Dealing with Common Devotion Distractions

Dealing with Common Devotion DistractionsMost Christians set aside some quiet time in the mornings to read the Word, pray, and worship. If you’re like me, you may have challenges dealing with distractions during my quiet time. Here are some common distractions I face, and some of the strategies I use to deal with them.

1. Dealing with Mind Games. Let’s face it: praying in the mornings can sometimes get distracting when your mind wanders. You’re in the middle of reading the Word when suddenly remember all the things you have to do for that day. I find it handy to keep a notepad nearby, so I can write down whatever pops into my head, just so I don’t forget it. That way, I can get back to studying the Word or praying. Aside from that, if you’re in the habit of taking down own quiet time notes, if God suddenly reveals to you someone who He’s asking you to pray for,

2. Dealing with Noise. I’m easily distracted by noise. live in a village with early-rising roosters, barking dogs, and wailing cats. (I might as well be living on a farm!) The truth is, if we’re bothered by outside noise, we need to find a place that shuts that noise out. This is why I sometimes do my quiet time in my car! Believe it or not, it’s a great place to spend time with God–you can even sing at the top of your lungs and most people wouldn’t hear through the noise. Something to think about. Other things you can do to drown out the rabble would be to use earplugs or noise-cancelling earphones tuned in to your favorite instrumental songs, or consider thick curtains to absorb some of the sound coming in from your windows.

3. Falling Asleep. Some people are night owls, and some people are early birds. I get up at 4AM every day. That’s no joke, I really do, because I live so incredibly far away from everything! Despite that, during my quiet time, I still get sleepy occasionally, especially when I’m sitting still. A few tips I can offer for staying awake during my devotions include starting your quiet time with a little personal praise and worship (gets the blood flowing!); doing a prayer walk around your neighborhood (always nice to cover your neighbors in prayer; and pacing around while you pray.

4. Tuning Out the Technology. Do you check your phone before you open your Bible? I do! (But that’s primarily because my phone alarm wakes me up. Nice excuse, Ganns.) The phone, iPad, or laptop can be quite the distraction, though, so if you’re like me, sometimes it means purposefully doing away with the devices and taking your notes down by hand, or setting the devices away from you while you pray.

What if we need the phone for our quiet time, like the Bible Gateway app, or Spotify? Well, I use Spotify to play music while I pray, so I’m sure to set the phone to Mute so that any alerts that come in while I’m praying don’t get in the way. As for Bible Gateway, well, some people like ’em, some people don’t, but because I know I get tempted to check my phone, I don’t use my electronic Bible for my quiet time.

What about you? What are some tips you can share to deal with distractions during your quiet time?

Three Things to Do When Your Child Disrespects You

A few weeks ago, I had a situation with one of my children. Upon the child’s arrival from school, the child’s grandmother suggested a haircut from the neighborhood stylist, which the child refused to do. My wife was home but very sick at the time, so she had no energy to get up and address the disrespect; it was actually disappointing that the child showed no concern for the sick mother. I resolved to deal with the disobedience when I got home, but when I arrived, the child was already asleep, so I couldn’t deal with the situation.

bible_rod_discipline_childrenI got my own version a few hours later though, when the child woke me up at 1AM because the child awoke and couldn’t go back to sleep. The scandalous shouting match that followed did not wake up anyone, thank goodness, but I certainly gave this child a piece of my mind for the events of that day.

As Christian parents, we set the example for our children in godliness, respect, integrity, perseverance, and excellence, and we set the boundaries and rules for them so they, in turn, grow up to become disciplined, independent Christian adults. However, it’s inevitable that every parent will experience a situation where their child disrespects their authority and pushes their buttons just right. So what is the Christian parent to do?

Disrespect is ultimately disobedience, which necessitates discipline. It’s important for parents to present a united front, especially if their natural discipline styles are different. Otherwise, the children will run to the more forgiving parent, while the other parent comes across as an angry monster.

My wife and I are united in three things when it comes to dealing with our children’s attitudes towards respect and obedience.

