Tag: #insideout

Inside Out – Thorns – Faithfully handling disappointment – 2/14/24

Inside Out – Thorns – Faithfully handling disappointment – 2/14/24

The Gift of Thorns

“We have to very careful to distinguish between ‘did God let me down?’ or ‘did my expectations of God let me down?’


What if not getting what we want is one of God’s great gifts?

“God knows what is good for us when we don’t,” says the Rev. Dr. A. J. Swoboda. “To ultimately assume God’s desires for us are the best desires, and believing that, is our first step in being followers of Christ.”

“I have grown the most in my spiritual journey with Jesus in places where I have not gotten everything I want. And what I’m trying to say is, I don’t grow in the great times. I grow in the times when I’m mad that I didn’t get what I want God to do,” Swoboda says.


When we find that we’re disappointed or angry with God, it’s important to figure out what God has promised us.  “We have to very careful to distinguish between ‘did God let me down?’ or ‘did my expectations of God let me down?’ We’ve got to be cautious to not assume that God and our expectations about God are the same exact thing,” he says.

It is actually a gift, Swoboda says, to not get what we want.

“Jesus lived a life of willingly giving up everything He wanted. In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he pleads with the Father to not die on the cross. Yet he submits Himself to what the Father wants over what His flesh and emotions wanted. And so I think life is in those places in our life. I think the thorns are a gift. I don’t think they’re a problem, I think they’re a gift.”

“At least in our world, unless you embrace the thorn, you won’t ever receive the rose. And that with every thorn there is a rose. We tend to focus on the thorn, and we forget the rose.”

Hear much more from A. J. Swoboda by listening to our 15-minute podcast.



Swoboda is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and World Christianity at Bushnell University in Eugene, Oregon. He also leads a Doctor of Ministry program at Friends University. His new book is The Gift of Thorns: Jesus, the Flesh, and the War for our Wants. Learn more about A. J. Swoboda here.

“The Gift of Thorns” also is available as a Bible study series for individuals and groups.

Inside Out – Children’s emotions ….and the Psalms – 1/24/24

Inside Out – Children’s emotions ….and the Psalms – 1/24/24

Living your faith, from the “Inside Out”

If you’re having trouble helping your kids negotiate their emotions, you’re not alone.  

 “We always fall into kind of two ends of a spectrum,” says writer and Bible teacher Courtney Reissig. “We either want to protect them too much from experiencing hard things, or we don’t want them to feel or express those hard things when life happens. And we all probably know which one we fall into.”   

Reissig recommends parents turn to the Psalms for help. She’s the author of the recent Gospel Coalition article “Use the Psalms to Teach Kids About Feelings.”  

 “Psalms speak to very real feelings and very real emotions,” she says, “and that’s helpful to us because God created us to feel things, and then He’s given us a whole book of the Bible that teaches us how to navigate those feelings and to express those feeling back to God. Many of them are prayers or songs that we sing back to God. And so we take all of our feelings and all of our emotions and then we move them towards the only one who can do anything with what we’re feeling.”  

 Learn more about how the Psalms can help children express and understand their emotions by listening to our 14-minute podcast.  Read what Courtney Reissig is writing here

Inside Out – Pressures on today’s girls – 01/10/24

Inside Out – Pressures on today’s girls – 01/10/24

Little Girls, Adult Pressures 

Even the youngest girls feel the pressure to be sexy.

Adult pressures on girls begin early. Dr. Danny Huerta talks about ways parents can help their daughters know that their value is deeper than their appearance. Huerta is a father, a licensed clinical social worker, and the vice president of Parenting for Focus on the Family.  “I’ve worked with a lot of young girls that have been in this culture that tells them that one of the most important things that they can do as a teen girl is to be sexy,” says Dr. Danny Huerta, licensed clinical social worker and the vice president of Parenting for Focus on the Family.

He is also the father of a teenaged daughter.  “And what I’ve seen with my daughter is her wrestling match with what culture’s saying, what friends are saying in the way they dress and in the way they act and in what they’re talking about, and in what we’re talking about in the home and in what we’re talking about within the church,” he says. 

