Category: FEATURES

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Biology, the study of the human body. Anthropology, the study of humankind. 

Carson Lowe started Biological Anthropology not thinking much more about what to expect than that he was taking a basic course in college. After all, in this age of where we are to accept anything and everything, you would expect a college course to be fair and balanced. Right?   

“The professor started the first week in a 250 person class in a big auditorium talking about deities, creationism, and about a creator blatantly saying ‘There is no creator.  There is no deity,’” said Carson.  Carson said the professor went on, “He explained there is really just no God that created us. My fraternity brother and I looked at each other like ‘Did he just say that? Did he call us out that way?’”  

“We had never been told that as a ‘fact’ by an authority figure we were supposed to trust. It just threw me,” said Carson. He followed, “They are so quick to say not to offend anyone with genders or whatever the social issue is—and I’m sitting there as a Christian wondering where the balance is. I wanted to stand up on my table and ‘Oh Captain my Captain’ but the professor was kind of a jerk. He was pretty cold. You could tell he wanted an argument. He would spout off information that was just not true and how there just couldn’t be a God as if he were an authority with facts to back up his beliefs.”  

Carson first found himself wondering if the guy had ever seen the Grand Canyon or the ocean. He said, “God is so evident in everything around if you look at the complexity of life, but it was a little rattling to experience that kind of forceful declaration from a professor. Then, he continues that tone for the whole semester.” Carson stayed in the class, but was constantly in awe of the hard-pressed nature of the anti-deity rhetoric he taught. Carson said, “I don’t know exactly how God created what He created, but I do know He did it. So it was something to hear this guy just speaking against it with some kind of authority like he could possibly know.”  

Carson’s foundation with his Christian education at Mingo Valley Christian laid the groundwork to keep him centered during a time of attack. Carson explained his Christian education was spread throughout his tenure, but it was really ramped up with Nate Madden, his Bible teacher. During the college class, Mr. Madden’s lessons came rushing back to him. Carson said, “Mr. Madden taught a theology/world views class his senior year. It was basically about understanding your faith, what it is you are saying, and what it is you believe in. We even had classes in years past with him about what other world religions believe.” Carson felt he had been prepared to face this kind of pressure although he didn’t really realize it at the time it was happening. He said, “Mr. Madden taught us exactly what we needed for moments like this. In the class, it was really getting a hold on what I believe and then understanding what others believe so that I can have that conversation with actual knowledge.” 

Carson believed those years and years of preparation with Mr. Madden made such a difference. Carson said, “Those classes really sparked questions I had thought about before that had gone unanswered until the class. The training inspired me to learn more and to pursue my faith as my own. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they enabled me to be able to stand on my own two feet when talking about my faith–and in a way that wouldn’t have happened in the church and certainly would not happen in a public school.”  

It was “years and years and years” of doing school with Mr. Madden and the other teachers at Mingo Valley Christian that Carson felt prepared him for what he was facing.  Carson said “Mingo Valley went into deep theology for high school. You wouldn’t believe it. I would come home and have these complex conversations with my parents.  Sometimes, I was even explaining some of it to them just because the theology was advanced stuff.” Carson explained they were really diving into Calvinism for one. Then, his teachers would dive into some of the harder questions about the Christian faith, things he felt they would never get into in church.

Carson continued, “I didn’t realize it while I was there. I really didn’t. I was a bit arrogant in high school and I’m probably still a little bit arrogant. I was just going through that information, but I was retaining it, holding onto it, and then in college I was really clinging to it.” 

So I just analyzed everything I was taking in. It was all just surprising to me. I remember getting out of that class and wanting to give Mr. Madden a call and tell him like “DUDE! You prepped me for today. I fought something off today and I’m happy about it.” 

Carson continued, “When you hear that from an authority figure, you want to just believe it. I’m a trusting person, some might tease I’m a bit gullible, but when someone tells me something I am not very skeptical. I tend to believe what people tell me for the most part.” Then Carson explained, “In my faith, when it comes to people discussing theology and people discussing God, I have learned to keep my guard up in ways I don’t do in other areas of my life. I got that from Mingo Valley Christian, which is a very hard thing to do. Even when I hear a pastor talk about the Gospel, even when I’m sitting in my church, I’m fact checking and making sure ‘Is this guy preaching truth?’ and taking it to the Bible. It’s not because I don’t trust them, but really it’s because it’s my duty to stay true to scripture above all else.”

It’s amazing to me how much my Christian education from Mingo Valley has played a part in me keeping true with the Gospel. It built the groundwork for me basically to be able to run.  

Carson spoke highly of friends in several private Christian schools around Tulsa, confirming how incredibly lucky we are in Tulsa to have so many options. Each one has a different appeal—a different way of being a fit for your child. Large, small, Montessori style or a specific denomination you prefer–we are truly blessed.

To wrap up, I asked Carson what he felt like was his main message to the Christian community. Carson immediately replied passionately.

“Honestly I can say this wholeheartedly, that Mingo Valley Christian, or really just Christian education, as a whole, may have been the single most beneficial thing for my faith that I have had in my life.

That’s a bold statement considering I go to a good church. I’m in a Christian fraternity. I’m doing all these communities that are about the gospel, but none of them prepared me for the Christian faith more than Mingo Valley, or just Christian education has done.

“And, truth be told, I don’t understand if you have the resources to do it—I do not know why you wouldn’t regardless of what school. I think as a Christian parent, if you can, it’s almost foolish not to do it. You should do it.”

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Meet the queen of the remodel. Jenny has been redefining everything in her life for decades. It seems each year she finds a new project to launch – some by necessity and some by choice. Jenny was in shock when her seemingly perfect world came crashing down around her in 2006. She never imagined going through a divorce. Jenny has this gigantic heart with a passion for family and friends. “It just wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t see it coming. So, it really knocked me off my feet.” Jenny grew up in a very traditional Christian family with divorce being more “something other people did” than anything she ever imagined experiencing. So, Jenny was thrust into single parenthood with two young sons – the lights of her life. “Yeah, I never imagined it all, but I would endure any of it again for the chance to be the mom of these guys. They fill my heart with more love and life than I can really explain, but I think you know. I really wouldn’t change a thing.”  

