The soul-corroding acid of anxiety

Yesterday, I preached a message from Matthew 6:25-33 dealing with subject of anxiety and worry. In his book, Anxiety Free, Dr. Robert Leahy reports that 18 percent of Americans will suffer from anxiety disorder. That is twice the number of people who suffer from depressions and if we add in those who report having some type of anxiety disorder at any point in their lives, the number increases to nearly thirty percent. Leahy says that “The average American child today exhibits the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient did in the 1950′s.” Let that sink in for a minute.

I experienced my own bout with anxiety a few weeks ago when I ended up spending four days in the intensive care unit due to problems related to my blood pressure. When I first went in they were not sure what was happening or whether or not I was having a stroke. After a couple of days of not sleeping and under the constant concern about what was happening to me, I experienced wave after wave of anxiety, that honestly felt as if it would tear me apart. Anyone who has ever experienced a panic or anxiety attack knows the helpless fear that washed over your entire being in these moments. Amazingly, I have been preaching through the Gospel of Matthew for the better part of the last year and have just now come to Matthew 6:25-34. The experience of the past several weeks has helped to give me a renewed insight and appreciation for this passage. One of the first things that we need to notice in this passage is that it gives us the causes of our anxiety. Let me show you five causes of anxiety that I have found in this passage:

1.) Anxiety is caused by a limited worldview (v.25)

In verse 25b, Jesus asks “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” The simply truth is that we often get anxious because we develop a purely materialistic view of the world. In other words, we allow our hearts and minds to become so captured by the things of this material world that we neglect to focus on things of eternal significance. This is a great trap for the soul and ensnares us in the troubles and cares of this life, while neglecting the weightier and more significant issue of eternity. Our lives are more than physical and temporal, we are created for eternity. Maintaining a Biblical worldview, therefore, is essential for eliminating anxiety.

2.) Anxiety is caused by a low theology (v.26)

Sometimes our anxiety is caused simply by having too low of a view of God. Notice in verse 26, that Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” There are really three important truths taught in this verse. First, God is aware everything that is going on in your life. If He is aware of the needs of sparrows, He certainly is aware of your problems. Second, God is able to meet these needs. He feeds seemingly insignificant sparrows, surely He is able to feed and take care of you. Finally, YOU are important to God. If God cares for sparrows, surely He will take care of you and I who are created in His image. Meditating on these three truths alone will cure a great deal of anxiety.

3.) Anxiety is caused by overestimating our own ability (v.27)

At the heart of worry is the wrong-thinking that says we can control or determine our own destiny. Fundamentally, it is an overestimation of our abilities. In verse 27, Jesus asks, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single our to his span of life?” Here we see the acidic nature of anxiety most vividly. In the throes of anxiety we buy into the lie that merely by worrying about something, we can control or change the outcome. In reality, no one has ever changed a single thing by worrying about it. One night when I was in the hospital the nurse was concerned about my heartbeat and made the off-handed remark that she needed to keep an eye on it. That was all it took to set me into a tail spin of worry. In fact, that night I refused to go to sleep, even fighting against the medication they gave me to help me sleep, because I was worried about my heart beat. I was determined to watch it and make sure it didn’t go too low. As you can imagine, this was a futile endeavor and it nearly broke me the the next morning. It seems stupid and foolish now, but at the time anxiety had absolutely convinced me that I could control my own heartbeat. I imagine that if you looked carefully you could find places where the acid of anxiety is eating away at your life simply because you have overestimated your ability to deal with a problem by yourself.

4.) Anxiety is caused by underestimating God’s love (v.28)

In verses 28-32 Jesus reminds us of the amazing love of God, which brings us to the most important cause of anxiety— when we underestimate the love of God we end up neglecting the Gospel. I am convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the single most important thing that we can study and meditate upon. The deeper I reflect on the gospel the further I am transported into the love of God. The gospel is the ultimate remedy for the acid of anxiety in our lives. Anxiety will eat away at our lives and take away our joy. The Gospel on the other hand takes further into the grace, mercy and love of Jesus. The more we understand how much God loves us, the more we learn to trust Him even when we are going through the challenges of life.

Have you experienced the acid of anxiety eating away at your life? It helps to share your story with other believers.

Three powerful lessons from a small giant

Every now and then, you meet a giant in your life. I’m talking a good giant here, not a bad one. The sort that Isaac Newton spoke of when he said:

If at times it appeared that I could see further than others, it’s because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.

Here are 3 powerful lessons that I learned from a “small giant” in my life.

His Name Is Phil Littlejohn

He was the pastor of a tiny church – the Oyster Bay Christian Church – in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Australia, when I arrived there a broken man, just a few months after giving my life to Jesus in October 1995. Phil had been the pastor there for ages – in fact, he’s only just retired.

Now Phil is a great and passionate Bible teacher, so I learned a lot from his teaching.

But as is always the case, you can learn so much more from the sermon preached through a man’s life, than you can from the ones he preaches from the pulpit. So here are the three big lessons I learned by watching Phil live his life:

Lesson 1 – Stickability

Phil used to talk a lot about what he called – stickability. Just hanging in there through thick and thin. Just showing up – whether it felt good, or not. Whether it was convenient, or not. I don’t know quite how long he pastored that church – must be over 3 decades.

