I understand it, and if it means substituting Bob Books for Daniel Silva thrillers, so be it! I want my son to read for life — in every sense of that phrase. George Paul Wood is executive editor of Vital.




How to Lead Your Kids Through Life’s Tough Topics 10 principles of communicating as parents BRIAN DOLLAR


my 20 years as a kids’ pastor, I can’t tell you how many times a parent has walked up to me after church and said, “My son was asking me questions about __________ last night. Would you meet with him to explain what it’s all about?” I’ve received countless emails that say something like, “My daughter asked me what __________ means. I don’t want to confuse her, so can I set her up an appointment with you this week? I’m sure you can explain it better than I can.” Parents have asked me to talk to their kids about every conceivable question about God, death, tragedy, sex, selfimage, choices, divorce, friendships, money, bullying, forgiveness. The list goes on. Most parents have a dozen excuses why they don’t want to talk to their kids about difficult topics. “I’m worried I won’t say the right things.” “I’m afraid I’ll talk over her head.” 31


“What if he asks a question I can’t answer? I don’t want to look stupid!” “I don’t even know what I think about these topics. How in the world can I give my child good information?” “My kids aren’t ready for this kind of conversation.” I’m happy to help, but the primary resources for these kids should be their own parents. In other words … you! Privilege and Responsibility God instituted the family long before He created the church, and kids’ ministry leaders came along many centuries after that. Throughout Scripture, God clearly explains that He has given parents the privilege and responsibility of shaping their kids’ lives — spiritually and otherwise (e.g., Deut. 4:9– 101, 11:18–20; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). It was not and is not God’s plan for parents to bring their kids to church a couple of times each month and assume the children’s ministry will take care of their development. The numbers simply don’t work: Even if your child attends an hour-long program at church every week, that’s only 52 hours a year — and most families don’t attend every week. In fact, the definition of “regular church attendance” has changed so much in the past decades that the term currently applies to some of those who go to church fewer than half of the Sundays in a year. Maybe you make sure your child attends both church and the youth group to benefit from a dedicated children’s ministry team that works hard at developing resources, planning lessons and creating an atmosphere where your child will learn, worship and draw closer to God while developing strong relationships with other young Christians. I applaud your commitment! But this scenario has a problem: It still only covers two hours a week, or 104 hours a year. Parents, by contrast, have an average of more than 70 waking hours each week with their children. That’s 3,640 hours a year — not including their time at school and sleeping. Of course, many kids are involved in extracurricular activities, but those are things we choose; they’re not required. And parents may not actually use the 70 hours


each week to connect to their kids in a meaningful way, but the time is there. God wants you to use it wisely.

Below: Brian Dollar and his wife of 17 years, Cherith, at their home in North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Real Goal As parents our goal isn’t to rush in and have one “fix it” conversation when our children ask us difficult questions. Our goal is to create a warm, open environment where these topics are part of the fabric of family communication. We’re not trying to “solve a problem”; we’re trying to open channels so that every person in the family feels valued, understood and inspired. The qualities of communication we pour into our children will have a lasting legacy. No matter how painful or difficult our childhood might have been, we have the privilege and responsibility to create something new and wonderful for our kids — and through them, their kids and grandkids. When we talk to our children about

important issues, we shouldn’t get upset if they don’t seem to pay attention or if they resist our point of view. If our measuring stick is immediate change or agreement, we’ll feel frustrated most of the time. Each conversation is an investment in the life of your children. Have a lot of them, and they’ll pay handsome dividends down the road. Like many investments, it takes a long time to see the account build and the return to be noticeable, but sooner or later, the payoff will come. I can’t tell you how many parents have told me that years later, their kids remembered talks — and specific points in those talks — when the parents thought they hadn’t even been listening. Kids listen far more than we realize. Every conversation is a spiritual conversation. This doesn’t mean we use “God talk” in every sentence and quote Scripture every time we talk to our kids. But it means the Word of God informs every decision we make and the Spirit of God guides us each step of the way. Parents don’t have to be Bible scholars, but they can read and study enough to let the truth of God sink deep into their attitudes and actions. When our children know we’re trusting God for wisdom and direction, they sense a need to trust Him, too. Our hunger for God and His Word is contagious. Our kids may look bored sometimes, and they may not like what the Bible says, but that’s part of learning, growing

As parents our goal isn’t to rush in and have one “fix it” conversation when our children ask us difficult questions.

and internalizing the truths of Scripture and the grace of God in our lives. Principles of Communication Answering our kids’ tough questions is a privilege and a responsibility. Now that we know the goal — to create a warm, open environment where God’s Word guides our responses — let’s identify and describe some principles that guide our attitudes and our words. 1. Connections take time. Many parents feel uncomfortable with certain topics, and they conclude that one conversation is enough. It never is. If a subject is so threatening that it makes us uncomfortable to talk about it, we need to talk about it more, not less. Wise parents bring these things up before there’s a crisis. When a calamity occurs, emotions run high and threats multiply. It’s far better to have a long track record of good discussions, with open interaction and mutual respect, before any crisis happens. 2. All of us are learning. I’ve watched as parents assumed the role of “the experts” in talking to their children about important matters. When kids are little, the parent’s role of teacher is unavoidable, but as they grow up, we need to communicate increasingly that we’re all in the process of learning and growing. When teenagers sense their parents are still open to new perspectives and ideas, they’ll be far more willing to enter into meaningful dialogue. 3. Don’t talk down to them. Similarly, one of the most important principles about talking with kids is to avoid being condescending. Some parents have told me they want to “dumb down” communication with their kids. If they mean they’re trying to talk on the child’s level, that’s a good strategy. My guess, though, is that the term dumb down implies two incorrect and destructive assumptions: that the child is inferior, and the parent is superior. Kids pick up on this perspective, and they deeply resent it.


Communicating Through Each Stage of Development Psychologists identify distinct stages of development from infancy, through childhood, to adulthood. As parents, we need to understand how much to explain at each level of development.


Young children are very concrete. They can’t grasp abstract principles and processes. A dad came to me with a perplexed look on his face. He asked, “I need some help. How can I explain the virgin birth to my little girl? She’s four years old.” I answered, “I’m not sure why you need to explain that concept to your daughter. If you want to tell her anything about it, just tell her that God formed Jesus in His mother’s tummy. That’s all she needs to know. I think any attempt to explain the hypostatic union is a bit too much!”

Elementary to middle school Children in grade school are learning to process more information, but they still don’t have the ability to analyze complex concepts. As they progress through these grades, parents should gradually give them more analysis and explanation. If they don’t understand, try again and be a bit more concrete; however, you may find that they are far more intellectually advanced than you imagined.

Age 12 and up

Beginning in the last year of middle school, everything is on the table. Our children are hearing all kinds of information from their peers — true and false, helpful and destructive — so don’t be shy about wading in to talk about any subject. Some parents assume their kids are protected from certain topics because they’re in a “good Christian school.” Don’t believe it. In any school, kids are talking about every conceivable topic from every possible angle.



Answering our kids’ tough questions is a privilege and a responsibility.

4. Learn to ask great questions and to listen more than you talk. One of the most important communication tools for anyone in any relationship is the ability to ask great questions. All questions are not equal! A parent may ask, “Why in the world did you do that? What were you thinking?” but questions like these don’t stimulate meaningful interaction! They are rhetorical questions that are actually statements: “You’re so dumb. You obviously weren’t thinking at all!” Some questions are conversation stoppers, but others are fertilizer for rich interaction. Good questions, spoken with respect and openness, open dialogue with your children so they can tell you what they perceive about a particular event, person or topic. We might ask: “Why do you think that happened?” “What are some positive things that might result from that choice?” “What might be some unforeseen consequences of that decision?” “How do you think God feels about that?” And as we’ve already mentioned, the best statement to draw out a person isn’t a question at all. It’s simply, “Tell me more about that.”