In 2015 Jenny began remodeling her single parent life of two outstanding then young teens: Peter (who is now 16) and Harry (14) by marrying her longtime love, Jason Sotkin.  Adding Jason’s lovely daughter, Lexi (16), and his suave young son, Reid (14), they were just two kids shy of the Brady Bunch.   As if that level of chaos wasn’t enough, they chose to add two gigantic dogs, Maggie and Champ to the family.  Peter and Harry each stay very busy with sports, primarily focusing in on basketball these days.  Lexi, on the other hand, is a vibrant young cheerleader at Jenks High School.  Reid, a tennis player by day and crafty skateboarder by night, is into gaming and is a freshman (as is Harry).  At a minimum, these kids could collectively be called a handful. It’s a lot to even write about, much less live.  

“Jenny, let’s take a step back just a bit because any one of these roles is a lot.  So, you are a Christian woman, a mom of 4, dog owner times 2, an entrepreneur, a work-out-aholic, plus, of course, a wife.  For 9 years though, you were a single mom.  You raised your boys on your own for the most part. What was the most difficult transition for you as a woman who had to learn to do things on her own?”  

 “Flying solo.  Definitely.” said Jenny.  “When my situation left me a single mom of my boys, I had to change gears. I took a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep and started mobilizing forces to be able to give them the kind of life I wanted for them.  It wasn’t easy.  There were nights I fell asleep long after them and rose much earlier, just trying to make sure I had everything in line. They would sometimes ask why I was so tired, and I just thought ‘Boy if you only knew.’”  

Back then, Jenny burned the candle at both ends with the boys in almost every sport imaginable.  It took a while for their family to find their groove, but once they had it, they HAD it.  Everything ran smoothly, although it left Jenny a little worn down at the end of the day. “You just do what you have to do.  People don’t talk about it a lot, but in a high percentage of divorces, most of the moms end up carrying more of the burden of keeping the kid’s lives straight.  Usually the child support doesn’t cover everything the kids are in.  It’s just hard.” Jenny said. 

As mentioned, Jenny was single for about 9 years before marrying Jason. “It’s a lot of time to get into your own rhythm”, said Jenny. “Dating is one thing but actually moving everyone in together—well that’s just SOMETHING ELSE!”   It was easy for them to see both the joy and the difficulties their family faced as they tried to find a new rhythm – together.  Jason added, “When you have dated a long time, you don’t expect it to be that difficult to blend the families under one roof.  But you really have a rhythm to your single parenthood style.  We did premarital counseling but found no difficulties in anything they talked about; however, there have been a lot of challenges we just didn’t think of. No one would’ve even thought of most of the things that have been super difficult. For example, one thing that seems small—groceries. You don’t think about it, but teens are used to their own things, including their own brands of certain foods. Suddenly, even the mundane parts of life became a merger and compromise situation.”   Jason added, “In fact, we didn’t expect anything that happened to happen.  It’s just hard to be prepared. You just have to listen.”  Then Jason continued, “We were both single parents and we were in a rhythm and had our own way of doing things. Then, all of the sudden you bring in 3 other people and the rhythm just changes.”

The fun bunch consolidated into Jenny’s lovely home that she had built in 2009. On her own, she championed one of the loveliest homes in the neighborhood on a tight budget.  She really is a powerhouse.   Now, with Harry and Reid suddenly sharing a bedroom, it might be said that they carried the biggest burden of the blend. Harry once enjoyed the room by himself, which makes this type of transition even more complicated.  The family quickly decided it might be better to spread everyone out a little bit if they could.  Reid (then 12) agreed which lead to him spending hours on Zillow searching for homes. In the end, the family decided to remodel an older south Tulsa house Jenny found to make it their own and to accommodate the needs of their new family of six.

The kids all had the same answers to the myriad of questions this life change brought about with a different twist on both the fun parts and the difficult parts.  Peter, Jenny’s oldest, said, “It had always been me, my mom and Harry. I mean, my dad was there when I was young. But really, all my life, just the three of us. It really didn’t hit until after the wedding. I mean, they were dating, and he proposed, but then they came back from the honeymoon.  3×2 now we’re at 6. Doubled my family.  I’m still adapting.  Can’t say I’m a 100% used to it yet. At first it was kind of chaotic but moving houses to a bigger house really helped.” 

Reid, Jason’s youngest said, “The other house, it was smaller. We could’ve been fine.  We planned to move but we kind of moved 3 years late, which no one minded.  Dad and Jenny were picky, which was a bit annoying.” Reid chuckled.  “I would always be on Zillow trying to help them find something, but they knew what they wanted. Trying to get good deals (gasp). It took forever to get a house.  When I first saw this house, it wasn’t terrible but it was pretty bad though.  Weird walls.  Now it’s amazing. I don’t know if you saw it before. It’s an insane transformation.” I could see in Reid’s eyes that he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished as a family with the new house. 

When asked why the remodel, Jenny explained, “After searching for quite a while, with the minimum requirement for 5 bedrooms, we decided we had to go with really great bones and remodel.”  So, while remodeling their family, they also decided to remodel a place for their new family to call home. “Remodeling was just a necessity for our situation.,” said Jenny. “I wanted to make an incredible family home for us to call our own.” Jenny continued.  “I think it took us a year just to figure out more about who we were and who we really are now, as a blended family.  So, with a little life under our belts and a lot of ‘my house’ comments due to it being mine before, we were ready to get this party started and over.” 