He had it when it was big. He had it when it was small. Some days the people loved him. And some days those whom he’d ministered to, poured his life out for, laughed with and wept with … stabbed him in the back.

Some people love to live out what I call a convenient Christianity. Do it when it feels good and doesn’t cost you too much. Funny, I’ve been looking for that form of Christianity in my Bible – but I just can’t find it anywhere.

Yep. The biggest thing I learned from Phil … is stickability.

Lesson 2 – Humility

Without a doubt, Phil is one of a handful of giants in my life. He had me preaching within months of becoming a Christian. He encouraged me to go to Bible college. He laughed with me and most importantly he wept with me. So much of what I share with millions of people each week through my radio programs, I heard first from him.

In every sense, he is one of the giants upon whose shoulders I stand. But … here’s the paradox.

He leaves a small footprint. In fact, the bigger the giant, the smaller the footprint.

Phil is, physically, a small man. His surname is Littlejohn. His voice is rather high pitched – by his own admission, not well suited to preaching or teaching. An odd giant indeed. But, it’s not just his physical stature.

If ever there were a man who personified Paul’s command for us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should (Romans 12:3) – it’s Phil.

He genuinely doesn’t care about title, position or reputation. While he’s a strong and effective leader, he seems not to factor himself into the decision making process. He’s interested in building teams and achieving outcomes instead of promoting himself.

I arrived at the Oyster Bay Christian Church back in 1995 with an ego the size of a small planet.

Yep – the small footprint of a true giant was the second most important lesson I learned from Phil.

Lesson 3 – Religiosity (NOT!)

And the third one follows pretty close on its heals. Phil had a very healthy disdain for religiosity. He refused to be called “Reverend”. He refused to be bound by religious traditions. Here was a man with a passion for opening the Word of God, discovering what God was saying to us, sharing it with the flock under his care and living it – to the best abilities – with the life that God had given him, in the place that God had planted him.

I remember when I asked to be baptised. He said “Well, who would you like to baptise you?”

I was shocked – Well you of course! You’re the minister.

What followed was a lesson – there’s nothing in the Bible that says that the ordained minister has to baptise you. In fact, there’s precious little about being an ordained minister at all.

Through that and many other lessons like it, God birthed a passion in my heart to open the Bible, hear what He was saying, and share it with others.

Plain and simple. No religious bells and whistles.

A Quiet Reflection

On that day in February 1996 that I wondered into that humble little church in Oyster Bay … I simply had no idea of the journey that was about to begin. I had no idea the lessons the Lord would teach me … through this small giant.

And Phil, on the occasion of your retirement, the most powerful thing I can do, is to share the Word of God with you:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11,12)

Berni Dymet –

The smoke clears: on tragedy and mission

As I stood and sang with hundreds of other Christians, “It is well with my soul,” my heart was filled with hope. I was, along with other pastors, praying for the grace of God to shower our hurting home. In solidarity we were gathered, keenly aware of the presence of God with us. It was a great experience… interrupted. Leaving, I walked through the streets of downtown. An eery hush marked a city known for noise. The place seemed abandoned, except for military and police personnel—like something out of a sci-fi movie. The church meeting felt full. The city felt empty.

This contrasting experience caused me to wonder what the church’s next step should be. Honestly, I felt something like frustration. “Surely,” I wondered, “there must be more Christians can do than pray and sing. Surely we can scatter as powerfully as we gather.” I wasn’t the only one felt this way. A friend in our church who came from the same event, through the same streets, summed it up by saying, “A simple ‘is everyone here okay?‘ elicited streams of conversation from a shop clerk, a waiter—those who watched hundreds wander through their doors on Monday. Boston is aching and has no idea how to really, truly make it better.”

So as the smoke clears, what’s the church’s move? Walking through downtown I found myself asking, “Lord, show me what you want us to do.” I walked. I wondered. After some waiting, a thought occurred. Perhaps it was memory, perhaps divine guidance. I’m not skilled enough to parse between the two. But the thought came as though God himself were saying, “I’ve already told you what to do. Go.” I knew what that mean. For the Christian, “go” is a very meaningful word. “Go” is the standing order that Jesus himself gave to the church which, until he returns, is in effect. We’re to go to the hurting, empty streets. We’re to go to the aching who can’t make it better.

Going, by the way, doesn’t mean simply showing up with water, blankets, and medicine. I mean, this is Boston. The best hospitals in the universe are here. It’s a world-class city. The people don’t lack for much, materially speaking. So when we go, what—or more accurately, who—do we bring? Well, put simply, Jesus. The city doesn’t need my stuff, they need my savior.

Tragedy has a unique power to open the human heart to its frailty—to true need. If that is true, then should we not bring truest grace to truest need? The dramatic contrast between the prayer meeting and my street walking shook me. My city is hurting. Could it be that his people have a moment to speak to the pain that we’re all suddenly aware of? Isn’t it possible that God, in making beauty rise from ashes, is opening an opportunity to speak this truth? I think it’s more than possible, it’s what God does. The gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection shows us that God is able to make the greatest good arise from the most torturous evil. The emotional whiplash I felt between my two experiences last night showed me at least this: Boston should get a shot at singing, too. The church has to go into this city.

Yes, I will sing “It is well with my soul.” And as the smoke clears from this tragedy, I’m going work harder than ever to invite Boston to sing along with me.

