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Posts from August 2011

The Wounded Man

As I prepare to leave for our ninth annual Battle Ready Men's Weekend, the topic of the wounded man weighs heavy. We have talked about this over and over throughout the years and still I meet good, solid Christian men who have yet to gain healing in the area of the wound.

How serious is this?

It's dramatic.

All men are wounded. Most often the wound comes from their earthly father. This is true even if their father is a godly, Christian man. It's in our nature. The real man discovers this wound, realizing how it keeps him from being the man, husband and father God has intended.

The great thing about these wounds is that there is healing. The wound (whether a father wound, overly protective mother wound or other) is a deep place and requires deep healing. Our hope and assurance is that our God is the Healer and will go into the deepest part of the painful place and in His miraculous way, give healing.

Men, we carry these wounds. I fear for the man who says "I have no wound." Blind eyes. You must first recognize the wound to be healed.

Dads - we will wound and have wounded our children. We often don't intend to, but we do. How great our God is to come and put back together that which has been broken.

Here's a good reminder.

 

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3 ESV) 


What Submission in Marriage Really Means

01 4 - Grace Is the Foundation 1

For the past month, I have been preaching sermons based on what God says regarding marriage. While there were numerous things covered, the primary was not to focus just on the things a husband and wife can do to to better their relationship, though that is a great thing and an intended secondary desire for the series. The primary focus is to see how God designed marriage, between one man and one woman for life, to be the very best picture of Christ's relationship with the church.

Yesterday, I dove into a passage of Scripture that is often used when taking Bible studies that focus on marriage. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most misinterpreted and misused verses in Scripture. There's a little word in this passage that seems to cause great concern for many. 

Just a few weeks ago, one of the Republican nominees for President, who claims to be a believer, was asked about this verse. It was obviously an entrapment question, but the point was made - most people, unbelievers especially, just don't get what this passage means.

Ephesians 5:21-33 (ESV)

Submitting [or submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The key word that many go to in this passage is submit. That causes some to bristle. Others like it, but for all the wrong reasons and potentially because they don’t understand it. There are some who understand and live it out and can testify to the reality and truth of the command. However, beneath the word “submit” is a greater truth that is revealed in this passage.

BlackCouple4U In this passage is a greater truth espousing the nature of our God. This is the reality of grace.

While some have read this and even used it in a tyrannical way to set up a hierarchy in marriage that belittles women and misinterprets the roles of the image bearer and God’s greatness, the truth is that apart from grace, biblical submission is not possible.The marriage between a man and woman, being the model chosen by God to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church, is built upon grace.

Through God’s grace, He pursued His bride – the church. He obtained His church through a costly purchase, by grace. Christ’s church is sustained solely by His grace. We, the church, will be made perfect for Christ by grace.

The reality is that we deserve nothing other than destruction and judgment. Yet, we live. We exist. Our very existence is based upon His grace. 

Apart from grace, even if not fully comprehended, man could not and would not forgive. The emphasis of grace is made known in this simple definition – treating people better than they deserve. This is the heart of grace. 

It is a central part of what it means to be transformed by the Holy Spirit of God. The reality of who we are in Christ, as redeemed believers, should overwhelm us. It is the biggest deal of all of life.

This grace made known through Christ leads to unmerited forgiveness.

Grace and forgiveness are two lanes on the same highway. Both emanate from the character of God. Both grace and forgiveness are given to the image-bearers and children of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is then the expectation that we would also gift others with grace and forgiveness.  

Mark 11:26 (ESV)

But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Yet, there are things beyond forgiveness that come by grace in this relationship called marriage.

Consider the implications of Ephesians 5:25-27 regarding marriage. This is the pursuit of godliness in Christ.  These verses take us beyond forgiveness. They will melt away all misinformation regarding submission that confuse so many. 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Now, here's a sub-heading that received some attention yesterday when I presented it.

HUSBANDS ARE TO CHANGE THEIR WIVES

This does not mean "get a new wife" or "trade her in for a younger model." The point is to stay married to the same woman, yet lead her to change. 

When you contemplate Christ’s relationship to the church, he is intently seeking to change the nature of the bride. He is working to change her into something morally and spiritually beautiful. He seeks this and attains this at a great cost – His life. His love for the church and desire to glorify the Father led him to the cross.

Think of the implications of this relationship as it relates to how a husband thinks and acts with a view of changing his wife. This seems so contradictory to modern thought.

  • “You shouldn’t want to change anyone.”
  • “What if the wife is godly and the husband needs to change?”

That's a good point and a good question. Yet, the concept of transformation is biblical. This does not presume that the husband is infallible or without need for change. In fact, both husband and wife need to change greatly as they grow mature in the faith. 

The deeper, grace-filled implication here is that the husband, who loves like Christ, bears a unique responsibility for the moral and spiritual growth of his wife – which means that over time, God willing, change happens.

This is very shaky ground, I understand this. There is a danger that some men will hear this concept of change and distort what the Word says to create a theology (or a "me-ology") that is based upon his selfishness and sinful desires. The text does not lead there. It leads us to a totally different place.

Consider these things. . . 

  1. The husband is to be like Christ. This does not mean that the husband is like Christ in every way. Men are finite. We are not omnipotent. We are not God. We are sinful. We mess up royally at times. Christ was not and is not. Therefore, we dare not presume that we are infallible, nor should we misuse this passage for our own selfish desires.
  2. The conformity referenced here is to Christ, not the husband. “Sanctify her” so that he may present her to himself “in splendor.” “Holy”. These implications are for the husband's desire for his wife. Our desires are to be measured not by our standards, but by God’s.
  3. The love is so pure, so deep, so real that the husband should be willing to die for her, as Christ did for the church. This is incredibly radical.