 Parents can help their daughters know that they do not need to be sexual to be loved. Their value is deeper than their appearance. “When you give them feedback on who they are, there’s a tendency for a lot of people to say, ‘Oh, man, you’re so beautiful. Look how beautiful you look.’ And that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you’ve done that or that you’ve damaged a young girl, but what you can do is expand that and say, ‘Man, I love that thought,’” he says. “Love a variety of things and show that excitement of what you’re discovering in who they are.”

 Play our entire conversation (from the player above) to learn about helping girls see themselves not as commodities to be consumed, but as people valued by God with gifts and talents to contribute to the world.   

 Connect with Focus on the Family’s parenting articles and videos here

 Learn more about Dr. Danny Huerta here

Protecting your children from trafficking – 12/20/23

Protecting your children from trafficking – 12/20/23

Inside Out” — the Family Life news feature

Sex trafficking may be the farthest thing from your mind this Christmas. But during the coming school vacation, parents actually have a chance to stand in the way of human traffickers. How? By paying attention to the very same thing traffickers focus on: how your children use the internet. School vacations not only scramble our schedules and give children more time on social media,  the time away from friends can also leave kids feeling lonely for companionship.  

“Anytime there’s an increase in unsupervised time for kids and teens, the vulnerability to trafficking increases,” says Deb Kuehner, executive director of The Potter’s Hands Foundation, a Western New York residential treatment program helping exploited women. “Covid was a perfect example of this for adults and kids. Traffickers took advantage of the global crisis, capitalizing on people’s loss of income and the increased amount of time children and adults were spending online.”   

 “For many individuals, the holidays are a very stressful time and people are hungry for community,” she says. “Vulnerable individuals will often look online to fill relationship gaps—they’re so hungry for someone to pay attention to them and to love them, that they’ll open themselves up to strangers who may not be safe.” 

Parents can monitor how their children use the internet—but they need to know what to look for. They need to know what apps they have on their phones, and what those apps are used for.” Some messaging apps, called “secret” or “hidden” apps, are disguised to look like games or calculators to hide their function from anyone monitoring the way the child’s using the internet.   “I just encourage parents to Google information online on how to be educated about different apps, and what their kids are using. It’s so important that they do.”   

This is true even if you think of your children as good kids. “I also need to say that parents who think that their children would never do something like this, need to check anyway. Because I can’t tell you the number of parents that have come to me and said, ‘I never expected my child to do something like this,’” she says. “No parent expects it. Kids can get in over their heads so quickly that they don’t even know how it happens.” 


Hit the “play” icon above to hear from Deb Kuehner about the expansiveness of sex trafficking, and how you can help women who’ve been exploited. 

 Learn more about The Potter’s Hands Foundation here



Inside Out – Responding to Criticism – 11/29/23

Inside Out – Responding to Criticism – 11/29/23

Inside Out” on Family Life

How do you respond when coworkers tell you they’ve been hurt by Christians, or say that Christianity is offensive? Kaitlin Miller Febles talks about how believers led by the Holy Spirit can live out the most powerful response.    

“I think when we first respond with just defensiveness, we can come across as callous toward what this person’s experienced by someone maybe even in the name of Christ,” says Kaitlin Miller Febles. “And if they don’t feel heard and understood, I think they’re far less likely to hear us, or even want to understand us back. But humility has a way of disarming people.”  

Febles counsels us to listen well and mourn behavior in the name of Christ that is not at all Christlike. “Just even as we denounce un-Christlikeness, we don’t denounce Christ. Christians may act shamefully, we need to acknowledge that, but we’re not ashamed of Christ.” 

 We have an opportunity to speak the actual message of Christ with words, and also with our lives, when the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit shape the way we live. “For each hateful or selfish or greedy or manipulative Christian example that an unbeliever has experienced, we can be a counter example, as a Christian that they also now have to explain,” Febles says.  

Kaitlin Miller Febles writes on this topic and other issues for The Gospel Coalition.