1. Instruct with the heart and deal with the heart. Every disciplining situation is a chance for a parent to speak his heart to his child. As you address your child, remember this is a learning opportunity for your child. Proverbs 15:5 says, “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.” This is even more important to remember if you feel your child is willfully disregarding your advice or discipline.

No parent intentionally gives his children bad advice, and, on occasion, a child’s disobedience may not be because he intends to disobey but because the boundaries weren’t set or instructions weren’t clear. End of effort, it must be clear the child knew what he did was wrong.

2. Provide discipline that speaks to the child. There are consequences to negative behavior, not just so the child will learn not to do it again, but so they’ll understand how the world works. A home in which there is no justice is raising a child with blurred moral boundaries.

When it comes to discipline, I believe in the concept of “hit them where it hurts.” (This doesn’t necessarily mean the rod, although I have, on occasion, spanked my children when they were younger, and applying Tip No.3 afterward.) If you balk at spanking, you can still provide discipline in other ways. For us, we know our children hold something of value, and we apply discipline by addressing what they hold valuable. For example, my son is a techie, so discipline for him involves grounding from video games; my daughter loves her Shopkins, so discipline for her may involve the temporary withholding of Shopkins benefits.

I do want to also say, though, that it is not enough to (temporarily) remove the object of value; we need to fill the void that it creates. It is important to provide an alternative activity or item that will give the child time to reflect on what they did. For my son, I’ll ask him to clean the room (with me, because I enjoy that); for my daughter, I’ll have her read a few chapters from a book, which we will discuss afterward.

3. Restore. After every disciplining effort, it is essential for the parent to make time to sit down with the child and process the disciplining effort. Make a deliberate effort to speak to the child in their love language, and reassure him that there is forgiveness and grace for him. The child needs to know that you will continue to love him despite what he did, and you always will.

What about you? What are some things you do when you deal with your disrespectful child?

Image taken from here. No copyright infringement intended.

New Project: Power of a Prayer Warrior

I am very excited for my latest project, a book titled “The Power Of A Prayer Warrior?.” I decided to write this book, what will be my first!, for people who want to take their prayer lives to the next level. Whether you’re the passionate Christian who readily prays for anyone at the drop of a hat, or simply someone who has a history of promising to pray for a friend but forgetting to do it, “The Power of a Prayer Warrior” will encourage and inspire you to pray for yourself and others like never before!

Using the example of 30 prayer warriors in the Bible, this book gives insight into the heart, the armor, and the support system of a prayer warrior. Written with heart and humor, peppered with stories and insight, and designed like a devotional, meant to be read for only a few minutes a day, this book also offers an easy-to-follow prayer plan to help you become the intercessor God has destined you to be!

I’m already in the writing process, and as I do it, I find that I’m really encouraged and excited about what God will birth through it. I would love it if you prayer warriors out there would intercede for me to finish it, for God’s anointing to flow through its pages, and that it would be a blessing to whoever reads it. Thank you, and let’s change this world through the power of prayer!

On this tattooed Christian

I have tattoos.

I was 16 when I got my first tattoo, one of 90s comic strip juggernaut Calvin and Hobbes. The spirit that the creative young boy and his sidekick imaginary tiger resonated with the collegiate me. To date, there has never been a comic strip that has communicated the many questions that life can bring up, and deal with the myriad answers with which one can come up to answer, than Calvin and Hobbes. It was a brilliant strip, and one that has played a significant role in my life. It would be the first of three Calvin and Hobbes tattoos I would go on to get.

Calvin and Hobbes tattooOn August 17, 2001, I welcomed Jesus Christ into my life. In the course of my Christian life, I’ve gotten flak for having these tattoos. “Christians shouldn’t have tattoos,” they say, then they bring up Leviticus 19:28, which says, “do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” (You can imagine their thoughts, specifically, about the ankh, which came after a dalliance with Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.)

Now, I am thankful to people who bring up Leviticus. I believe they are dedicated to and have a heart for God and His Word, the Bible. They are passionate about the Old Testament law because it gives them a great foundation from which to please God.