5. There are no dumb questions. It’s the nature of little children to be creative and spontaneous, and it’s the nature of teenagers to test their parents. In both cases, kids may ask off-the-wall questions — either because they simply don’t understand the issues, or to push back to see if the parents really respect them. For any age group of children, parents need to realize there are no dumb questions. Every question should be treated with the same weight of importance and value. It may be harder to treat innocuous or defiant questions with respect, but those need it even more. 6. If the child won’t talk, be gracious and patient, but don’t give up. A child may “go dark” for any number of reasons. An event, such as a death, may have traumatized the child; the child may normally withdraw under pressure and process things internally before speaking; or there may not be enough trust for the child to speak up. In these cases don’t press too hard, but don’t withdraw too far. Often, nonverbal communication is the gateway to the heart. Give a hug, go for a drive to a favorite spot or just spend time together some other way without talking about the topic. When the time is right — and every parent has to figure out when that is, either by instinct or trial and error — gently ask an open-ended question and wait for an answer. The Lord gave us two ears and one mouth, so it’s a good guideline in every relationship to listen twice as much as we talk. That’s especially true when we’re trying to connect with a quiet child. If the child begins to talk, again, don’t press too hard too soon. The first goal is to build trust, not to force-feed information or demand communication at a deeper level. Be gracious and kind. Acknowledge the little response you get, and then say, “Thanks. Maybe we can talk more about this sometime.” And then look for another opening at a later time. 7. Be willing to apologize. Parents mess up. All parents mess up. Even deeply committed Christian parents mess up. But not all parents are willing to admit it. Some of the most wonderful words children of all ages can hear from parents are, “I was wrong. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I won’t do it again.” Apologies are necessary for individual offenses, but parents also need to address prolonged, harmful patterns of communication — demanding too much, blaming, withdrawing, smothering and so on. A full apology communicates, “I get it now. I realize how I’ve hurt you, and I’m deeply sorry. I want to open the lines of communication with you. I’ll do my very best to do better, and I need your help. Will you tell me when I mess up again? I have a long way to go, but I’m stepping onto the road today.” This isn’t just a theory. I’ve had these conversations with my kids. I have asked Ashton and Jordan to speak up anytime



I become condescending or demanding, and I’ve promised that I’ll respect them when they have the courage to call me on my personal shortcomings. That means I don’t get angry when they’re honest with me. I don’t walk off in a huff, and I don’t look for some reason to blame them and turn the conversation around. I take it like a man and thank them for their courage and love. 8. Watch the body language — yours and theirs. Research indicates that body language accounts for 50 to 70 percent of communication. We may not be completely aware of the impact of facial expressions, eye contact and other nonverbal cues, but they powerfully shape the messages we send and receive. Our body language — a smile or frown, crossed or relaxed arms, etc. — may reinforce what we’re saying, or it may completely contradict our words. I’ve watched parents with stern expressions growl to a little child, “You know I love you, don’t you?” Well, no, the child doesn’t know the parent loves her if the expression doesn’t match the words! Parents, be good students of your body language, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure your verbal and nonverbal messages are consistent ... and positive. Also be a good student of your children’s body language. It often tells you more than their words can ever say. 9. Prepare your response. Older kids sometimes (maybe often) test their parents by saying things meant to be shocking. When this happens, don’t take the bait. Act like you’re playing poker in the saloon in an old western. Keep


a straight face, nod that you heard the comment and say something like, “Interesting. What do you think about it?” When children begin to challenge their parents, the parents need to do some evaluation and planning before responding. They can ask themselves, “How are we going to respond — or react — when Jim or Janie tell us something designed to elicit outrage or shock?” I suggest they role-play and practice their responses. They can look in the mirror to see the expression on their faces when a spouse plays the role of the child and says something like, “By the way, I’m pregnant,” “Johnny set himself on fire” or “Mom and Dad, how do you like the dragon tattoo ... on my neck?” In tense moments in relationships, people often make one of two mistakes: They “get big” or they “get little.” They get big by talking loudly, leaning forward, glaring and making demands. Or they get little by slumping in the chair, looking down, mumbling inaudibly and giving in to any perceived threat. This response doesn’t happen just once; it becomes the pattern of every significant and difficult interaction. Both responses are attempts to gain control — one by making demands and not taking no for an answer, and the other by giving in to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. And they work! The “big” person “wins” the argument, and the “little” person gets it over quickly. So everybody feels better, but only for a moment. The damage is ongoing because these misguided coping strategies significantly erode trust and create deeper divisions. If parents are aware of their normal responses to difficult conversations, they’ll be able to make choices before, during and after their conversations with their kids. It’s hard to change the pattern of a lifetime, but for some parents, it’s necessary if they want to create an environment where people feel valued and vulnerable without risk. 10. Know your child. Children are anything but static creatures. They’re enormously complex, and they change from one stage to the next. Gender, personality, experiences and age all play vital roles in how they process the ups and downs of life. And each child, even within a family, can be very, very different. Our task as parents is to notice what makes each of our children tick and then tailor our communication to fit that child in that situation.

Below: Fun and games with the Dollar family , (left to right) Ashton, Brian, Jordan and Cherith

Many parents do well with their kids when they’re small, but they don’t understand what’s going on in adolescence. Teenagers (and perhaps young people into their 20s) are developing their sense of identity — an identity that’s separate from their parents. This doesn’t mean they’ll run away and never come back, but the normal, healthy process of becoming an adult requires them to increasingly become self-reliant instead of remaining dependent on their parents. When teenagers push back, understand that’s part of the program for them to grow up and become adults. They’re trying out their independence on you. Instead of feeling threatened and putting the clamps down on them, learn to work with them to give

them a powerful combination of roots and wings — roots of security and wings to fly and try new things. They’re going to get some things wrong. That’s guaranteed. But a parent’s overreaction to their attempts at independence produces defiance, not trust. Gradually, as the children grow up, take on more responsibilities, learn from their failures and craft their own identities, we can have an adult-adult relationship with them. For some, that happens early, but other kids tend to remain emotionally (and maybe financially) dependent for the rest of their lives. Don’t let that happen! Let their roots sink deep into your love and acceptance, and give them strong wings to fly on their own. They’ll be tremendously grateful, and you’ll have a wonderful connection for the rest of your lives.

LOG IN, LISTEN UP Generation Z (the generation born after millennials, anywhere from the late ‘90s to present day) are unique in that they’ll have a lifelong relationship with, even a dependency on, tablets and touch screens. It can seem like a barrier to meaningful connections — but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you explore what kind of role technology will play as you communicate with your family: • How often should you talk to your child via text, email or social media? • How much screen time is too much? How will you enforce those boundaries? • Do you ever view computers, tablets and television as something that “babysits” your child for you? How can you use these devices together? • Are there any useful apps or sites that might help you better connect with your kids, instill responsibilities and share interests? • What are conversations that you and your family should commit to always having in person?


CURRENT EVENTS CONVERSATION Unsure of how, or if, you should address headlines with your child? Diane Levin, professor of education at Wheelock College, gives this advice to parents about connecting with their kids around the news: The most important thing is to have open, honest and ageappropriate conversations; and to make them part of everyday life. Creating an ongoing relationship with your child around issues in the news makes it normal for your kids to discuss upsetting or confusing events. When you do this, they see you as someone to help sort things out. You are also exposing them to the real world and helping them grow up to be informed, knowledgeable citizens who keep up with the news.


If a subject is so threatening that it makes us uncomfortable to talk about it, we need to talk about it more, not less. You Can Do It! You don’t have to be a social worker or a psychologist to understand enough to have meaningful conversations with your kids. You don’t have to be a pastor or know how to pray eloquently to lead your family in prayer about a tender topic. It means everything to your kids when you take the initiative to stop and talk to God in a normal voice with an open heart. And you don’t need to pray for twenty minutes. Just tell God that you need His help, you’re looking to Him for direction, and you’re grateful for the conversation. That’s enough. If you haven’t prayed with your children before, it may feel awkward at first. Push through that feeling. You’ll get more comfortable as you have more experience. It’s important. Let your kids know you want and need God to be in the center of your family’s life. In fact, you’re probably not an expert on any of the topics kids ask tough questions about. Admit to your kids that you’re learning, too — and actually be a learner. Read, ask questions and find out more than you knew before. At every point, take the initiative to begin these conversations and share what you know. Your kids will undoubtedly ask questions or voice opinions that challenge you. Don’t let that throw you. Instead of reacting, say something like, “Let me find out more about that, and you can find out more too. Then let’s talk again about it and see where we go. We’re going to trust God to give us wisdom about this.” Any of us can take the initiative to begin the conversation, admit we don’t have all the answers and explain that we’re trusting God for direction. If we do those three things, we’ve taken enormous strides in being the parents God wants us to be for our children. This attitude and these actions break down walls between our kids and us. We become a little more vulnerable, which gives them permission to be a little more honest and open. As conversations progress and become a normal part of your relationship with your kids, they’ll realize you aren’t out to control them; you respect them, and you want God’s best for them.