Adam Mabry –

6 keys for achieving success

What has been your greatest key to success in life? While I have not “made it” yet, I am well on my way. There are some simple keys that I want to share with you that have helped me get where I am today. These are foundations to my life and ministry. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Be Teachable and a Quick Learner

The moment you stop learning is the moment you stop living. I have made a lot of mistakes and have been very embarrassing mistakes! However I have never let them defeat me. We all make mistakes! The person who quickly learns the lesson from their mistakes will have great success in this life.

2. Have Vision for your Life

A visionless life will amount to nothing. Recently, I asked my friend Steve Strang the owner of Charisma Magazine this question, “What would you say is the most important key to success in ministry?” His answer was “Clear Vision.” Mike Francen showed me that vision alone is not enough, we must write the vision down for it to come to pass, check out Habakkuk 2:2-3 NKJV. If you write the vision, it shall come to pass.

3. Passion Breeds Followers

What are you passionate about? People don’t always follow a vision, but they will follow a person that is passionate about their vision. Passionate people are infectious. Their passion rubs off onto others and has a ripple effect. You need people to partner with you, those that catch your vision will help you fulfil it. Become infectious about your vision. Talk, live, breath, your vision.

4. Action and Boldness

I know many people who are more gifted than me. However because they lack boldness, their gift will never see the light of day. Some of the things I have done only happened because I have acted in boldness and refused to be complacent about things. You can have the greatest vision in the world, but if you’re not willing to act on that vision, it will just remain an unfulfilled dream.

5. Hang Out with People who are Bigger than You

Over the last 5 years, I have deliberately set out to hang out with people I want to become like. Not to steal their gift, or copy it. But learn the way they think, what makes them tick, what is different about them and then take the good stuff and add it to my life and ministry. This has been crucial to my personal and spiritual development.

6. Results Matter

I am from a horse racing background and one thing I noticed is that people like to back horses with good form (results) next to their name. This is true for life and ministry. If you have some good results in your ministry make sure you tell everyone, put it on your newsletter, website and social networks. People will back ministries that get results. It is just human nature; no one wants to waste their time and money.

Changing the world begins with prayer

Missionary A. T. Pierson well said, “If missions languish, it is because the whole life of godliness is feeble.” To this powerful and convicting statement we may add, “If the whole life of godliness is feeble, it is because prayer is feeble.”

James Fraser was a pioneer missionary to the Lisu people in Western China. He would labor more than five years before seeing his first convert. It would be an accurate assessment to call him a “prayer missionary.” He understood the essential nature of prayer if the Gospel was to reach and change the world. He understood that anything lasting and eternally significant would be the result of waves of prayers that believed God to do something great for His glory. Fraser wrote, “Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. … The Spirit must be continually maintained in strength by unceasing prayer, especially against the powers of darkness. All I have learned of other aspects of the victory-life is useless without this.”

The work of reaching and changing the world is, indeed, a work done on our knees. And, it is a work that takes on the nature of fierce and intense warfare. After all, one of Satan’s chief weapons is to cut off communication with God, communication that takes place in prayer. John Piper is certainly correct when he writes, “Prayer is meant by God to be a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom … not for the enhancement of our comforts but for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.”

When Paul was imprisoned, he continued to have a passion for the Word of God to go forth to those who needed to hear the Gospel. He understood, as well, the intimate connection of that passion to prayer. Thus he wrote to the Colossians, “Devote yourself to prayer … Pray for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of Messiah” (Colossians 4:2-3).

God does not call everyone to leave home and go to the nations. I am convinced He is calling more than are going, but if we are not asking, how can we even receive His answer?! Often I challenge our students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to pray a missionary prayer. It is not one most expect. I do not encourage them to pray, “Lord, should I go?” Rather, I challenge them to pray, “Lord, why should I stay?” Our International Mission Board says there are 3.6 billion people who lack an adequate opportunity to hear the Gospel. That means millions upon millions of people will be born, live, die and go to hell without ever hearing the Gospel and the name of Jesus. That is a sobering reality. It is a haunting reality. How should we respond? The Bible provides a clear and unambiguous answer. Pray! This is the counsel given by our compassionate Savior to His disciples as He looked upon the masses in need of a shepherd:

“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-38).

God does not call all to be international or North American missionaries. However, He does call all to be fully engaged in the work of missions. He calls all of us to be Great Commission Christians. You see, we can all give. And, we can all pray.

David Livingstone was right, “The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.” Such a diet, the Scriptures teach us, will always have a healthy portion of prayer.



Our obsession with attractiveness

Beauty, says philosopher Roger Scruton, “is never viewed with indifference.” Those words come to mind in light of a major article in this week’s Newsweek magazine that purports to document the fact that employers show a marked preference for attractive people in making hiring decisions. Add to that article a recent news report on a new sperm bank dedicated to the reproduction of “beautiful people.”

The Newsweek article, written by Jessica Bennett, begins by documenting what economists measure as the financial benefits of physical attractiveness. The “beauty premium” adds 5 percent to the lifetime earnings of attractive men, and 4 percent to the lifetime earnings of women. Economist Daniel Hamermesh argues that an attractive man earns an average of $250,000 of “beauty premium” income over his “least-attractive counterpart.”

The magazine surveyed more than 200 corporate hiring managers and almost 1000 members of the public and confirmed that “from hiring to office politics to promotions, even, looking good is no longer something we can dismiss as frivolous or vain.”