Which brings me to the New Testament. The author of Hebrews writes, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

This verse tells us that God speaks to us through Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment and embodiment of Old Testament prophecy and the only bridge to God. Without and apart from Christ, we literally have no connection to God. The Old Testament laws worked for a time when God spoke to His people through the prophets; I am more inclined, however, to follow what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, says.

Now, what does Christ–and Paul, whose letters comprise the majority of the books of the New Testament apart from the gospels, have to say about tattoos?

Surprisingly little. Actually, nothing. Here’s what I know Christ wants me to do.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus tells me that I am called to love. :) He also tells me in Matthew 28:19:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

He tells me to preach the gospel and to make disciples. With whom can I share the gospel? Anyone I encounter, of course. However, many of the Christians I know instinctively avoid people with skin art. And here, ladies and gents, is my opening.

People with tattoos are deserving of love, and deserve to hear the gospel. But, as Paul says in Romans 10:15, “And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? And how shall they preach if they have not been sent?” Paul also says so powerfully in 1 Corinthians 9:22, that he becomes “all things to all people, that by all means (we) might save some.” The line that follows is my favorite: “do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

Tattoos, for all their earthly permanency, are temporary; eternal life is forever. My skin art is my bridge, my connection, my opening to reach out to other people with skin art who do not have a relationship with Jesus. It is also a great conversation starter that gives me a chance to share my story and my faith with strangers who always ask about my skin art, regardless of whether or not they have tattoos.

I am part of a small group–in my church, we call them Victory groups–that is comprised of people otherwise dubbed misfits in the eyes of the world. We are led by a man who has even more skin art than I do. In this group are artists with blue hair, indie musicians, writers, and people who, at first impression, one would never think were Christian. But we are. And we’re here for the long haul, walking this discipleship journey together.

This particular tattoo on the right is my first–and only, so far–tattoo that addresses my faith. Deriving inspiration from Psalm 89:1–I sing of the Lord’s great love forever–it allows me to testify of God’s goodness in a very clear and open way, not like my other tattoos, which are not faith-based. But whether I use my Calvin and Hobbes tattoo, or my ankh tattoo, or my tiger tattoo on my torso, I use them for one very clear, specific purpose.

The glory and honor of God. The sharing of the gospel. The making of disciples. Genesis 50:20 says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” What others think is evil, based on one Bible verse, the context of which most people aren’t even familiar with, I am going to use for good.

Being in the world, but not of it, I choose this particular avenue to reach out to people. I want nothing more for others than to experience the saving, transforming power of Christ. If people come through that, and enter a relationship with Jesus Christ through a conversation started because of my skin art, then I think God will be pleased, regardless of what Leviticus 17:28 says.

Three Reasons Why Worshipers Should Write Worship Songs

Songwriters are called to write songs, just as worshipers are called to worship.  But songwriters are also subject to songwriters’ block. What is a worship songwriter to do when it seems like there’s just nothing there?

Well, folks, I’d like to share my two cents on that, because I was on that sinking ship for several months. More than a year, to be frank.

A few days ago, a couple of days after writing my first worship song in months, I reviewed some of the songs I had written since attending the Every Nation Worship Writers’ Workshop last February 2014. As I reviewed them, I found myself overcome with gratitude for the season that He gave me to write worship music.

But after exercising a songwriting muscle that found me creating almost 10 songs in two months–songwriter/facilitator Mia Fieldes recommended regular songwriting time, which I was able to do until life sorta stepped in–I began a songwriting drought that lasted more than a year. During this time, I knew what I needed to do, but in my pride and flesh, I continued to resist God, and everything I’d learned during that workshop.

Well I sat down in my son’s room and decided to just worship. During this time, God gave me a new song–my first in over a year!–and God revealed to me what I’d been missing all this time. Here are three reasons why Christian songwriters should write worship songs:

1. Worship songs help people remember who God is and what He has done. Deuteronomy 31:21 says “…when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants.” Worship songs remind people of God’s identity and attributes. They also help us remember certain phases on our personal faith journey. (We often remember with fondness what songs were playing in church when we first drew near to God, and what songs we listened to during times of difficulty or happiness.)