Husbands – if you’re pursuing this verse by lording over your wife, you are totally missing the point. You are running the risk of leading your wife not to purity and conformity to Christ, but to sin.

If a husband is loving his wife this deeply, her heart is changed. His desire is for this will be expressed to his wife not as humiliation, but as servanthood. Christ the Son of God, God the Son, came as a servant – the suffering servant and led his bride to newness. So, too, are husbands to do this for their wives. 

WIVES ARE TO CHANGE THEIR HUSBANDS

Again, this does not mean that wives are to "trade up" or leave one husband for a new one. This falls under the same guideline of staying married to one many for life. 

The husband’s headship is not identical to Christ’s – it is like it.

Therefore, the wife’s submission to the husband is not identical to her submission to Christ – it is like it.

The analogy of submitting to one’s husband as to the Lord only works if the wife is first submitted to the Lordship of Christ. Then, and only then, will she be in a place to submit to her husband without committing idolatry.

The wife will see the need for change in her husband. She will see this as she is drawn closer to the Lord. Transformation and change (into the man of God He desires) should occur while she still respects her husband as her head – leader, protector, provider.

Some implications. . .

  1. Prayer for Change. A wife relates to her husband the way the church should relate to Christ. The church prays to Christ—or to God the Father through Christ. When the church prays to her husband, she asks Him to do things a certain way. If we (the church - the bride) are sick, we ask him for healing. If we are hungry, we ask for our daily bread. If we are lost, we ask for direction, etc. Since we believe in the absolute sovereignty of Christ to govern all things, this means that we look at the present situation that he has ordained, and we ask him to change it. (This statement was made by John Piper in a message on marriage.) It’s just an analogy and taken too far, it falls apart in that the church doesn’t pray to Christ to change His imperfections. He has none. It is a request for change of circumstances or situations. In this way, wives will ask husbands for change in ways he is living and doing things.
  2. Every husband needs to change. None of us have arrived. None are without sin. The message of the Gospel to the heart of men has been muted for generations and the very best thing a man can do for his wife is to become the authentic, real man God has created him to be.  This means change. Big change.
  3. A good sister will confront in love. This is not a license to nag, but as a sister in Christ – which a wife is to her saved husband, there are instructions in Galatians 6:1 and Matthew 18:15 to confront sin in love and with peace.

Marriage is the perfect picture of grace – Christ loving His church – a man loving his wife. The church loving her bridegroom – bride loving her husband. We get so caught up in the minutia and the reasoning of why things aren’t what they should be. . .and yet. . .we refuse to change.

Saying “I’ll do better” isn’t enough.

Saying “I’ll change” isn’t enough.

It begins with your understanding of Christ’s love for His church. Does your marriage model this?

God looked to us, lost and separated from Him by our sin and sent Jesus (the bridegroom) to die and be crushed for our sin. He looked to us and said “It’s worth it.” You’re worth it. So is your marriage.

Credit where credit is due: In preparation for this series on marriage, I read the Scripture first (the best practice,) praying that God would direct this series. I then researched other pastors and marriage experts who have covered this topic. Knowing that there is "nothing new under the sun" I was praying that God would solidify the direction of this series. Books and videos by speakers and authors such as Dr. Les & Dr. Leslie Parrott, Gary & Barb Rosberg, Dennis Rainey, and Dr. Gary Chapman were used. John Piper presented some very clear truths that resonated with me regarding this series. So, while 99.9% of the time everything I write comes directly from my head (scary, I know) much of the direction here in this final message was inspired by Piper's messages. I pray that this series has struck a nerve (a spiritual nerve) among the people of First Baptist Church. Praying that our marriages will be grace saturated and God-honoring.


Men and Dads Matter

In preparation for our ninth annual Battle Ready Weekend for men and older boys, it has become even more evident that men need the message. It's not that I am teaching the sessions. There's nothing unique or original with me. It's that it just becomes more and more evident that we (men) need this.

I have spent the past few weeks finalizing and preparing for this weekend (which begins next Friday - September 2.) I have all the reservations made for the cabins, meals, white water rafting, paintball and other activities. I fully understand that many register for the weekend because the activities, but my hope is that they will discover the message to be the most memorable aspect of the weekend.

For years churches have held study groups for men. Ever since Promise Keepers put men's ministry on the map years ago, churches have acknowledged the reality that they have missed connecting, ministering to and with and connecting to the heart of men. This is why many men see church as something that wouldn't interest them. It's been called the "feminization of the church." 

With books by such men as Patrick Morley, John Eldredge, Bob Buford and Robert Lewis, the push for more authentic men's ministries and studies have grown.

While there are numerous blogs wtih opinions about this movement of men's ministry, both positive and negative, as well as opinions about the authors listed above and others, the reality remains - God has a design for men and women, both divinely made in His image, but uniquely different as well. This has been ignored or avoided for years.

So. . .we (First Baptist Church of Orange Park and the Real Men's Ministry) have strategically moved to connect with, reach, and make disciples of men.

WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN?

Reaching and minsitering to and with women is vital as well. That's why I am so excited about our new Women's Ministry Team at First Baptist. This team is intentional in ministry and focused on the heart of women. You can connect with our Women's Ministry at www.opwomen.org and at their Facebook page here.

It is my contention that for the Christian community, including families, that one of the healthiest things for women, children, the family and the church is for men to step into the Story as God designed. Men, all too often, fall back into the model given by Adam. The disconnected, unegaged man allows and leads to destruction.

So, men matter.

When I served in student ministry, I noticed a few things. Now, these aren't scientific results or necessarily good statistical analyses. These are just observations.