The mostly-male hiring officers also said (by 61 percent) that it would be advisable for a woman seeking a job to wear clothing to the interview that would show off her figure. No kidding. The managers even ranked physical attractiveness third on their list of criteria for hiring — above education.

A New York-based recruiter consulted by the magazine asserted that, in this job market: “It’s better to be average and good looking than brilliant and unattractive.” Women, it is argued, face an even more complicated equation than men. Attractive women have an advantage over less attractive women in hiring for low-level positions. But when it comes to high-level executive positions, attractive women face added questions about their qualifications.

Plastic surgery is the answer for many. As Jessica Bennett reports, “We are a culture more sexualized than ever . . . with technology that’s made it easier to ‘better’ ourselves, warping our standards for what’s normal.” With plastic surgery and “enhancement” procedures becoming routine, a beauty arms race results, and those who are in competition find themselves “running to stand still.” Cosmetic surgery, Botox, and an array of technologies and product lines compete for an expanding market of people running hard in the race to stay or get ahead.

Bennett offers two interesting angles of argument in her essay. First, she argues for objective standards of physical beauty — a necessary assumption for her article.

In her words:

Biologically speaking, humans are attracted to symmetrical faces and curvy women for a reason: it’s those shapes that are believed to produce the healthiest offspring. As the thinking goes, symmetrical faces are then deemed beautiful; beauty is linked to confidence; and it’s a combination of looks and confidence that we often equate with smarts. Perhaps there’s some evidence to that: if handsome kids get more attention from teachers, then, sure, maybe they do better in school and, ultimately, at work. But the more likely scenario is what scientists dub the “halo effect”—that, like a pack of untrained puppies, we are mesmerized by beauty, blindly ascribing intelligent traits to go along with it.

The implication of this argument — blame evolution. Those who make this argument generally base it on a form of what might be called “aesthetic Darwinism,” or the survival of the prettiest. Yet, even without the evolutionary baggage, there seem to be objective standards of human beauty that even infants seem to recognize.

Secondly, Bennett argues that the current quest for physical attractiveness — perhaps even a current expectation among the young — is rooted in their generation’s experience of reality TV and popular culture “that screams, again and again, that everything is a candidate for upgrade.”

The other news report is even more troubling. CBS News reports that “an online dating service for good-looking people” has launched a sperm bank intended to produce beautiful babies. As the report states, “The ‘fertility introduction service’ aims to link wanna-be parents – handsome or homely – with good-looking sperm and egg donors who have registered with the site. The goal? Create a kid whose good looks stop traffic.”

The founder of the service told the Vancouver Sun, “Initially, we hesitated to widen the offering to non-beautiful people . . . But everyone – including ugly people – would like to bring good-looking children into the world, and we can’t be selfish with our attractive gene pool.”

How unselfish of the service — It will allow even those it would consider to be unattractive parents to purchase “attractive” sperm in order to breed attractive offspring.

Mark these reports as signs of our confused times. At present, there are no laws that would prevent such a fertility service from offering its services just as outlined here. While laws preventing discrimination are on the books, there is little to stop hiring managers from hiring the more attractive candidate over alternatives. This, as if you needed further evidence, is a demonstration of what it means to live in a fallen world.

Christians reading these reports must remember that beauty and attractiveness are not the same thing. Beauty, according to the Christian worldview, is established by God himself, and is inseparable from truth and goodness. Attractiveness is the mere delight of the eyes. In a sinful world, our eyes delight in many wrong things, and many of the most beautiful realities are, to the mere eyes, unattractive.

After all, we follow our Savior who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” [Isaiah 53:2]. The cross is not pretty, but it is beautiful. This is the ironic foundation of a Christian understanding of beauty. We cannot merely trust our eyes, for our eyes will lie to us, and we are to find beauty in truth.

According to the Bible, every single human being is made in the image of God, and is thus, for this reason alone, truly beautiful. Truth wins over “enhancements,” and true beauty resides within an individual’s character. The Bible straightforwardly condemns the human quest for physical beauty as vanity.

Jessica Bennett concludes: “The quest for beauty may be a centuries-old obsession, but in the present day the reality is ugly.” She is right, of course. But the ugliness of our confusion about beauty is not merely a present day reality. That confusion goes right back to Genesis 3 — to a pretty fruit and the Devil’s lie.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Celebrities and cash

This time it’s former Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns NFL player Jamal Lewis who has filed for bankruptcy protection. Lewis has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, reports The Baltimore Sun.

Lewis says he has $14.5 million in assets and $10.6 million in liabilities, according to court documents. His debts include monthly mortgage costs of $6,000 (not including taxes and insurance), monthly vehicle payments of $5,700 and $18,000 for expenses connected to a business he owns. Lewis’s off-the-field investments have included trucking, hotels, theme parks and resort projects, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Lewis has joined a long list of professional athletes who have ended up in bankruptcy court because of their overspending, bad business deals or both.

In his filing, Lewis listed assets that included a Super Bowl ring, fur and five Atlanta homes, a 47-foot powerboat worth an estimated $200,000, a $150,000 2005 Ford F-650 XUV, a 2009 Mercedes CL63 (worth $80,950) and a 2008 Mercedes GL550 (worth $47,400). And he’s leasing a 2010 Porsche Panamera, The Sun reported. Lewis makes $35,000 in an average month and spends $34,050 of it, leaving him with $950 left over. His bankruptcy filing certainly shows a man living on the financial edge.

