Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ANTIDOTE - to the - 10 Dumbest Things Men's Ministries Do

Last week I highlighted the book The Ten Dumbest Things Christians Do, by Pastor Mark Atteberry where he presents the case that as Christians, we sure can find ourselves involved in the dumbest activity which hurts people and lessens the impact of the true Gospel.

This week we'll look together at the ANTIDOTE for each 'Dumb Thing' together. There is hope to turning it around.

Let's dig in:

#1 Sling mud on the Bride of Christ - As men build men's ministries one problem we face is slinging mud on the bride of Christ when things don't go our way. [We're adults, we'd never do that, right?] Practical advice #1 - As you build, always remember, 'Things NEVER go as planned'. Biblical Advice #1 - Take a minute and read the account o Paul's conversion [Acts 9:1-9] and see the murderous plans he had for the Christians and how God radically altered his plans and changed his heart. Do you need a conversion on some scale?

#2 Win people to the church vs. to Christ - Winning people to ourselves comes form the wound of the orphan heart. An orphan heart seeks man's approval and praise desperately. Practical advice #2 Read Jack Frost's book titled From Spiritual Slavery to Spiritual Sonship and learn the process of exchanging the orphan heart for a heart of the Son of the King. Biblical Advice #2 - Take a good long hard look at Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23. What's the key word? What do you have to deny and what do you have to take up?

#3 Living below our level of beliefs - A serious ministry killer is living below the level of your beliefs. Practical advice #3 To know God and to experience God are two different things. Many people know God but have never experienced Him. Why not learn first hand how to experience God through Henry Blackaby's study, Experiencing God study? Biblical Advice #3 Take some time and marinate on Thomas' encounter with Jesus [John 20:24-29], upon his return and look at Thomas' skepticism closely. Was it that he knew He was Jesus - or that he experienced Jesus - that changed Thomas?

#4 Speaking above the level of our knowledge - Ouch, this has been my 'dumb thing' for years in ministry. Practical advice #4 As my bride always tells me, it's alright to say, "I don't know" followed up by, "However, since I don't know, I am more than willing to find out with you." to let whomever you're speaking with know that you're real. Biblical advice #4 take a good long look at the times Peter put his foot in his mouth and how many time the Lord had to smack him down. Case in point - Matthew 17:1-6 - See Peter get bonked by Abba Father with "LISTEN TO HIM"…

#5 Hopping from church to church - Where as men we don't hop from church to church we do, on the other hand, hop from ministry to ministry. Our hopping comes from impatience and our inability to seriously wait upon the Lord revealing himself to us. Practical advice #5 Simply remember a time in which your friends quit on you. Reflect back upon the wound it left and contrast that to the wound you'd be making on your friends and Savior by quitting and hopping today. Biblical advice #5 take time to read the account of Jesus and the disciples in the garden with Jesus praying Matthew 26:36-45. Specifically notice Jesus' response. Wanna be that guy or not?

#6 Fighting among ourselves - Many of us guys like to 'duke' it out in many ways and many forms. Deep down we're sinning and we know it. Practical advice #6 - Ask yourself "Why am I fighting this guy/s?" Then ask the question again three more times within a full day. If you're honest, the results will astonish you. Biblical advice #6 - Take time to read James 4:1-11 and ask the big question, "Whom do I submit to usually?"

#7 Missing Golden Opportunities - Many guys are legitimately busy these days while others overcommit. Regardless, we know deep down there are several opportunities to love and serve, and we miss them. Practical advice #7 - Using a scratch piece of paper take an inventory of the things/activities you have committed to. Which ones do you have to say "NO" to in order to get to a deeper "YES"? Biblical advice #7 - I'd be lying if I did not confess that I have suffered too from the 'Martha-Martha' disease. Take a good long look at Luke 10:38-42 to see what I mean. Jesus even drills down that it's more about doing 'one' thing well than many…

#8 Settling for mediocrity - Piggybacking #7 in being too busy is the result of settling for mediocrity. Practical advice #8 - Try this: Next time you go to a nice sit-down restaurant and order a meal and tell the waiter/waitress to have the chef do a mediocre job on your steak/fish/chicken. I wonder what you'd get? Fact is you don't expect a mediocre dinner each time you dine; why then are you 'giving' mediocre spiritual meals to those you serve? Biblical advice #8 - First take a look at Titus 3:1-9 and examine the grace you've been given and your full inheritance, as well view Philippians 4:7-9 in light of your inheritance seeing your mind is guarded what you're to think about.

#9 Allowing wolves to live among the sheep - It's tough to be the guy/s who has to remove the wolf from amongst the sheep. So many of us don't want to get bitten. Practical advice #9 - Instead of going head to head with a wolf use the power of triangulation. Instead of two points, head to head, [you and the wolf] enter a third point to the conversation. It can be a standard which was agreed to at the beginning of your relationship/program/service [some come in the form of a contract/covenant/code of conduct]. Instead of going toe-to-toe with the wolf let the wolf see he is alone by you and the other men standing in unity with the contract/covenant/code of conduct you all agreed to and when the wolf sees he's outnumbered, he will flee. Biblical advice #9 - Following the biblical advice in point #8, Settling for mediocrity, we'd do well to continue reading in Titus 3 verses 10-11 on how to specifically remove the wolf.