First, those students who tended to have the most issues (i.e. problems) had a commonality about them. In every case (I know that sounds bold, but truly, it was every case) these students either had an absent father or a disengaged one. In most cases, it was unintentional. Maybe dad was on a ship (we're in a Navy city) for six months or traveling for business. Sometimes, dad was there physically, but when he arrived home from work, he hid in the news, his hobbies or other activities and was uninvolved in his wife or children's lives. 

In some cases, dad was nowhere to be seen. Either dad was dead, or out of the picture due to divorce or other reasons.

In every case the children paid the price.

The "Father Wound" as we discuss at Battle Ready and in small groups becomes very evident here.

The second thing I noticed was this. If we as the church could reach a teenager, that was good, but often, we'd just reach the teenager. If we sought to connect with his/her mother, we had a pretty good chance of connecting with mom and the kids. However, if we could reach and disciple dad, the entire family would arrive.

Our desire as a church is to reach every person with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. In this endeavor, He has shown us that we must be intentional with every person. Each person, man, woman, boy or girl, needs Christ.

That being said, and based on what Scripture reveals to us, if we can reach the men of our community (and our church) family transformation for the good most often will result.


Follow Me. . .Then What?

There are tons of books on leadership available. Just check out Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Amazon to see the numbers. Some are really incredible and greatly helpful. Others, not so much. Just looking up "Leadership" on Amazon.com results in 68,736 possibilities.

Years ago I was in the Loy Reed's office at the Florida Baptist Convention. This was during a time where Loy and I were seeking to know if God was calling me to serve our state convention as a BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries) Director for one of our regions. Well, God didn't lead that way and with 20/20 hindsight, I can now see how God was leading me into pastoring a local church. Nevertheless, Loy is one of those guys who has the latest and greatest resources available when it comes to leadership and leadership training. He has since retired from the state convention, but I will always treasure that time when we were "seeking" together.

So, I'm standing in his office one day. We had just finished up a class on "Who Moved My Cheese?" He stepped out for a moment and I began looking at the books on his shelves. There were so many Blanchard and Maxwell books as well as numerous business stories and resources on leadership. One that caught my eye was titled Make It So: Leadership Lessons fro Star Trek: The Next Generation. I thought that it had to be the best of the books available. Just think, if I had read that book, I would now be leading this church where no man had gone before. We would be moving ahead, not on impulse engines, oh no. Warp factor 8 at least. Of course, there is always the issues with the Borg, but I'm sure that was covered in the book.

There are many good leadership books out there, but there really aren't any new ideas, even from Captain Picard. They're all repackaged ideas. One writer will resonate with a reader while another will connect with a different audience.

The thing about leadership is that unless someone is following, it's not really leadership. 

The question that was raised by some pastor friends of mine last week was "Where are you leading people to?" Now, I know that's a terrible question. Not so much because of the content of it, but the grammar. My ninth grade English teacher would be rolling over in her grave (presuming she's dead. She was about 90 when I was in her class years ago) because the sentence ended with the worth "to." Maybe I should school some of my pastor friends? Nevertheless, the point of the question was understood. . .and it's easier to say than "To where are you leading your people?"

When you look to the Gospels, you see Jesus (the ultimate leader of men) calling out his disciples. 

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (ESV)

There is a distinct and real destination. Jesus told his disciples, at least the group in this particular story, to turn from where they were headed, leave their families, professions and lifestyles to follow him. In turn, he would transform them and create in them a new identity. No longer would they be fishers of fish, but they would be fishers of men.

Have you ever wondered how this challenge even worked? These guys were hard at work and were probably in a culture where what they were doing that day was just like what their fathers and grandfathers had done for years. Was this what they were created to be? No. Christ saw in them what they could not see in themselves.

That's why the calling was so appealing. 

Follow me and I will make you into what you were intended to be. This will be an incredible journey, not without pain, but in the end, you will be the men God desires, for His glory. 

Now, that's appealing.

Cross As pastors and Christian leaders we too have been called by God. In turn, we are given the great opportunity to lead and call others into the great story. 

The question, as my friends stated earlier, that must be asked is "What are you leading people to?"

Unfonuately, I think often we (the collective "we" as pastors and church leaders) lead people to a story that is not God's, or at least not the complete story and therefore, life change and total transformation is omitted. We often lead people to. . .

  • Be a really nice guy or lady
  • Be really good church members
  • Have really good citizenship
  • Be really patriotic
  • Be involved in all church programs
  • Etc.

You get the picture?

Christ led these men to fullness, through adventure. We cannot afford to sell the message short for the purpose of the kingdom (note the small "k" - designates a personal kingdom) rather than the Kingdom.


Fight Right

01 3 - Fight Right

It’s pretty clear over the last couple of weeks as we have looked to the Word of God, that this thing called marriage is fully His design. Marriage is the doing of God. He’s behind it completely. Therefore, it exists for His glory and purpose.

Not only is the marriage relationship a design by God, it is to display God.

Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,   by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.   He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Couple-fighting-on-couch On the surface, these verses may seem out of place when referring to marriage. It’s a portion of Paul’s letter to believers at the Colossian church. In this, Paul speaks boldly and bluntly regarding the indescribable grace shown upon us by God himself.

Sometimes, we try to build our marriages in ways we think are best, maybe even based on recommendations of “experts” but often based on what we have seen growing up.

When our marriage begins to look differently than we envisioned on that day we said “I do” often panic ensues and frustration grows. Consequently, we fight.

There’s a revelation for you – husbands and wives fight.

Now, how can something designed by God for His glory end up so full of disharmony?

Some of you reading this are facing built up anger. Some of you are married. Others are not. Some of you used to be married but because of various things (maybe infidelity or drift or “falling out of love” as many say) you are no longer married. Yet, the anger and frustration persists.

There’s no one reading this that hasn’t been angry at someone you love dearly at some point in your life. So, why do people get angry?