Worship songwriters take scripture, ideas, and Biblical concepts, and put them into lyrics and melodies that help believers remember God’s identity and attributes. They have the sacred role of translating His Word into something that people can identify with and remember, long after the message has been processed. Has it happened to you that you don’t remember what a preacher shared during a worship service, but end up leaving and singing a song from that service for the rest of that day? That’s the power of the worship song.

2. Worship songs invite people to focus on God and not their circumstances. Life is hard, and oftentimes, if someone’s going through a tough time, mere platitudes and well-meaning advice can wash off a person, despite our best intentions. Music, however, has the power to sink in deeper and more effectively than a person’s advice. Next to God’s Word itself, there are fewer more potent tools at a discipler’s disposal.

Take Psalm 89, for example. It’s a great song that invites people to praise God in the difficulty of life and in the midst of the storm. It starts with exuberant praise, but the joyful tone changes at some point during the psalm, and goes all dark and emo. However, at the end, despite the horrible situation the psalmist is in, he ends with the conclusion, “Praise the LORD forever! Amen and amen!”

What songs have you sung in the midst of your heartache, in the eye of your storm, at the most jarring moment of your pain? There is freedom in worship, and music ushers us into that place of total praise.

3. Worship songs are an effective evangelical tool. When I was dating my ex-girlfriend–she’s my ex-girlfriend because she’s now my wife–she would take me to church, where I would get freaked out by all these people raising their hands and clapping along to songs with titles like Touching Heaven, Changing Earth and Church on Fire. (Yeah, I’m giving you an idea of how old I am.) It weirded me out, but I liked this girl and I wasn’t going to let some hokey music get the better of me.

But it did. Two months into “going to church,” one Sunday, they sang a song titled Heart of Worship, and the lyrics just flooded into my heart and soul like a tsunami of emotion. I was overwhelmed by this sense of awe and love, and I found myself sobbing in my chair. (It got so bad I had to step out of the hall. It was really embarrassing.)

God met me in that place, and used a worship song to break down the walls and barriers that were stopping me from truly connecting to him in an authentic and genuine way. When worship songwriters write worship songs, they reach out to people who don’t even know God, and can use those songs to usher their hearts into a place where they can know Him and come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

I should know. I am one of those people. And today, I’m humbly doing my part to carry on that esteemed role. If you are too, delight in it as much as you reverently carry out what God has called you to do in your season, and I am in faith that He will use you to birth amazing songs that will speak to the church.

Three Skills You Can Help Your Kid Improve on This Summer

Most summers, some kids tend to vegetate while their parents pretty much allow them to run wild and free. While there’s nothing essentially wrong with that–some might beg to disagree even with that flippant statement–I would like my kids’ summers to count. A few days ago, I wrote about three things Christian dads can do with their kids this summer. In this blog entry, I’ve identified the following skills that I personally am helping my 11-year-old son improve this summer.

1. Improve his typing skills. In this digital age, keyboard mastery can make a huge difference. As a child, I remember playing a desktop game featuring a race car that sped up as I typed words into the text field. I credit that game for helping me improve my typing skills, and while I no longer have that game, there is an abundance of games that kids can play. I recommend Fun to Type, which has a variety of games that can help improve the child’s skills over time.

2. Improve his handwriting skills. No offense to him, but my son’s handwriting is atrocious. (Case in point: last night’s homework, he couldn’t read what he wrote himself.) I tend to subscribe to the “practicing with pegs makes perfect” model of education, so I’m requiring my son to do handwriting exercises with quality pegs during weekdays, and to answer the questions to No.3 in cursive, so he practices often.

