Thanksgiving 2017

I'm always on the hunt for a good piece of writing that encapsulates what I'm thinking and feeling at any given moment. While reading On Writing Well, last year, I came across this beautiful bit of wordsmithing from Governor Wilbur Cross. His Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1936 is a masterpiece of fine writing and expression of gratitude to God for His goodness and grace to us. 

“Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising our Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year. In observance of this custom, I appoint Thursday, the 26th of November, as a day of Public Thanksgiving for the blessings that have been our common lot and have placed our beloved state with the favored regions of earth—for all the creature comforts: the yeild of the soil that has fed us and the richer yield from labor of every kind that has sustained our lives—and for all those things, as dear as breath to the body, that quicken man’s faith in his manhood, that nourish and strengthen his word and act; for honor held above price; for steadfast courage and zeal in the long, log search after truth; for liberty and for justice freely granted by each to his fellow and so as freely enjoyed; and for the crowning glory and mercy of peace upon our land—that we may humbly take heart of these blessings as we gather once again with solemn and festive rites to keep our Harvest Home.” 

— Governor Wilbur Cross, Thanksgiving Proclamation 1936

I pray that you enjoy this day with those you hold most dear, but also that you'll pause to give thanks to the Lord for His many blessings. He has sustained and provided far beyond what we deserve. May we rightly express our humble gratitude to Him this and every day.

An Open Conversation With Scott Kedersha

"You're only going to be as good," Austin Kleon said, "as the people you surround yourself with." I believe Austin is on to something. Those we do life with shape us deeply. We are, in a very real sense, the average of those we spend the most time with. 

My life is enhanced and improved by spending time in the thoughts, writing and presence of the subject of today's interview. I first met Scott while Hannah and I attended Merge in 2012. Our paths have continued to cross and our friendship grow over the years. He is an incredibly faithful man and leader. You're going to enjoy getting to know Scott, and walk away from today's interview with incredible wisdom to tackle creative problems, build a godly marriage, the benefit of openness, and engaging intentionally with your kids.  

Today's Guest...

Scott Kedersha is the Director of Premarital and Newly Married Ministries at Watermark Community Church. I like to think of him as an expert on building and sustaining a healthy and thriving marriage in a mixed-up, crazy world. Scott has a unique and varied impact on couples all over the map, literally, through his blog and work with Merge. He has a rockstar of a wife and four great sons, but I'll let him tell you about them. 

On to the interview...

Tell us about your family.

One godly, patient woman named Kristen and five loud, smelly boys (including me). I never thought we’d have a large family, but we love raising four sons together. We’re doing the best we can to raise up followers of Christ who will one day lead their own families to the Lord. We enjoy games, sports, and laughing together. I wish I could tell you we had amazing spiritual times together, but I’d be flat out lying! Those do happen on occasion, but on the whole as a family, we love Jesus and love each other.

You said you’d be lying if you said you had amazing spiritual times together. Families in and out of ministry struggle with that. Can you elaborate on what things look like for you guys, and how you fight to lead your family well in this area?

Families devotions were never modeled for me growing up. While I grew up in a loving, moral home, we never opened up our bibles, prayed together, or even attended church together. When I became a follower of Christ, and then later a husband and dad, I envisioned amazing family time where we shared what God was teaching us in His Word, followed by worship and prayer. 

In reality, our home is filled with noise, chaos, and scattered family time. Between school, kid’s sports, and ministry, we often settle for meals together and call that a win. More of our spiritual time comes “while we walk along the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7). This means that we teach and disciple more in the spontaneous moments than in structured family time. Yes, we pray together at meals and at night, but more of our deep, spiritual conversations come at unstructured times.

I am very intentional in spending quality one-on-one times with my boys during important milestones in their lives. And, I am intentional about reading books with my boys and discussing together. For instance, my twins and I just finished reading the book Ask It, by Andy Stanley to help them (and to help me!) make better decisions. We’re about to read a purity book together as well. The book provides good material for discussion, and the one-on-one time allows safety to be built in our relationship.

What's the best advice you've received, who gave it to you & how did it help you?

In the Fall of 2002, right after Kristen and I moved to Dallas from Atlanta so that I could attend Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), Watermark’s lead pastor spoke to a group of DTS students. He told us to, “Know yourself, like yourself, be yourself.” As an insecure first year student who compared himself to everyone around him, I needed these words. I needed to hear that God made me in His image and likeness, with unique gifts and my own wiring. I didn’t need to be a preacher and I didn’t need to be wired like anyone else at Watermark.