Anger is a pervasive human experience. The human capacity for anger is rooted in being the image bearers of God. That’s right, our ability for getting angry at others is based on the nature of God. Anger is derived from two unique aspects of God’s nature: His holiness and His love. Throughout Scripture, we are told that God is holy. He is separate and unique, set apart. Being holy and pure, He is without sin. We’re also told that God is love. The Apostle John echoed this loudly throughout his books. It is from these two divine characteristics that God’s anger is derived. While we understand God to be love, or loving, the Word never says that God is anger. However, he does show anger at times.

Of the 455 times the word “anger” is used in the OT, 375 of these times the reference is to God’s anger. God’s anger wasn’t limited to the OT. We see Jesus showing righteous anger in the NT, especially when he entered the Temple and turned over the tables of the money changers. 

His holiness and love are always aligned with what is right and true. Therefore, since his anger is derived from his love and holiness, his anger is right and true as well. Since we are the image bearers of God, we too can show anger. Yet, because we are marred with sin, our anger does not always (and most often does not) come from a holiness and love. Yet, we believe it does. 

Husbands and wives get angry – and often at each other. Women at times feel anger toward their husbands because in her mind he has disappointed, embarrassed, humiliated, or rejected her. Perhaps he has truly mistreated her. In short “he done her wrong.” Men get angry with things. You know, lawn mowers, computers, the TV. Why? Because they’re “not working right.”

Sometimes the anger between man and women is based on a guilt of knowing personally they have not done right by the other. These are general statements, but by and large, they are true. 

Anger grows and consequently, fights happen.

Did God know this?  Yes.

Does the fighting husband and wife display God well in this world? No.

So, what’s to be done?

Husbands and wives will get angry. They will fight. Therefore, you’d better know how.

It’s not wrong to be angry. Anger is a natural passion about things that aren’t right (or don’t seem right) but it’s what you do with the anger that either leads to destruction or healing.

There are many tips out there for minimizing conflict in marriage. Dr. John Gottman has identified in his research the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" when it somes to conflict in marraige.

  1. Criticism – about the person, moves the discussion away from the issue and makes it personal.
  2. Defensiveness – often comes as a result of criticism.
  3. Contempt – The love/hate relationship becomes just a hate relationship.
  4. Stonewalling – shutting down and withdrawing.

By the way - research shows that men "stonewall" more than women.

When these things begin to happen, conflict resolution isn’t. Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott give some very practical suggestions to minimize conflict in their writings on marriage:

  1. Stop giving unwanted advice.
  2. Choose your battle carefully.
  3. State your feelings directly.
  4. Rate the intensity of your feelings.
  5. Give up put downs.
  6. Don’t dwell on downers.

Not bad advice, and you can find things like this in many good marriage books when it comes to handling conflict.

But, what about the Colossians passage? That’s the kicker.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,   by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.

By his grace, he has taken us with all our faults and sins and through the blood of Christ, forgiven our sins.

Then, Paul continues in the next chapter. . .

Colossians 3:12-17  (ESV)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The marriage relationship is God’s design – to show His grace. Therefore, it is within this most holy of relationships, that God’s grace and forgiveness is to be modeled.

This is where it gets sticky. Many have been hurt and honestly, it’s my experience that even many Christians don’t really know what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not saying to another person that what they did was OK. It’s not OK. It’s never OK. It’s not just NO BIG DEAL. It was a BIG DEAL.

So, what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is being able to say “I choose not to hold it against you.”

That’s what God has done for us. His removal of our sins as far as the east is from the west is not so much forgetting our sins (Can an all powerful God really forget?) as it is choosing not to remember (or hold against us.) This is the Gospel of grace.

Maybe this is a revelation to you. Great. In all relationships, especially the marriage one – we are to be God’s display of grace. We cannot just be Christ-like at church. Who are you when no one’s around?

There are numerous complex situations that emerge when we go into this subject. Many have years of painful experiences that cannot be fixed with a Band-Aid. There is deep spiritual wisdom needed here. Besides preaching, you need the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, prayer, to meditate on the Word for yourselves. You need the insight of other believers. You need the wise counsel of godly friends seasoned with suffering. You need the support of the church.

Therefore, I know full well, that what I share with you in this posting cannot be all you need. But, hopefully, it’s a start for you.

We must understand that as God’s children, we are designed to show His glory and to do His will in this world. Our marriages and other relationships must reflect this. It’s his design.

It’s not easy. It’s against our nature. It’s worth it though.

It’s worth showing grace. Only then can your marriage be a win.

 


A Fun Funeral?

How can a funeral be "fun?" Maybe not fun like going to the park or spending the day at the beach, but a funeral can be "fun" in the sense that people can leave with smiles on their faces and a closeness with family and friends that will be remembered for years. Unfortunately, most funerals are not "fun."

The trendy things at funerals is for family and friends to gather and for the minister to say "Today, we celebrate the life of __________." It's a good statement and I've made it myself many times. In reality, that is what a funeral should be. It should be a celebration of life, but not just of the life here on earth that has ended, but of life eternal.

Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10b ESV) and He meant it. Life is freely offered to anyone who would surrender to Christ as Lord and Savior.

Unfortunately, sometimes at funeral services, the "celebration" that is shared and experienced is shallow and temporal. When all the stories are about things that do not matter for eternity it is a sad experience truly.

Today, however, I experienced a true celebration with friends and family of a dear saint (not "saint" in the Catholic sense, but in the biblical sense meaning a redeemed child of God.) It was a celebration of life here on earth, but also and moreso a celebreation of a God glorifying life that is abundant, full and eternal.

Eva Isabel Blann died on July 31, 2011. Her husband John had died two years prior. Today, we held a memorial service for family and friends and reminisced and told stories of a life well lived and a soul eternally in the presence of the Savior.