Inside Out – Managing Holiday Conflict – 11/15/23

Inside Out – Managing Holiday Conflict – 11/15/23

Inside Out:  Managing Family Conflict During the Holidays 

                • Ways to prepare
                • What we can do, and what to avoid
                • Who can offer you comfort?

Do upcoming holiday gatherings already have your stomach in knots? A veteran counselor with Focus on the Family suggests thinking ahead of time about how both historic family dynamics and differing personal opinions will play into how the day unfolds.       

 “I think it’s also constructive to look at what is our attitude towards the person or the people that we’re going to be spending time with?” says Glenn Lutjens, a licensed family therapist with 28 years of experience. “Are there things that we can appreciate about them? And if I’m appreciative of someone, I’m probably going to be more understanding of them. I’m probably going to accept maybe a little bit of their quirks.”  

 Lutjens points out that it’s really okay for people to disagree, in a respectful way.  “I think probably one of the best sentences in the English language is this: ‘You and I see this differently.’ What is there to say after that? The person has their opinion, you have yours.”

 If you are anxious, Lutjens encourages you with the truth that God accompanies you. “I would say probably the most important thing is to realize God is going to be with you. You’re not there on your own. The Spirit of God—if you’ve received God’s free gift of salvation through faith in Christ—He’s going to be with you. And realize that that presence is going to be important.”  

 Learn more about Glenn Lutjens and Focus here. 

Inside Out – Biblical Worldview – Barna Research – 11/01/23

Inside Out – Biblical Worldview – Barna Research – 11/01/23

We develop our way of looking at the world—our worldview—before we turn 13.

Remarkably, new research finds that fewer than one in ten parents think through how to guide their children spiritually during those critical years.  

Dr. George Barna directs the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University and includes these findings in his new book Raising Spiritual Champions: Nurturing Your Child’s Heart, Mind and Soul. “Everybody has a worldview. You need a worldview to get through the day,” Barna says. “So children are going to develop a worldview whether their parents are involved in it or not. That is a vacuum that has to be filled.” 

If parents don’t work toward developing their children’s spiritual life, other worldviews will fill that void. “Without their parents being there to help guide them, they’re just doing the best they can to make sense of it all.” Barna offers ways to help parents to live out their roles as disciple-makers.  “The first of those is to recognize that God gave them these children to raise up to be disciples,” he says.  So it’s important to be intentional and not outsource this critical part of parenting.  

“They have to have not only a commitment, but a plan to take in these children during those formative 12 years, and do everything they can to lead them down the right path.” That begins by knowing what beliefs you as a parent want your children to embrace.  “Why? Because we do what we believe. In essence, your worldview is based on your beliefs, that then gets translated into behavior,” he says.  

“The only way that you can be Christlike is to think like Jesus so that you can live like Jesus.” 

Children see when stated beliefs are not reflected in behavior.  “Kids don’t trust their parents anymore because their parents say one thing and do another. You want to get to your kids? Model the beliefs that you’re trying to teach them. When they see you live it out, then they’re going to say, ‘Okay, I see it. It works. My parents believe it. I’m going to run with it.’” 

Underlying all of this, Dr. George Barna recommends that Christian parents bear in mind the context of all of their parenting.  “Parenting is a vital battle in the spiritual war in which we live,” he says. “We have to be aware of the nature of that battle if we’re going to fight it well.” 

Follow-up links for more information and inspiration:

Inside Out – Avoid “sketchy views” about God – 10/04/23

Inside Out – Avoid “sketchy views” about God – 10/04/23

If our understanding of who God is and how He works in the world doesn’t have a foundation in the Bible, it’s possible that we hold “sketchy views.”

A great many things work to pull us away from Jesus Christ. That’s not news. “The Scripture teaches us that the world, the flesh, and the devil are all going to be agents of temptation for us,” says Dr. Daniel DeWitt. The pull away from Christ can feel stronger if we’ve based our view of who God is on something other than Scripture. 