Under a Chapter 11 you get a chance to work out your debts with creditors. However, the trustee assigned to Lewis’s case has filed a motion seeking to convert the case to a Chapter 7 filing, which would mean his assets would be sold to pay creditors.

I continue to point out the cases of celebrities mishandling their finances because they provide a key financial lesson I learned from my grandmother, Big Mama. She always told me it’s not how much you make but how you make do with what you have. No matter how high your income is, if you live above your means, you can go broke.

Frugal Fun For the Summer

If you are still looking for fun-filled ways to keep the kiddies busy this summer, Cameron Huddleston, contributing editor of, offers 50 summertime activities you can enjoy with your family without breaking the bank.

Here are a few suggestions.

– Bring the water park home. Huddleston suggest you turn on the sprinkler, fill the baby pool, get out the Slip ‘N Slide and let the kids have fun cooling off on a hot day.

– Go bowling. The Kids Bowl Free program allows kids to play two free games a day at participating bowling centers.

– Have a scavenger hunt. Hide items in your house or yard, then give the kids a list of the items and see who can find them the fastest.

I’ve tried many of Huddleston’s suggestions (bought a Slip ‘N Slide last summer and my kids had a blast slipping and sliding on our front yard). The tips do keep the kids busy without having to spend a lot of money.

Responses to “Celebrity Cash”

Justin Combs, son of hip-hop music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, was awarded an athletic scholarship from the University of California Los Angeles to play football.

Some people wondered whether the son of a rich man should have accepted the scholarship. So I put the question to you: “Should children of wealthy parents accept scholarships?” Here’s what some of you had to say about the debate:

“The son should keep the scholarship but dad should donate an equivalent amount of money to the University for a scholarship for a student whose parents can’t afford the cost for their child,” wrote Margaret Harris of Hefei, China. “This should keep everybody happy. Plus, dad can deduct this donation from his taxes.”

Michele Santillan of Plymouth Township, Mich. wrote: “If I were in such a financial position as Diddy or any other celebrity or businessperson, I would encourage my child to accept his or her honor. In turn, I would establish a scholarship (or even a one-time award) to benefit a needy student who otherwise would not attend the school. This would give my child the chance to shine, and would allow someone else to have an opportunity to succeed. Everyone wins!”

“We want our children to become independent, and for the children of the wealthy that is even more of a challenge, since their parents could keep them tied to them with financial apron strings if they wished,” Earl Roethke of Minneapolis, Minn. “Encouraging the children of the wealthy to earn their own scholarships and thus their independence is the way to go.”

Focus or passion?

Which comes first? Can you have just one? Does one cause the other?

These were the questions I pondered as I went on my morning walk/run with God this morning. I wanted to know which one, focus or passion, came first and if there was one without the other or does one lead to the other and if so, which one leads to which one. As I entered into my walk with God I just began to meditate on these questions and then asked God to help me to understand.

I began to think back on my own life and how things went for me personally. I remember thinking back on the many times I would call my mom asking her why I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t work enough, have enough money, be in the right relationship, climb high enough on the career ladder, go to school enough, accomplish enough, and do enough to fill the huge empty void in the center of my soul. I wanted constant change and challenge because that allowed me some relief to the huge emptiness that dwelled inside me but as soon as the change became common and the challenge was conquered I would again be reminded of the huge void. That’s usually when I would call my mom in desperation to ask her why I wasn’t happy. And inevitably she would refer to some scripture in the Bible or in her so delicate southern drawl say, “Well baby, you know the Bible says……” AHHHHHHH!!!!!! I didn’t want to know what the Bible said!! I wanted to know something relevant, something that I could do today to be happy!! I wanted to know what my problem was, why I couldn’t seem to be happy. What was the purpose of this life?

Aren’t we supposed to be happy? If not, what’s the point? But the answer I was looking for never came in any other form than her reminding me that God is good and loves me and ….and….blah blah blah. I would hang up and cry unable to answer the question that had so long eluded me, “what is missing in my life?” I have a good husband, good family, good job, good church and enough money to pay bills and buy groceries. Of course I would love to have bigger house, more money, happier kids, a more understanding husband, etc., but for the most part, I had a good life. Over a period of years after figuring out mom would only refer me to the Bible and God, I turned to another source to answer my questions…….Google. I know, go ahead and laugh. I can now too looking back but it reminds me of how desperate I was for answers. Obviously, I never received the answer I was looking for there either. My “how to be happy, what is Gods will for my life, help me!, what’s the meaning of life and on and on” Google searches did not give me what I so badly wanted…..answers to where to find peace, joy, happiness. So I continued on my desperate journey of seeking where the answers I so desperately needed would never be found.

I grew up in and around church. I must say that the ones I was around did little in teaching me what I needed to be a victorious Christian and so I wasn’t one. In my continuous attempt to seek out happiness I began looking for love in all the wrong places, after all if I didn’t have the answer surely I could find it in a relationship. I was close as far as needing a relationship; it just wasn’t with a person. Many bad decisions and heart ache revealed that to me.

