Unexpected Encouragement

Life has been a little crazier and a bit tougher lately. How do you respond during times like this? During times like these it is easier to second-guess yourself more, to get down on yourself, and for some Christ followers, to question God. I’m a big believer in the sovereignty of God, that He has a plan and purpose for our lives, and that He is a redeeming God, He can redeem the most difficult situations for His glory and our blessing. He will show Himself faithful even when people who should know and act better don’t.

You expect encouragement from your family, and they have been for me in so many ways. But over the last two weeks I have seen God provide that encouragement through people who have no clue what life has been like for me lately. Encouragement at times that were completely unforeseen from people I never would have expected with words I wasn’t anticipating. Three came from people who are not Christians, at times and in places that were not church, and one from a believer. This fourth person is a man who attends my church, a quiet man who most people would walk past and not pay any attention to. A man who will never be a public speaker or the life of the party, but with a great smile, a genuine care for others, and a humble faith in Christ. God has used him before to encourage me, and it happened again when we met for breakfast as we do from time to time. I’m the guy with the masters in theology, the doctorate in counseling, the years of ministry under my belt. I’m the one who is seeking to be a friend, to be a blessing to him, and he is the one blessing me!

God will surprise you. He can and will use whatever, whenever to speak to the need of your heart. A great example that comes to mind from scripture is the book of Lamentations. As the title suggests, this is not a happy book of the Bible. It was written at a time of great distress and anguish for God’s people. Here is just a sample from chapter 1, “Look, O Lord, for I am in distress, my stomach churns, my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves, in the house it is like death. They heard my groaning, yet there is no one to comfort me.” As you read verse after verse like these, even if you aren’t feeling depressed, this book will depress you! And then out of the blue you come to chapter 3 and verse 21, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” In the midst of all of this despair and grief, God gives Jeremiah these words of encouragement and hope!

But God can also use you. He can use you to be that person who speaks a word of encouragement. You may not even realize how much someone may need it or how your words will impact them. Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word that is good for encouragement according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” What word will God speak through that will make a difference for someone else? Encouragement at a time for the other person that was completely unforeseen with words they weren’t anticipating at a time when they needed it most. May this be true for me, and may it be true for you!

Blessings,
Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul Randolph

Church Pastor/Christian Counselor

Dr. Paul also has extensive experience working with pastors, missionaries, as well as first responders and members of the military. His areas of counseling specialty include marriage and family, pre-marital, depression, anxiety, men's issues, grief and loss, post-traumatic stress, critical incident stress, career.



At What Price Beauty?

What comes to mind when you think of the word “beauty”? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines beauty as ‘the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” Cultural standards of beauty shift from one country/people group/culture to the next, and even within the same culture, it can shift from one generation to the next. For one group of people in Indonesia, large feet in women is considered to be a sign of beauty. For myself, being tall and having a shoe size that goes along with being tall, I kind of like the idea of large feet being a sign of beauty! What are the standards of beauty and who gets to define them? Some countries view lighter hair, skin and eyes as beautiful and some countries countries view darker hair, skin and eyes as beautiful.

One journalist doing research on cultural standards of beauty sent a photo of herself without makeup to designers in 19 different countries, with the task of making her look “beautiful.” The original photo of the journalist shows a woman with dark hair and brown eyes. The contrasts of the photo shopped results returned to her were very telling indeed! Everything from her eye, hair and skin color to the shape/size of her face/nose were altered according to each designer’s standard of beauty (see https://www.estherhonig.com). Some of the alterations were quite drastic. Only several of the designers took more of a minimalist approach, leaving her looking as close as possible to her own natural appearance. A research study has shown that the average woman will spend US$15,000 and devote 474 days to applying makeup over the course of her lifetime. That represents a lot of time, talent, money and energy invested in what is of ephemeral, or fleeting and temporal value. Human standards of beauty are fluid, changing over time.

