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Man Up… It’s Easter! How to prepare your heart.

Man Up: Use Lent to Prepare Your Hearts for Easter

I love Easter egg hunts and chocolate rabbits, but there is so much more to Easter. One critical part of Easter is Lent. Lent is the period of 40 weekdays before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, and Sundays are not counted. Lent is often observed with an element of self-denial. I encourage men to lead your family by intentionally observing Lent which will be rewarding experience. Below are some steps to consider on your Lenten journey.

Reflect with your Family

If I don’t use Lent as a time of personal reflection, I run the risk of Easter becoming an excuse to take my suit to the dry cleaners and overdose on chocolate. By observing Lent at home, we can help ourselves and our families grow spiritually. Remember, our primary church is our home. I want myself and my family to understand that we need to prepare our hearts to experience the joy of the resurrection. This begins by examining our hearts for sin and gently explaining the hard reality that our sin is what separates us from Jesus. We are all sinners, and the only one to have walked the earth without sin was falsely accused of a crime (blasphemy). Lent is a time to ask the Holy Spirit to search us and help us clean sin out of our hearts and replace the void with His love and grace.

The observance of Lent can take many forms. There are several devotionals available to help families make Lent a meaningful time of growth and reflection. Speak to your pastor about appropriate devotionals for you and your family.

If your family is not in the habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading, Lent is a great time to start. Lent is also a great time to begin the habit of Christian service and reach out to others with our gifts of presence, prayers, and witness.

Understand True Sacrifice

Lent often involves sacrifice. Historically, the season of Lent commemorates Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness which succeeded his baptism by John the Baptist and proceeded the enemy’s efforts to tempt our Lord to serve him.

Many people choose to abstain from a favorite item or activity during Lent. The purpose of this is, in a very symbolic and in a very microscopic manner, allow us to identify with what Jesus sacrificed for us. When our children are deciding what to fast from, it is important to remind them that a true sacrifice must “cost” us something. This may be giving up video games or candy.

Read Scripture Together

Lent is a great time for the family to carve out time each evening to read Scripture. The Gospels are a great place to learn about the life of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope and life on this earth and beyond. John 14:2-3 captures this hope, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Christ separated Himself from previous prophets by His victory over death. The glory of the empty tomb is beautifully captured in Luke 24:5-6 by the words of the angels to the women when they went to His tomb the next day after the crucifixion. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He isn’t here, but has been raised.” Christ’s death is not the source of our hope. His victory over death is the source of all hope. It is the source of life-everlasting and the forgiveness of sins. Use Lent wisely to prepare your hearts for the blessings of Easter.

About the Author:  
Todd Shupe is the President of DrToddShupe.com and is an international expert in wood science.  Todd worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for over 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog ToddShupe.com. Todd is the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Action Team Member of The Kingdom Group, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Man Up for LIFE, May 2018

Family: Putting Family First

Family: Putting First Things First

Jimmy and Jennifer Haas regained a healthier marriage and family life once James realized he needed to make his family a priority in life.

You can interchange soul for family in this verse and ask yourself the question, “So what are we losing in order to gain?” This is my story!

I often find myself trying to juggle the many hats I wear. I’m blessed to be a husband to my dear wife, Jennifer, and father to my children Olivia, Wesley, Sophia and Baby H. I’m a locksmith by trade and a minister by obedience. Trying to balance these is not always easy, and often the evidence that things are out of order becomes clear and undeniable. Such a case occurred last year as I found my house out of order due to my absence from home.

While I was out trying to fulfill the call of minister, serving the hurting and afflicted, I was causing pain for my own wife and children. I was working two jobs and doing a lot of volunteer ministry work. It became abundantly clear that my children’s attitudes and behavior were affected and my wife was overwhelmed. My physical health was also suffering and starting to deteriorate. I had allowed myself to become 40 pounds overweight, which was taking a toll on my everyday life.

It was during my quiet time that God spoke to me and said something had to change. I was neglecting the first ministry he gave me, which is the one that resides within my home … my family. God further revealed that my wife and children needed me more than any other ministry. So I began to develop a plan to intentionally foster relational healing in my home. This was a spiritual exercise between my wife and myself, my children and myself, and my wife with the kids. Basically, all of us were to focus on having one-on-one time together and learning to appreciate one another again. I made a commitment to wake up earlier in the morning to enjoy more quiet time with God, to do marriage devotionals with my wife, and to do some physical exercise. Additionally, I made a promise to not be absent from home for any two consecutive nights and to help more with the care of the children. I also took on a new responsibility – helping my wife with food preparations so that we could focus on eating better.