the kids pastor at First



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is of

High Voltage Kids Ministry Resources and



of Talk Now and (Salubris

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WRITING YOUR HISTORY At the end of your life, will you have embraced regrets or opportunities? MARK BATTERSON


ne of the saddest epitaphs in the Bible is hidden away in Jeremiah 46:17. It reminds me of an old headstone in an old cemetery, overgrown with weeds. The prophet exclaims, Give Pharaoh of Egypt the title King Bombast, the man who missed his moment (NEB). Pharaoh Hophra was the fourth king of the 26th dynasty of Egypt. As the political and religious leader of one of the most advanced civilizations on earth, the pharaoh had so much potential, so much power. History was his for the taking, his for the making. But he missed his what if moment. The opportunity isn’t identified, but Pharaoh Hophra ruled for 19 years, so he probably missed more than one! And because he missed his what if, he took his if only regrets with him to his tomb. Let me make a rather bold prediction. At the end of your life, your greatest regret won’t be the things you did but wish you hadn’t. Your greatest regret will be the things you didn’t do but wish you had. It’s the what if dreams that we never act upon that turn into if only regrets. That prediction is backed up by a study done by two social psychologists, Tom Gilovich and Vicki Medvec. According to their research, time is a key factor in what we regret. In the short term, we tend to regret actions more than inactions by a count of 53 to 47 percent. In other words, we feel acute regret


41 43


IF GOD IS FOR US Here are some powerful ifs from Scripture every child of God should know (emphasis added): “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. … For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. … Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. … But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. … What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8: 9–11, 13, 17, 25, 31)


over the mistakes we’ve made. But over the long haul, we regret inactions more than actions, 84 to 16 percent. That doesn’t mean we won’t have some deep-seated regrets about things we wish we hadn’t said or done, but our longest lasting regrets will be the opportunities we left on the table. Those are the if onlys that haunt us to the grave and beyond. Now let me translate that study into theological terms. We fixate on sins of commission far too much. We practice holiness by subtraction — don’t do this, don’t do that and you’re OK. The problem with that is this: You can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right. Righteousness is more than doing nothing wrong — it’s doing something right. It’s not just resisting temptation — it’s going after Godordained opportunities. Holiness by subtraction is playing not to lose. Righteousness is going all in with God. It’s playing to win. It’s living as if the victory has already been won at Calvary’s cross. And it has. In my opinion, it’s the sins of omission that grieve the heart of our heavenly Father most — the wouldas, couldas and shouldas. Why? Because no one knows our God-given potential like the God who gave it to us in the first place! Potential is God’s gift to us. Making the most of it is our gift back to God. Anything less results in regret. COUNTERFACTUAL THINKING Little-known fact: I wanted to be a history teacher when I was in high school. I’ve settled for armchair historian, but I’m still a history junkie. Technically, history is the study of past events — what actually happened. But there is a branch of history, counterfactual theory, that asks the what if questions. It

considers the alternate realities that might have emerged if the hinges of history had swung the other way. It’s been said that what if is the historian’s favorite question. What if one of the four musket balls that passed through George Washington’s coat during the Battle of Monongahela in 1755 had pierced his heart? What if the D-Day invasion by Allied forces on June 6, 1944, had failed to halt the Nazi regime? What if the confederates had won the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863? History is full of what ifs, and so is Scripture. What if David had missed Goliath’s forehead? What if Esther had not fasted, thereby finding favor, thus saving the Jewish people from genocide? What if Joseph and Mary had not heeded the angel’s warning to flee Bethlehem before Herod’s henchmen showed up? Let’s stay in that vein. Counterfactual theory is simply an exercise in counterfactual thinking. And it’s not just a helpful exercise for historians; it’s a healthy exercise for anyone and everyone. Counterfactual thinking is a critical dimension of goal setting and decision making. It’s thinking outside the box. It’s going against the grain. It’s the divergent ability to reimagine alternatives. It’s not just history or Scripture that are full of what if moments. They are the turning points, the tipping points in our lives too! Neuroimaging has shown that as we age, our cognitive center of gravity shifts from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain. At some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory. That’s the day we stop creating the future and start repeating the past. That’s the day we stop living by faith and start living by logic. That’s the day we stop dreaming of what if possibilities and end up with if only regrets. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

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Potential is God’s gift to us. Making the most of it is our gift back to God. LIFE PLAN I recently spent two days with a life coach crafting a life plan. Those two days will pay dividends for the rest of my life. I only wish I hadn’t waited as long as I did to do it. Honestly, I’d spent more time planning vacations than planning my life! I had some life goals, like goal #102. But I wasn’t living with the kind of intentionality it takes to turn possibilities into realities. I went through 19 exercises with my life coach, each one aimed at reimagining my life. The focus was my future, but we looked at it through the prism of my past. It was like a connect-the-dots puzzle, with the letters spelling out God’s faithfulness. By the time we were done, my sense of destiny was off the charts. One of those exercises involved storyboarding my life by identifying turning points. Next, we titled the chapters of my life. Finally, we pinpointed what are called “life gates” — the defining moments that change the trajectory of our lives. They are the what if moments when a dream is conceived, a decision is made or a risk is taken. One of the revelations I had during that life plan process is that I am my own historian. It’s God who ordains our days, orders our steps and prepares good works in advance. But we have to be students of our own history, including our if only regrets. We have to learn the lessons and leverage the mistakes. We have to connect the dots between


cause and effect. And we have to reimagine our future through the frame of God’s promises. No matter how many regrets you have, God is the God of second chances. No matter how deepseated those regrets are, He can turn your if only regrets into what if possibilities.

I WISH … After years of working in palliative care, Bronnie Ware began to chronicle the regrets that her patients shared with her as they battled serious illnesses. She turned these observations into the bestselling book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Here are the areas in which people were most likely to express regret. 1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”

Mark Batterson is a New York Times bestselling author and the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. This article is excerpted from If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities by Mark Batterson. Copyright 2015, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” 4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” 5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”





The conversation about opposite sex friendships usually focuses on boundaries â&#x20AC;&#x201D; but what about the opportunities? STEPHANIE L. NANCE




an men and women be friends? In recent years, male-female relationships have become a notable topic of conversation in books, movies and television as men and women find their worlds increasingly colliding in spheres once segregated. Recent Census Bureau reports show that more women have entered the workforce, working alongside men, and that both sexes are waiting longer to marry, thus establishing long-term friendships with one another in adulthood. Additionally, as some churches focus on connection and small group ministries as opposed to gender-based ministries, Christian men and women, both single and married, find themselves closely interacting with one another. For Christians, however, the question of male-female friendships is not as concerning as we might think. A Biblical Perspective To understand how the sexes should relate to one another today, we need to grasp God’s original plan. Genesis 1 and 2 tell the story of God creating humanity. Adam came to the realization that nobody else like him existed among the creatures.


Therefore, God declared it not good for the man to be alone and created the woman, Eve, to partner with Adam, side-by-side, both responsible for the garden. As the man and woman flourished together in mutuality, equality, intimacy and unity, a sly serpent approached them, helping them imagine an autonomous life where they could be like God. Sin tore apart their relationship with the Creator and with one another, ushering in a distorted view of gender that resulted in the sexes opposing each other and failing to live and work together as God intended. Although created for marriage, Adam and Eve also represent humanity, men and women, in general. Their sin not only affected the husband-wife relationship but all human relationships, since we are also designed to relate to one another outside marriage. According to the New Testament, men and women are called to far more than friendship — they are to live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Joseph H. Hellerman explains in his book When the Church Was a Family that in the GrecoRoman world, the sibling relationship served as the primary relationship bond that mandated allegiance and deep emotional ties. Sharing the blood of your father tied you with your siblings in a way that required the ultimate devotion. It was in such a context that the Apostle Paul called Christ followers “brothers and sisters,” prioritizing their bond. Through the blood of Christ we are now tied to one another in such a way that mandates devotion and allegiance. Although this brothersister relationship is what lasts through eternity, on Earth it plays out in the reality of sexuality and other relationship commitments, requiring dialogue on how to navigate the complexities. These discussions must happen since we are a redeemed people living life together, offering hope to others in need of redemption. What About Boundaries? In Christian circles, whenever the topic arises concerning male-female relationships outside of marriage, the word “boundaries” quickly surfaces. Good reason exists for cautionbased boundaries. Violation of proper sexual boundaries has destroyed too many wellrespected leaders, marriages and families. According to the Society for Human Resources

HOW TO MAXIMIZE MALE-FEMALE RELATIONSHIPS Facilitate respectful mutuality in conversations and workplace meetings rather than drawing attention to the stereotypical gender strengths/weaknesses. Include activities or conversation pieces that cross platforms and involve various learning styles, gift sets and personality types. Use gender-inclusive language. Listen to the other person’s story without interruption or defending a specific gender. Listen to and interact with him or her as an individual with a unique background and experience, not as a gender stereotype. Use whatever influence you have to challenge, encourage and empower the opposite sex in your life (family, friends and coworkers).

