Friday, October 30, 2009

Adoption: Heaven's Gift

By Marlo Schalesky

As told by Vanessa, age 47

"Surprise! You're infertile!" my gynecologist said to me one day when I was in for my yearly exam. Well, she didn't actually say that, but she might as well have.

I was lying in that most uncomfortable position, while the doctor poked around with her cold instruments. I stared at the ceiling and gripped the thin tissue sheet that was supposed to cover me.

"So do you see anything odd down there?" I asked.

The doctor glanced up. "Everything looks fine," she said, then looked at me more closely. "Why? Have you been experiencing anything that I should know about?"

"No, not really," I answered. "It's just that Steve and I have been trying to get pregnant."
She gave a thoughtful "hmmm" and continued her prodding.

I tried not to squirm.

She held up a long stick that looked like an overgrown Q-tip. "You can sit up now."
I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed myself up, being careful to grab the pink tissue sheet and tuck it in around me.

"So how long have you been trying to get pregnant?" she asked, as she pulled off her thin rubber gloves.

"Oh, about a year and a half."

She paused and examined me for a moment with her eyes. I could tell what she was thinking. I felt a little colder and tugged at the tissue again.

"You know," she said finally, "infertility is defined as a year of unprotected sex without conception. You may want to consider having some tests done."

The tissue tore in my hand.

Infertility? Tests? I swallowed. "Uh ... but, oh, are you sure?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "You said it has been over a year?"

"Yes, but—"


"Maybe our timing has been off."

"Maybe," she answered, but I could tell she didn't believe it. I cringed.

"Still, if you're serious about getting pregnant," she continued, "I'd highly recommend the tests."
I swallowed again, hard, then took a deep breath before answering. "Okay, if you say so. What do I need to do?"

She picked up her pencil and scribbled something on a sheet of paper. "Not just you, Steve too."

I grimaced. Steve was going to hate this.

The doctor watched me for a moment. When I didn't say anything, she nodded once and continued writing. "I'm ordering the preliminary tests. How does next week sound for you?"

A Chance for Adoption
And so began the journey that would last for the next eight years. During that time we had enough tests and procedures to make me feel like a human pincushion, as well as two miscarriages and numerous heartbreaks.

We were about to consider in vitro fertilization when a call came from my husband's 22-year-old cousin.

She asked for Steve, and I handed him the phone. After about forty-five seconds, a startled expression crossed his face, followed by eager anticipation. His eyes met mine. "We'll take the baby!" he nearly shouted into the receiver.

My hand flew to his arm. "What's going on?" I mouthed the question.

He put his palm over the lower half of the receiver and quickly whispered, "Shanna's pregnant. She says she doesn't want the baby. She was planning to abort, but she'll have the baby if we want to adopt it."

My mouth fell open. "Is she serious?"

He nodded, then spoke into the receiver again. "Yes, yes, absolutely. That'll be no problem. Just send us the bills." He paused while Shanna spoke on the other end of the line. Steve grabbed my hand in his and grinned. "Okay, then, we'll talk to you again later," he said into the phone. "Take care now. And thank you. Thank you so much." He hung up.

"Can you believe it?" he said to me as he turned, grabbed me, and swung me into the air. "We're going to have a baby at last!"

But I wasn't so sure. After two miscarriages, I knew how attached a woman could become to the baby growing in her womb. Still, I laughed with him and wondered, Could this be it, Lord?

In the following months as Shanna grew larger and larger, so did our hopes. Steve's family was so excited for us. They began buying baby clothes and planning a party for the new arrival. Shanna was pleased, too. Despite my doubts, she continued to reassure me that everything was going to happen as planned. She called every week with updates and always told me about her doctor visits. I went in with her to her 22-week ultrasound appointment and saw the baby for the first time—a little girl. The sight brought tears to my eyes. Will that be my baby, Lord?

The baby was due in September, and somewhere around mid-July I started to really believe that this was going to end happily for us, that we would finally have a baby of our own. I began to plan the nursery and buy pink little girl things to decorate it.

Then, three weeks before the baby was due, Shanna called again. When she asked for Steve, I knew something was wrong. He took the phone, and immediately his features hardened into a look of pain. After a minute he hung up the phone and turned to me. "She says she's keeping the baby."

Crying Heartbreak
The words dug into my heart like talons. Steve gathered me in his arms. We stood there, too hurt to cry, too stunned to speak, with the morning light pouring through the kitchen window to make a rainbow of colors on the tile counter top.

In the weeks that followed, as the baby was born and Shanna took her home, no one seemed to understand our pain. Steve's family couldn't see why we would stay away from family gatherings where the baby would be. From their view, we were overreacting. After all, the family still got a new baby. All the gifts they bought were given to the baby just the same. It was only Steve and I who felt the loss. We were left to grieve alone.

After the failed adoption attempt with Shanna, we continued infertility treatments and also tried to find another baby to adopt. So the waiting started again, along with the hoping, the disappointments, the wondering if it would ever happen for us.

"Doesn't anyone care? Doesn't anyone understand?" I cried so many times during those years when I felt abandoned by God and forgotten by him. Little did I know that He really did care. He understood. He had a plan. But I wouldn't find that out for another three years.

By that time infertility treatments had eaten up our savings. Steve had recently lost his job and was now working as a Kelly temp. I was a substitute teacher. And, to top it off, we'd sold our house and moved to a rental in a nearby town. In other words, not only was the possibility of continuing treatments looking grim, but we weren't exactly what an adoption agency or birth mom would be looking for. All my hopes for a baby came crumbling down around me. I felt there was no way I'd ever be a mom.

But just when life looked the bleakest, another call came.

I was working a Christmas job at the mall when my friend Sally handed me the phone. "It's Steve," she said. "He says it's important."

A dozen red and green ribbons in my hand, I took the receiver with the other. "Hey, hon, we're pretty busy here right now," I said, as another customer approached my booth.

"Would you like a brand-new baby boy?" Steve blurted out.

"Call me back in ten minutes."

"Oh, okay."

I hung up the phone, then stopped. Did Steve just say what I thought he said? Something about a baby? I grabbed the phone again, turning to my customer. "I'm sorry, I need to make a call. Sally will help you." I quickly dialed home again and waited. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally I hung up.

The next ten minutes dragged by like an 18-wheeler going up a steep grade. Finally the phone rang. I snatched it up. "Steve, is that you?"

Steve laughed. "Did you even hear me the first time I called?"

"Not really. Did you say something about a baby?"

"A baby boy. Shelley from next door called about him this morning."

"Tell me more."