It was my loving Father in heaven himself who told me the one answer that had so longed been kept secret from me……. several years ago, I was on a morning walk complaining to God as usual about all the things that that were not right in my life. God was what I complained to, not who I talked with.  I had just finished another rant to God about how tired I was of being a Christian and being miserable. I looked at the world around me and thought how happy they looked and how much more they enjoyed their life more than I enjoyed mine. I did not possess the life that I had read about in the Bible and had even heard the preacher preach about.  I was talking to him and had just said, “It would be better to be like them than trying so hard to be good and always failing and being miserable with no happiness, joy or peace. As soon as those words were uttered from my heart, I heard a very stern and unmistakable voice say, “You don’t even know ME.”

I stopped dead in my tracks on that old dirt country road in shock that I had heard him so clearly. A peculiar ache raced across my heart. Again he spoke as though I didn’t get it the first time, “you don’t even know Who I Am.” I was dumbfounded, speechless for a few seconds. Then I thought quickly with my heart beating out of my chest, I have His attention! So I thought, if going to church eveytime the doors were open, being involved in church stuff, praying when I needed something and reading the Bible when I had time (which was what I had been duped into believing led to a close, intimate relationship with God) wasn’t how one would know God then what in the world would I have to do to know HIM????? I did not have this answer and since God was talking back I decided to ask him just that…..”How do I get to know YOU?”  At this point the conversation had come up from my heart and when I asked God this question, the words actually came out of my mouth, and when I heard my own words I was startled at first because this conversation had become so real. Again I heard God speak and he said, “Spend time with Me DAILY by talking with Me and reading My word.” As soon as he spoke those words to my heart I grabbed hold of them. I can do that. I will do that. If that’s what it takes, I’m willing. I just never knew it was a daily relationship with God that I was missing. I finally had my answer I so longed for!

I was getting up already at 5:30 am to drink coffee, workout and get ready and get the kids ready and go to work, but I decided instantly that I was going to get to know My God. So I asked my husband to wake me up 30 min earlier in the morning and I was going to start reading the Biblefor 30 minutes’ every morning. And I did just that. I didn’t ask him where to start reading so I just started in Genesis, where else. It wasn’t a perfect walk and there were days when I would wake up late or was sick, but most of the days I made God my focus and read the Bible.

So what came first?  Passion or focus? I obviously wasn’t passionate about God at that time and I certainly wasn’t focused on him either. I kept up my commitment to spend time with him daily, at first it was more out of curiosity and despair than anything else. I wanted to know if I started to read the Bible daily if it would make a life changing difference.  I wanted to know if I let God into my daily life if I would find joy and happiness.

I will say that focus came first, intentional focus. I began to focus on the word of God. I began to meditate on the words and meaning to different stories and scripture. Over time an amazing thing began to take place…..I was becoming passionate. When I say passionate, I mean I had a strong stirring, a strong desire to be with God, spend more time with him, and read the Bible more. I became intrigued by God. I began to think about Him and His ways more and more. The desire for change and challenge became less and less and flitters of peace and joy began to emerge. It was almost unnoticeable at first, but I began to have a stronger and stronger desire to please God when before pleasing God was not on my top ten list of priorities. Another little gift came as well….conviction. Don’t get me wrong, I was saved. I had accepted Jesus at a young age and tried to be good and do good, but was met with defeat and failure. I knew right and wrong, it was just the power to do wrong would overtake my desire to do right. Conviction came a little quicker and was a little stronger than I had remembered it being before when I did or said something I shouldn’t have. With conviction came a desire to repent and turn from sin. What followed was more peace and more joy. That began to guide me to a more righteous path in living. It felt so good to chose right over wrong.

This transformation did not happen overnight, or even in months. The process was slow and steady, almost at a rate in which I felt no progress was being made, but it was. I could always look back at where I had been compared to where I was and on most occasions I was in a better position than I was. I will make a note here where I said “on most occasions”. Do not get the idea that Satan packed me a lunch and sent me on my merry way with Jesus, oh no, quite the contrary. Bigger traps were set than before; distractions became more in number and stronger. Oh yes, I struggled on this new path, but something was distinctly different, Someone was with me and stronger than before and I relied on this fact to help me. It took some time and scolding but eventually by the grace of God and the help of his Holy Spirit, I began to get back on track and each time a little stronger, a little more determined to stay the course.

More bible reading and studying was done, more prayer was uttered more seeking was done to find God in all circumstances, not just the good but the bad as well. Over time, and I mean years, much counsel with God among other preachers, Bible teachers, I began to wake up with God on my mind, thinking of him throughout the day, asking him random questions about what he thought about this or that, singing songs of praise and worship, at night as I lay my head on my pillow I  thank God for the day whether it was a good one or not and just spend the last few minutes of the day telling him how much I just loved him and how thankful I was for him being in my life. I often drift off to sleep in the sweet presence of the Lord.

Now that is passion. So now my focus and passion is God, God and more God. I just cannot get enough of him. No matter how much time I spend with him, I want more. No matter how much he speaks to me, I want more.  Your passion becomes what you focus on. We all have a responsibility to intentionally live our lives and that is why we were created with a mind to choose.  Choose to be intentional about focusing on God. Make a commitment today to get to know God by spending time with him, talking to him and reading His word…..daily and wait expectantly for the transformation to begin.  After all, he did write that Bible for you and gave you his Holy Spirit to teach you his truths. So go find your Bible, dust it off, set a time when you want to meet with him every day and let passion for God overtake you. That is the purpose of this life and the root of all joy and peace.