Jason chimed in, “We dated for 4 years, so I think the adjustment was more in moving 6 people into one place, not necessarily Jenny’s place. Even though you all know each other, when you go to live with someone it doesn’t matter what house. It’s a good experience for the kids, hopefully they’ll adjust much quicker when they get to college.” Jason went on, “The toughest thing is to take the emotion out of remodeling. You want it so right—it’s your home.  The other thing is patience. No timeline is going to work, and no budget is going to work. The kitchen had pillars. Jenny didn’t like them. I said get rid of the pillars.  They said the pillars didn’t support anything.  We tore them down. Then, they said ‘Whoops, looks like they did support something’ and there we were.”  

When asked about remodeling both family and a home, Jenny and Jason laughed that there are similarities in advice for remodeling both.  Jason said, “In some ways, the two are similar.  You can have all the plans you want, but it will not happen as you planned.  Of course, you also have to plan that it won’t happen on time and it will cost more than anyone tells you.”  They laughed. It’s kind of true of both situations.  

After a few beams and a lot of cash, the remodeled kitchen turned into a marvelous masterpiece with an island about the size of Texas (if I were guessing).  With seating for the entire family and a few friends, it makes the perfect gathering place for the new blended family to come together for a quick bite.  They also redesigned the master bath, the living room, added new lights, flooring and carpet for an exhaustively brilliant family home.  The remodeled house definitely hits on all points as one of the most elegantly styled homes in Tulsa.

The remodeled house gave way to helping with the family blending as well.  Teens thrown together to be siblings are in a much different place than young children.  Teen identities really take a stronghold when those ages hit.  As Jason pointed out, “It wasn’t just our rhythms that were thrown off a bit.  It was the kids’ rhythms as well.  Everything was just different.”  “It’s really difficult to merge very active kids, for starters.” Jenny said.  “I have basketball players, cheerleaders, and a tennis player with activities in every possible direction.  I have had days while Jason was travelling, where all 4 kids had an activity at 6:30. Sometimes you just get one there super early, one early, one on time and one a little bit late.”  With so much chaos, it’s difficult to say there is even a rhythm to be found.”  The kids were going in 4 different directions even on the day of our interview – with Peter rushing off to Bedlam.  I honestly couldn’t catch where all of them were even heading it was so crazy.

Directly after the remodel, Jenny decided her next adventure for 2018 would be to launch a brand new company—HaPe Chic (a combination of her sons names, Harry and Peter!).  Jenny’s new company offers some of the most trendy women’s clothing items on the market.  Jenny’s experience in the fashion industry was at the ground level but her sense of style has always left friends in awe. As I told Jenny, “Now, you’ve launched your own HaPe Chic clothing line. It’s exhausting me to just get to my questions regarding everything you do these days.  These are all really big changes and roles.  Are you ever overwhelmed by all you have on your plate?”

Jenny replied with a roaring “Yes ma’am!  I want so much for my family. I love traditions and time together, but I just found I needed a little ME time too.  It’s chaotic yes, but it is soothing as well because I am really loving the business.”

Jenny’s favorite part is meeting with friends and customers both in her home as well as events around the city.  “It’s a great excuse for me to stay plugged in with my tribe of women.  We have photoshoots, mimosa events and a lot of fun with the clothing line.  I couldn’t be happier with the success.” 

Jenny’s drive, strength and determined nature are some of the things Jason loves most about Jenny.  Jason said, “Jenny is a very determined person and she kinda keeps me on track. When she sets her mind to something, it’s pretty much going to get done.  She makes things happen.”  When I watched Jenny in action preparing the house and the kids for our interview, I could see both her command of the situation and a little bit of sweat on her brow.  It’s a skill to push through the chaos to make everything come together.  As you can see from the cover photo, she rounded the troops for a great photo. 

Blending a family is not easy.  It comes with amazing highs as well as a few lows.  However, it is incredibly worth it as you create something new out of two really good families.  

Remodeled and Blended from The Teens Parents always have a perspective on the family blending, of course. However, there’s a bit of truth to the old adage “out of the mouths of babes” when it comes to putting families together.  Younger children can be more adaptable, because they haven’t quite found all of their grooves yet.  Teenagers are a lot more set in their ways, but are also old enough to have adult-sized opinions on situations.  It’s tough deciding the difference between listening to justified concerns versus making them to the line with discipline. Blending a family is difficult for the parents, but the kids have more adjustments than anyone might think.  Let me share just a few more of their thoughts on family blending with you.

Lexi, the couple’s only daughter, shared “It’s different being a new family.  For one, we obviously grew up with different sets of morals I think. I grew up with a more lenient family. Overall, it’s benefitting every person to experience this. I think we’re all learning from each other and it’s helping us all grow.” For all the kids, it was a tiny rumbling of ‘there are different rules for each of us’ as an underlying comment.  As Lexi said, “I think there are more of us now.  So, it’s just difficult for them to keep up with each of us.”  As an adult listening to their comments, I realized it’s more of a norm for any family to have different sets of rules for each child—because each child is different.  Some privileges are earned, and some are lost. Even in a non-blended family, there are a lot of ‘that’s not fair -type complaints.  The goal is the same for each child: primarily—get them to a place to have a successful life, whatever that path may be.  One thing teens need to know though is that the path to get there rarely ever looks the same.

One difficult part for Lexi is, “The girls at school don’t realize Harry is my younger brother. They all have crushes on my brothers.  They like to flirt with them. It’s just awkward.”  I’m pretty sure Lexi isn’t the only sister out there with that dilemma with her brothers.  But now she has two additional good-looking ones, which can lend itself to a lot more attention from her girlfriends.  That said, Lexi continued, “Being a blended family helps a lot with a lot of stuff.  I don’t know what I’d do if we had never met them.  I love them. The kids have never gotten in a fight. We’ve argued but never actually fought. We’re pretty
chill really.” 