It took a few years for these words to sink in, but when they finally did, I realized I had to stop comparing myself to other guys on staff. Instead, I needed to embrace the gifts God gave me and know myself, like myself, and be myself. 

What single person has had the biggest impact on you?

While I was a student at Wake Forest University, I volunteered at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem so that I could learn more about physical therapy. One of the physical therapists who worked at Baptist was a guy named Will Hall. He watched college football, liked coffee and an occasional beer, and was engaged to a gal named Kelly. I liked Will because he was a normal guy who loved what he did as a therapist and because he loved people.

He also happened to be the first person to share the gospel with me. On a weekly basis for years, Will shared his life with me and poured into me. He discipled me by teaching me how to read God’s Word, memorize scripture, and journal. His love for Jesus was contagious. I owe so much of what’s good in me to this day to the impact Will had on my life.

How do you set goals? What are you currently working to achieve?

For the last few years, I’ve walked through Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever class. The class takes you on a guided process of evaluating the past year and developing goals for the upcoming year. The process has been so helpful to me as it helps me be strategic in choosing areas to develop goals. In 2017, I have goals related to writing, Bible reading and journaling, exercise, parenting, and more. The most important part of the process involves reviewing my goals on a weekly basis. To keep them front of mind I’ve added a weekly task to my to-do list. As they say, “out of sight, out of mind.” I need to find practical ways to keep them in sight.

When you think of the word successful, who is the first person to come to mind?

I think of my friend and co-worker Jim Wimberley. Jim's been married to Judy for over 50 years, has four children, and an army of grandkids. He’s loved by our staff and loves people. Even more important, he loves Jesus. His faith is infectious, and he is the man many of us on staff want to be like when we grow up.

The thing I most admire about Jim is his prayer life. He exemplifies James 5:16b, which says, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Jim Wimberley exemplifies what happens when a righteous man prays. He knows God is a HUGE God and his prayers reflect the fact that he worships a big God! 

What are you best at?

The honest answer, I think, is nothing. I go through life thinking everyone else is better than me at everything else. It’s one of the worst things about me.

But, if I ask others what I’m best at, I think they’d say it’s remembering people’s names and remembering important things about them. This is the thing I don’t have to work at - it just happens naturally. My brain makes connections without me even knowing what’s going on. I picture my brain as a big spider web, connecting one person and random fact to another. I’m thankful God has given me this gift, as it is a huge help in ministry. This is the way God has gifted me to love others.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What are you most passionate about?

Besides my beeping iPhone alarm and the four boys who run around my house?

I love being a husband to Kristen and a daddy to four boys. Andy Stanley shares about the importance of the fact that only one person can be Kristen’s husband and the dad to my four boys. Many people can be a marriage pastor at Watermark, but only one person can be husband and daddy to my family.

Besides my family, helping couples prepare for and establish strong marriages spurs me onward in ministry and gets me out of bed. I'm deeply burdened to see couples choose their spouse well and start their marriage strong. I want to see couples build their marriages on a Matthew 7:24-27 foundation. I hope to see an army of couples choose a different path than the majority of the marriages out there. I’m so very grateful God has placed this calling on my life.

What rejuvenates your soul? What places or activities help you recharge?

I often wish I had more and different hobbies. I hear friends talk about the sports they play and the activities they love. I guess I’m boring in that I don’t have many activities that recharge my soul. If I’m honest, reading and writing fill my tank. I started writing three years ago and I’ve watched it become the best way for me to refuel and rejuvenate my soul. There’s something about creating and putting words together that makes me feel like I’m doing what God wants me to do.

I’m a big fan of sitting in a comfy chair and reading or sitting in a coffee shop and writing. I’m easy to please.

But, if I got to choose one place to go, I’d go to my friend’s lake house. Sitting on the edge of the water, away from technology with a book in my hand…. yes, please. I’m lusting right now thinking about it!

You talk and write a great deal about playing good offense in your marriage. What does that look like?

I just wrote a blog post about this one, so instead of rehashing the whole thing, I’ll give you a couple of bullet points along with a link to the post itself!