By Annette Redman

‘Unconditional’ film promotes faith in action

The children in Nashville’s public housing call him “Papa Joe,” and, as the name implies, consider him to be the father figure they lack at home.

He’s completely fine with that, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Papa Joe” Bradford and his team of volunteers give underprivileged children from seemingly hopeless situations the hope they desperately need. They feed them, clothe them, encourage them and share the Gospel with them.

Bradford says he’s simply putting his faith into action, and on Sept. 21, moviegoers can get a peek into his life with the movie “Unconditional,” which was inspired by his life and was funded and produced by two Christian men — Jason Atkins and J. Wesley Legg — who had a desire for more wholesome movies that will impact not only the church but the public at large. It was screened at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference and is the first film from Harbinger Media Partners, which Atkins and Legg formed.

The film had a budget of $2 million, which is small by Hollywood standards but significant when compared to more recent films that have been at least partially marketed to churches. “Courageous,” for instance, had a $1 million budget, and “Fireproof” $500,000.

Like Courageous, Unconditional’s larger budget is evident on the screen, from the acting to the sets to the production quality. It will open in about 300 theaters.

Unconditional stars Michael Ealy, who plays Bradford, and Lynn Collins, who plays Samantha Crawford, a downtrodden woman whom Bradford helps after her husband is murdered. Crawford is questioning her will to live but finds hope in watching “Papa Joe” love the children in his neighborhood.

Although some of the events in the movie are fictional, most of the events about Bradford are actually true, he said. He really did serve time in prison — in real life, for hacking into a computer bank — and he really did nearly kill a man while behind bars (he was in prison for 18 months). Once out of prison, in real life and in the movie, Bradford moved into Nashville’s government housing — the “projects,” he calls them — where he was burdened by the brokenness of the people around him and the innocent children who had witnessed events that most adults never see. He personally knew of a little girl whose father was murdered — right in front of her. He knew of another girl whose face was bruised from her mother’s beatings.

“We started seeing the abuse and the crazy stuff happening with these children,” Bradford told Baptist Press.

Bradford and his wife had two small children, so they got to know the kids in the community well. One day a little girl came to their house, and his wife gave her a piece of candy. Soon, the rest of the neighborhood kids were in his yard, wanting a treat.

“A piece of candy led to all these children coming to our doorstep,” Bradford said. “Mothers started dropping off kids at our doorstep. I don’t know if they thought we were a daycare or what, but it was crazy. And we just started loving on these kids, and we made a choir out of them.”

The choir was a natural fit, because Bradford plays the saxophone and his wife the keyboard, and they had served as worship leaders in churches.

Bradford and his wife wanted to feed all the children but they couldn’t afford it.

“We started asking people for help for these children — to the point that my wife had this crazy idea that we would take fliers all over our community and see who needed help with food,” he said. “We didn’t have the funds or the food, but when we got the telephone calls we would go out, take a team and hustle and try to find help for these children.”

Eventually, he and his wife formed a ministry, “Elijah’s Heart,” that has 30 regular volunteers, all with the goal of helping under-served children. They named the choir “Unity,” and it has sung for organizations and events throughout Nashville, including National Day of Prayer observances. And they and the volunteers conduct “Walk of Love” strolls through the poorest neighborhoods, giving away free food and supplies. Everything is funded by private donations.

Nearly every child they serve, Bradford said, is fatherless, looking for a father figure. Bradford got his nickname during a choir rehearsal when a girl walked up to him and asked, “Will you be my daddy?”

“I thought she was just kidding with me. But another girl in the choir heard her and said, ‘Will you be my daddy?’ Before you knew it I was surrounded by most of the choir and these kids were looking up saying, ‘Will you be my daddy?’ I went home and prayed over it, and I believe the Lord changed my name to Papa Joe that day, and I came back and told them, ‘All of you can call me Papa Joe.’”

The need for fathers and father figures in the inner city is tremendous, he said.

“The majority of dropouts in high school come from fatherless homes. There are various statistics that show you the plight and the result of fatherless children, because they don’t have the male encouragement. They don’t have the figure of stability. They don’t get the time that a father provides. A surrogate parent is the way we help fill that need, to a degree.”

Asked where fatherlessness would rank among America’s problems, Bradford said he would place it in the top three.

“That’s because the root of so many of our problems is because the family unit is incomplete,” said Bradford, who has penned an autobiography, “A Walk of Love.”

The movie wasn’t Bradford’s idea. That credit goes to Atkins, one of the producers, who was inspired after serving alongside Bradford and hearing his life story. Bradford said he hopes churches will get behind the film, and he wants people to walk out of the theater desiring to put their faith into action. The movie’s website,, includes an “Act” tab where moviegoers can learn of organizations that help needy children.

“I want it to ignite a fire in their heart to practice Christ’s love — not just to speak it or say it, but to actually practice the love of Christ,” Bradford said. “That’s basically 1 John 3:18 — that we don’t just love with our tongue or speech but in deed.”

Fifty Shades of Grey – A Christian woman’s perspective

WARNING: The contents of this post are mature in nature. Please be advised! Also the following blog expresses MY own personal Christian beliefs.