3. Build vocabulary, critical thinking, and composition skills. I want to encourage Nathan to think critically, learn how to write paragraphs well, and improve his vocabulary. Towards this, I’m making him read a short story or essay daily, and posing some questions to him that he has to answer. These questions are designed to help him think critically about the material and glean the main points behind the text. At the same time, I’m also having him select at least five words from the text that he may not understand, and look up the meanings in the online dictionary (or occasionally, getting them from context in the material).

I understand that it feels like homework, but all the materials put together don’t take up more than an hour of his day. I believe, though, that these will help him improve his performance in the coming school year, so that’s why I’m doing them.

I’m also taking active steps towards encouraging his own likes, so this summer, we’ve gone swimming and camping–which, if you know me, I just don’t do–and we’re also doing some sports like badminton. I want my kids to move around this summer rather than just stay in their bedrooms playing video games, so that’s why I’m actively making moves to participate in these activities.

What about you? Which skills of your kids are you working to improve, and what steps are you taking towards making it happen? :)

Three Things Wives Can Teach Their Husbands About Themselves

A few days ago, before meeting for our couples’ group, I bought two pieces of bread: one with pork floss, the other… with pork floss. (Floss is love. But not the point.) When I got to the second floor, my wife was aghast.

“You can’t eat that.”

“Why not?”

“You’re watching your weight. It’s not good for you. You’re not eating it.”

Grumbling to myself, I set the two pieces of bread aside. (They were promptly eaten, by the way, by another couple in our group.) Inside, I knew she was right. She usually is. And when she isn’t, sometimes, she makes this cute aegyo face where I can’t stay mad at her… but that’s another story.

In a world where media is constantly bombarding us to fulfill our innermost desires and cravings, blessed is the married man whose wife cares so deeply and intimately for him that she will speak up even when it is difficult, to remind him of what is truly important in life. And it isn’t pork floss bread.

You know how people say that wives sometimes know more about their husbands than husbands know about themselves? I think it’s true. Scary true. If you subscribe to the Johari window concept, which is a technique used to help people better understand their relationship with self and others, wives are experts at Window 2, the blind spot. They know things about you that you don’t know about yourself. And it is that reason–among many other reasons–that husbands should appreciate their wives. Because she could use it against you, but she doesn’t.

Our wives can teach us so much about ourselves. Among them are the following things:

1. They can teach us the value of communication and keeping in touch with our emotions. As men, we’re often raised to keep our emotions in check; we believe that men who are “emotional” are weaker, more impulsive, and more subject to failure. Well, several studies have shown that men who don’t suppress their emotions may, in fact, be strong. In the context of marriage, wives can help us learn to express our emotions. (Whether these are expressed in healthy ways, however, is always something to keep in check. Wives aren’t perfect, and if husbands express their emotions in self- or co-destructive ways, it would be wise to seek professional help.)

Also, we know it doesn’t hurt to communicate, and, when done in an unselfish way, it also doesn’t hurt to share. In the course of marriage, husbands can learn how to communicate more effectively with their wives.

2. They can teach us the value of caring for our household. Marriage is a two-way street. In a world where many wives earn more than their husbands, and men’s roles in the household have expanded to be more than just breadwinners, wives teach us why it’s important to come home on time, participate in the goings-on of the household, play an active role in the raising of the children, and set the direction for the family.

In many ways, my wife and I were polar opposites. My wife is an organized, task-oriented go-getter, while I’m a creative free spirit content with letting the wind take me wherever it could carry me. (Which wasn’t very far.) My wife, however, is my biggest champion. She uses her skills–and beauty, but that’s a different story–to help me lead my household in ways that cater to our strengths. Thanks to my wife, I understand my responsibility in leading this family and household, and actively do so.

Husbands and wives are a team, and marriage is a team sport. If you don’t work and play together towards your goal, you both lose.

3. They can teach us the value of living for something greater than ourselves. To be honest, I think many men, in their goal-oriented, task-filled workday, prioritize things differently than women. (I know I do. Or did.) Men work towards career success, and are so laser-focused on that goal that they neglect other areas of their lives to make it happen. But, as they say, no one ever lies on their deathbed thinking they should have spent more time at the office.