Two years ago Eva's husband John died. John and Eva had lived an incredible adventure together. John traveled to Africa to teach in a school during World War II. It was discovered much later by family members that his job as a teacher was allowed by the US government because he was to replace a teacher that was to be vital in the Allied effort against the Nazis.  

For two years, Eva remained in the States.

Blann & kids Later, Eva and John traveled to Africa as missionaries. They had some incredible times on the mission field. These were days when quick communication to family back home in the States was unavailable. There were dangers. Hyenas, puff adders (the bite of one resulted in Eva losing a finger,) and other snakes and animals kept John and Eva on the alert. . .but always trusting God for protection.

Their story was not just about Africa. There were many years together here in the States raising a family, pastoring churches, serving and teaching and even in the final years showing God's love to employees and other residents in the assisted living facility.

It's one thing to say "God will take care of us" and another thing to believe it.

It seems that John and Eva not only believed it, but were constantly reminded of this truth throughout their lives.

Back in 1904, before John or Eva were born, a pastor's wife named Civilla D. Martin was confined to a sick bed in a Bible school in Lestershire, New York. Mrs. Martin's husband, Walter, was spending a number of weeks at the school working on a new songbook for the school's president. It was one Sunday afternoon when Mrs. Martin penned the words to a new song titled "God Will Take Care of You." Pastor Martin was away preaching and when he returned home Civilla gave him the words. Walter immediately sat down at his little Bilhorn organ and wrote the music. That evening, Walter and two of his associates sang the completed song. It was then printed in the songbook Walter was compiling.

It was a number of years later when John Blann was born. He was born in a room above, or near, a church. The song "God Will Take Care of You" was being sung by the congregation. It was noted by his mother. Throughout his life as a single man, then later as a married man with Eva, this song would be "their" song.

Funny, when you watch old movies couples often refer to "their song." When this is done, it's normally a romantic ballad that brings back memories for the couple.

For John and Eva Blann, "their song" was more about God than about them. It was a reminder that regardless the circumstances of life, God is sovereign and in total control.

Today at the memorial service, John and Eva's children, Rosie, Paul, Lois and Richard and their (John and Eva's) nephew Dave sang this old hymn. Here are the lyrics:

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain

God will take care of you,
Through every day, over all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.

Refrain

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

Refrain

No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you.

Refrain

It was a fitting song to begin the service.

Following this song, each child's oldest son spoke on behalf of the family. These were great stories of growing up and events that painted a picture of the life of this Proverbs 31 woman. The grandsons, John, Stephen (his flight was delayed, so his dad Paul read Stephen's portion for him,) Andy and Dave, all shared similar things as well as some unique memories. The common theme was evident. Words like love, prayer, godly, and legacy kept coming up. These men shared of a great love for their grandmother but it was the revelation in their lives that while she and John may not have left them great earthly treasures, they left them treasures much more valuable. Oh, to have my children and grandchildren say such things of me when I die (hopefully, far in the future - don't even have grandchildren yet.)

I found on the table next to photos and memorablia one of Eva's old Bibles. This King James Version Bible was given to Eva years ago by John and the kids. I opened it to see if she had underlined or highlighted any verses. There weren't many at all, and that's fine (it's not a measure of spirituality.) However, there were some underlined verses. I looked up the few passages I was planning to read from and to my amazement, each passage I had planned to read was highlighted. It was strange. It was as if God was confirming the selected verses for the day. There are no coincidences here. 

So, for the first time in a long time, I put aside my ESV Bible and read the Scripture from Eva's KJV. I'm not opposed to the KJV, but like the ESV better for a number of reasons. However, today, it just seemed right to read from Eva's Bible.

I read the following passages, as underlined in Eva's Bible:

  • Proverb 31:10
  • 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (the KJV uses the word "shew" which I thought was strange, and apparently Andy did as well)
  • Psalm 103

It was a celebratory service and we ended singing "How Great Thou Art" together. 

This is how a funeral/memorial service should be. No doubt times of sadness have come and will for the family and dear friends. Yet, the peace that passes understanding wins out. Why? Because of the assurance that this life here on earth isn't all there is.

A service like today's forces us to ask the question "Is my life honoring Christ?" and "What type of legacy am I leaving?"

When Dave shared how his grandmother and grandfather used to systematically and intentionally pray for people on their "list" which included him and then asked the rhetorical question (well, I hope it was rhetorical because no one answered aloud) "Who will pray now?" I was shaken. What an incredible question. What a shift from self-centric thinking!

Dave answered his question with what I and others need to answer "I will."

Wow.

It's true what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:2 "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart."

So, in a strange way, this funeral was "fun."

To God be the glory.


"She (The Bride) Be Sick & She Be Fat"

I know, I know - the title of this blog will be controversial and maybe offensive to some. Please take a moment to read the entire posting before casting stones. The title has nothing to do with women. It has nothing to do with women battling weight issues. It has nothing to do with women who are battling disease. It also is not meant to be an offensive statement regarding the Church. It is a quote from a new friend who shared it with love and as an assessment of the health of the North American Church. Again, not as an offense, but as a lament. There's good news, too, so read the rest of the post.

Yesterday I had the privilege, with a group of other pastors, of spending some time with one of our Baptist international missionaries. It was good to hear his personal story of calling and how God began to reveal to him through the years that he would place him in some pretty interesting places. He has served here in the States and in a few nations overseas. He and his wife are currently on furlough here in the States expecting their second child, with hopes to be back on the field by December.

It's always exciting to hear "missionary stories" of what God is doing globally. This was a great discussion. It wasn't a presentation designed to gain financial support. This missionary is fully funded through Cooperative Program funds and gifts through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Therefore, our discussion was not about funding but about missional principles, which to many in our nation seem new, but to those who have served on the international mission field for any length of time, just seem normal. Even biblical. Go figure.