"Well, his mother's a 14-year-old rape victim who chose to go ahead with the pregnancy and place the baby up for adoption. Shelley's sister was going to adopt him, but she just found out she's pregnant, so Shelley called us."

I was silent.

"Did you hear me? They want to know if we want to adopt the baby."

"Are you sure it's for real this time?"

"Pretty sure. Shelley says so."

My mind spun around the possibility. A baby? For me? For us? I cleared my throat. "You said yes, didn't you?"

Steve laughed again. "I said I'd talk to you, but I was sure you'd agree."

"Of course I do!" The customer at the counter gave me a strange look as my voice raised an octave.

"Well, the mother's in the hospital tonight and is supposed to be induced tomorrow morning. I'm five minutes from there now. Can you meet me?"

"I'll be there in ten minutes." I slammed down the receiver, grabbed my coat, and headed for the parking lot. "I gotta go!" I yelled to Sally. "I won't be back until tomorrow. Cover for me?"

"Sure," she shouted back. "But this better be good."

"It is!"

Hope Ahead
I reached the hospital in record time, met Steve and hurried up to the room. The moment I met Missy, I knew she was a special girl. She looked up at us from the bed and smiled. "So you're the family Shelley told me about?" She extended her hand. I took it in my own. "I'm so glad my baby's going to such a good home." She closed her eyes.

I leaned over and squeezed her hand tighter. "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to us."

Her eyes, deep brown and innocent, opened and looked up into mine. "It was the only way I could think of to make good come from the awful thing that happened to me."

I nodded, as any words I would have said clogged behind the lump in my throat.

For two hours we sat with her and talked until visiting hours were over. "Come back tomorrow," she called as a nurse showed us out of the room. "You'll want to be here when he's born."

That night was the longest of my life. The next morning we went to the hospital and sat in the waiting room. Casey was born at eleven minutes to seven that evening. The nurse ushered us into the birthing room.

Missy sat up in the bed with a baby in her arms. Her mother stood beside her. Missy looked from the baby to us. A smile lit her face. "He's perfect," she said. "Healthy and perfect."

I held my breath, fearing what else she might say, hoping for what I had thought was impossible. Slowly she lifted the baby and held him toward me. She whispered as she placed him in my arms, "My gift to you."

Amazing, Precious Gift
At that moment, as I looked into Casey's tiny, scrunched up face, I knew that the tests, the pills, the lunch hours with no lunch were all over. I was immediately enamored and fascinated with the small bundle in my arms and amazed that God and Missy were granting us this precious gift.

When we got home, my sister was waiting for us with packages of onesies, sleepers, blankets, wipes and over two hundred diapers. The next day friends and family brought over a bassinet, a stroller, a car seat, cans of formula and all kinds of miscellaneous baby things. By the time we brought Casey home, we had everything we needed.

The next day my parents came to visit. When they'd first heard about Casey, they immediately brought up a dozen objections. "What if they take him away?" "What if she changes her mind?" "What if this turns out like the last one?" They were determined not to get attached until everything was finalized. But as soon as they came through the door and took one look at the tiny baby in my arms, they were instantly transformed into Casey's grandparents.

On the day of my shower for Casey two weeks later, my mother wept when I introduced her to Shelley. She gave her a big hug and said, "Thank you for my grandson!" I was filled with wonder at what God had done for all of us.

Then two years and ten months later another call came, and to make a long story short, a baby daughter joined our family.

We're in our late forties now, and the kids are eleven and eight. Today I can look back on the heartache of infertility and see that through all the pain, through all the disappointments, God hadn't forgotten us. Despite my doubts and questions, God knew what he was doing. And though I may not have believed it when we were going through the tests, procedures, miscarriages and failed adoption, God's plan was in operation. In fact, everything turned out just right.

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From Empty Womb, Aching Heart, published by Bethany House Publishers. Copyright © 2001, Marlo Schalesky. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The World's Waiting Children Matter

The numbers are staggering...More than 140 million orphans worldwide…15 million children orphaned due to AIDS…500,000 children in America’s foster care system…127,000 children in the US waiting for adoptive homes.

The numbers make the problem seem insurmountable, and for any one of us, they are. Yet, there is One who cares deeply — our Father in heaven. And His reach extends even to the fatherless.

Throughout the Bible, God shares His compassion, His love, and His special concern for the most vulnerable among us — the orphan. The world’s waiting children. Children with no father or mother to protect them, waiting for someone to care for them, someone to love them.

The Scriptures are clear that the Lord gives the family of God the responsibility to care for the orphan's needs — to love and protect them. In fact, God's concern for orphans is so central to his plan for us here on earth that he inspired James to write: "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27).

Why would God tell us that caring for orphans is "pure and undefiled religion?"

Maybe it’s because the world sees God’s heart when He works through his people to help the helpless. And maybe it’s because caring for orphans is such a perfect picture of our relationship with God. In our inability to please God with our own efforts, in our utter helplessness to initiate a relationship with him, we are more like orphans and strangers than we like to admit.
It’s time for the body of Christ to step up. The urgent needs of orphans around the world are calling the Christian community today to a radical faith. One church, one family, one person can make a difference.

Today, God is stirring the hearts of his people to this incredible need and opportunity. There is a movement of an increasing number of churches and evangelical organizations worldwide who are coming together as one voice to not only raise awareness but more importantly to mobilize the body of Christ to take action on behalf of the orphan.

“Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”— Psalm 82:3-4

Find post here:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why The Culture Wars Might Not Be An Accurate Scorecard

By Larry Osborne
Senior Pastor, North Coast Church

The Great Commission is our life mission. That means our salt needs to get out of the salt shaker. Our light must be placed on a hilltop. And the gospel must be articulated and defended.

But it seems to me that we often forget that the results are out of our hands. Those of us on the Calvinistic end of the theological spectrum claim that the response of individuals depends upon God’s irresistible call. Those of us on the Arminian side claim it’s determined by freewill and choice. Either way, it’s ultimately out of our control.

Our Waning Cultural Influence
Admittedly, the American Church has lost much of its cultural influence over the decades. We are no longer the religion of power. We no longer determine cultural values or political correctness.

But does that mean that today’s Christians are any less godly or faithful than those of 100, 50, or even 2,000 years ago?

I don’t think so.

Cultural impact has far more to do with who’s in political power than whether or not the church is living up to its calling. The times of unique visitation we call revivals are much more about what God is up to than what we are up to. Fact is, the church of high cultural influence is just as likely to be filled with hypocrites and sin as the church of low cultural influence.

LOOK AT ROME: It took a few hundred years for the early church to spread its influence to the point of dominance (don’t miss that, we think in terms of what happens in a 20-70 year time span while history tends to play out in centuries). And once Christianity became the official religion of Rome it may have appeared that a faithful church was winning the day, but I would argue that it was actually losing – and losing badly.