Basically, this means that we work ahead of problems coming instead of responding to them down the road in the middle of a crisis. I operate off the principle found in Matthew 7:24-27 - the story of the wise and foolish builders. When you play good offense, you build your marriage on the solid rock foundation of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, so many of us build our lives and our homes on shifting sand. When the trouble comes, the house collapses. Rather, I want to help as many couples as possible build their home on the rock, so that when, not if, the crisis comes, the marriage will be able to withstand the storm because the couple played good offense. To be even more specific, this is why we place such a strong emphasis on ministry to pre-married and newly married couples at Watermark.

Ministry and church leaders across the country sing the praises of Merge. What do you attribute that to, other than the Lord’s faithfulness? Are there certain aspects of the way you guys do pre-marriage prep that you think have led to this?

I’ve thought about this question a lot over the years. We deliver an unpopular message from God’s Word to an increasingly biblically illiterate culture, but people keep coming and keep inviting their friends. We’re thankful for God’s provision of more couples, year after year. Your answer is the right one - the Lord’s faithfulness continues to amaze us.

Beyond that, we believe that if you do something with excellence (honoring God with whatever you have) and if you care for people, then they’ll usually respond well. In Merge, we teach from up front and give couples homework to do on their own. However, I believe the reason why couples keep coming is because we provide them with caring, empathetic, Christ-centered mentor couples. You can find great teaching online, and many books provide quality homework. What you can’t find online or in books is a couple who challenges you and encourages you in your relationship.

You meet with people in difficult situations often. How do you keep it from wearing you down?

I love this question and I’d say I’m still a work in progress. My first full time job was as a physical therapist (PT) at a spinal cord injury hospital in Atlanta, GA. I enjoyed my job but quickly burned out since it was so intense emotionally. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional burden that came along with working with men and women with spinal cord and brain injuries.

My job as marriage pastor is in many ways even more intense emotionally. I thought I would have learned from my job as a PT to not bring the issues and challenges home with me. Yes, it’s gotten better over the years, but I still struggle to leave work at work and be fully present at home. When you work with people and love people (as we should as followers of Christ), it’s difficult to create a separation from one part of life to another.

That being said, I’ve put a few best practices in place:

  • As best possible, put my phone away, especially when I’m with my family. I want to be fully present with them.
  • Pray on the way home, that I would be able to create some space and be present with my family. I pray that God would remind me that He doesn’t need me, and He’s got everything fully covered.
  • I put boundaries in place with couples and let them know that there might be some windows of time when I’m not able to help them.
  • I pray and read God’s Word so that I can be conformed more and more to the image of Christ. No one was better able to be fully compassionate with people but also put space in place. As you read the gospels, note how often Jesus retreats to a quiet place.

What are three things that make you cry? Laugh? Sing? 

Cry: I’m such a softie. Pretty much everything and anything makes me cry. The show This Is Us tends to be the #1 catalyst over the last six months.

Laugh: I grew up on Seinfeld and Friends. I watch an episode of one or the other most nights as I go through email or write blog posts. They still make me laugh like crazy.

Sing: Good worship music. For instance, as I type this I’m listening to Glorious Day by Passion. Somehow I’m singing, dancing, and typing all at the same time!

When did you discover your love for writing?

I certainly didn’t grow up thinking I would write. In fact, up until I turned almost 40 I don’t think I had a bone in my body that wanted to write. I’ve always loved reading, and I think my love for books helped create my love of writing. At the same time, I had all of these ideas running around in my head. I found that typing them out helped clear some space in my brain. I found that I was thinking more clearly and was better at articulating my thoughts when I started writing.

A few friends encouraged me to write, and I actually found that I enjoyed it. The more I do it, the more I love it. Sometimes it’s hard work, but most of the time I just enjoy the process of sharing my heart through writing. 

You said that your love for reading helped create your love for writing. How important is your ongoing reading to your writing? Are you reading any good books at the moment?

Ah, I love this question because I love reading. If it’s possible, I probably like it too much! In fact, at times, my desire to read can pull me away from friends, family, and from writing.

That being said, reading a good book fills my cup, especially when I read good writing or read something that challenges me. I like to read across a wide spectrum of topics and genres (business, memoir, history), but mostly spend time in the Christian section of the bookstore. As a marriage pastor, I’m always reading at least one book about marriage, either for my own walk with Jesus and relationship with Kristen, or to better help and equip the couples I lead.