This missionary shared that terms we use, such as "missional" were not familiar to him when he arrived back in the States. However, it did not take him long to understand what was meant by the terms. Missional is exactly what these men and women serving as missionaries have been doing for years to forward the Gospel to the unreached world.

Bride We asked him what his take was on the North American church. It's sometimes easier to evaluate something when you're not sitting in the middle of it. It's the "frog in the kettle" analogy. You know, put a frog in a kettle of boiling water and it will jump out. Put a frog in a kettle of tepid water and slowly heat it up to boil and the frog will remain in the water and boil to death. We (leaders in the North American church) do not want to slowly continue to boil. Lives matter too much.

Our new friend said that he saw some really great and encouraging things happening in the American church. He had been spending some time at conferences such as Exponential as well as dialoging with pastors and ministry leaders around the nation.While there are some incredible things happening within and through the church, he lamented that his view is that "the Bride be sick and she be fat."

That phrase will raise the ire of some. He expressed no disrespect to the church as the Bride of Christ, but acknowledged that the Bride in America - the Church in America - is not healthy. I don't think many would disagree with that.

"She be sick"

There are numerous things one could point to related to the church (not any one church specifically) that are far from healthy. Terrible stories hit the news almost weekly about things happening under the guise of Christianity and the church that are far from what the Word of God directs. 

Not only that, many buildings with "church" on their signs and "ministries" throughout the nation are preaching a disjointed and incomplete Gospel. I could list item after item such as the "Word-Faith" movement, the "name it and claim it" teachings, the shifts among some denominations to approve blatantly non-biblical teachings, hyper-legalistic teachings and many other items that show evidence of a sick church. The Gospel and the authenticity of the Word is being minimized. Consequently, Gospel-centricity and Great Commission focus suffers.

"She be fat"

That's offensive at first, but think about it. What is being stated here? Remember, this comes from a missionary who has lived in a country where the church does not have the benefit of ornate facilities, the latest audio/visual technology, the freedom of gathering, and the many resources that we take for granted.

The point is not to sell all the buildings and to stop using the resources available to further the Kingdom, but the point is to acknowledge that we are often held "prisoner" by debt and poor stewardship choices, not just as people, but as churches, that keep us from blessing others and seeing the Gospel furthered globally.

So, what do you do with this?

The first step is to acknowledge. You cannot treat an illness until you know what it is. You cannot begin a healthy diet without a strategic plan.

Simply put, God is working on treating His church, His bride. The healing is happening. The missional focus (as long as it doesn't slip into being just another "buzzword" or program) is moving God's church into the world as His missionaries in ways we know to be needed. Loving people intentionally. 

Our diet is changing as well. We are recognizing how incredibly blessed we are. As individuals (members of the Body) and as local churches, we are seeing a heart of generosity grow. 

Oh, we're not there. The American church is continually a work in progress. 

Our meeting with this missionary was great. It was enlightening and eye-opening. God is moving on the other side of the planet in some incredible ways. What's exciting is that He's not finished here either.

The Bride of Christ. . .how beautiful. 


Find The Third Place. . . "Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

Starbucks uses the term "third place" in their training and promotion. They are strategically working to be the "third place" in our communities.

The term "third place" is used as a term to describe community building and refers to a place other than home (the first place) and work (the second place) where people gather with friends and others. In fact, the third place concept has been around for quite sometime, but it wasn't until Ray Oldenburg clarified it in his influential book The Great Good Place that many began to see the relevance of it.

Some of you may argue that the third place should be the church. For those of you, like me, who grew up in a church family where you attended every event and showed up "every time the doors were open," the church was a third place.

The reality is that for most people in our community (and the world, for that matter) the church is not the third place. It may be for Christians, but not for most people. It begs the question "If Jesus was walking the earth in human form today, where would he hang out?" It's pretty obvious from reading the Gospels, that the church house would not be his "third place."

Cheers01.png All societies have informal meeting places. The newness in our times is that people intentionally seek them out to fulfill their communal needs. Oldenburg suggest these hallmarks of a true "third place" are:

  • They are free or inexpensive
  • While food or drink aren't essential, they are important
  • Highly accessible
  • Proximate for many
  • Involve regulars - those who habitually congregate there (for some reason I picture Cliff & Norm from Cheers)
  • Welcoming and comfortable
  • A place where new friends and old ones can be found

I was reading in a magazine earlier this month that about 235 years ago pubs in the Northeast were vital "third places" for our country. It was in numerous pubs in Boston where many of our nation's founding fathers gathered, raised a pint and plotted the revolution that would create the United States. So, apparently, some pretty dramatic, life changing things can have their genesis in the "third place."

So, what does this mean for the church?

It does not mean that we need to lament that our church facilities aren't the "third place" in our community. This is not a call to create "Christian" versions of local gathering places (i.e. a Christian coffee house, a Christian gym, a Christian restaurant, etc.)

What it does mean is that we, as missionaries to our community, need to discover and acknowledge the "third places" in our area. It is there we need to go. That's where people are. They already are.

I know, this raises a lot of "But, what about. . ." or "But, what if. . ." questions. There will be hard questions, but it comes down to the calling to make disciples.

The fields are ready for harvest. The thing is, this harvest will never be reaped if we just sit in our "barns" talking about how someone should go reach all "those people."

Find the third place. Go there. Be the church.


Ashley Arrived 18 Years Ago Today

Today's one of those landmark days. Perhaps this is my official "getting old" day? At least that's what my kids say. It was 18 years ago today in a hospital in Bedford, Texas that my wife Tracy gave birth to our daughter Ashley.