To facilitate the changes, I called for a family meeting where we worked on an activity calendar. We marked off days where we had to be somewhere, free days, date nights, and days for one-on-one time with the kids. We called this our “Connections Calendar.” After a month, we could honestly see some positive changes in each member of our family. As the next few months rolled by, I lost the 40 pounds I had gained and returned to my proper weight.

I had reconnected with my wife and kids on a personal level that we had not had for many years. Thanks be to God that I realized how things were off in my home and regained a healthier marriage and life. The entire family experienced improvements in the areas of physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual health.

Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine - Kilben and Daniel
April 2018, Man Up for LIFE

Man Up And Forgive Us Our Debts….

And Forgive Us Our Debts…

LaFont poses with his sons and sons-in-law.
Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine - Kilben and Daniel
Daniel LaFont says he is proud of his brother Kilben, whose life was transformed by faith.

“And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Most of you may recognize this scripture from what is commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer. Although the prayer covered several areas that Jesus wanted us to focus on, I found it interesting to note that after the prayer He stated the following in verses 14 and 15: “For if you forgive man for their transgressions, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

 As I read this again, I noted a big focus on “But.” Jesus went on to teach on a number of things, but He discussed forgiveness first. Although the Gospel is filled with the message of love, it starts with forgiveness. Jesus tells us our Father in heaven will forgive us, IF we forgive those who have offended us. And he requires that we forgive unconditionally — no list of conditions, circumstances, rules or “buts.”

Easy to teach, easy to preach, but “ouch,” what a difficult thing to do when you are the one who has been offended. How many times do we hear, “Oh but you do not understand what they did to me” or “But you don’t know how long this has been going on.”

I admired the courage of the disciple Stephen, who is credited as being the first martyr for Christ in the book of Acts. As he was being stoned for being a believer in Christ, he shouted out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7: 60) The first time I read this I remember thinking – could I be as courageous and forgiving as Stephen? Honestly, at that time in my life the answer was probably no.

At the Last Supper, Jesus and the original 12 Apostles were gathered to celebrate the upcoming Passover. As part of Jewish tradition, they would have washed themselves beforehand and a basin would have been present for the washing of their feet by a servant. But Jesus did something very unusual. He hung up his tunic and clothed himself with a towel, as a servant would do, and proceeded to wash the feet of the Apostles. He even washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, whom He knew would betray Him later that same night. What an act of true humility and forgiveness by the Lord of Lords!

But we do not have to just look at the Bible for great examples of true unconditional forgiveness. Look at the tragic 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nineteen-year-old Chris Singleton, whose mother was killed, shared a message of forgiveness a day later. Felicia Sanders, who survived the shooting and also lost her mother, prayed for God to have mercy on the shooter. Both said their lives would never be the same, but that they needed to extend forgiveness just as Christ would. This example of unconditional forgiveness is the message of Christ.

As most of us know, while Jesus was being crucified, He said to His executioners and tormentors, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Someone once told me that crucifixion was easy for Jesus because He knew He would be coming back to life again. So I asked him — if he knew he was going to come back to life, would he be willing to let someone nail his hands and feet to a cross and put thorns in His head, after first being whipped and beaten to a pulp? The immediate answer was no. This person was my brother, Kilben LaFont, who later, by God’s grace and forgiveness, became a preacher for which I am very proud.

This was not an overnight change. My brother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years. A drunk driving incident cost him dearly … he broke his back in an accident resulting in two steel rods in his back. Charity Hospital referred to him as the walking miracle. He could walk, but was in pain for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, after he was back on his feet, the drinking and driving continued and he was sentenced to one year in jail, which he later professed saved his life. He accepted Christ and upon his release, we allowed him to move on to our property under some strict conditions. He joined our church and renounced drinking. It was a long path to redemption, but with a repentant heart, he proved that he was a new creation in Christ.

He worked with people who were released from prison, as well as several ministries helping people get free of drugs and alcohol. He preached the message of salvation to all he met. He was eventually ordained as an associate pastor in a local African-American church. I believe it was through forgiveness by Christ and his family, which allowed this miraculous transformation to take place. He was called home to be with the Lord four years ago, but he blesses me still.

I once heard that having a heart of unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Unforgiveness robs you of your peace. It really does not affect the offender. Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust the offender or be friends with them. Forgiveness is a gift. Trust and friendship is earned.

The Apostle Paul summed it up best in Colossians 3: 12-13. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

Always remember that it is God’s desire to love and forgive His people.