I asked Lexi about her experience with Jenny as we all know the difficulties that could occur with moving two women into the same household.  “So, what’s been different?” I asked Lexi. “For one thing, I’ve been in cheer my whole life.  Jenny is at every single thing.  I really appreciate that.  All my friends know her.  She tries to teach me how to be a woman. I don’t believe all the same things she does—I think the men and women should have equal roles in the house.  But I respect her.  I mean, she drives us around everywhere we need to go.  I think the biggest part is she’s just very involved. She still makes time to be there for EVERYTHING.”   

In talking with Peter, I wanted to know the real side of having a “new dad” in his life. One of the traumas of divorce can often be the absence of the father, as often moms end up with primary custody regardless of the plan or circumstances.  It’s difficult to truly do a 50/50 split with bedrooms, school districts, friends and activities.  Peter’s dad lives in Texas, which although somewhat close, keeps him generally at bay.  Peter said, “It’s interesting.  It’s like always you have your dad and then there’s Jason.  My grandpa has had a very big influence on my life growing up, coaching my sports teams. I’ve always viewed him as my father figure—just not living in the house. Advice, life lessons, my grandpa has always been that go-to guy, but Jason and I have gotten a lot closer lately. He’s stepped up into a bigger role of that in my life as I’m growing up into more of a young adult.  He’s starting to teach me a lot about what you should do, how to do this, how to do that–things that matter.  I’m gonna be outta here on my own in 2 years.  So, there’s a lot to know.” Then Peter went on, “Honestly getting closer, to know Jason more, has been my favorite part. Having that void of a father figure and watching him step into that part has meant a lot.”

Peter’s not alone in having a grandparent step in to fill the absentee role of a father. Many grandmothers and grandfathers step into these roles for several reasons.  It’s often a result of exceptional grandparents filling the voids they see in their grandchildren’s lives in whatever way they can.  Our boomer population has honestly raised quite a few grandkids; however, it was easy to see in Peter’s eyes that having a new dad around was a big deal to him.  As young men start to mature, it becomes really critical for the father figure to give them guidance on everything from dating to adulthood.

Of course, being the adoring son, Peter also threw in “My mom honestly has done a heck of a job. I feel like shuffling the kids, cleaning the house, making dinner, just making sure everyone is where they need to be is a chore.  She’s done it all. She really is amazing.”  It’s clear through every child, that Jenny taking the time to be there for them—even if it gets a bit rattling – is a foundation for their family.  With Jason travelling regularly for work, it’s often left to her alone to be that piece that holds everyone and everything together.

Harry, being the youngest (and ending up with a brother his same age) has been through a lot of changes. “The impact and joy they can make on life is amazing,” said Harry.  “I can be there for them and they can be there for me. It’s just, like, another person to just be there for you forever.” He continues, “Getting along was tough. For a long time, I shared a room with Reid and it took a long time getting used to it–sharing everything. Not as much space. We got used to it though and our relationship is much better now.” 

Harry and Peter both had a lot to say about Jenny’s role in making the family function properly.  A determined mom with a vision for her family can set the pace.  Harry said, “My mom, she has a cARaaazy TON of patience.” Patience seems to be the key according to this astute, insightful teen.

I finished up with Reid, the unassuming smiling one, who had quite a lot to say.  Reid said, “At first, it was kind of like you could be best friends with someone, but you live with them every day and it becomes different. You have differences in the way you were raised. In the first year, we argued a lot. Now, we’ve adapted and changed, you know to satisfy the other. We’re still not fully there but we’re a lot closer.” Reid really appreciated gaining a new part of his family. Reid said “I like their side and their family. I have a pretty cool side but it’s kinda cool having another side. My family lives all over the country. Theirs lives all over Oklahoma.  We might have a reunion every year. They do Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m Jewish but I love Christmas. It’s such a festivity. 

“I enjoy the family. I like eating the meals and spending time with them.” 

Reid ended commenting on Jenny’s parenting points, “Jenny kind of keeps us in line. She’s taught me a lot about manners and stuff. She always helps us clean. The house would be a mess without her.  She has a really good work ethic. It’s kinda just cool to watch it. She’s very, very dedicated to making whatever we need available to us.” 

It was easy to see that the whole group was happy to have each other, but they didn’t want to mask the fact that they’ve had tough times mixed with the good times. In the end, their comments didn’t sound all THAT different than comments that my sisters and I might’ve shared in our teens.  I think sometimes it feels different, because their situation is new, but really—it’s not THAT different.  

In closing, it’s critical to understand that although you are very close with the children that you brought into the blended marriage, they are not your partner.  Your spouse is now the one who should be in sync with you when it comes to parenting.  We’re not even venturing into the effect of exes in each blended situation each of whom add a different dynamic.  Regardless of the situation, the husband and wife (and the kids) need to remember the new couple is now a team—THE team, in fact.  Sometimes it’s necessary to step back from tough situations to regroup and then get back in step together.  It’s ok to admit when you aren’t perfect.  Biological/married parents aren’t perfect either.  Listen and communicate with each other.  The kids, regardless of age and maturity, are still just kids counting on the adults in their lives to guide them. 

In the end, Jason said “‘Don’t give up’ is the best advice I have. I think that being open minded helps. It’s been a great process, because neither of us are naturally that open minded.  You realize that what’s a ‘10’ to one person might be a ‘3’ to the other. So you try to find a ‘7’ compromise.  Of course sometimes, it’s easier to decide to go with what Jenny says.” Jason admitted while chuckling.  “I also think I have to give the kids credit. I think every kid wants a family. I think sometimes even when we get off track the kids are like ‘You need to stop. Sit down and talk.’” It’s the total overall family.  I don’t think it’s something you can prepare for everything you will encounter.” 

I don’t think I could say it better myself.  In the end, it absolutely is the whole family venturing into something together that none of them can really be prepared for, but with a caRaaazy ton of patience, and a guiding light like Jenny, something beautiful can be born!

Here are a few tips from Jason and Jenny:

Counseling helps but doesn’t cover it all

Embrace the unexpected. You will be toppled by things you didn’t see coming.