The ascent of Christianity’s political and cultural power caused lots of people to claim to be Christians in order to gain the social acceptance and power that came with it. But the continued widespread moral decline, decadence, and eventual fall of the Roman Empire leads me to believe that even as the church was growing more and more influential it was becoming less and less faithful.

LOOK AT AMERICA: Much the same thing holds true when we look back at the so-called heyday of the American church’s influence upon culture. I’m not so sure that we were as faithful or our culture was as godly as we paint them to be.

Yes, Biblical values were more likely to be articulated back then than they are today. And, yes, many of our laws and court decisions were far more in tune with God’s laws than they are today – that is unless you happened to be a black man during the days of slavery; or later during the Jim Crow era; or a single mom seeking a good paying job; or a Jew trying to join the country club, or . . .

And as far as the glory days of Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and stay-at-home moms; were they really that great? And if they were, how did they end up producing a generation of sex-crazed, free-love, dope smoking, hippies who grew up to be self-absorbed boomers?

Fact is, the heyday of our influence wasn’t necessarily the heyday of our faithfulness.

Faithfulness and Impact
If we are going to judge the faithfulness of today’s church by the measure of our waning cultural influence, then Jesus, the prophets, and the Apostles have a lot of explaining to do.

Jesus drew big crowds during his earthly ministry. But they included lots of losers and sinners (not former losers and sinners, current losers and sinners). I’m sure some of the critics of today’s church would have lambasted him for the low quality of his followers. And no doubt they would have noted his dismal long-term impact as the crowds dwindled down to 120 hiding in an upper room after his death and resurrection.

The prophets weren’t much different. Take Jeremiah. He was no spiritual slouch. But his impact upon his contemporaries was practically nil. And the same goes for most of the other prophets.
Ditto for the Apostles. Didn’t all but one of them die a martyr’s death? That’s hardly winning the culture wars. I’m sure lots of books and conference talks could have ripped on their inability to win over the world around them.

Fact is: Sometimes culture responds to Godly living and truth – sometimes it doesn’t.

The harshest critics of the church today seem to ignore this. They assume that if we’d just play all our cards right – and live out our faith exactly as God wants – then large numbers of people around us would automatically respond to the gospel. It’s an assumption that neither scripture nor history supports.

None of this is meant to say that the American Church today is the epitome of spirituality. On the contrary, we’re messed up big time. But before we pick up stones and start throwing them at our brothers and sisters (have you noticed that all the critics always exclude themselves and their tribe or movement) we need remember that struggling with sin and carnality has been the plight of God’s people throughout history. Maybe that’s why it’s called grace.

Jesus continues to build his church. He promised he would despite our failures and shortcomings. That’s why I’m an optimist. As I survey the national landscape, I see a new generation of passionate and godly leaders being raised up by God. Many are unknown at this point, some already have mega ministries. But these men and women are fully committed and well equipped to reach their own generation. I’m confident they will fight the good fight.

Will they win large crowds?

I don’t know.

Will they win the culture wars?

I have no idea.

But I do know that I won’t judge their faithfulness by the response of those they are trying to reach. Instead, I’ll let God judge it by the only thing that He’s ever held his people responsible for – their faithfulness, not their cultural impact

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Has Listening to Church Attenders Led to the Decline of the Church?

By Eric Bryant
Mosaic, Los Angeles

In my lifetime, I have been involved in some really traditional and really innovative expressions of the local church. The main difference between the two tended to be the area of focus. Traditional churches focused on those who were coming. More innovative churches tend to focus on who hasn’t yet come.

For example, as a church leader in a church plant in Seattle, I began to realize I was so desperate for people to show up that I allowed our vision to be hijacked by people who had left other churches to come to ours. I ended up compromising our vision for a church that reaches out to focusing on the needs of the ones who were coming.

Learning from Gary Irby (church planting strategist for Seattle) and then later Erwin McManus (lead pastor at Mosaic), I came to realize my mistake. As church leaders, we need to make decisions based on who is not here yet rather than on who has been here the longest.

This principle is true in business as well. According to Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business Professor, Author, & Innovation Expert: “The Innovator’s Dilemma is about the failure of companies to stay atop their industries when they confront certain types of market and technological change. It’s not about the failure of simply any company, but of good companies…

It is about well-managed companies that have their competitive antennae up, listen astutely to their customers, invest aggressively in new technologies and yet still lose market dominance.”
So then, what is the solution?

According to Christensen we need to be willing to innovate to reach a new audience. If not, our current audience will get older and pass away. Ironically, they will also go to a new company willing to meet their needs better than we are.

I realize that the business world isn’t synonymous to ministry, but too often churchgoers do make decisions as if they are consumers rather than ministers. For those of us who are church leaders, we have to make sure we avoid that same consumeristic trap.

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

This coming Saturday, American streets will be filled with children knocking on doors reciting "trick or treat". In recent years there has been a somewhat healthy debate on whether it is appropriate for Christians to observe Halloween. On the one hand there is a school of thought that points to the undeniable pagan roots and origin of the day. Those of this mindset argue that because the day originally celebrated the dead and was invented by people who did not believe in Christ, there is no room for it on a Christian calendar.

There are others who place emphasis on the children and argue that to rob them of fun and fellowship over items that are in their estimation harmless is unfair to children. While there are strong points on both sides of the debate, perhaps a look at the history of the day would help us arrive at an opinion that is just and applicable to bible believing Christians.
At the outset let me say that this blog posting is not intended to be an exhaustive essay on the subject. I am admittedly only touching on a few of the many items that are associated with the day. My purpose here is not to conclude what is right or what is wrong. As parents, it is your right and obligation to consider as much information as you can and then make a decision that is informed and compatible with your own conscious leading of the Holy Spirit.

Halloween began as the Celtic New Year over two thousand years ago by tribal communities that lived in what is now Ireland and Scotland. It began as a festival of the dead" led by Celtic priests called Druids and was referred to as "Samhain". Each year the Celtics believed that the dead returned on October 31st to haunt the living and destroy the crops of the previous planting season. As a defense, the people dressed up as wild animals to scare off the dead spirits and protect their crops.

In the year 43 BC, Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic tribes of the north and replaced their Samhain festival with their own festival which was a combination of "Feralia", the Roman observance of the dead and a festival dedicated to Pomona, the Roman goddess of trees and fruit. This renamed festival was practiced by the Celtic people until the 8th century AD when Pope Boniface IV moved the Christian "All Saints Day" from May to November.