At times, what seems like inflexible standards of beauty has resulted in distorted perceptions of self and others. Today many females and males struggle with eating disorders which have developed, often out of a desire to attain to a certain standard of appearance, a standard that is most often not real...just photo-shopped. Please note, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with wanting your outside to reflect who you are on the inside. The trouble comes when our emphasis and investment of time, talent/skill, energy and/or money become inordinately focused on our outward appearance. God’s standard of beauty remains constant and is not measured on the basis of outward appearance. I Samuel 16:7b (NIV) reads “...people look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Have you ever met someone that you did not initially experience as beautiful or attractive, yet you walk away from your encounter with that person thinking and feeling differently from what you initially saw through the lens of your own standard of beauty? When this happens, we are experiencing someone’s inside qualities shining through to the outside, interacting with and affecting who we are on the inside.

A reference to Jesus in Isaiah 53:2 (NIV) reads “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Yet we find in Luke 2:52 that Jesus is described as someone who “grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” Not because of how he appeared to others on the outside, but because of who He is on the inside. Imagine missing out on experiencing true connection and relationship with Jesus due to his outward appearance when He is the only one who can truly change who we are on the inside for eternity.

God desires that we shine, reflecting His face, who He is, from the inside out (2 Cor. 4:6 “For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”) Eccl. 3:11 reminds us that it is God “...who makes everything beautiful in His time.” I Pet. 3:3-4 further helps us with understanding God’s perspective -- “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes, ‘Rather it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

So, the next time you are tempted to fret over some aspect of your physical or outward appearance, please ask yourself, ‘Where does my perspective on beauty come from -- the world’s standards, or God’s standard?’ I hope you choose God’s standard every time.

Kim Alston

Christian Counselor

Kim has her Masters Degree in Christian Counseling from Cairn University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Her areas of counseling specialty include relationship/attachment needs, identity strength/development, women's issues, self-harm/self-injury, depression, grief and loss, and trauma recovery.



13 Reasons Why Not

One of our most uncomfortable family dinner conversations began with a disturbing question. With tears in her eyes, my 12-year old asked, “I heard that Mrs. Jackson killed herself Friday night. Is that right?” When I asked her where she had heard that, she replied, “On the school bus, this morning.” Mrs. Jackson was our neighbor and the mother of my daughter’s classmate. Then, less than one year later, my daughter’s best friend lost her big brother to suicide; again, bringing that difficult subject to our dinner table.

These were not conversations I was planning to have with my daughter at such a young age, and I am deeply saddened at how they were forced upon us. Ironically, at that time, I was volunteering on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). Through that work, I had the heart-wrenching experience of talking many people off the proverbial ledge. Sadly, I also spoke to many teenagers who were struggling – alone - with thoughts of ending their young lives. Recently a lot of buzz has been generated around the new Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why.” Based on the fiction novel by Jay Asher, the show chronicles the series of events leading to the suicide of a teenage girl, Hannah. Hannah has left behind audiotapes for 13 people who played a role in Hannah’s decision to kill herself. The series has generated much controversy and discussion among families and school districts. In addition to its graphic depiction of suicide, the show also depicts bullying, rape, slut-shaming, and the bystanders and others who failed to respond.

What is the Christian response to suicide and suicidal thoughts, especially among teenagers? Do we just hope to God that going to Youth Group will provide enough insulation for our most vulnerable teens? Most mental health professionals agree that talking about suicide with teens will not plant the idea or inspire them to attempt suicide. It may, however, have a protective effect. It opens up the door for your teen to share some of their deepest hurts, anxieties, fears, and disappointments. Perhaps they have questions, too.Ask your teen the question: Have you ever thought about ending your life? If there has been a suicide in your community, ask your teen if they knew the student and how the death has impacted them. More than anything, listen without judgment. If your teen has expressed suicidal thoughts, ask your school counselor, pastor, and/or pediatrician for help and referrals.