Management, workplace romances are also on the rise, with 16 percent qualifying as affairs. Randy Burns, pastoral counselor at Sheffield Family Life Center in Kansas City, Missouri, has counseled several Christians who have had affairs. Burns, married for 27 years, supports male-female friendships and working relationships, but he advises, “Be selfaware. We are meant to be attracted to one another. That’s how we are wired, so to think you wouldn’t be attracted would be foolish.” Unfortunately, many people respond to this reality by setting generic rules for the opposite sex. A well-known church leader once explained that he avoids impropriety in the workplace by refraining from personal dialogue with his administrative assistant. He greets her in the morning but


does not ask how she is doing. He believes this type of boundary protects them from improper intimacy. Such an extreme approach — call it “fear-based boundaries”— leads to viewing the opposite sex as sources of temptation rather than as God’s imagebearers whom we are made to engage with as caring, compassionate humans. Fear-based boundaries focus on self-protection. They try to eliminate factors that cause temptation or create an appearance of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, they offer a false sense of safety. They disguise and manage bondage to sexual sin by eliminating the focus of lust instead of addressing the root of it within the heart. This type of rationale resembles that of an infant who hasn’t learned object permanence: if something disappears, it doesn’t exist. Jesus, however, calls us to maturity. Jesus taught us to take responsibility for our own lust, removing the cause of it inside of us, not to blame or remove the focus of the lust (Matt. 5:27-30). The Church does little to help disciple people in their sexuality after salvation. Anyone deeply struggling with sexual issues needs to set appropriate boundaries, surround themselves with people to whom they are fully accountable and enter an intense discipleship process where they can focus on the renewal of the mind. In the meantime, we humbly and patiently live life together as brothers and sisters in Christ, offering compassion and kindness (Col. 3:12). This act of bearing with one another in our weaknesses remarkably acts as a conduit for the light of Christ that pierces the darkness and ushers in freedom for individuals in bondage. In regard to male-female friendships and working relationships, Sharon Smith, a single professional in the corporate world, explains, “I don’t go into a situation with a pre-set list of laws. Rather, I set boundaries as I see they are needed … . Proper boundaries are necessary for any relationship — male or female. I establish boundaries … when another person’s heart/motives are not right. If I pick up a signal or see actions that require boundaries, I set them for the specific situation.” Such an approach respects people for who they are instead of who we have predetermined them to be. As Christians, we need to live counter culturally when it comes to how we function in relationships with the opposite sex. This does not mean we establish rigid, fear-based boundaries to remove the risk of inappropriate relationships from developing. It means we submit ourselves to a new way of thinking that revolutionizes how we regard one another as men and women, which leads to life-giving relationships instead of self-serving ones. Jesus, the one whose image we


Men and women are called to far more than friendship — they are to live as brothers and sisters in Christ. claim to be transforming into, led His life this way and calls us to as well. The Friends of Jesus When Jesus walked the earth, He drew men and women together, just as He continues to do today, for the sake of His mission to bring forth His Kingdom. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus engages with the opposite sex as opposed to protecting himself from them through rigid boundaries — which was even more notable in His time. He often reached out and engaged with women in the same way He did with men. Jesus even healed women seen as unclean (Mark 5:25-34), allowed women of questionable character to approach Him (Luke 7:37– 50) and conversed with women seen as ethnically impure (John 4:7-42). Jesus did not minister from a place of fear, seeking to protect His reputation from what others perceived. During a time when the religious system excluded women, Jesus used illustrations they could relate to, intentionally included them in His mission as close partners, allowed them to participate in His traveling ministry and trusted them as disciples. Where culture and religion separated the sexes, Jesus brought them back together, both responsible and empowered to live out God’s Kingdom. Through the power of the Cross, we die to our distorted view of each other and now partner together through the resurrection of Christ by the Spirit’s empowerment. A Reimagining As a result of sin, we have minimized, abused, devalued and competed against one another as men and women. In the midst of such brokenness God’s people have the opportunity to live out the Kingdom, helping the world reimagine life together as men and women. During the reign of King Xerxes of Persia, Mordecai, a Jewish man working in the palace, learned that the king’s right-hand man planned to kill the Jews. Mordecai took initiative and called on his cousin, Queen Esther, to use her position to act on behalf of God’s people; however,


she responded with the limit of her position: “I can’t go before the king without an invitation — I’ll die!” Mordecai strongly warned her that human-imposed limits don’t release her from responsibility. He then helped Esther reimagine herself as strategically positioned to influence: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14) When Mordecai used his voice to call Esther to responsibility, she rose up in faith, took a deadly risk and saw circumstances change. Men have an opportunity to call their sisters in Christ to take a risk and begin to reimagine how God has positioned them for Kingdom influence. Barna Group reports that 31 percent of women who sit in pews across the U. S. have resigned themselves to low expectations regarding church, with 20 percent feeling under utilized. God does not sanction the limits placed upon His daughters, but He will use the limits to strategically reposition them for Kingdom expansion. Like Mordecai, Kingdomminded men can support the impact of women in the workplace, church, home and community. In turn, Esther influenced the king to position Mordecai alongside her in a way he probably never imagined possible. Mordecai became a powerful leader, the king’s new right-hand man and a voice for the Jews. Together as cousins, friends and partners, Mordecai and Esther stopped the destruction of God’s people. They focused on their united mission, not on competing for power. A memorable 2010 magazine article in The Atlantic, “The End of Men,” exemplifies the men-versus-women mentality with an almost celebratory reaction to men losing power in places they once dominated. It’s not God’s intention, however, for one sex to dominate over another. That is a consequence of sin. Kingdom-minded women like Smith, a sales and marketing leader for over 25 years, possess the opportunity to partner with men in the workplace and heal the division caused by sin. Smith has served as the first female leader in several companies, working

extensively with men, helping them rise to their potential: “I help my teammates to be successful by using my leadership position to remove obstacles from their pathways that allows them to execute their jobs, and to help them develop their inherent potential.” By doing so, Smith builds the Kingdom by helping her colleagues reimagine life with the opposite sex in a healthy way as opposed to the tragic us-versusthem story the fallen world offers. Although its easy to pit men and women against each other, Kingdom-minded people live in such a way that reconciles the sexes, partnering together and empowering one another. Our New Life We live in a culture that celebrates people identifying themselves solely by their sexuality. Although we live as sexual beings and as male or female, these distinctions should not control or dictate our identity. When we separate our relationships by gender and impose unnecessary boundaries on one another, we do what a world separated from God does — make it all about sex. Our new life in Christ offers a better story to tell the world when we function as men and women in healthy relationships, with our identity firmly rooted in Christ and not in our sexuality. When we approach someone of the opposite sex within the body of Christ as “potential moral failures,” we forfeit what Christ’s death and resurrection restores: men and women living in community, reflecting the mysterious, vast dimensions of God’s image. Excavating the depths of His image through relationships is one of the purest joys of being human.

As a result of sin, we have minimized, abused, deval ued and competed against one another as men and women.

Stephanie L. Nance, D.Min., is the spiritual formation pastor and on the preaching team at Chapel Springs Church in Bristow, Virginia. She often speaks and writes on how the mystery of God intertwines with and shapes the human experience in the digital information age.






Max Lucado, Poet and Pastor The bestselling author talks about his favorite Old Testament story ALYCE YOUNGBLOOD



ax Lucado has sold 92 million books (and counting). A number of those titles have topped bestseller lists, and most likely topped your nightstand. For fans of his warm writing style, it’s tough to pick a favorite release. But Lucado is quick to recommend one of his own favorite reads, a story he keeps coming back to: the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament. “What’s unique about the story of Joshua is that the book documents the most successful years in the history of ancient Israel,” Lucado says. “I think that’s when my ears perked up.” If you’re not too familiar with the events of Joshua, Lucado gives it a thorough and heartfelt analysis in his new book Glory Days (Thomas Nelson). Using his trademark approach to storytelling — equal parts poetic and pastoral — Lucado highlights three locations that he believes symbolize milestones of the Christian life: Egypt, the Wilderness and the Promised Land. “Egypt is a picture of our lives before we trust Christ to save us,” Lucado explains. “The Wilderness then becomes the life in which we trusted Christ to forgive us, but we hadn’t really trusted Him to empower us. Then the Promised Land is the life that I think God really wants all of us to have, and it truly is the life of victory.”