Realize rhythms need reset. They take time. Don’t expect it to happen all at once.

Space is good if you can make it. If you can’t, just be a little understanding that it’s not always easy.

Parents need to be on the same page. Period. “Mine” and “yours” can’t be operational adjectives.

Different children in a family need different parenting styles. Period. Blended and unblended.

Children are smart. They get it. Don’t underestimate their prowess to play the situation.

Find a cARaaaZy TON of patience (per Harry!). These aren’t overnight transitions.

Family Life Blended and Blessed

The only one-day live event and livestream just for stepfamily couples, single parents, dating couples with kids, and those who care about blended families. The event discusses what you can do to have a healthy stepfamily marriage.  If you or someone you know is in a stepfamily, sign up or pass it on.  This is a can’t-miss opportunity.

Livestream to your church or your home, April 27, 2019: http://familylifeblended.com/

Asbury Church Blended Families

Wednesdays, January 9 – February 27, 2019

6 – 8 pm, Room 1335

Cost: $10/couple

Facilitators: Brian and Beverly Bryan

Registration: myasburytulsa.org

Whether you are remarried or planning to remarry, discover the key steps to building a healthy stepfamily with expert Ron Deal, using his Smart Stepfamily book and participant guide. Through eight engaging DVD sessions, you’ll learn practical solutions for everyday living and gain valuable insight for raising your stepfamily the smart way.


Written by R.A. Goodnight

Before His ascension into Heaven Jesus spoke these words to the small group of followers that had gathered with Him, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19,20). In these final words he gave three directives: Make disciples, baptize them and teach them to obey his commandments. Especially in today’s times, we should not downplay the importance of the responsibilities Christ put upon as – not as individual Christians nor as the collective Church.  This concept especially holds true for the Christians’ commission to make disciples. Let’s unpack these statements further.

Pew Research statistics indicate that the overall Church is in decline.  The number of the Baby Boomer generation in the church is decreasing due to age.  So much that the population of Gen X has now caught up (and surpassed in some polls) the number of Boomers.  This isn’t due to large growth in the Gen X age range.  It’s simply that some of the Boomer population have graduated on to Heaven.  While growth in the Gen X range is slowing, we are simultaneously seeing a decline in numbers from the newest generation – the Millennials.  

Here is a direct quote from the study: 

One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the “nones” is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.

The study attempted to dig a little deeper to identify why we see decreasing numbers in Millennials.  The highest sighted reason (49%) for a new one to stop pursuing their relationship with Christ was that they no longer believed.  When asked why, many stated it was due to “doubts and questions about The Bible that are going unanswered.”  I pray that the previous statement resonates inside each of us.  How are their questions going unanswered if each of us have a commission to answer their questions in the disciple making process?  Yes, this data helps demonstrate the importance of Christ’s commission to make new disciples. There is an implication that the body of Christ is potentially not as focused on living out the Great Commission. 

AtheistAgnosticNothing In Particular
I question a lot of religious
teaching
77%71%51%
I don’t believe in God89%37%21%
Religion is irrelevant to me63%40%28%
I don’t like the position
churches take on social/
political issues
54%48%47%
I don’t like religious
organizations
49%51%34%
I don’t like religious leaders37%42%31%

This trend has not gone unnoticed by the main stream media either. On September 9th, Fox News did an article sighting the same research study I have above. Recognizing the potential gap, what can each of us do to help bring others to Christ? For this article let’s focus on two ways. The first is to simply get involved. Secondly, we need to be effective teachers.  How can we do this though?

Let’s look at a less-studied disciple maker from the New Testament, Philip.  Philip was so effective he has been known as ‘Philip the Evangelizer.’ In Acts 8:30 we see Philip beginning a conversation with a new believer.  The scriptures tell us, “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet.”  As a first step Philip simply takes a personal interest and proactively approaches the man.  This simple approach can be effective for us as well.  Do you remember when you first came to Christ?  It can be hard to ask questions or identify ourselves as new disciples.  It can be more difficult for a new Christian to know what questions they even need to ask.  If we take the initiative and approach them not only could it help the new follower overcome any feelings of anxiety, but it also reinforces that we are invested in their success as a Christian.  It’s important for a new believer to know we care about them personally and are there to help them.  If you care first, it many times opens doors to people’s hearts and minds.  This also emulates God’s attitude toward all of us. (Rom. 5:8)

What does Philip do next?  He asks of the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  This individual responds, “How can I…unless someone explains it to me?” (vs. 31). By using an effective question Philip now knows the direction he needs to move the conversation in.  Questions can help us determine what this person might be thinking or how well they are understanding what they are being taught.  It can help us identify concerns or doubts they might have.  Questions are so powerful that Jesus would ask his disciples questions over lecturing as a form of teaching.  Notice some of the questions Jesus used to draw his followers out: 

• Who do the crowds say that I am? (Luke 9:18)

• Who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)

• Why are you anxious? (Matt. 6:27,28)

• Do you believe? (Matt.9:28)

• Why did you doubt? (Matt. 14:31)

• What do you want me to do for you? (Matt. 20:32)

• And many, many more

By asking questions Christ could determine their internal motives, level of comprehension, as well as what was on their minds.  Questions are a powerful tool to draw people out and get them involved in the conversation.  Questions and genuine personal interest go hand in hand with being effective in sharing Christ with someone else.

In the story, the Ethiopian basically explains he knows the prophesy, but he didn’t understand it.  Now that Philip understands his audience, he continues to share. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35). As his third tactic, Philip took it upon himself to help teach this individual the good news about Jesus.  Yes, he personally got involved.  He did not leave it up to the local congregation of believers or the next Christian that the man might encounter.  He started sharing the good news himself.