The Scriptures arm us with wisdom and protection. God’s promises are an anchor for the lost and despondent. Many people attempt suicide because they see it as their only escape. But God will provide a way out, that you may be able to endure (1 Cor 10:13) the hurt and the pain. Many people who attempt suicide feel alone and unloved. But Jesus said, “I am with you always.” (Matt 28:20) Nothing can separate us from His love; neither death nor life…neither the present nor the future…nor anything else in all creation (Romans 8-38-39). “Nothing” includes bullying, rape, shame, loss, breakups, failing grades, drugs, and any stressor or pain that is overwhelming your teen.

Personalize these scriptures for your teen, show them how God’s promises apply to them. “For I know the plans I have for [Becky],” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give [Becky] a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11). Whether that future is tomorrow or the end of senior year, God is faithful. In your teen’s world, “plans” may mean finals, course selection, friendships, romance, spring break, or college applications. But God’s plans are higher and greater and they give each of us purpose. He wastes nothing and no one. Help your teen see herself as part of something greater, beyond herself. Serving others is a great way to develop a sense of purpose and meaning to life.

Many people report faith as one of their biggest protective factors to suicide. As your teen grows in his or her own faith, encourage them to rest in that faith. Our faith is a gift from God, enabled and empowered by His Spirit, to give us strength in moments of weakness. Tell your teen how your own faith has helped you through times of trouble or uncertainty, and how God helped you grow through that situation. May your family grow and thrive as you navigate the teen years together, with God’s blessing.

Susan Sciarratta

Susan Sciarratta

Christian Counselor

Susan has her master's in Christian Counseling and we are excited to have her. Her areas of counseling specialty include women's issues, relationship and marriage counseling, pre-marital, childhood abuse or sexual abuse, grief, depression, suicidal thoughts, and working with adolescents.



When Life Gets Tough

How is life going for you? Life can often seem like a roller coaster of ups and downs. Good times and bad, things to celebrate and tragedies to grieve. Life has been tough for my wife and I as we have been dealing with a difficult family situation over the last few months. As I reflect on what we have been facing, I think it comes down to choosing one of two paths. The first is the path of despair. We you go through difficult times, it is easy to look at the situation in isolation and get discouraged, question yourself, and even doubt God. And this leads to depression, despair, and just feeling frustrated. You can also find yourself in the blame game where you look for someone to hold responsible even if it is no one’s fault.

The second path is the path of faith. The path of faith looks at the problem not in isolation, but in relation to our belief in God, and His care and concern for us. When we look to God, we are reminded that there is someone bigger than our problems. A number of Scriptures come to mind. The first is John 16:33 where Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Even though life seems to be falling apart, when I look at life with the eyes of faith in God, I can have peace. How is that possible? Jesus gives us the answer, because He has overcome the world. If Jesus can conquer death, then through Him you can conquer anything this world can throw at you! Notice also He tells us that we should expect problems. We live in a fallen world, and so “stuff happens.”

A second Scripture comes to mind from Isaiah 43. The people of God have been going through very difficult times with the defeat of their army, the destruction of their capital city, and many of them forced into exile. In verse 2 we read, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” I use this verse a lot in my ministry to first responders, for obvious reasons. God promises here that when we are facing difficult times, we will not be overcome by them. Why? Because the Lord your God is your savior. He will see you through. He has your back, your 6, and He will not let you down. As a police and fire chaplain, I have seen my guys face some difficult emergencies in the line of duty, and I remind that they are not alone. And neither are you if you will turn to God in faith and put your trust in Him.

Life can be difficult. There is no question that you and I will face tribulation. The question is, which path will you take?

Blessings,
Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul Randolph

Church Pastor/Christian Counselor

Dr. Paul also has extensive experience working with pastors, missionaries, as well as first responders and members of the military. Our ministry is based in Southeastern PA with office locations in Southampton, Yardley, and Northeast Philadelphia.