This was done to replace the Roman pagan festival with a church sponsored and sanction holiday of its own. In Latin, All Saints Day was known as Alhallowmas. Therefore the evening before Alhallowmas came to be known as Halloween, since the "een" syllable was the Latin treatment of eve or evening.

When Irish immigrants fled Europe to escape the Potatoe Famine of 1846, they brought with them to America their Halloween practices and beliefs. By the turn of the twentieth century newspapers and church leaders encouraged families to make the holiday more community oriented and remove the more horrific and grotesque elements of the observance.

Despite the current debate that continues on the topic, today Americans spend more than 6.9 billion dollars a year on Halloween making it the second most successful commercial holiday on the calendar.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Helping Your Spouse Grow Spiritually

By Rob Jackson

What can you do when you and your spouse don't have the same level of spiritual maturity or interest? The answer doesn't lie in lecturing or manipulating your mate. Instead, consider the following five actions you can take to better understand your spouse and make the concept of spiritual growth more intriguing to him or her.

Be Patient
Whether your spouse is a new Christian, a non-Christian, or just a nonplussed Christian, it's hard not to overreact when he or she doesn't seem to care about the most important thing in your life. But try to remember that God loves your mate even more than you do. He may even be taking your partner on a journey that will ultimately produce a deeper faith.

In any event, be careful. God may choose to reach out to your spouse through you, but He doesn't need your help. Sadly, spiritual conflicts are often made worse by a spouse attempting to jump-start a mate's conscience or play the role of the Holy Spirit.

Don't Stand in the Way
While perfection isn't possible or even necessary, your behavior can attract or repel your spouse where spiritual growth is concerned. You're living out what you're experiencing with God. Is it appealing? Is your relationship with Christ making you a more enjoyable person to live with—or just a more religious one?

Those who languish spiritually especially need to see the real deal. Your mate will benefit from your companionship when you're serious about your devotion to Christ and realistic about your struggles, too.

Be Authentic
You should not only share your faith with your spouse, but your concerns as well. It would be hypocritical to pretend you're not worried when a spouse struggles spiritually. But how you share may be as important as what you share. Very few spouses would react negatively to comments like, "I know you're going to be safe to share this with, but it's still not easy to admit I'm worried about you."

The spouse who struggles with faith issues needs a gentle partner to come home to. A holier-than-thou approach is sure to deepen the divide—not only between your partner and yourself, but also between your partner and God (and it can't do much for your own walk with Christ, either). Nobody wants to be smothered or judged or patronized. It's not an issue of spiritual leadership or authority; it's just human nature to pull away when someone invades your space physically or emotionally.

When you're honest about your own faith issues, you assure your spouse that it's part of the journey to have questions and doubts. Your transparency can be especially healing if your mate has felt—accurately or not—that spirituality has become a competition in your marriage. This process applies the scriptural idea of comforting others with the same comfort you've received (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Stay Balanced
There's no doubt about the importance of faith. But it's possible to lose a healthy perspective, especially when you feel your mate's Christian commitment is at stake. Even though you believe you can trust God with your partner's spiritual development, you may try to take matters into your own hands.

Sometimes a concerned spouse drops hints or invites others to offer unsolicited counsel to the spiritually indifferent spouse. While well intended, these approaches are manipulative. Others withdraw from a mate and become excessively involved with church or other religious endeavors.

Make no mistake: You can't be too devoted to Christ. Nor should you minimize your faith to accommodate your spouse. But overspiritualization and hyper-religiosity will hinder your efforts as much as falling into the opposite ditch of apathy.

Examine the Reasons
Before you sum up your spouse's struggle as merely a "sin issue," take some time to consider his context. What was his religious experience as a child? Was his faith nurtured or hindered? Was his parents' faith meaningful or a chore? Has he experienced a personal relationship with Christ or mere religion?

The Bible is clear: We're not authorized to judge others (Matthew 7:1). Sometimes in marriage we're prone to judge because of what we know—or think we know—about our spouses.

We do know, however, that God cares about our mates. The struggle may take time, and may even challenge our faith. In the meantime, we can trust Him to nurture our spouses and our marriages.

From Focus on the Family's Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, published by Tyndale. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are You Feeling Life "Ain't So Great?"

By Tony Dungy

In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal feels the onset of a mid-life crisis and asks: "Did you ever reach a point in your life when you say to yourself: 'This is the best I'm ever going to look, this is the best I'm ever going to feel, the best I'm ever going to do, and it ain't that great'?" We've all been there. We've strived to achieve and get ahead in our careers and be honored for our accomplishments. And we wake up one day and realize "it ain't that great." What we do with that feeling of emptiness will speak volumes about our character.

Will we get depressed and want to throw ourselves a pity party? Will we file for divorce and run off with a younger woman? Or will we use the opportunity of our midlife to examine ourselves, rearrange our priorities and work toward building a better future?

The choice is yours...choose wisely

Monday, October 19, 2009

Self-Help or Spouse-Help?

It's an interesting mark of our society today that one of the first things we encounter when we walk in a bookstore is the "Self-help" or "Self-esteem" section. Feeling good about ourselves seems to be a big business these days. But when is the last time you saw a bookstore section devoted to "Spouse-esteem?" On making your wife feel cherished and loved? On what you can do as a man to make your wife feel important and appreciated? It seems sometimes we are so focused on how we can be happy that we only concern ourselves with making our wives happy when we have some happiness to spare.

Rather, a true husband will be far more concerned with his wife's emotional well-being and will do all he can to ensure her happiness, regardless of whether he feels content or not. And more often than not, a true sense of joy will come to us when our primary concern is for her well-being, not ours.

To learn how to be more attentive to your wife's needs, read this:

25 Characteristics of a Husband Who Truly
Loves and Serves the Needs of his Wife

1. Includes his wife in envisioning the future.

2. Accepts spiritual responsibility for his family.

3. Is willing to say "I'm sorry" and "Forgive me" to his family.

4. Discusses household responsibilities with his wife and makes sure they are fairly distributed.

5. Seeks consultation from his wife on all major financing decisions.

6. Follows through with commitments he has made to his wife.

7. Anticipates the different stages his children will pass through.

8. Anticipates the different stages his marriage will pass through.

9. Frequently tells his wife what he likes about her.

10. Provides financially for his family's basic living expenses.

11. Deals with distraction so he can talk with his wife and family.

12. Prays with his wife on a regular basis.

13. Initiates meaningful family traditions.

14. Initiates fun family outings for the family on a regular basis.

15. Takes the time to give his children practical instruction about life.

16. Manages the schedule of the home and anticipates pressure points.

17. Keeps his family financially sound and out of harmful debt.

18. Makes sure he and his wife have drawn up a will.

19. Lets his wife and children into the interior of his life.

20. Honors his wife in public.

21. Explains sex to each child in a way that gives them a wholesome perspective.

22. Encourages his wife to grow as an individual.

23. Takes the lead in establishing sound family values.

24. Provides time for his wife to pursue her own personal interests.

25. Is involved in a small group of men dedicated to spiritual growth.

Take Them and Work on Them

By Dr Ify Uraih

My name is Ify Uraih. I was trained as a Veterinary Surgeon, but my career took a different path after I took the decision to go to business school and study Marketing. I worked for a total of twenty-one years for two Multinational companies based in Nigeria – Glaxo Smith Kline and Friesland Campina Dairy Foods. I retired as Head of Marketing from the later company in 2003 to set up a firm of Marketing Consultants.