Wow! Today, Ashley is an official adult according to some. 

At That day 18 years ago was a stressful one. Moreso for my wife than me, I'm sure. 

I took Tracy to the hospital where her doctor met us and was checking to see if possible this day would be THE day. The doctor was just about to send us home with instructions to wait, when during the check-up, Tracy's water broke. The doctor said he did it accidentally, but there was nothing to worry about. 

So, Tracy was admitted. She was placed in this incredibly nice room at the hospital. Nowadays, these nice birthing rooms are common, but they were just coming into vogue back then.

I liked the room. It had a nice recliner for me and a TV. Oh yeah, Tracy was over in a bed groaning and eating ice chips. :-)

We called family and everyone was there - waiting out in the waiting room.

As the evening went on, the doctor came in and I was ready to help Tracy with those goofy breathing techniques we had learned at the Lamaze classes. I even had the little "Baby Minnie Mouse" with me which was her "focal point."

We learned pretty quickly that there was a problem.

Apparently, Tracy's birth canal was not large enough. Her blood pressure was going up too. Apparently, too high and this caused the doctor some concern. So, late that evening, the decision was made to wheel her into an operating room for a C-Section.

We weren't ready for this, but what choice did we have, really? All the sudden I'm just kind of standing there with a confused look on my face wondering what I was supposed to do. Guess I didn't need to help her breathe anymore. I went out and told the family and then I continued to pray.

Now I know C-Sections are very common. They happen all the time. However, regardless what you call it, a C-Section is a pretty big deal surgery and my wife of four years was about to go under the knife. I stayed in the room with her and they made me stay up by her head. I'm glad they didn't let me watch. I saw one of these procedures on Discovery Channel once and boy, is it gross!

Tracy didn't feel a thing. She was awake, but not all there. They were tugging on her behind that little curtain and working and all the sudden they pulled up a coneheaded little baby. Now, I know that's one of those moments when in the movies everyone says "Oh, she's beautiful!" but I just wanted to know "Is she supposed to look like that?"

You see, Tracy had been in that birthing room for hours. Ashley had been trying to "be born" and continued to push on the canal, but the opening was not large enough so Ashley's head had a circle on it (from the birth canal) and was cone-shaped.

The doctors assured me that she was fine and that everything was normal. Taking there word for it, Ashley was placed on Tracy's shoulder (her arms were deadened so she couldn't hold her at this time) and we cried and smiled and were all OK. 

The nurses took Ashley away and cleaned her up and took all her vitals while the doctor sewed up Tracy.

Amazing night.

I went out to tell the family that Ashley was here and that everything was good and soon they could see her and Tracy.

Atdt Tracy was then moved to a room. This was a let down. That birthing room looked like the Hilton. The other room she was now placed in looked like Motel 6. Hmmm. Tracy still reminds me that it seemed I was more concerned about the change of room than how they were doing. That's not true. It's just that I really liked that other room.

So, 18 years ago, Ashley Michelle Tarkington came into our lives. God has blessed us with a beautiful daughter (and her cone head smoothed out, too.) Sometimes that word "blessed" is thrown around a little haphazardly. Don't miss this. I truly mean it. Ashley is God's blessing to our family.

We are shocked at how quickly the years have gone by, but so excited to see how God is molding her into His image and look forward to how He will use her for His Kingdom.


Why Satan Hates Marriage

01 2 - Why Satan Hates Marriage


We have to come to understand that marital issues are not just relational issues. Unless we come to the understanding of the two realms in which we live and the deeper story, we will continue to try to “fix our marriages” with human reasoning and more promises to “do better” or to “change.”

While many of us need to make some real changes, that’s not enough. Just desiring to change behavior doesn’t even go an inch below the surface as to why many marriages are challenged.

I don’t think any of us would disagree that marriage is under attack. However, as I stated a couple of weeks ago, the deeper attacks are not from different “groups” desiring redefinitions or acceptance or alternative definitions of marriage as normal.

Marriage has and always will be under attack . . . until the end of time.

Eugene O’Neill said “Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost Kingdom of peace.”

O’Neill speaks truth here, though I doubt he ever understood the depth of which he spoke.

Some look to the images of marriage as played out in fairy tales as the model for their lives. They want their Prince to ride up on a white steed or maybe their Princess to be waiting with little blue birds flying about her head. All this so they can “live happily ever after.” Happily ever after is possible – not in fairy tales, but in reality. However, we have to understand what reality truly is. 

The creation story speaks of God’s desire and design for all of creation. All that exists, exists for one primary reason – to glorify God.

Somewhere along the way we have forgotten this as a people. We live our lives as if it’s designed for our glory and pleasure. People spend their lives seeking satisfaction, happiness, fullness. They seek and seek and yet come up empty apart from God. What does this have to do with marriage? Everything.

The “happily ever after” desire is deep in the hearts of many. It’s hard-wired, but with a self-centric lifestyle, it remains the unfound treasure for many.

To discover why this is, we have to go back. . .all the way back to the beginning of the human story. God designed marriage before he ordained the church, before he gave the Ten Commandments, before he gave the ordinances we observe regularly. Therefore, apparently, marriage is a big deal to God. . .for many reasons, and though he desires us to experience joy in life, our personal happiness is not the ultimate goal of marriage.


We have already looked at Genesis 2 where it explains that God created Adam and saw that he needed a mate and then put Adam into a deep sleep, performed the first surgery ever and from Adam’s rib, created a wife for Adam. God, then performs the first wedding when he, as Father, gives away the bride in the very first wedding ever. Adam and Eve, both created in the image of God. Both valuable to the Father. Both image-bearers – the same, but very different. God placed a masculine heart in one and a feminine one in the other. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Adam lived in perfect harmony in a paradise called Eden.