“I’ve never known another approach to Bible study than to take a story, and retell it and try to bring it to life.” It’s that middle ground — the Wilderness — that Lucado is especially concerned about. He identifies it as a place of burnout, anxiety, slow progress and stalled spiritual growth. “Some research reveals that nine out of ten believers do not describe their Christian life as victorious. That means that nine out of ten people sitting on a church pew do not really feel like they’re hitting on all the cylinders, that they’re falling short,” Lucado says. “The Christian life is not delivering for them. That’s really a tragedy.” Though Glory Days tackles the subject more directly, Lucado has spent 30 years encouraging people toward a fuller faith. He planted churches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before becoming a minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he’s been teaching since 1988. “I don’t know if I’m the preacher who writes or a writer who preaches. I think they really complement each other,” he says, adding that most of his books begin behind the pulpit. Lucado first realized his knack for writing decades ago while producing articles for a church bulletin, which he later submitted to publishers. “America’s Pastor,” as he’s been called, has penned 32 books since, all the while developing a unique way of drawing the reader’s attention to the small, human details found in well-known Bible stories.

“I’ve never known another approach to Bible study than to take a story, and retell it and try to bring it to life,” Lucado says. He points to No Wonder They Call Him the Savior and In the Grip of Grace as titles that hold especially sentimental places in his personal bibliography — the latter because it helped him to truly realize, “My best work adds nothing to the finished work of Christ on the cross.” Lucado admits he favors the creative side of writing, but he strives to keep his words applicable and accessible to his broad audience. “I think the fact that I write forces me to create clearer sermons, and the fact that I preach forces me to write more practical books. … I write for people who don’t like to read books,” he jokes. In Glory Days, there’s much for readers to like; the title and source material hint at happy endings. But Lucado is also realistic about the journey — and the Jerichos (Joshua 6). “It’s not that we don’t have struggles, but we really can have a life in which we’re more excited about our faith than we are plateaued.” So how does someone know when they’ve reached the Promised Land? What are the landmarks to look for along the way? “I love that question,” Lucado says. He refers back to when Joshua led a miraculous crossing of the Jordan River, and the Israelites stacked stones in the water as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Joshua 3–4). “The first thing they did was stop and give God thanks,” he recalls. “I think a Promised Land person is a person who’s living in the spirit of gratitude. When gratitude takes over anxiety, then I think you know that you’re heading into the Promised Land.”

MAKE IT COUNT Read more about Max Lucado, Glory Days and his other writing at maxlucado. com.



Small Change Kendall Altmyer is committed to fighting human trafficking — with pennies ALYCE YOUNGBLOOD



hey sit in the cupholder of your car. They line the bottom of your purse. You forget them on store counters, in seat cushions, on sidewalks. No, you’ve probably never thought too much about pennies (beyond counting them up when you need exact change). But Kendall Altmyer has spent a lot of time pondering these copper coins — and she hopes you won’t be able to get them out of your head either. One day, during an undergraduate class at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, Altmyer’s professor drew a parallel between pennies and victims of sex trafficking. The professor’s point, she paraphrases, was that, “Pennies are essentially worthless, cheap, disposable, stepped on and stepped over. The victims of human trafficking are also treated as worthless, cheap and disposable.” She adds that both are also pervasive, to the point of going unnoticed. The symbolism sunk in deeply for Altmyer. Like when you learn a new word and suddenly hear it everywhere, she began seeing pennies often and with new eyes. Even in the company of others, Altmyer says she would find herself slowing to pick up spare coins and pause in prayer. “My feet stop moving, my thoughts stop rolling, my mouth stops talking, and all I can think about is how that is [like] one of the 27 million victims.” (This was the number reported in 2011

“Just because you cannot blatantly see the crime in front of your eyes does not mean that trafficking does not exist.” by the U.S. State Department.) In 2013, Altmyer went to intern in Thessalonika, Greece, with The A21 Campaign, an anti-trafficking organization founded by pastor Christine Caine. It was there, while living alongside trafficking survivors, that Altmyer decided to turn the penny analogy into something that could tangibly help these “real human beings with real lives and real stories.” A friend from home, who was closely following Altmyer’s internship overseas, suggested stamping the word “WORTHY” into pennies, turning them into bracelets that would raise both awareness of the reality of human trafficking as well as funds for A21. “My mom took 10 penny bracelets to a local Friday night football game. The penny bracelets were all sold by halftime, and people wanted more,” Altmyer remembers. Gradually, the bracelet and The Penny Story began to spread — around Altmyer’s hometown in Alabama, across her college campus — eventually reaching well-known worship artist Kari Jobe. “Kari had been praying for a way to directly support Christine’s ministry, and she felt that the penny bracelet was an answer to that prayer,” Altmyer explains. Meanwhile, Altmyer had been saying her own prayer, that The Penny Story might be able to have a greater impact. “The Lord clearly heard both of those prayers and connected

Kari and me,” she says. “Kari’s company now manufacturers, packages and ships the penny bracelet, and this is an honor.” Though Altmyer has been encouraged by the growth of this simple idea, she is quick to acknowledge the challenge of getting people to take human trafficking seriously. “I regularly find people who are unaware that trafficking exists here in America. Many people think it is a crime that occurs overseas in developing nations,” she says. “Just because you cannot blatantly see the crime in front of your eyes does not mean that trafficking does not exist in your city or state. It just means that the crime has become invisible, making it more detrimental to the victims and our society.” Altmyer adds there are estimates that only 1 to 2 percent of victims are ever rescued; she knows that “eradicating a worldwide injustice sounds impossible.” But she urges people to join the fight, one she believes begins in the spiritual realm. “The greatest thing you could do to join the fight against trafficking [is to] diligently pray,” she suggests. Altmyer currently works with first year students at her college and will finish her master’s in professional counseling in 2016, which she hopes might allow her to counsel survivors of trafficking. But she’s primarily committed to the next chapter of The Penny Story, including a documentary called Common Cents, produced by Southeastern and available online this fall. “I know this penny movement and the momentum behind it is only the beginning of what God has in store for the penny,” she says. “I feel like He is saying, ‘I have wanted to tell this story for a long time. Now is the time, here is the place, and here are the people. Now go.’ I am honored to be a small part of something so big.”

MAKE IT COUNT For more information about Kendall, The Penny Story bracelets and the upcoming documentary, visit Learn about The A21 Campaign at



Reinventing the Wheel For Donni Mac and the Rolling Rangers, bikes provide a unique opportunity to disciple young men ANA PIERCE


ou’re going to be the man of the house some day.” Many boys grow up hearing this phrase. When Donni Mac heard his father tout the common expression, he didn’t think much of it. But then, as an 11-year-old, he lost his father in a tragic accident, and the story took a different turn. Mac spent most of his adolescence longing for a positive male influence but unsure of how to communicate this need. His mother never remarried,


and the closest thing he had to a father figure was a couple of uncles who were usually too drunk to notice him, he remembers. Things changed one day when the local church hired a new pastor, who paid Mac’s family a visit. “I wasn’t really impressed — it was a typical clergy visit with coffee and cookies in the living room — that is, until it was time for him to leave,” Mac says. As the pastor was on his way out, he noticed two motorcycles in Mac’s garage. The pastor asked if Mac would want to go for a ride “right then and there,” Mac says. “I thought it odd he wanted to go in his suit and tie, but whatever, I didn’t need much reason to go riding. So we went behind the house where there were jumps, dips, berms and mud. He hit them all full on! I’ll never forget riding back to the house, seeing the mud slung up on the back of his blazer jacket and the smile on his face,” Mac recalls. “It struck me that a man God uses didn’t have to be all about coffee and cookies in the living room, that this pastor was a real guy and that I could be used by God, too.” Mac committed to use his boyhood experience of craving a father figure as motivation to meet that need for others. He and his ministry partner, Alan

Atkins, had tried several different approaches to boys’ ministry, but often reached a dead end. They attempted to introduce leatherwork and photography, in which the boys quickly lost interest. Eventually, after some creative planning, the men landed on an idea that was more in their wheelhouse: bikes. Last March, the two created Rolling Rangers, a group where boys and mentors connect as they restore both bicycles and relationships. The mission is “to build young people of faith, hope and integrity to live their lives with honor.” “It turns out that bikes are a very common denominator with men and boys,” Mac explains. “Seven to 70-year-olds can relate to bikes, and not only in our culture but all over the world. Although we all love bikes, it’s not about cycling. They are just a common, readily available tool to get us connected, and I am a big subscriber of using what you have and using it with love.” Mac and Atkins strive to be godly examples as they share both the gospel and the practical skills of bicycle maintenance. To bridge the gap between the church and the

community, Atkins and Mac run a Craigslist ad calling for bike donations. “The bikes are used to put us elbow-to-elbow with the boys,” Mac says. The Rolling Rangers then work as a team on the donated bikes, often giving the newly repaired cycles to children in need. An evening at Rolling Rangers is a lively one, with approximately 20 boys in attendance. “To help create a sense of ownership and belonging in most class times, the boys are offered a task to help facilitate the program and that becomes their ‘Participation Contribution’ for that session,” Mac says. Tasks range from Dog Guard (the chosen individual tends to Rolling Rangers’ mascot, a black lab named Panama) to Prayer Leader to Sound Technician. Mac and Atkins feel that teaching the boys how to fulfill responsibilities is paramount to the boys’ connection to and success within a community. They are looking to expand their influence beyond their state bike trails in California and have already seen some success in program trips to Mexico. Mac and Atkins believe the work they’re doing has the potential to nurture youth into men of character. Mac says, “As they grow older, we hope to create lifelong mentorships with them, facilitate healthy friendships among the boys and most importantly, show the love of Christ. Those little hearts are a very large concern for us! We look forward to seeing the great men of God they will become.”