I was born on May 13, 1952 in Kano, Northern Nigeria. My father, Robert Chukwuma Uraih left our little town Asaba, in the Mid- West, in 1929, when he was twenty, to seek a fortune in the commercial city of Kano. He became very successful in 1938 after he won a contract to make uniforms for the Nigerian contingent of the colonial army. In 1939, he got married to my mother – Veronica Nwasiwe Omoko. My mother was twenty-one. Both my parents were ardent Catholics. Between 1940 and 1960 they had ten of us – Ben, Paul, Victoria, Emma, Gabriel, Lucy, me, Victor, Tony and Robert. All of us went to primary school in Kano and in addition to our native language, Ibo, could speak Hausa (the dominant language of Northern Nigeria) fluently.

Kano was quite cosmopolitan when I was growing up. Sabon-Gari where we lived was the place were all non-indigenes i.e. other Nigerians who were not Hausas lived. So, my best friends were from different regions of Nigeria. I still remember Ladi and Tony Taiwo, Yoruba from the Western region, Ndubuisi and Chimezie Ogoke, Ibo from the East, William Orunhunwese from Benin, Mike, an urhobo and Dawa a Tiv from Jos. Because we belonged to different tribes, we communicated with each other in Hausa or pidgin English. We played all the pranks of little children and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. At a higher level, my parents had friends from all parts of Nigeria. My Dad who had become a building contractor was always in Birni, the city of Kano where the indigenes lived, fraternizing with his friends. As children we always looked forward to the id el Kabir festivities, when our house will be filled with gifts of mutton from the moslem friends of my parents. I have wonderful memories of my childhood and treasure them greatly.

In 1965, it was time for secondary school, and like my siblings before me, my father sent me to one in Benin, Mid-West Region. I believe he did not want us to loose touch with our heritage. I spent my long vacation in Kano and the Christmas and Easter vacation with my grandmother in Asaba. This was the situation until June 1966 when the civil disturbances started in the North, and my parents fled from Kano with the rest of my siblings to Asaba, just managing to escape with their lives.

We had adjusted to living away from Kano by the time the civil war started on July 6, 1967. Asaba was now the meeting point for the family. My oldest brother Ben was in a university in the UK. Paul was a land surveyor working in Warri, Victoria was at the University of Nigeria, Emma was working in a bank in Asaba, Gabriel was living in Warri with Paul and studying in a technical school. Lucy and I were in secondary school. My younger siblings were in primary schools in Asaba. The Military Governor of the Mid-West region at the time, Major General David Ejoor insisted that his territory will not be a part of the war, so Federal troops approached the East through the Nsukka axis in the North. Meanwhile, normal commercial activities continued across the river Niger between the people of the Mid-west and the East. Everybody in Asaba assumed that the war was somewhere else. Then one early morning in August 29, 1967, Biafran troops overran the whole of the Mid-West, declared it the Republic of Benin, appointed an Administrator and advanced deeply into the Western Region. The war had come to us. All schools closed down and all my family except Ben came home to Asaba.

The response of the Federal Government was swift. Troops were deployed to the Western sector and the Mid-West was attacked also by sea. The battle was bitter and one day after another an important town was captured by the Federal troops. The reaction of the natives was violent, they pounced on the Ibos of the Mid-West and massacred them. In Warri, Benin, Sapele, Ughelli, Uromi and Auchi , the story was the same. Soon, Asaba was flooded with returnees from all parts of the region telling gory tales of their escape.

On Monday, October 2, 1967, we heard the distant sound of gun fire and heavy artillery. A lot of people left town and fled across the Niger bridge to Biafra. My father was a serious advocate for “One Nigeria” probably because of years of living in the North. He had not supported secession for one day. He believed that Federal troops would come in and liberate us and life would continue. So he assured my mother that all was safe and that in a few days, the war would pass Asaba and move across to Onitsha. How wrong he was.

On Wednesday, October 4, the troops overran Asaba. My family house is located along the major highway leading to Ibusa. We were trapped inside and outside the troops were firing at the house. We kept on shouting “One Nigeria” until the firing stopped and we were asked to come out. The commander of the troops took us and several other families to a school on the outskirts of Asaba. In our company were two Catholic priests. He explained to us that we would be kept there until he was sure that the Biafran soldiers had been routed out.

On Friday morning, we were all asked to go home that the worst was over. The troops escorted us back into town. My mother decided that we should go and stay in her mother’s house since it was inside the village and she thought it was safer. Everything was quiet. We still heard the sound of distant gun fire, but we slept well that night.

Saturday, October 7, began like any other day since the troops captured Asaba. We had just finished having breakfast when the shooting started again. At about 9.00am, we heard shouting outside, and people asking everybody to go and join the parade. My family, including my grandmother joined the other families outside. It was a site to behold. Many people had wrapped around them our native “akwa ocha”. This signified peace. It was a huge crowd and we were singing “One Nigeria” all the way – Men, women, boys, girls, little children, the old and infirm. We were marched from Ogbeke, what used to be the town square to an open ground opposite the Asaba high court and the present day Grand Hotel. The soldier who addressed us introduced himself as Major Ibrahim Taiwo. He spoke to us very harshly and accused us of hiding Biafran soldiers in our houses. He threatened, he abused and vowed that he would level Asaba if we do not ask those Biafran soldiers to come out and surrender themselves. One of our elders – Chief Okwudarue responded on our behalf. He told Major Taiwo that the people before him were very responsible people and had only one wish – for the country to remain one. He reminded him that it was the war that brought everybody home. Before the war he said, everybody there were living in different parts of Nigeria and had homes there and our greatest wish was to return to our homes and our jobs and businesses. Major Taiwo reached a compromise with Chief Okwudarue and agreed that his soldiers will take us round the town singing “One Nigeria” and asking our brethren to come out from hiding and join. He promised that once we had done that, he would evacuate all of us to a camp in Issele-Uku about 25km away. Chief Okwudarue explained this to us, everybody was elated and the singing and dancing continued. We moved from the high court down Nnebisi road towards Ogbeogonogo (the main market). Other people were coming out from hiding in their numbers and joining us.