The fairy tale was real. The Prince and Princess in their Father’s Kingdom, experiencing a fullness of life we dream of.

 

It’s in the next chapter, we discover that marriage is not just a physical relationship between two people. It becomes evident that marriage is more than a joint venture for convenience sake.

Genesis 3 shows us clearly that there is a level much deeper than many acknowledge regarding their relationships. It is in this chapter that you discover that we are in a constant battle for life and love. It becomes evident why so many “good marriages” suffer and why so many give up.

Genesis 3 (ESV)

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

The-story-of-adam-eve You’ve heard this story most likely. Unfortunately, we tend to hold images of this story as displayed in children’s Bibles and in the pictures we put on the wall to teach our preschoolers and children about the Creation. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with those pictures, except that most often Adam and Eve look like models for Hollister, just chilling and talking to a snake while strategically placed tree limbs cover their embarrassing parts. (Or like the ridiculous image to the right.)

We get so caught up in this image that we don’t even see what’s really happening.

The serpent is Satan. He is the Enemy. He is God’s Enemy. Therefore, he is the Enemy of the image-bearers of God. He is a created being. His story, however, doesn’t begin in Genesis. His begins long before Day 1 of the Creation Story.

Two Old Testament passages depict the creation and ultimate fall of the Enemy, Satan (which means Adversary.) While the prophets were obviously speaking of earthly kings in their day, their writings speak of an adversary on a much deeper level. God explains to us in these passages that we have an Enemy who was created for glory until self-centered pride set in and transformed him. These passages unveil the reality of the spiritual realm and the larger story.

Ezekiel 18:12b-15 (ESV)

“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.

Isaiah 14:12-14 (ESV)

 

12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

So we live in two realms.

 

We stand here – in the midst of a spiritual realm where battles rage that normal man cannot comprehend.  The unsaved world doesn’t get this. They laugh at us and call us superstitious and religious charlatans working just to take money and hope from unsuspecting people.

Then there are those of us who are believers – true followers of Christ – who realize that true Christianity is the only reality out there.

Why do so many people “not get it?” Because there is a battle going on my friends and it has been going on since before the beginning of time.

Satan, the Adversary, the Evil One, the Enemy of God was at work in the Garden of Eden.

He still is.

Now, don’t get your theology all messed up and leave here with a “Devil made me do it” way of life or even an unhealthy fear that the Devil and his demons are hiding behind every shrub just to jump out at you and attack.

The attacks are real. They are constant and they are systematic. Yet, we need not fear.

There are many reasons why Satan hates marriage, but ultimately he hates when a man and wife wed with intentions of leaving mother and father and cleaving to one another because it reminds him of what he doesn’t have and never will.

Humans are relational beings – we were made this way intentionally by God. He is a relational God. He desires to know you personally. He desires a relationship with you and me. Therefore, being relational, from the very beginning (Garden of Eden) God designed us to desire to be with others. 

His perfect plan and desire for the marriage relationship is for one man, one woman, for life.

Yhat’s where the attacks come.

The Enemy appears in the Garden of Eden and while the temptation of Eve is so blatant and obvious, the attack was on the relationship. You see, Adam, the man, had a role to play. He had responsibilities as the husband. He was to first of all, show God to his bride. He is also to protect and love her.

In this story, he stands there while the tempter tempts.  He does not step in. He does not remind Eve of the words of God. He does not protect and therefore, the relationship is attacked at the core.

The very same attacks take place today, even among good, church-going Christian couples. Especially among good, church-going Christian couples.

You see, the husband wife relationship is not just a cultural phenomena. It’s a God-designed picture of a very key part of the Gospel. 

Ultimately, Satan hates marriage. He attacks. He is not creative, therefore, he continues to use the exact same tactics.

So, we end up with wives choosing something offered to them that isn’t what it appears to be.

We have husbands choosing to disengage and not fight for what matters.

We have men and women choosing anything but the Truth.

 

And the enemy wins a battle.

 

You may find yourself here.

Maybe you are in a marriage that seems to be constantly under attack. Some of you have thrown in the towel. For some, it’s not too late to go back. For others, you may be divorced, remarried (or your spouse is) and you wonder what you do now.

Some of you are in marriages now that are under such a barrage you just don’t see how it will survive. You have a hard time believing God wants this relationship to last. You just aren’t too sure He meant for this marriage to even have ever happened.

Some of you are believers married to non-believers. In some cases, you just bought the lies of the world an ignored the teachings of the Word of God and married out of an emotional connection, and now realize what that whole “unequally yoked” thing meant and you feel trapped. (BTW – you don’t get an excuse to leave your lost spouse.)

Some of you became believers after you married and now you unsaved spouse feels like he or she is married to a different person. Maybe your spouse feels like a terrible bait and switch occurred because you’re not the person he/she married. You too do not get an excuse to leave.

In many cases, it’s just a battle. You fight all the time. Over stupid things. You don’t get it.

There are wives being Eve in this story. There are disengaged Adams out there.

It’s time for a change and it starts with an understanding of what’s really going on.

 

We must understand that we have an Enemy. He hates marriage and attacks it constantly. It’s played out in Genesis 3 and has been repeated over and over for centuries.

That’s truth and that alone is pretty depressing and may keep some from ever wanting to get married.

However, there is a deeper, more powerful truth. This Truth is that God is all powerful and in total control. It is He who designed marriage and when we understand this and live in an understanding way, He is honored and glorified and we get to taste and experience the fullness of life.

Husbands and wives who have surrendered their lives and their marriage to the Lordship of Jesus Christ are the real winners, not because of who they are, but because of whose they are.

We have to get this.

Our marriages are “worth it.”

Your marriage is “worth it.”

Don’t let an already defeated adversary cause you to give up.

You are worth it.