MAKE IT COUNT Get more information about the mentorship work of Rolling Rangers, as well as their bicycle donation needs, at



THE BALANCING ACT Four daily practices to find peace between work and home CHARITY REEB


ow is it possible to have overslept again? It’s 7 a.m., and I jump out of bed. The morning chaos commences immediately: feed the screaming one, feed myself, look my husband in the face and focus, put on my face, set my hair and smile. I try to think about Jesus and read the Bible for five minutes, when I look at the clock and realize it’s time to release the 3-year-olds. My two sons have turned their beds into trampolines: thump, thump, thumpity, thump they jump. Before I know it, the nanny has arrived, and it’s time to rush out the door. I can’t help but ask myself each morning, Is it worth it to try to balance it all? Is it possible for me to live a balanced life when I’m wearing so many hats? I sigh, go out the door and face another day at the office. One more



conference call, meeting, email ... and then the to-do list is done. Time to go home and attempt to pack in two hours of quality time. From maintaining my relationship with God, my husband, my children, my employees and friends to the responsibilities of work and keeping my house in order, it’s all too easy to find myself out of balance. Living life in balance is hard, and each season of life carries its own unique challenges. While I haven’t found a four-step program that will bring your life into perfect harmony, here are four daily practices I’ve found useful. 1. Identify what matters most each day, then insist on prioritizing it first. This takes actually understanding what matters most to you. We want to put God first, but do we actually prioritize Him first? Pull out your calendar and identify how talking to God and meditating on His Word will be an integral part of your schedule. Then, what’s next? Is it spending time with your children? Focus on that. Do not allow life’s circumstances to define your priorities; you define them according to what matters to you. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses. You might assume it’s impossible to prioritize what really matters when you have a real life and real bills that need to be paid. Focusing on what matters is simple, but it doesn’t just happen on its own. 2. Be in community. Have friends in your life who will tell you when you’re out of balance. This keeps you from living in denial. A wise mentor once encouraged me to receive, exchange and invest with three people. I took her advice and identified three people who have spiritual authority in my life, three peers with whom I could be authentic and three people who needed a friend to invest in them. Then — you guessed it — I made time for them on my calendar. I’ve found when I am consistently engaged with all nine people, I’m more balanced as a result. 3. Split the day into three “slices” of time — and don’t work one slice. In the Old Testament, God mandated rest (Ex. 20:8–11), then in the New Testament, Jesus modeled it (Luke 5:16 is just one example of this pattern). Jesus had one shot at living a life that saved the world, but He knew as a human that He had to recharge. What an incredible example. Keep perspective in your life by reserving

Focusing on what matters is simple, but it doesn’t just happen on its own. your morning, afternoon or evening — for quality time, for leisure, maybe for nothing, just as long as it’s for anything but work. It may seem like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but it’s also possible that whatever you feel is pressing can probably wait until tomorrow. You may find this is impractical at times, but it’s a good rule of thumb when assessing if you are overdoing it. 4. Let go of unreasonable expectations. I sometimes find myself comparing my life to my mother’s. She was an incredible stay-at-home mom who had homecooked food on the table every night and helped my father with his business. She worked every bit as hard as I do, but her life also looked dramatically different than mine. Part of finding balance is knowing and accepting that you may fill roles differently than your parents did or your friends and co-workers do, and it’s OK. To make life manageable, it may mean sharing roles with your spouse, occasionally eating (somewhat) healthy take-out or juggling a non-traditional work schedule to fit all your goals in on any given day. What expectations do you put on yourself that may be unreasonable? I love the balanced life Jesus lived. We get to follow Him and live out this balance daily. You don’t read of Jesus worrying about what He didn’t get done. He doesn’t remonstrate with the disciples over dinner about all the people He didn’t meet, the miracles He didn’t perform or the villages He didn’t visit. He simply lived life in active presence, walking in His calling and noticing people along the way. Maybe this is why He tells us in Matthew 11:28–30 that when we come to Him, we will find rest. When we follow Him, the load is light. Charity Reeb is a social entrepreneur with a mission to inspire do-gooders to live a Jesus-centered lifestyle and see the world transformed. Follow Charity on her blog at or on Twitter @charityreeb.



A BETTER WAY TO CHANGE Let go of control and get into Scripture GARY SMALLEY


you want to see changes in your spouse or kids, don’t try to change them. If you want to see changes in yourself, don’t rely on your own efforts. I’ve tried both, and the only result was anger (and frustration). Instead, change your own attitudes from the inside out. Consider the teachings of Jesus in the everyday happenings of life. Apply them in the messiness of your relationships. Invite your spouse, your kids and your grandkids to join you. But don’t put your trust in your own will — the Holy Spirit will do the work of transformation and growth within you. Brain Change When you engage your heart, soul and mind on the words of Jesus, your life will change. In fact, the neuroscientist who helped me understand this concept is Dr. Caroline Leaf. Here’s what she taught me in her book Switch on Your Brain about really valuing the words of Jesus. Every thought we have actually develops chemically and electrically. This process takes at least 30 seconds, and the lasting impact depends on how emotionally involved we are. The more emotion we put into a thought, the bigger the change in our brains. Here’s a practical example: Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” At first those words might not make sense. But if we focus our attention, and ask God for help, all kinds of practical insight will emerge. If I remain needy in spirit, I’m going to experience more of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 14:17). The more I admit my need and seek my answers from God, the more He will provide! Yes, this is quite humbling, but then I remember God only gives His grace to the humble. God resists the proud, who say, “I can control this habit! I can change myself.” I love remaining in the attitude of a


helpless beggar, because God only gives His grace and power to change to those who admit their need. We must get past our prideful inhibitions and say, “Please God, I cry out to you. Out of your unlimited resources in heaven, give me strength with power through your Holy Spirit living within me.” There’s such a night and day difference between reading and meditating on the teachings of Jesus. For example, if I honor my wife, I honor her words. I’ll keep her words in mind throughout my day and in the choices I make. (Especially when deciding what to order for lunch — I can almost hear her voice!) And I’ll not only listen to her, I’ll consider what’s really behind her words. What do her words reveal about her heart and feelings? We can meditate on Scripture the same way. Believe Can you see the impact that Jesus’ promises can have on your thoughts and actions? Imagine the growth and transformation happening as you and your family receive a deep, heartfelt revelation of how much God values and loves them! Your kids need to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. As they memorize the teachings of Jesus, they begin to grasp this life-changing truth. I’ve seen the effects in my kids, grandkids and finally — in myself! But let’s be clear, this is not “behavior modification.” Memorizing, pondering and praying the teachings of Jesus is cooperating with our Creator and connecting with His power to change us. His words can change us from the inside out! His words are worthy of honor. I was 65 years old when I realized that I’d read the teachings of Jesus but couldn’t speak any of them from my heart — because His words weren’t abiding in me. I hadn’t committed any of them to memory. So the first step I took was to select four passages and grab onto them with everything in me. Over and over I went through these steps: Read the words slowly and carefully, to understand each word. Feel the emotion behind the words. Ask the Holy Spirit what He wants me to see and hear in them. Read my favorite commentators on each of the verses. Then I rinse and repeat. Yes, I rinse my human thoughts out of my head and admit that I need to think like God does. Then I repeat the process. I figure if it works for shampoo in my hair, it works for cleaning my thinking, too! Here are four passages to start with: 1. Matthew 5:3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

When you engage your heart, soul and mind on the words of Jesus, your life will change 2. Mark 12:30–31. “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 3. John 15:9–12. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” 4. Matthew 5:10–12. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Ripples Positive change in our world begins with positive change in a family. And families change when men and women humble themselves and connect with a loving God. Why go it alone? If, after decades of helping couples and parents, I had a more effective way to guide you to health, I would present the path right here. Look around in your world. Are the alternatives working? The best way to change your family is to change your thinking. As your thinking is elevated by the words of Jesus, you’ll be able to model those words in your actions. We all know actions speak louder than words. We’ve all promised to change and failed. There’s a better way. Begin by humbling yourself, like a child. God gives grace to the humble. Gary Smalley is a family counselor, bestselling author and president and founder of the Smalley Relationship Center. This article is excerpted with permission from Let’s Do Family Together (Salubris Resources, 2015) .