The first sign that all was not well was immediately after the market when fresh troops joined the ones guarding us. They started abusing us calling us Biafran soldiers and beating us with horse whips. At the junction of Ogbeosowa and Nnebisi road, they suddenly forced us to make a detour. In an open space the troops halted the march and began to separate the women and children from the men and boys. Twice I was put with the women and twice, one of the soldiers sent me back to be with the men. When this was finished, they marched the women and children back to the main road and force the rest of us to move further away from the road. As this was going on, some of us were conversing with them in their various tongues – Hausa, Yoruba, Urhobo, Bini. Even though they were honest and told us we were going to be massacred, we still did not believe. When we got sufficiently inside, more soldiers arrived and mounted machines guns.

Then their leader addressed us in pidgin English. He was a second lieutenant. He said to us, “Me, I come from Chad, but dem born me for Adamawa, I hate all Ibos. You be Ibo therefore you must die.” It was surreal. I heard the sergeant who had been the most vicious of the guards say in Hausa to his colleagues – “ Kwu diba su gwoma gwoma, ku je chikin chan de chan, kwu yi aiki de su” – when translated literally, it means – “ Take them in tens into different corners and work on them”. These are words that will live with me for the rest of my life. It was then it dawned on the group of men and boys gathered that afternoon of October 7, 1967, in Ogbeosowa – about two thousand strong – surrounded by a detachment of the Nigerian army carrying sub-machine guns, that by that pronouncement, we had all been condemned to death. Even then we were too stunned to believe. How could this be true? How could Federal troops whom we had supported all the way suddenly turn their guns on us?

I was standing with my elder brother Emma at the edge of the crowd. He was holding my hand. I had always been Emma’s little brother, shared his bed with him every night until he died. Even onto death, he felt his duty was to protect me. Emma was the first to be dragged by the soldiers. He let go my hand and pushed me further into the crowd. I saw Emma struggling with one of the soldiers and another one shot him from behind at point blank range. Emma fell to the ground with blood gushing out from his back like from a pool. And his shattered vertebrae exposed in the afternoon gloom, the first victim of the massacre that followed.

All hell was let loose. A good number of the men and boys fled into the surrounding bushes, many of them were cut down as they fled. The rest of us fell to the ground in utter hopelessness. I lost count of time. The soldiers turned their guns on those of us lying on the ground and the staccato bursts of bullets continued into the late evening. To this day, I live with the smell of the blood of my brethren that died that day, with the cries of those of them who had lost hope and stood up and begged the soldiers to end it all. Maybe they were the ones who saved the lives of those of us who survived the slaughter, because as they begged to be killed and the soldiers obliged them they disrupted the flow of the massacre as the killers now concentrated on them.

Finally, the bullets stopped. The heavens opened up and a light shower came forth. Even the heavens wept for the victims of that holocaust. I thought everybody was dead. But suddenly, I heard voices – the cries of the injured struggling to live, the regrets of some who had their limbs battered and needed help. One of them a Mr. Tolefe when he discovered I was still alive, begged me to use a knife which he had to amputate his shattered hand. I did not have the courage to do so. I learnt he later bled to death. It seemed I was the only one who came out unscathed. Lying close by me was a cousin of mine, Peter Ojogwu, who a bullet had glazed his head and his thigh and the middle finger of his right hand was shattered, but he was alive, and lives to this day. My father was lying not too far away. I did not know where the bullet hit him, his eyes were open as if he was staring at me his favorite son, but he was dead.

I couldn’t get up and escape into the bush as soon as we knew the soldiers had gone because there was no way I could go without my cousin who was injured. So we waited until it was dark and I helped him along and we found our way to my grandmother’s house where we met my sisters and my little brothers.

The next morning, my mother came looking for us. We were five of us – my father, my brothers; Paul, Emma, Gabriel and I – who had been taken by the soldiers to the killing field. She found only me. Quickly she arranged for my sisters, my little brothers and I to escape with other people to Achalla, a few kilometers from Asaba. Latter she went to look for the bodies of my father and brothers. She found only my father and Emma. She put them in a wheel barrow and went to bury them. The body of Paul was never found. He was only twenty-five. Paul was a very strong young man and for several years, my mother lived with the illusion that he must have escaped somehow and found his way to Biafra. But we had to accept years later that somewhere in Asaba, like several others, lays the body of Paul in an unmarked grave. We found Gabriel in Achalla. He was shot in the waist, but somehow, the bullet missed his spinal cord. He had eight bullets in him. The last of them was extracted at the National Orthopedic hospital Igbobi, Lagos in 1978.

I have told this story at several fora. I cannot tell it without tears in my eyes. But I have no bitterness in my heart. I cry each time because I can never understand why humans will sudden turn on each other and slaughter themselves without reason. How is it possible that soldiers who are trained to be disciplined will turn their guns on defend less civilians lying prostrate on the ground and kill them without mercy? If only they knew the collateral damage they did to the families of those they slaughtered and to Nigeria. My cousin Dr. Eugene Akwule was a first class doctor, trained at the University of Glasgow. He was the Chief Medical Officer at the Asaba General hospital; he was killed along with his father and one of his younger brothers who was a class mate of mine. His mother never recovered from the shock of his death. It went into her head and she called every man Eugene until she passed away. Obi and Amechi Nwanukwu aged 16 and 15 years were the only children of their parents. They were students of King’s College, Lagos. They came home on holiday and were trapped in Asaba. Their father survived the massacre, but they both were killed. Both parents became recluses. Many of my mates and seniors lost their fathers, but unlike some of us, they never recovered and had to drop out of school. Those of them who are alive today are living in Asaba and else where managing to make a living conscious of the fact that their lives might have been better if what happened did not happen.

Ogbeosowa was not the only place the killings happened. In different parts of the town soldiers assembled young men and shot them During our march, we passed by a group of young men in a long line surrounded by soldiers in front of the primary school before the main market. One of them was Nicholas Azeh, whom I grew up with in Kano but later went to secondary school in Ibadan western Nigeria. Another was Chuks Efedua. At the time, I had no idea what they were doing there. When I saw Nicholas in the bush some weeks later, he told me. The soldiers had taken them from their homes. They lined them up in the football field of that primary school. They got a spade, and one by one, they asked the boys to dig their own grave. When the task was completed, the digger was asked to jump in and was shot. The next digger would cover up the grave of the first one and then dig his and the process continued. Shortly before it came to his turn, a Yoruba soldier who was his father’s houseboy before the war recognized him and saved him. Chuks’ escape was more miraculous. He was the last on the line. Apparently one of the soldiers having a feeling of guilt suddenly slapped him, grabbed him by his hand led him around a corner away from the others and advised him to disappear into the bush. Today Nicholas Azeh is a Pentecostal pastor and lives in Asaba. Chuks is a trader and lives in Sokoto, North-West Nigeria.