I just started reading Parenting, by Paul David Tripp, and so far it’s been fantastic. I recently finished Contagious, by Jonah Berger, Befriend, by Scott Sauls, and Cherish, by Gary Thomas. Three very different books, but each are among my favorites I’ve read so far this year. I could go on and on about books, but that’s a good, brief list!

What's your greatest challenge in writing? At work? In leading your family?

Challenges abound in all three of these areas.

My greatest challenge in writing is related to my approval of man issues. Sometimes I’m more consumed by likes, shares, and tweets than whether or not I’m faithful in writing. I struggle with comparison, insecurity, and people-pleasing.

At work, I most often struggle with insecurity and comparison. I want the same opportunities as others, and when I don’t get them, instead of celebrating others, I covet their opportunities.

At home, my biggest challenge is my selfishness. I have my own agenda, every hour, every day. I want to put my needs first, and as a result I can at times prioritize my schedule and needs over the family. To make it practical, this means at times I will choose work, email, or TV, instead of helping my wife or spending time with my kids.

The one consistent in all three of the above is me. I am my biggest challenge in wiring, work, and with my family. My selfishness. My agenda.

You are the most honest and open person I know. I love that about you. Has that always been part of who you are? Or is it something you grew into? Can you walk us through the impact you’ve seen this level of genuineness have on your work, life, etc.?

Thanks, Preston. I appreciate the encouragement. For years, I hid my problems and sin struggles and didn’t want to invite others into my secrets. I believe this changed for two reasons:

  • As a single guy who lived in Atlanta, I confessed my pornography struggles to a group of men at my old church. When I shared, I found a group of guys who loved me and encouraged me. They didn’t mock me and instead helped me fight my sin battle. When I shared and found love and not rejection, I started to realize I could invite others into my dysfunction.
  • The second biggest factor was when I came across Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul writes, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” I believe when Paul wrote these words, he claimed to be the chief sinner because he knew the depravity in his heart. When I read this verse, I instantly connected with Paul. I know the level and depth of my sinful thoughts and behaviors. I enter into every situation assuming I’m at least partly responsible for the problems we face. While I know I’m the worst/chief sinner, I also know that "God demonstrates His own love for us in this, that while were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). If God would be willing to send His Son to die for me, in the middle of my sin, then I know there’s no need to hide or pretend. His love for us frees us up to open and honest.

One last thought on this question. I’ve learned that when I’m open and vulnerable with others, it’s one of the best gifts I can give to people in my life. It frees them up to also be honest and vulnerable. When we’re vulnerable in our relationships, it builds a bridge that allows us to better connect with others.

Learn more about today's guest...

Scott is one of my favorite people, and I hope you've caught a glimpse into why by jumping in on our interview today. If you'd like to connect with him and get your very own copy of his Revised 2017 Date Night Guides you may do so by visiting his website below. 

Website: ScottKedersha.com 

Merge: DallasMarriage.org


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10 Fantastic Inspirational Quotes to Keep You Going in 2017

The new year is upon us and it’s brimming with possibilities. You’ve been given a blank canvas on which you can paint anything you want. Don’t let last year’s troubles follow you. Close the book on 2016 and begin anew.

Dare to attempt things that scare the pants off you. Reach of heights previously thought out of reach. Determine to do the things you keep putting off. Yes it will be hard. Yes it will stretch you beyond your wildest dreams, but isn’t that the point? Great goals help you become the very best version of yourself you can be.

When tackling new goals and old dreams you’re going to need some motivation from time to time. Words that fan the flame in your belly and propel you onwards. Below I’ve collected ten quotes to do just that. Print them out if you need to, and allow them to pick you up when you’re down, and keep you moving when you're exhausted.

1. “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” - Robert H. Schuller

2. “Do today what others won’t so tomorrow you can do what other’s can’t.” - Jerry Rice

3. “Success doesn’t happen overnight. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t look back.” - Erin Andrews

4. “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” - Henry David Thoreau

5. “Discipline is rarely enjoyable but always profitable” - Darrin Patrick

6. “If you want to achieve your goal, do not be clever or sensitive. Use rough methods. Hit the target once. Go back and hit again. Then hit again—a major kick straight from the shoulder.” - Winston Churchill

7. “A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves something to aim at.” - Bruce Lee

8. “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” - Stephen King

9. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” - Calvin Coolidge

10. “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” - Niccolo Machiavelli