A DIFFERENT CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO HALLOWEEN One parent makes a case for leaving your porch light on TIFFANY ALLISON WOOD


alloween doesn’t make my list of favorite holidays. I don’t do scary, can’t stand spooky and steer clear of creepy. Some parents decorate their houses with cobwebs, spiders, ghosts and witches on brooms. Not me. I draw the line at pumpkins. They’re not scary, and they make delicious pies. My son, Reese, on the other hand, loves Halloween. Loves. When Sam’s Club puts costumes on sale in July — July!?! — he picks through them carefully, trying to figure out what he’s going to be. (In case you’re wondering, this year he’ll be a Star Wars Stormtrooper.) Then there’s the candy. I’m pretty sure he’s still feasting on the hoard of sugary sweet cavity-makers he trick-or-treated from our neighbors last year. Mostly, though, he loves Halloween because of the people. Reese is an only child and an extrovert extraordinaire. He’s never met a stranger. We live on a cul-de-sac where 19 kids under 12 live in 10 contiguous houses. Open the front door during good weather, and there’s an all-day party of boys and girls running wild in the street. On Halloween, they trick-or-treat together, a roving gang of littles with moms and dads in tow. After dark, Reese stands at our door and waits for knocks, handing out candy to the older kids. Last year, I’d say a couple hundred kids knocked on our door. Reese was in Halloween heaven. Evil to Avoid? Not all Christians are as blasé about Halloween as I am. For some, Halloween is an evil to avoid, not a holiday to celebrate. Witchcraft is an obvious reason why. Scripture forbids seeking out “mediums” and “spiritists” (Lev. 19:31). It lists “witchcraft” as one of the “acts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19–21). And it teaches us to repent of “sorcery” by both positive (Acts 19:17–20) and negative (Rev. 9:21) examples.


Furthermore, some Christians argue, Halloween has pagan roots. Samhain (pronounced either SAWin or SOW-in) was a Gaelic festival that marked the beginning of winter. Celebrated from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1, Samhain was thought to be a time when the spirits of the dead had greater access to the world of the living. Medieval Catholics “Christianized” this pagan holiday by turning it into All Hallows Eve (i.e., Halloween, October 31) and All Hallows or All Saints Day (November 1). Or so the argument goes; I’m not totally sold on its accuracy. Regardless, if Halloween is only about sorcery and paganism, I’m out. “[T]urn from evil and do good” (1 Pet. 3:11) is a rock-solid biblical principle that I totally agree with and am teaching my son. Christian integrity demands that we avoid becoming entangled with evil. But principles have to be applied correctly, and I’m not sure that’s always the case with Halloween. Sometimes, to put it simply, a kid in a costume asking for candy is just a kid in a costume asking for candy. Outreach Opportunity? Other Christians take a different approach. The churches my husband and I have attended over the years often provided an alternative to Halloween. Harvest Festival included BBQ, popcorn, carnival-style games and rides and “trunkor-treating” — basically, trick-or-treating out of the back of a car. The large church we attended welcomed well over 1,000 church members and families from the community every year. When we lived in Southern California, we liked Harvest Festival for a number of reasons. Many of the kids in the surrounding cities lived in neighborhoods where the streets weren’t safe. Or, they lived in neighborhoods where only a few people handed out candy. By holding Harvest Festival in the church’s parking lot, these kids and their families could have a safe, enjoyable experience. The added benefit was that the church developed a good reputation in the community. Church members found it easy to invite their neighbors to this event. Unchurched neighbors who enjoyed the event would think of our church first when it came to other holidays like Christmas and Easter. When life events such as births, weddings and funerals prompted spiritual longings in them, they’d turn to us. In short, our church saw Halloween as an outreach opportunity and made the most of it. Joyful Presence? But when we moved from Southern California to Missouri, we moved from a non-kid-friendly neighborhood to a

super-kid-friendly one. That changed my perspective about Halloween, among other things. Like I said above, our cul-de-sac has tons of kids. In good weather, while the kids play, we sit outside and talk to one another until it’s time for dinner. On the Fourth of July, we have a neighborhood barbecue and fireworks show. (Given that this is Missouri, we’re talking bomb-size explosions, by the way.) And, as I mentioned, on Halloween, we go trick-or-treating en masse. We do things together. If I didn’t allow Reese to trick-or-treat, or if I insisted on taking him to Harvest Festival at church instead, I’d miss the opportunity to be present, build relationships and have fun with my neighbors. When yours is the only house with its front porch lights off on Halloween, trust me, your neighbors notice. And not in a good way. Jesus began His ministry by going to a wedding and turning water into wine (John 2:1–12). The apostle John speaks of this miracle as “the first of the signs through which [Jesus] revealed his glory.” The water Jesus used for the miracle came from “six stone water jars, the kind used by Jews for ceremonial washing.” John is telling us that Jesus’ ministry is better than the ministry of Moses’ law; new covenant “wine” is sweeter than old covenant “water.” I can’t help but think that John is also telling us something about how to attract people to Jesus, however. Jesus didn’t absent himself from the wedding. Nor did he invite the guests to an alternative location. He showed up in their city, at their event, in their home, and by His presence brought them great joy. That’s why people found Him to be such an attractive personality. And that’s how we ought to live in imitation of Him. Will Your Light Be On? I think I can summarize what I’ve been trying to say in three sentences: If Halloween is evil, we Christians can’t participate. If a neighborhood is unwelcoming, our churches can provide safe alternatives to it. But if neither of these things is the case, I propose this: Consider staying home and putting the porch light on. That’s what we’ll be doing come October 31. We’ll be welcoming costumed kids to our door and showering them with candy and making memories. I believe neighborhoods will be better off because of such joyful presence. Feel free to stop by. Tiffany Allison Wood is a licensed foster parent. She lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her husband, son and two fur kids.


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Welcome to the My Healthy Church store section. We curate an exclusive collection of Spirit-empowered resources, simplifying the search for your next book, album or curriculum. Check out what’s inside and see the difference My Healthy Church can make. 

Fire Bible for Kids, NIV Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts Newly Expanded Edition In the updated edition of their award-winning book, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott help you launch lifelong love like never before. It’s more than a book; it’s an experience. Use workbooks filled with more than 40 exercises and participate in a pre-marriage ministry led by a certified SYMBIS facilitator. Learn more at MyHealthyChurch. Get ready for deeper intimacy with the best friend you’ll ever have.

Zondervan ISBN: 9780310346289 $21.99 Workbook for Women, Updated ISBN: 9780310875475 $10.99 Workbook for Men, Updated ISBN: 9780310875420 $10.99

The first-ever study Bible with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit written for kids ages 8-12. Uses over 100 original illustrations to draw kids into the Word and build family values. Children are taught to apply biblical truths with over 1,200 study notes and 66 book introductions. Experience the Bible in 3-D on the FREE Fire Bible Companion App with interactive puzzles, quizzes and fun games.

Life Publishers Flex cover ISBN: 9780736104487 $37.99 Paperback ISBN: 9780736104500 $22.99 Hardback ISBN: 9780736104418 $32.99

After the Honeymoon Originally written as Facebook posts to his engaged son, After the Honeymoon features 90 devotions that provide insight and wisdom from Rod Loy based on biblical principles and his own 27-year marriage. Whether seeking to start a marriage off on a solid basis or wanting to rekindle and strengthen their marriage, this book provides couples with unique ideas to build a thriving relationship. The book includes: 90 days of daily devotions, 90 date ideas under $10 and examples from real-life couples.

Influence Resources ISBN: 9781629121895 $14.99

Confessions of a Church Kid Growing up a church kid is tough, and being a Christian in this world is not for the faint of heart. In a spiritual tug-ofwar, there is a battle between living for God and finding acceptance. Is it possible to live a setapart life and have a seat at the cool kids’ table? In a humorous and let’s-just-behonest approach, Elyse Murphy goes on record about struggling through her teen and young adult years just trying to find her place. In Confessions of a Church Kid, Murphy reminds us that Jesus still loves us, awkward mishaps and all.