“I think that often Christian young people will make their experience in the world the chief authority by which they think about God,” he says. “And I’m reminded of a line from a Christian rap artist who said, ‘God made you in His image, and He didn’t ask you to return the favor.’” He believes that the way we think about God is the most important thing about us. DeWitt says we develop poor theology, or what he calls “sketchy views,” if our faith is unexamined or unfounded. We also have “sketchy views” if our beliefs are true but neglect love, or if they contradict the Bible. 

“We need to test everything by Scripture. And that means even the teachings of people we really might appreciate or enjoy. We always want to come back to Scripture as our ultimate authority.” 

We all know people who are deconstructing their faith–pulling it apart and examining what they’ve believed. DeWitt says the process may help them jettison aspects of the faith that were not actually based on what God says about Himself in Scripture.  “If they’re deconstructing an unfounded faith or an unbiblical faith, the deconstruction could be helpful to the degree that the goal is, in the end, to construct something new, and more reliable,” he says. “My prayer would be for young people that they’re working through these issues because, Lord willing, this is God’s way of refining what they truly do believe. And if on the back end there’s no belief at all, may the Gospel be demonstrated as the power of God to save them.” 


Dr. Daniel DeWitt is a senior fellow at Missouri’s Southwest Baptist University and leads the Center for Worldview and Culture. His newest book is Sketchy Views: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Sense of God.Learn more about Dr. Daniel DeWitt and his writings here and here

Inside Out – When your friend is hurting – 09/20/23

Inside Out – When your friend is hurting – 09/20/23


When a friend is suffering, we want to help, but so many of us just don’t know how, or feel inadequate for the task. 

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is familiar with suffering. She also knows how it can draw us to God. Her first suggestion for those of us who don’t know how to support a hurting friend is to pray. Risner grew closer to God through her own suffering: polio, partial paralysis, bullying, the death of a child, an unfaithful spouse, and an unwanted divorce. She knows the value of friends showing up. 

“We should pray for their needs—like their spiritual needs, their emotional needs, their physical needs–that they would turn to the Lord and find peace. That’s the biggest thing: just that they would find God in their suffering,” she says. “Show up at their doorsteps, go to the hospitals, sit in the waiting room, ask them if they want company to go somewhere. Just be there,” she says. “Jesus, we see Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He just wanted His disciples with Him, so presence is such a powerful thing.” 

And if your friend has been hurting for a while but you’ve never known how to help, Risner says showing up even now has value. Show up, encourage, and listen.

“I would also say, ‘It’s never too late.’ If something really hard happened to a friend and it’s been months, even, you can still reach out. Don’t think, ‘I wasn’t there in the middle of the crisis, I can’t be there now.’  It’s never too late to reach out.” 

Risner’s Desiring God article that inspired this conversation is titled “S.L.O.W.: How to Love Suffering People.” Learn more about Vaneetha Rendall Risner here.

Inside Out – Are you a Parenting-centered couple, or a Couple-centered couple? – 09/06/23

Inside Out – Are you a Parenting-centered couple, or a Couple-centered couple? – 09/06/23

Parents can be tempted to make the children the family’s highest priority. But giving our children the best of our time and attention is not actually what’s best for them, according to Dr. Greg Smalley.  

Smalley is an author and speaker who serves as vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. He says that your children benefit when you make your marriage the priority.    

“When our marriage is healthy, everybody wins,” Smalley says. 

Giving the marriage priority status means taking the time to stay up to date on your spouse’s hopes and feelings.  “We have to continually be rediscovering our spouse,” he says. 

It also means making a habit of talking through the times you hurt each other along the way.   “We have to repair when we have arguments and when we have conflict and when we hurt each other,” Smalley says. “We’ve got to be willing to repair.” 

Everyone in a family benefits when spouses commit to the work of deepening their marriage.  “I think if couples are pursuing each other, keeping current and re-discovering each other and then repairing when those conflicts happen, man, those two things alone are going to take us so far as far as staying connected in our marriage,” he says. 

Learn more about Dr. Greg Smalley here and here.


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