John Eldredge says men need three things: a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue and an adventure to live. I love that. (Although I initially hated Wild at Heart.) Husbands have the beauty by their side, and they live that adventure together. In the Disney film Up, protagonist Carl is reminded by his wife, Ellie–in a message beyond the grave, ooh, spooky!–that even though their life seemed otherwise ordinary, it was still an adventure, and they lived that adventurous life together.

Wives help draw us out of our Rat Race mentality and remind us of the bigger things at the end of the day. The worship and honor of God. The caring and appreciation of our spouses. The intentional casting of vision into the next generation. The building of legacy.

As I type this, my wife is sleeping beside me. I often wait until the last possible moment to wake her up, because I know how tired she is from the previous day. She takes care of two kids–three, if you include me–but I know that if I don’t, we’ll be late and it could all snowball into a horrific day. She’ll handle it with grace, and I’ll handle it with humor. What an adventure we live.

I know that about us because she taught me that.

Three Things Christian Dads Should Do With Their Kids This Summer

Filipino Christian dad
I took my kids camping!

Ah, summer! Two glorious months of “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!” While some kids probably dream of vegetating in front of their computer or television screens, many of their parents find the summer break a brilliant opportunity to enrich their kids with summer activities and co-curricular classes. Regardless of how your kids are spending the summer, I think we parents can all agree that these are two months containing the potential to help our children step up and be ready for the incoming school year.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” When good skills become habits, we prepare our kids for success. If we want the best for our children, I think we need to actively take steps to prepare them for the best.

For example, if you want your kid to be fit, then arranging for summer sports seems like the logical next move. If you want your son to improve his handwriting, assigning him handwriting work can help him over the course of the summer. If you want your daughter to develop a more organized outlook, then sitting her down and teaching her good study habits over the summer can be a fruitful and rewarding exercise.

You get the idea.

Christian dads, however, need to step up during the summer. Mothers are 200% awesome, but there are certain things that just have a certain “Boom!” when a dad delivers them. If a dad is Christian, his life and example is fueled by faith and powered by the Spirit. Here are three things I think every Christian dad needs to do this summer.

1. Take them out. Never underestimate the power of a “daddy date.” Kids need alone time with their dads. This is an opportunity, not just to connect with a child, but to speak life and strength to them. It is crucial, therefore, that your daddy date be conducted in activities that are enjoyable to the child, and I recommend active involvement. When a dad sets everything aside and spends quality time with his child, it communicates a powerful message of value that, when done consistently over time, will make a deep and long-lasting impact. It’s an investment that promises guaranteed returns.

2. Teach them well. Deuteronomy 11:19 says, “”You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” While this verse was referring specifically to the commandments of God, fathers can use the summer to teach their kids about important life skills.

You can use the summer to teach them a new skill or sport, or set aside time to mentor them on financial management. You could send them to summer classes, or train them yourself for tasks toward which they may be inclined. You could help them learn about the value of work by enrolling them in summer internships at local restaurants, give them summer allowance opportunities by doing house chores or ladderized skill improvement (using the Internet to learn how to type, or practice one’s handwriting or art skills), or help them volunteer at a local charity. The possibilities are varied, and you only have two months.

3. Tell them your story. The best legacy a Christian father can pass on to his children is the legacy of faith. Psalms 78:4 says, “We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.” A father’s life is his testimony; a father’s whose word is based on God’s Word possesses a rare and unshakeable integrity and faith. This summer, Christian dads, please make it a point to share your testimony with your kids. Let them know how far God has taken you; tell them how He continues to change you for good; speak of grace, humility, forgiveness, and love. To children, Bible stories are beloved and powerful, yet these are stories of people to whom they have no personal connection. I assure you: your personal story and testimony will touch them unlike any Bible story they have read, and the impact you will make when you speak truth into their lives will be substantial.

Regardless of how you spend your summer, my prayer for you Christian dads is that God will multiply your time and that you will use it effectively to speak life to your kids! What about you dads? Any great ideas on how you plan to spend your summer with your kids? :)