Desperate for Jesus


What does it mean to live desperate for Jesus? That depends on the Jesus you know. Some of us run to Him when things go wrong and move away from Him when life is smooth, but there’s a better way to live. John Hannah helps you grow more mature in your relationship with Jesus by revealing his testimony of crying out for, and finding, Jesus.

A caring pastor and author meets with you daily in this collection of 261 inspiring devotions. Dr. George O. Wood examines the book of Mark while providing a Scripture passage and prayer for each day. Wood shares an upbeat mini-story or vignette every day. For example, one reading introduces the first grocery store owner to offer grocery carts. Wood explains that our Savior does something similar for us. We tend to carry more burdens than necessary, so the Lord reaches out and says, “Let Me do it for you.”

Salubris Resources ISBN: 9781680670486 $14.99 Spanish: Anhelo más de Jesús ISBN: 9781680670837 $14.99

Spanish: Intrepido ISBN: 9781680660333 $24.99

Salubris Resources ISBN: 9781680670240 $12.99

Vital Resources ISBN: 9781680660067 $24.99





The Word and the Spirit As a Christian minister who works with youth and youth leaders, David Hertweck could supply quick answers about the Holy Spirit. Instead, Hertweck compels young men and women to embark on an exciting journey and find the answers on their own and dive into the Bible. Interactive questions entice young people to keep going. A special bonus: This book also shares insights from other youth who know the Holy Spirit in an invigorating, personal, lifechanging way.

Gospel Publishing House ISBN: 9781607313946 $12.99 Spanish: La palabra y el espíritu ISBN: 9781607314028 $12.99

Imagine a gathering of some of the most gifted and passionate songwriters, musicians and worship leaders on the planet … on stage at your local church. The congregation stands in joyful expectation, hands raised, voices rising in chorus, boldly proclaiming the joy and freedom found in a powerful encounter with the living God. This is SOAR, featuring 11 songs cultivated organically in the worship of local churches in pursuit of the presence of God. Produced by John Hartley (Matt Redman, Leigh Nash), SOAR captures the intimacy, excitement and transformational nature of worship.

Influence Music UPC: 788679845961 $11.99

Ever Increasing Faith “These are the days when we need to have our faith strengthened, when we need to know God.” Prominent 1900s evangelist Smith Wigglesworth penned those words decades ago. He began his career as an unassuming plumber and, over a lifetime spent living in faith, became one of the most renowned evangelists of his time and beyond. Ever Increasing Faith offers 18 texts on divine healing as well as studies on the spiritual gifts, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, prophecy and other Pentecostal topics. Let his life inspire you to be bold and embrace the adventure God has called you to.

My Healthy Church ISBN: 9781624231162 $9.49

Faith That Prevails “If you’re hungry for more of what God has to offer, He will fill you.”—Smith Wigglesworth. For those of us looking for encouragement and victory over our trials, this Spirit-empowered classic from renowned evangelist Smith Wigglesworth brings hope and inspiration. Moving accounts of personal healing, salvation and baptism in the Holy Spirit call us to experience God more fully. Faith That Prevails is a timeless illustration of the power of Pentecost and its unfading relevance that will lead you to the next level in your spiritual walk.

My Healthy Church ISBN: 9781624231193 $7.99

Praying with Confidence This easy-to-follow guide was written to improve your prayer time. Over 31 days, Jeff Leake provides tips to help you develop a new discipline of prayer. Each day features a unique prayer pattern based on well-known prayers throughout the Bible, as well as six main elements of prayer: Worship, Agreement, Thanksgiving, Specific Requests, Confession and closing again with Worship. Learn to have confidence, variety and effectiveness in your prayer life.

Salubris Resources ISBN: 9781680670394 $12.99 Spanish: Ora con confianza ISBN: 9781680670899 $12.99


Rhythms of Grace Kerri Weems had let the rhythm of her life get out of control and it quickly impacted her spiritual life. Since then, God has been teaching her to walk in time with him–to be led rather than driven. In this book, she opens up her life and shares this journey with the reader. Getting to God’s best for us is all about learning the rhythms of grace and pacing ourselves for the long run.

Zondervan ISBN: 9780310330745 $14.99 Spanish: Ritmos de gracia Salubris Resources ISBN: 9781680670929 $14.99







MAKE IT COUNT Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t just read. Connect. Grow. Serve. Go. Worship. A pattern for discipleship, inspired by Acts 2:42-47

Follow along with Vital over the next few pages to find big thoughts and next steps related to this issue.




rian Dollar highlights ways to connect with your children in this issue’s cover story, “How to Lead Your Kids Through Life’s Tough Topics” (page 30). Dollar’s advice is geared toward parents; however, anybody can benefit from the crux of his message. The institution of family is one of the oldest found in the Bible, and we should give priority to fostering these relationships.



In communicating openly and honestly with our family members, we honor the Lord and reflect His example. Asking tough questions is a necessary part of life and spiritual development. Keeping an open door of communication is imperative to connect with our children and loved ones, so we can encourage their growth and point them to Christ.


Dollar mentions parents average more than 70 waking hours each week with their children. How can you use family time more wisely?


If every conversation is spiritual, how can you be more intentional with your words?


What is the most challenging topic you’ve addresses with a family member? Do you feel you handled it well?



“A Higher Call in Higher Education,” (page 24), Dr. Carol Taylor advocates for Christian education in several ways. She believes an institution’s understanding of Christ’s lordship creates a safe environment for students to become critical thinkers under the framework of biblical truth. The value of Christian higher education lies not only in an


expanded view of vocational calling, but also in encouraging discipleship and relationships among like-minded peers. When looking at a growth opportunity for yourself or a family member, consider what you want your future to look like. What does it look like to prioritize learning and spiritual growth? For some, Christian methods offer added benefits that secular avenues do not always consider.


Do you agree that all vocations have the potential to be sacred? Why or why not?


How does education shape an individual?


How are you using your individual skills and what you’ve learned to serve others?




hen it comes to creative approaches to servanthood, we can all learn from Donni Mac’s story, “Reinventing the Wheel” (page 58). Mac overcame several obstacles to use his childhood experiences as motivatoin to pour into the next generation. Considering his story, what tough times might you have faced that the Lord wants to use for His glory? Often, the painful experiences



of our pasts are sore spots for us; we find ourselves shying away from talking about them. But God wants to use all of who we are to honor who He is. By giving our pain to the Lord and being willing to work through it, we might be surprised how He calls us to be faithful to Him by serving others — maybe even by helping them work through the hard things as well.


Mac says he’s a big subscriber of “using what you can and using it with love.” What can you start using with love?


What past experience might you be able to use for the Lord?


Scripture says God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-11). In what areas do you feel weak that Christ can empower?



mall Change” (page 56) highlighted Kendall Altmyer’s response to human trafficking, which is helping alleviate this problem around the world. Altmyer was deeply troubled when she learned the details of the millions affected by this atrocity. Like Altmyer, all believers should be aware of and respond to issues like human trafficking — these are crimes against humanity that break God’s heart.


How can you be more mindful of these issues, both in your backyard and across the globe? Beyond basic awareness, how can you help? Sometimes it is easy to feel overwhelmed by this issue, and you may feel like you don’t know what to do. If you give nothing else, offer your prayers, Altmyer encourages; nobody should be complacent toward human trafficking.


Scripture urges believers to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. (Prov. 31:8) How will you speak up for this community?


What is your prayer for the victims of human trafficking?


What is your prayer for the perpetrators of trafficking?




“Writing Your History,” (page 40) Mark Batterson raises two challenging and relatable concepts: “What if” and “If only.” Batterson encourages taking your “what ifs” and turning them into worshipful actions, so at the end of your life you’re not left with “if only” regrets. The righteous Christian, he says, takes action steps pursue God.



Rather than being afraid and standing stagnant, believers should boldly walk after Christ, without unnecessary fear of “messing up.” Often, we make small goals like acing tests or finishing all of the day’s laundry, but we don’t proactively create life goals to follow the Lord more fervently. Instead of only focusing on what we accomplish, let’s focus on Who our lives glorify.


How can you be more intentional to make sure your life plan reflects God’s plan for your life?


What is an action you haven’t yet taken which you might later regret passing up? What is stopping you?


What is a life goal that you can be proactive in accomplishing this year?

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Why You Are Where You Are

What are the reasons people choose to live in a certain place? Barna research shows that most people credit family (42 percent) and work (28 percent) as the main motivations to put down roots. Just two percent cited church as the reason they live in their current town.






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