Relationship Foot Washing

This week we remember the events leading up to our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It starts with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. During the week a number of events take place, and one of the most significant of these is their time in the Upper Room on Thursday night. As they gather for dinner, the disciples are discussing who among them is the greatest. In contrast, Jesus, who literally was the greatest person in the room, does something unheard of. He gets a towel and a bowl and begins to wash the feet of his disciples. Normally, a servant, or the youngest person present would take on this menial task. But tonight is different, Jesus does the foot washing. This was a dramatic demonstration of his humility and his servant heart. And this was an action by Jesus that would be long remembered.

For those of you who are married, I want you to ask yourself the question, what would it mean to practice foot washing in your marriage relationship? It is so easy to focus on what you want, or to demand your way. But what does it mean to humble yourself and do this for your spouse?

To serve my spouse more.
To let my spouse serve me.
To listen to my spouse more.
To show more affection.
To show more appreciation.
To spend more time together.
To e more patient and forgiving.
To serve with no strings attached.
To do things that aren’t “my job.”

Foot washing can be applied to any relationship, not just marriage. Try it in a friendship, with your co-workers, your neighbors, or other members of your family. As Jesus taught us in Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Blessings,
Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul Randolph

Church Pastor/Christian Counselor

Dr. Paul also has extensive experience working with pastors, missionaries, as well as first responders and members of the military. Our ministry is based in Southeastern PA with office locations in Southampton and Northeast Philadelphia.



Does It Really Matter If Parents Are Married?

So does it matter if two people love each other and have children if they live together without being married? Or if they are living together and then get married after they have a child? Some new reach shows gives some clear answers that should be considered by any couple considering whether they should live together or not, and when to start a family. Over the years, I have documented all of the problems for couples who decide to live together prior to marriage or in place of marriage. University studies, independent research, and marriage counselors all consistently that couples who live together before or in place of marriage have more struggles with conflict resolution, less sexual satisfaction, and much higher rates of breaking up or getting divorced (if they do decide to get married eventually). Now a new study from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) demonstrates that married parenthood remains the best path to a stable family.

This runs contrary to popular belief that it is ok to have and raise children when the parents are living together but not married. According to a recent National Center for Health Statistics report, 75% of women, and 76% of men agree with that statement. In addition, 70% of women in the United States cohabitate with their boyfriend prior to marriage. The NCFMR study found that 3 out of 5 children born to unmarried women are born to parents who are living together but not married. In recent years, while the percentage of children born to unwed mothers declined from 43% to 41%, the percentage of children born to parents who are cohabitating more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2014.
,br> So just how stable is the family with parents who live together compared to the family with parents who are married? Children born to parents who are cohabiting break up by the time they reach 12 years old at twice the rate as children from homes where the parents were married when the child were born. What about parents who live together and then get married after the birth of their child? According to a 2014 report by the Institute for Family Studies, while biological parents who marry after the birth of their child do better than those who don’t marry, these marriages have a higher divorce rate than marriages where the parents were married prior to the birth of their child.
,br> According to a study out of Great Britain, couples who marry prior to having children were much less likely to break up by the time the child turns 15 (24% divorce rate) compared to couples who had children and then got married (56% divorce rate), compared to couples who had children and never marry (69% break up rate). In addition, parents who cohabitate have more family transitions as one or both parents find a new person to live with. Finally, children born to cohabiting parents are more likely to experience poverty, child abuse, and other negative outcomes (higher rates of drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and lower school performance) compared to the children of married parents.

If you are thinking about living together prior to, or in place of marriage, go into it with both eyes open and understand the negative impacts and additional problems you will face compared to couples who marry first. While it may seem outdated and old fashioned, marriage is still the best way to guarantee a long and happy life with the person you love, and for your children.