Not so lucky were the tens of young men who were led to the bank of the glorious River Niger and shot. Some were asked to jump in and shot at, others were simply shot from behind and pushed into the river to be buried in their watery grave. Despite this, there were stories of miraculous escapes. Oseloka Putaife, a hulking six footer, dived into the river and swam all the way to Onitsha where he joined the Biafran army. No body knows how many of our young men were killed that way, what was sure was that on that day the River Niger flowed with the blood of our brethren.

There are some other survivors of the Asaba massacre who could not come here to tell their stories. The main reason is that they cannot afford the cost. One of them is 61 years old Christopher Mkpayah. His life took a different turn when his father was killed in Ogbeosowa. He dropped out of school because his family could not afford the cost any more. I represent all those people because I am luckier than them.

Several books have been written about the Nigerian civil war by the major actors, but none of them made mention of what happened in Asaba. It seemed that there was a deliberate attempt to bury that event, until Emma Okocha published his “Blood on the Niger” and pushed for the inclusion of the Asaba massacre in the Oputa panel investigation which was set up by the President Obasanjo’s administration in 2000. The Oputa panel was fashioned after the South African Truth Commission, the main objective being to get people to talk openly about the various human right violations against them with the hope that in the end both the victims and the perpetrators will reconcile themselves to the truth, and punishment meted out if deemed appropriate. I gave evidence which was widely publicized at the Oputa panel seating in Enugu in April 2001. Like so many panels before and after it, the Oputa report has not been made public. In South Africa and Rwanda, the people talked about what happened in their countries openly, reconciled themselves and moved on. My biggest fear is the type of massacre that happened in Asaba will happen again and again.

I had a chance meeting with General Yakubu Gowon in London in September last year, both of us met in the reception room of one of the doctors at BUPA in Kings Cross. I had just completed my medical examination and he was waiting to start his. We talked about what happened in Asaba. He told me sincerely that it has always been one of his regrets. That the deed was perpetuated by the troops of who he called “one of his rebel commanders” – General Murtala Mohammed who later toppled Gowon and became Nigeria’s Head of State. I have been in touch with General Gowon since then, and have advised him to write a book to give his own account of what happened during the civil war so that posterity will not judge him harshly.

I thank my brother Hon. Emma Okocha for devoting his life to this project. I am also extremely grateful to the USF Research team for taking on the Asaba Memorial project. I am confident that now that this story has been brought to the world stage, the souls of our departed brethren who lost their lives in the gloomy afternoon of October 7, 1967 will finally rest in Peace.

Dr. Ify Uraih MCIM, fnimn
Chief Consultant,
Proventures Limited,
Suite BD 6,
Maryland Business Plaza,
350 Ikorodu Road, Ikeja.
0702 8775555, 0803 5931357

Friday, October 16, 2009

Searching for a 'Sole' Mate

By Gary Thomas

Our culture has embraced a rather absurd notion that there is just one person who can, in the words immortalized by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, "complete us." This is a disastrous mindset with which to approach a lifelong marital decision.

The notion of a "soul mate" is actually pretty ancient. Well over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato surmised that a perfect human being was tragically split in two, resulting in a race of creatures sentenced to spend the rest of their lives searching for that missing other who can complete them.

The real danger in this line of thinking is that many people mistake a storm of emotion as the identifying mark of their soul mate. How else can you identify "destiny"?

Such individuals marry on an infatuation binge without seriously considering character, compatibility, life goals, family desires, spiritual health, and other important concerns. Then when the music fades and the relationship requires work, one or both partners suddenly discover that they were "mistaken": this person must not be their soul mate after all! Otherwise, it wouldn't be so much work. Next they panic. Their soul mate must still be out there!

Such people can't get to divorce court fast enough, lest someone steal their "one true soul mate" meant only for them. When we get married for trivial reasons, we tend to seek divorce for trivial reasons.

Good and Bad Choices

In a biblical view, there is not "one right choice" for marriage, but rather good and bad choices. We are encouraged to use wisdom, not destiny, as our guide when choosing a marital partner. There is no indication that God creates "one" person for us to marry. This is because Christians believe that God brings the primary meaning into our lives. Marriage — though wonderful — is still secondary.

Consider, for example, Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 . He clearly leaves the choice of marriage up to us; there are benefits to singleness, and benefits to being married. If you're unable to handle sexual temptation as a single, Paul says, then by all means, get married.

There is no hint at all of finding "the one person" that God created "just for you." It's far more a pragmatic choice: do you think you'll sin sexually if you don't get married (1 Corinthians 7:2)? Are you acting improperly toward a woman you could marry (1 Corinthians 7:36)? If so, go ahead and get married — it's your choice, and God gives you that freedom.

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Copyright © 2005, Gary Thomas. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Upside and Downside of Anger

By Ed Chinn

As almost everyone knows, we live in a conflict-driven culture. Various factors – political marketing, 24-hour cable news, talk radio, etc. – have Balkanized our society into a kaleidoscope of interest groups. They relate to each other through turbo-charged suspicion, shotgun blasts of opinion and open hatred.

In such an environment, anger has become a "virtue."

Many stand-up comics express their brand of comedy through profane and seething anger. One of the contributions of punk rock was the celebration of anger. You can also watch producers of daytime reality shows (like Jerry Springer) coax participants to, "Let it all out. Get mad. Tell her what you really think. Don't you really want to slap her?"

Very clearly, we have crossed a river. In the "new media age," political issues – immigration, the war on terror, global warming, abortion – can only be discussed in anger. The old-fashioned form of polite discussion of the issues of the day has deteriorated into a shouting match.

The one common denominator of all this cultural anger is a relentless and self-serving "worship of individualism." It is all about "me." Anger is directed at protecting the cherished terrain of my rights, my ideas, my feelings and my indulgences.

This worship of individualism has become the god of modern culture.

Is Anger Ever Unselfish?

As far as I know, the Bible reveals only two angry moments in Jesus' earthly life. One was when he threw furniture in the temple because mercantile interests were perverting the House of God.

The other episode was when He healed the man with the withered hand. Mark 3:1-6 paints the picture; Jesus encountered a serious human need.

Unfortunately, surrounding that need was a religious system which could not even see the man or his infirmity; it was only focused on rules and preservation of an old order. Incensed, Jesus gazed into the face of that Pharisaical order and "with anger" at their "hardness of heart" reached out and healed the man.