In today’s culture the importance of teaching about Christ and handing down the information we have been taught has slowly been overlooked.  Part of your being a disciple is your personal participation in the making of new disciples.  Disciple making is an effort that each of us should be playing a part in.  The responsibility of individuals in the disciple making process is further highlighted in the scriptures.  The writer of the letters to the Corinthians states, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it…For we are co-workers in God’s service.” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9). The scriptures effectively point out that individuals are employed by God to go and make disciples.  And in this case two of them working together made an effective disciple making team.  Because of their attention to this important assignment the scripture tells us that their efforts were blessed as God made the seeds they planted in others grow.  

Once these spiritual seeds have grown and the new follower accepts Christ our work needs to continue.  New followers need help to develop into mature Christians.  They need someone to explain The Bible, as the Ethiopian stated to Philip.  Many of us grew up in the church and the lessons make sense because we’ve been taught them from an early age.  For a new believer, it’s not as easy to wrap your mind around many truths contained in scripture.  For example, why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?  What is a ransom and why did Christ have to die for our sins?  A critical part in the spiritual maturing process is to understand why we believe what we believe and how to (eventually) teach this to others.   

Let’s reflect on Christ’s example again and see how he developed his new followers.  We know he made disciples as he chose the Twelve.  The scriptures specifically mention 72 others he developed into followers as well (Luke 10:1, 2). Beyond this it is reasonable to believe that more became His disciples than only the 84 just mentioned.  But what did Jesus do with these once they became his disciples?  He furthered their training and then sent them forth to make more disciples themselves (Mark 6:7). In order for them to go and make disciples, they had to be well taught. They had to be capable of defending their faith and sharing it with others.  Yes, Christ did not just make disciples.  He made well trained disciple makers.  Had He not trained them on how to go, to share, to teach – the first century Christian church might not have seen the rapid expansion that it experienced.  What if Peter had been unable to speak to the crowd at Pentecost?  Because of the training he received as a disciple the scriptures tell us “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts. 2:14-40).

Each of us likely enjoy that moment in Church when we see the hands go up of people accepting Christ.  But what happens to them after that moment is over, after they walk out the door that Sunday and back into their lives?  Are we helping them, developing them into the fullness of Christ?  The success of a new follower of Christ depends upon a teaching regimen focused on the new believer.  It helps them become firm in the foundations of Christ.  We must take an active interest in these individuals we celebrate so happily the day they raise their hands.  As Philip and Christ did, we must welcome them and get them paired with a mature Christian or into a small study group of believers.  This method is the best way to help ensure that their questions and concerns are being answered.  Additionally, by pairing them with established disciples they can be shown how to do personal study as well as the importance of prayer.  All of this will help encourage and strengthen them as they progress toward the next step of baptism.  Some of us have been Christians so long we have long forgotten the complexity of this seemingly simple path.

We are at a point in history where we established believers need to take personal responsibility in explaining to new followers what it means to be a Christian.  We need to show them from scripture why we believe and why it’s true.  Faith may be the confidence in realties unseen, but this does not mean that faith is blind (Heb. 11:1). How did Christ help build people’s faith?  He pointed people to The Bible, showing them from scripture why they should believe.  In many of his answers he would say “for it is written” or “have you not read”.  By effectively using scripture we can provide new believers with forensic reasons to have faith in what they are being taught (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Each of us can play a part in providing them with satisfying answers to relive any doubt.  Remember this, if we do not answer new believers questions the world will try to fill them with their ‘answers’.

All of us, individuals and as Churches, have a place in the disciple making process. Christ told his followers that the harvest was plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt.9:37). How true this is.  Today more than ever we need workers in God’s harvest field helping bring disciples to Christ.  What a privilege to be living at this time when there are so many to still come to Christ!  Get involved! Come be a fellow disciple maker alongside Christ.  It is an important part of your personal growth as well as the growth of those we teach.

References: Pew Research Center Poll 

Fox News https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/young-christians-are-leaving-the-church-heres-why


The beginning of the new year is traditionally thought of as the perfect time to start fresh and set new goals for the year. But most New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. What if this year, instead of making a resolution that you’ll give up on within a few weeks, you resolve to change how you think? What if you worked to change the physical structure of your brain? It just might help you make long-lasting, positive changes in your life. This year, resolve to go beyond the typical resolution.

Winning the Battle in Your Mind

Most of life’s battles are won or lost in the mind. No matter if your thoughts are positive or negative, your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts. It’s like what Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, once said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” 

With each thought and decision, we are creating neural pathways in our brains. The more we think the same thoughts and make the same decisions, the deeper our neural pathways get and the stronger those habits become. If you don’t like the direction your thoughts are taking you, there’s good news! You have the power to retrain your brain.

Think about your front lawn. If you walk through the grass, taking the same shortcut to your car every day, eventually you’ll wear a path in the grass. But if you decide to stop walking in the grass and choose to take the sidewalk, over time, it will become your new default. The grass will grow back, and it will become easier and more desirable to continue taking the new path. In the same way, you can change the physical structure of your brain by choosing to think positive thoughts. Neuroscientists call it neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity was substantiated in the 1970s, and there have been numerous scientific studies since then that support the brain’s ability to be rewired. But it wasn’t a radically new concept. The idea also appeared in the Bible. In a letter to the ancient Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Regardless of the terminology—rewiring your brain or renewing your mind—scientists and people of faith agree that the practice can help people lead more positive, fulfilling lives. 

How to Retrain Your Brain

The first step in the process of retraining your brain is to commit to doing the work. You can’t learn any new skill or create any new habit overnight. It takes hard work and consistency. On average, it takes at least three weeks to create a new habit, and research shows it may take more than two months for a new behavior to become automatic. Creating new neural pathways will take time, but be encouraged that once you’ve created the new pathway, it becomes easier to stay the course. Promise yourself you’ll make every effort to be consistent.

Next, identify the number one thing holding you back. While it may be tempting to try to tackle multiple areas, you’ll have more success if you choose to focus on just one. Give it some serious thought. Put in the effort to dig below the surface and discover the root of what’s causing you to struggle. For example, your relationship problems, job performance, or poor health may all be caused by low self-esteem, and by changing that one thought pattern, you could see improvements in several areas of your life.