Wow! What can I say… The reviews for “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the erotica, mature book by E. L. James are highly controversial, as it becomes a best seller in Australia, Britain, and the United States. There is a lot of increasing buzz concerning the explicit sexual content of this book, as many women around me are avidly reading it. I heard it being referred to as “mommy porn”.

Friends consistently ask me if I have read it, so I went to the book store and looked through it. Also, after reading the sample trial on my kindle, I have decided that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is definitely not for me as a Christian woman, wife and mother. The male character is sado-masochistic, has a penchant for sexual violence, bondage, and hitting for erotic pleasure. Debaucherous actions take place in hidden dungeons, as they both subjugate each other to sexual lechery. Aside from being a love story this book is infectious in nature for my mind and soul.

The beginning of the first book starts off captivating, even inspiring further interest in the plot. Personally, I have an impressionable mind, and passion of any kind easily takes root, but as my trial sample ended on my kindle, I felt unsettled in spirit and polluted in emotion. It reminded me of when I read the other famous book “Twilight”, which left me depressed, discontent with my reality, and longing for young love…I realized that the realm of fantasy can be dangerous for me, and I have to be careful what I fill my mind with.

This is what MY OWN Christian opinion is on the following issues and presupposed questions regarding the book “Fifty Shades of Grey”:

“This book is just fiction, and it spiced up our marriage and our sex life”.

Yes it is fiction, but the content is pornographic in nature and depicts explicit, excessive, twisted, graphic sexual material. It incites the temptation to fantasize about a different man other than your husband, or for another woman other than your wife. I realize this book is predominantly read by women, and from my perspective, sexual mental images about someone else are impure, illicit, and considered unfaithful. Ephesians 5:3 ordains us to “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity among you”, and verse 4 says ” Obscene stories….these are not for you”.

God wants us to stay pure and fix our thoughts on what is “true, honorable and right” Philippians 4:8. Reading crude, lascivious books is not pure for our hearts and minds. If you have marital problems and the contents of this book have brought you closer, what I think is that extracting your intimacy from sexual vulgarity is never healing in a marriage, or that it offers a true solution from ongoing conflict.

As married couples, we can stem that intimacy from Song of Songs, a lyric poem inspired by God. This book in the Bible is filled with sensuous, amorous, exciting, exotic, enticing beautiful details. Chapter 4 for instance goes into great details, exploring the attraction and longing between a man and a woman. Here a few excerpts from Song of Songs: “You have ravished my heart, my treasure, my bride.

I am overcome by the glance of your eyes, by a single bead of your necklace … your lips sweet and honey, and honey and cream are under your tongue” Chapter 4: 9,10. The woman is described as having lips like ribbons of scarlet, and a delicious navel. She dreams in chapter five about her lover, husband to be, knocking on her bedroom door saying “Open to me my darling, my lovely doe, for I have been out in the night. My head is soaked with dew, and my hair with wetness of the night”. He further thinks of her rounded thighs, and she of his muscular arms and strong manly legs. Let these verses arouse a crimson color in you and your spouse’s cheeks…

God’s source is a much better place for what should be beautiful intimacy. Proverbs 5:19 commands us to be ” intoxicated”, or ” captivated” in our love for each other, and 1 Corinthians 7 to let our bodies fill us with delight, and to satisfy one another: ” So do not deprive each other of sexual relations”, and ” The wife give full authority over her body to her husband and the husband give full authority over his body to his wife”. Sex is a blessing to a married couple, but can be detrimental if indulged in abusive ways, as described in “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

“I am a young unmarried woman, so I don’t see the harm in reading ” Fifty Shades of Grey”.

Personally, I would not let my own daughter, or son, read any kind of erotica novels, especially this one. 2 Timothy 22 says “Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust. Follow anything that makes you want to do right”. This book depicts a young, single, and graduating from university girl, who is seduced by a rich, attractive, well-spoken, powerful man. That is prime soil for a young heart looking to fall in love…However; he is a troubled man, with dark, impure desires, trapping her in obsessive lust, exploiting her physically and emotionally.

A young woman indulging in such a novel will only become seduced by unchaste activities, by a distorted view on how love is supposed to look like, and further be allured by debaucheries narrative, imagining herself part of a realm filled with vulgar, crude sexual escapades. I am aware that there is supposed to be a “deeper” love story woven through this book, and the next two sequels, but no woman should find herself attracted to a man who is sadistic, controlling, and domineering. 1 Corinthians 6:12 warns us: ” You may say, “but I am allowed to do anything”, but I reply not everything is good for you….you must not become a slave to anything”. My advice is to go read Jane Austen books like “Pride and Prejudice”.

In the end, this is just a book. A book written by a writer fueled by her own imagination and fantasies. Anyone can write any book they want, but we, as Christians, I believe, must be selective in what would be honoring and pleasing to God. Ask yourself if this book is bringing you closer to God, and how would you feel if Jesus showed up at your house wanting to look at your bedside book selection.

I find that whatever I read ends up preoccupying my thoughts and feelings, so reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” would become addictive and lead to seeking similar books, videos, etc. Immorality originates in the mind, so Galatians 5:16, 17 acknowledge our temptations: “The Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict”.

As Christians, is hard to navigate through the tempting lures of this world, but we must arm ourselves with God’s holy words: “Do what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in worthless deeds of evil and darkness. Instead rebuke them and expose them”.

By Roxana Phillip-Hackett