Jesus – our pattern – got angry. In both cases, His anger was a response to barricades which blocked God's salvation and kindness from reaching into and touching the deep need of human lives. Jesus was not reacting out of a sense of being threatened (the usual earthbound cause for anger). Rather, His divine sense of justice was offended. He was angry at the perpetuation of illness, sin and oppression.

In a very similar way, when my anger is projected at injustice or oppression, that is usually a sign of healthy anger. When my anger revolves around my self-interest, it is more likely to be selfish and unhealthy.

So how do we know the difference between good and bad, "upside" and "downside," selfish and selfless anger?

Selfish anger will usually cause strong, disproportionate-to-the-situation, physical and emotional sensations: heart palpitations, trembling and louder and faster voice, shortness of breath, using bad language, etc. It can also leave us with the residual effects of insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Righteous anger tends to be slow, thoughtful and controlled. It leads to the formation of a plan rather than hasty and wild actions.


Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas ( His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post,, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Chinn. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Changing an Angry Spirit

By Ed Chinn

From the moment we are born, we quickly develop attachments . . . to food and drink, parents, siblings, our natural environment, etc. As we mature, those attachments rapidly grow into a Byzantine web of roles, constraints, preferences and responsibilities. That web quickly networks across the landscape of our familial, financial, moral, legal, societal and spiritual realms.

Keeping all those orbits of our identity in balance create a happy and purposeful life. The Bible says that Jesus – our pattern for life – "kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). In other words, the various realms of His life kept expanding in perfect balance.

However, as you may have noticed, we're not Jesus. We're all flawed creatures. Our life seems to continually get out of balance. The various attachments of our life – food, drink, housing, marriage, sex, family, religion, citizenship, career, rest and relaxation, etc. – continually call out to us. They keep pulling us into larger and longer commitments, making greater demands, and becoming less respectful of the other realms of our lives.

Keeping them in balance is a lifelong challenge.

The contrast between the ideal of balance and the reality of our own lives is the stuff of novels, movies, music and sermons. The search for balance can produce very funny literature and can also be the territory of great pathos. At its worst, the inability to find balance can lead to addictions, disease, homelessness, crime, prison, and suicide. Not pretty.

But, at its best, balanced living represents the life of Christ downloaded into human vessels. It is purposeful, transcendent, generous, even sacrificial, and yet is marked by the "easy yoke" and "light burden" so characteristic of following Him.

The Springs of Life

As a pastor, consultant, and writer, I have been observing this process for many years. In fact, I've had a ringside seat at the great human drama of how people fill, balance and sometimes abuse or abort their various roles in life.

I agree with author Alan Jones, who once wrote, "A human being is by definition a longing for God."

Alan Jones, Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989). p 43.

We are all born with a capacity and a yearning for God. When we try to exist without the living Word of God, we're like a computer without software: worthless.

Maybe that's why the Bible says this about our relationship with God:

"My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:20-27 NIV).

If we are to live a balanced life (not "swerving to the right or the left"), then we must be filled up with God. Because He is our Creator, His Word will literally be "life and health" to us.

But, regardless of which "software" we buy for our life, it is all installed through the same "D drive." Everything enters through our "heart" (not the physical organ in our chest, but the spiritual core of our life). That is the key to, both, transformation and corruption. The Word of God, or the Word of corruption, enters through the heart and begins to take over our life. Then our life changes—for good or for bad.

So the secret to a balanced life is to "guard your heart." We should post sentries at the gates of our heart so as to only permit entrance to words, or "programs," which will lead to life and health. All of life will flow from what enters those portals.

Now, you may be wondering, what does all this have to do with anger?

Simply this: anger is one of the main "dashboard" lights in life. When we become angry (or encounter it in others), it tells us that someone's life is out of balance. When that light starts flashing, wise people know to pull off the road and give attention to what is going on "under the hood."

In the series of articles to follow, we are going to consider a phenomenon which has turned into a cultural crisis of anger. As you read, you just might pick up some clues on how to be a positive and redemptive influence in the midst of it.


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Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas ( His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post,, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Drains Us of Courageous Faith?

By Paul Coughlin

Many conditions and fallacies drain our lives of courage. Cynicism drains our lives of hope, optimism and creativity—raw material that help build our foundation of courage. Men are especially seduced by cynicism’s ability to look like you are on the playing field of life, committing deeds that are useful and powerful. But in reality the cynic is comfortably anchored on the cushy sidelines of life, lifting no burdens, creating no light and being no salt. This ability to always see the worst in people and situations is often a hiding place for fear, timidity and indifference. It allows us to be invulnerable observers rather than participants at risk and of sacrifice. Worse, the cynic often justifies his lack of redemptive and courageous action. Ultimately, cynicism is the language of self-preservation, which drains us of courage and shrivels our souls.

Full Garage, Empty Soul

Jesus’ warning against materialism—a life comprised of a full garage but an empty and trivial soul—has largely gone unheeded, especially in America, and the impact upon our capacity for courage is devastating. This is because the love of money and possessions often keeps us from doing the right thing with our time, treasure and talent. Materialism conditions our soul to play life very safe and to be very selfish. By contrast, courage requires an ability to be dangerously unselfish. Materialism actively opposes sacrifice because the goal of materialism is comfort, which stunts spiritual growth and harms our ability to persevere through hardship—part of the definition of courage.

But the condition that robs us of this life-giving virtue is one of the largest roadblocks to a larger and more purposeful life: Fear.

This emotion is like cholesterol: Some of it is helpful and necessary yet some is also harmful. When it comes to creating a more courageous orientation toward life, understanding the two sides of fear is essential.

Holy Fear

The Bible tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom [Proverbs 1:7 and Psalms 111:10]. Here we learn about what theologians call “Holy fear.” This kind of fear is God-given and enables us to reverence God’s authority, obey His commandments and hate and shun all forms of evil. This holy fear is even one of the divine qualifications of the Messiah, Christ, as foretold in Isaiah 11:2.

But some fear is destructive and irrational. For example, some people possess a destructive pre-occupation with what others think about them—what the Bible calls part of the “fear of man” that causes them to betray their values and integrity. They have the “disease to please” man instead of God.

And some people believe that they are going to be harmed by forces that are possible but not probable in their life. The fact is fear is often best described by the helpful acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real. Many times what we fear simply does not come to pass. Still, when in the grip of such irrational fear, we hide and cower. We live very small lives by avoiding any potential risk and sacrifice. When fear possesses our heart, we will not live with boldness and courage, which the Bible exalts us to do more than 25 times.

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