So, what are the negative or empty things you say to yourself over and over? Maybe it’s, “I’m an idiot,” “I’m too busy,” or “There’s never enough.” What are the hurtful things you tell yourself that you’d never say to another person? Maybe something like, “I’m not good enough,” “Because of my past, I don’t deserve anything good,” or “Things will never change. I’ll always struggle with this.” Identify one recurring phrase that keeps you from living a positive life.

Once you know which thought needs to change, replace it with a positive affirmation. If you struggle with feeling inadequate, your positive phrase might be, “I am smart, resourceful, and capable.” And if you’re a Christian, look at what God says about His creation in the Bible and use that as inspiration for your daily declarations. For example, if you’re often worried and afraid, consider what the Apostle Paul shared with Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Kickstart the renewal of your mind by writing down the positive thought and placing it where you’ll see it regularly—on your mirror, on your desk, or on your phone’s background. When the negative thought enters your mind, proactively pause in the moment to replace it with your positive statement, both in your mind and out loud. Refuse to give voice to the negativity. Only allow yourself to say the positive affirmation aloud. Repeat it as often as you need to so that you believe it.

A Year of Cultivating Consistency

Knowing that you can change the trajectory of your life by changing your thought patterns, focus your resolutions on addressing that number one area holding you back. Ensure your life looks different one year from now by following these tips: 

Start with 1-2 small, specific actions. 

Choose something so small that you can’t help but succeed. If you want to be healthier and have more self-confidence, try cutting out just one guilty pleasure food item from your diet instead of every unhealthy food all at once. If you want to learn a new skill, resolve to read one professional development article per week instead of setting the goal to be an expert by the end of the year. If you conquer your small resolutions, you can always add more mid-year. You just don’t want to bite off more than you can chew and end up discouraged in a matter of weeks.

Plan to be consistent.

Set yourself up for success by scheduling time to make progress with your resolution. Leave yourself reminders so you can’t forget, and give yourself a deadline so you don’t put it off. Make it part of your weekly or even daily routine. Something for you to remember is that successful people do consistently what normal people do occasionally. 

Keep training your mind toward truth.

As the year continues, you’re bound to hit some speed bumps or even the occasional roadblock. Don’t allow the lies that have held you down in the past to resurface and distract or discourage you. Continue repeating your positive affirmations, even developing new affirmations to combat new negative thoughts as they arise. You might consider hiding encouraging notes around the house that you’ll find throughout the year or giving them to friends who’ll mail one to you when they feel prompted. Find the method that works best for you, and hold on to the truth. Renew your mind by writing it, thinking it, and speaking it until you believe it.

Know your triggers and prepare your response. 

We all have weak spots, especially when trying to change a well-established habit. Do your best to identify the things that could derail, distract, or discourage you before you begin. Draw up a battle plan that will help you fight against your natural inclinations until you’re able to rewire your brain to follow the new neural pathway. If you can identify the things that may trigger you to respond negatively and decide in advance how you will respond with positivity, you’ll be more likely to succeed in the moment. 

Give yourself grace.

Perfection is not a realistic expectation. When you get derailed, be kind to yourself. Don’t let it give you an excuse to give up, but don’t be too hard on yourself either. What’s incredible about grace is there’s always enough. That’s something God made sure of. So, pause to consider what went wrong, make adjustments, and start again.

Find accountability.

You don’t have to tell everybody what you’re struggling with, but you should find a small group of trusted friends with whom you can share. Choose people you can be honest with and feel safe around. Be sure they will not just agree with you at every turn but will challenge you when you need it. You should also try to surround yourself with people who are succeeding in the areas you want to grow in. It will be difficult to learn about patience from impatient people or humility from the prideful. And if you want to grow in faith, add someone to your inner circle whose faith is strong. Surrounding yourself with a solid support system can be the thing that tips the balance in your favor.

Find your source of strength.

Determine what motivates you, and keep your eyes fixed on it. Maybe you have children who you want to set a good example for, or maybe you’re determined to outlive the age at which your parents died. If you’re a Christian, you’re motivated by your relationship with Jesus and your desire to be more like Him. Whatever inspires you to be better, keep it top of mind and don’t lose sight of it.

So many people feel “stuck” in today’s world, like they’re going nowhere fast. But there is hope for a better tomorrow. We have the ability to press into the uncomfortable and make changes that will have a lasting impact in our lives and in the lives of future generations. 

While his people were exiled from their homeland, the prophet Zechariah said, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10). Be encouraged by this passage, and today, take your first, small step toward the future you want. 

To get started with ideas for creating your own positive affirmations, visit www.life.church/declarations. 


Resources:

“Mastermind” Sermon Series by Craig Groeschel, Life.Church

Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind by Joyce Meyer

Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health by Caroline Leaf

We wanted to highlight just one way students make a difference. More than that, we wanted their story to IMPACT others!

Individuals or groups may submit their work here. We have a guaranteed minimum $250 prize for the winner’s cause. However, we will also be accepting donations here from readers for the fund-raising efforts/causes online to help further the impact. Donations will be tracked/accepted online. Deadline for submission is 2/15/19. Winner will be announced in the March issue of Community Spirit Magazine. 

The contest will look at 3 main areas:

1 – IMPACT to the recipient(s).
How will/did your efforts directly IMPACT the targeted recipients? What was the need? What did you (your group) plan/do to help? 

2 – IMPACT to the community. How will/did your efforts IMPACT the community? This can entail many sides.  Can/did your efforts touch a community?  Can/did they motivate your community to come alongside of you? Could others use your idea or be challenged by the idea to motivate more people to action?

3 – IMPACT to you. How will/did your effort IMPACT you? What will/did your involvement teach/instill/inspire in you?