Blessings,
Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul Randolph

Church Pastor/Christian Counselor

Dr. Paul also has extensive experience working with pastors, missionaries, as well as first responders and members of the military. Our ministry is based in Southeastern PA with office locations in Southampton and Northeast Philadelphia.



Amazing Grace

This week we had the first significant snowfall of the winter here in Philly. As I was looking out at the snow covering the ground around my home, I was reminded of this verse from Isaiah 1:18, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow….” Here we see the power of God’s grace which is the answer for the fundamental problem of every person who has lived, is living, and is yet to be born. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It goes on to warn us that we deserve God’s judgment and eternal punishment as a result of our sin (Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…”).

You may be thinking, “wait a minute Dr. Paul, what about all of the good things that I do, that should count for something!” The problem with this thinking is twofold. First, God is holy, and that is the standard He must demand of us, “For you are to be holy for I am holy.” The second problem is that even if you do more good than bad, the bad will poison the good. Let me illustrate it this way. Let’s say you are making a large omlet that calls for 5 eggs. The first 4 eggs you crack open are fresh and look great. The last one you crack open into the bowl is green, slimy, and foul. Would you continue to mix those eggs, cook and eat that omlet? Yet you expect God to accept the omlet of your life as a mix of good and bad eggs?

So what is the answer, because it seems we are all doomed. The answer is found in the grace of God described in Isaiah 1:18. God is able to take the filth of sin in our lives and make it clean, just like my yard after a new snow fall. How can He do that? He can do that because of the death of Christ who gave His life to pay the penalty for our sin. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.” How incredible that God the Son becomes a man to live a life we can never live (sinless), to pay a price we can never pay. Have you experienced the power of God’s amazing grace? If not, or you have questions about this, please call us on our counseling life, 215-947-6465, or reach out by email by clicking on the contact tab. Ephesians 1:7, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace.”

Blessings,
Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul Randolph

Church Pastor/Christian Counselor

Dr. Paul also has extensive experience working with pastors, missionaries, as well as first responders and members of the military. Our ministry is based in Southeastern PA with office locations in Southampton and Northeast Philadelphia.



A New Year, A New You?

If you are like me, the new year represents a time for a fresh start. The later months of 2106 were very tough for me and our family. It was like the opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...." And in my service as a police and fire chaplain the ended with a number of difficult incidents with fatalities. So while God blessed me in so many ways (the birth of our first granddaughter, Paul's engagement to Brie), I am looking forward to the fresh start 2017 affords me. How about you?

One of the themes of Scripture is the opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning. This is often associated with the new birth we experience when we first come to faith in Jesus. The Bible refers to this as being born again (see John 3). Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that, "if anyone be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation, all the old things pass away, behold, all things become as new." God is the God of the new beginning, the fresh start, the new creation! If you have never made a commitment of faith in Jesus, asked Him to forgive you of your sins, and make you into this new creation, you can do that right now, today. Simply tell Him this is your desire, ask Him to forgive you of your sins, and to be your savior. And then call me right now on our counseling line, 215-947-6465 so I can help you to get started in this new relationship with God.

But maybe you, like me, have been a Christian for quite some time (50 years for me, man am I getting old). God also has a message of new beginnings for you and me as well. It is found for us in one of the most uplifting books of the Bible. In Philippians 3:12-14 he writes, "Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Jesus Christ. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet, but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." I love this. Paul admits that he is just like us, far from perfect, still struggling with sin. But he does not let this struggle with sin or the difficult circumstances of his life hold him back, he keeps pressing forward! And what is the prize? The prize is the blessings of a relationship with Christ and the promise of even more when we experience Him face to face in eternity! So how about you? What are you striving for in 2017? How does God want to make things new in your life?

Blessings,
Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul Randolph

Church Pastor/Christian Counselor

Dr. Paul also has extensive experience working with pastors, missionaries, as well as first responders and members of the military. Our ministry is based in Southeastern PA with office locations in Southampton and Northeast Philadelphia.