This contest isn’t a numbers game, although we fully support mass efforts. Those coming together to help one family are every bit as worthy as those helping a city block. We all know Jesus taught us that the one matters. Jesus said, “…truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine…” (Matthew 18:14.) So, Go. Do. Be. Wherever God might lead you. And, tell us about it!  Students, we are in awe of your hearts, your ability to mobilize, and your desire to make an #IMPACT4Christ.

The winner will get $250 FOR YOUR CAUSE + A FREE OIL CHANGE from Christian Brothers Automotive!

Submit your work!

Make a donation!

By Randy C. Cowell, ACT Financial

Now that I have your attention, let’s start by shedding light on the grim future of taxation in America.  

Hop in the De Lorean and let’s go to 1980.  Seymore Durst, a New York Real Estate magnate, did a few infamous things pointing to our rising national debt. Frustrated politicians were unwilling to take action, in 1989 he built a National Debt Clock near Times Square trying to jolt the country to action.  Still ticking 30 years later, the National debt eclipsed the 21 trillion-dollar mark.  That’s a 21 followed by twelve zeros! 

Hop back in and let’s stop in 2004.  Allow me to introduce you to David M. Walker.  Walker served under Bush 41 as one of two trustees for Social Security and Medicare. He also was the Comptroller General and CEO of the Government Accountability office under Clinton.  In other words, he was the CPA of the USA under two presidents from opposite sides of the political tracks, noted as a well-respected nonpartisan and apolitical public servant.  

Armed with statistics and the fact that the first of 78 million baby boomers would be ready to tap into Social Security in a few years, Walker sounded the alarm where he could.  For Walker, the writing was on the wall. In 2005, with the assistance of several financial heavy weights, such as, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker, they began crisscrossing our nation on a campaign called the “Fiscal Wake-up” tour.  Their mantra: “Taxes could and most likely will have to double in the future to keep our country solvent.”  In 2008, David Walker resigned from public service to continue his crusade.  In 2010, he wrote Comeback America-Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility.  It’s an easy read and you won’t want to put it down. 

Now that everyone is in a good mood, let’s jolt our baffled selves back to 2019, where we can discuss some strategies to potentially buffer/insulate you and your family from the oncoming taxation freight train headed our way.

Provisional Income 

Not familiar with the term?  Don’t feel bad. Most Americans do not understand how the Internal Revenue Service uses provisional income to calculate the taxation on their Social Security income. What is considered provisional income?  All 1099 income and all ordinary income. That’s code-speak for pretty much everything not “qualified.”  In addition to that, income is anything from your pension and any withdrawals from your retirement plans. 

So, if you don’t want to pay taxes AND you don’t want 85% of your Social Security benefit to be taxed, what can you do now to get to a lower, dare I say it, maybe even a zero tax bracket?  I believe the first step is recognizing what a truly tax-free investment* looks like.  

Here are the four rules that must be met to truly qualify for tax free status: 

  • It must not be taxable at the Federal level.
  • It must not be taxable at the state level
  • There cannot be capital gains taxation associated with distributions 
  • Income from the investment CANNOT be included as provisional income. 

Even a municipal bond, if purchased out of state, can fail three out of four requirements.  Would it surprise you to know there are only two truly tax-free investments?*  

Roth IRA’s** and specially designed life insurance***.  Whether it is a muni bond, mutual fund, rental property, or the thousands of other investments* available, these four rules must apply to qualify as a truly tax-free investment*.  

  •  If David Walker is right and tax rates must double in the future to pay for our debt and all the unfunded entitlements, how prepared are you and your portfolio to weather that storm? 
  • Knowing that unless congress changes things, at the exact stroke of midnight, January 1, 2026, tax rates are going up– are you going to take advantage?  (i.e. taxes are on sale for the next 8 years)
  • If you could receive your Social Security tax free and perhaps your qualified retirement income tax free, would that be a conversation worth having?  

The concepts and strategies mentioned in this article are guidelines and it is always recommended that the reader(s) seek wise legal, accounting, and investment advice.  It goes without saying that the tax code we are dealing with today could change.  True, but there is a history of legislative changes that over the years have “grandfathered” certain investment products.  Life insurance is one of those investments that historically has been grandfathered.   

Future tax code changes are inevitable.  The treatment of products and the applications surrounding them are subject to legislative change. Until these things change, wise strategic planning is a necessity.

For additional information on how to get to the 0% tax bracket in retirement, please call our office at (918) 664-0081. 


RANDY C. COWELL, MS, LUTCF, CFP®, CRPC®, ACT FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC.

Randy is President and Senior Strategist of ACT Financial Services, Inc in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He is a Certified Financial Planner®, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor®, Investment Advisor Representative of HTK, Inc. and recognized as a Fellow by the Underwriters Training Council (LUTCF).  His expertise combined with a unique “Biblically-based” philosophy, has served his clients well for over three decades.  Randy can be reached at (918) 664-0081 or by email at rcowell@htk.com.


 *“Investment” as used in this article is a blanket term for any vehicle in which you can save money.  Examples would be saving accounts, life insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.  You get the idea.  

**There are income restrictions that could prevent one from participating in a Roth IRA.  There are strategies that could be implemented to take advantage of the Roth and Roth conversion so speak to your financial adviser, tax adviser, and group benefits coordinator about whether you qualify for a Roth IRA or Roth rollover. 

***Life insurance that is characterized as a Modified Endowment contract does not receive the same tax treatment as a Non-MEC version.  Please consult your tax adviser for further details on Modified Endowment life insurance.  Registered Representative of and Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through Hornor, Townsend & Kent, Inc. (HTK), Registered Investment Advisor, member FINRA/SIPC, 4111 S. Darlington Ave., Suite 800, Tulsa, OK 74135, (918) 664-6511. ACT Financial Services, Inc. is unaffiliated with Hornor, Townsend, & Kent, Inc. HTK does not provide tax or legal advice.  2247317RM-Sep20