#10 Accepting the unacceptable - Guess what? We've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. However, our own sins do not prevent us from confronting others in theirs. Practical advice #10 - Read the last chapter of Mark Atteberry's book, The Ten Dumbest Things Christians Do for his advice on how to 'not' accept the unacceptable, it's paramount. Also realize there are a minimum of 1-3 things you're doing or partaking in today that are completely unacceptable to being an heir of God your Father - seek help in pushing them out - TODAY. Biblical advice #10 - Read this one liner with me and marinate - "If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work." 2 Timothy 2:21 (NLT)

Reading this list we can continually tell ourselves it is not easy very hard to do these things. I'll concede with you that you're right; that it isn't easy and hard to do these things on one key point: "It's not easy and hard to do these things IF we're trying to be Jesus." IF we're unbalanced and IF we don't have a proper view on these ten dumb things, then 'YES' it's not going to be easy and very hard to do them.

However, if you and I take a minute to really, and I mean really look closely at God's word as our closing thought, the whole thing should become crystal clear:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (NIV)

Let Him do the work IN you and THROUGH you and I promise - this stuff will be easy as pie...

Till next week.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Ten Dumbest Things Men's Ministries Do

In his book titled, The Ten Dumbest Things Christians Do, Pastor Mark Atteberry presents the case that as Christians, we sure can find ourselves involved in the dumbest activity which hurts people and lessens the impact of the true Gospel.

After training over 600+ male mentors nationwide with Guys For Life reaching men in unplanned pregnancy [video examples] I've come to discover some of the dumbest things we do - when trying to reach and love men. Using the master list from Mark's book, I'll share with you what I see and with next weeks article present you the hope we have to turn it around.

Here's Mark's list and my observations:

#1 Sling mud on the Bride of Christ - Guys love to create. As guys building a ministry together sometimes the team idea gets ignored. When things don't go according to some men's expectations they begin to sling mud on the bride of Christ with their negative comments, gossip and unwholesome talk. Simply put, if you're talking negative, you're deceived and slinging mud on the bride of Christ.

#2 Win people to the church vs. to Christ - It's a little different with men's ministry. Rather than win people over to the church many times I see men win men over to themselves instead of to Christ. In the desire to serve guys, sometimes in our need for affirmation as men, we try to win men over to ourselves. Not good. Winning a man over to yourself will eventually fail as we are all fallen. We can not escape the fact that we we're going to fail people. Christ never fails.

#3 Living below our level of beliefs - A real men's ministry killer is the fact that as Christian men today we live far below the level of our beliefs. That is, Christ can do it - but I can't. Sure, you can't change water into wine - however - you can get up off your rump and shake a guys hand, look him in the eye and say "Hello".

#4 Speaking above the level of our knowledge - Ouch, Mark hits another nerve with his book. This one's a biggie. Most guys coming forward to be served in ministry or joining a men's ministry are skeptical. They have a lot of competence, but their willingness to address any situation is low. As such, being a Christian man in men's ministry when you speak above the level of your knowledge, trust me, the skeptical man is going to discover your wrongs and hold it against you. Don't give him that negative leverage.

#5 Hopping from church to church - A key struggle amongst churches is 'Church Hopping' however with men's ministry it's 'Ministry Hopping'. Men sometimes have short attention spans and we get impatient when we don't see the writing on the wall, understand what's required of us or see a detailed support plan and structure. As a result of being impatient we 'hop' to another ministry and repeat the cycle.

#6 Fighting among ourselves - Many men like to call this "Intense Fellowship" where we raise our voices without really yelling and dig in our heels to stand our ground. We're men right? As such we're to be mighty warriors for the king, you know swords and shields and all that jazz. Fact is many of us men 'cover' our sin this way and are really in the core of our hearts fighting one another with our weapons of PRIDE.

#7 Missing Golden Opportunities - working with thousands of men over the years who have made bad decisions, only to reflect on them later, I've never heard one guy say, "You know Kurt, I think I'm gonna start my day making bad decisions and go to bed with a load of regret." No matter how 'busy' you think you are, you're not. You're simply overcommitted to enjoy a golden opportunity like loving another person. Chew on that.

#8 Settling for mediocrity - I remember reading somewhere in the pages of my bible to do everything excellently. However, as men involved in men's ministry we really do settle for mediocrity a good many times. As a result of 'feeling' to busy, majorly distracted and wanting to be part of something we spread ourselves thin with commitments and we settle for mediocrity with each commitment we extend ourselves with. Quantity never equals quality.

#9 Allowing wolves to live among the sheep - We know that if left alone with a wolf, it could kill us. In men's ministry the wolf sometimes is the man who is cynical, a never ending critic, gossip and even a down and out liar. Yet, because of our fear, we keep the guy in our ranks for various reasons [money, influence, power, etc.] and we succumb to the power of his eyes and fangs. Leaving this man in our ranks will lead to death - spiritual death.

#10 Accepting the unacceptable - Finally, the big one, accepting the unacceptable. The area in which the enemy of God has a 'hay-day' with men's hearts and minds. Wanting to be a man after God's own heart in men's ministry sometimes get's things get tangled up when we see another brother in absolute sin. We love the guy, we want to be there for him and with an unbalanced view of our own sin [greater or less than his] we think to ourselves, "I can't confront that guy, I've got my own sin problems. Who am I to talk?" So we accept his sin, maybe even our own and we diminish the power of the Gospel.

In closing, before revealing the antidote to these ten problems, marinate on this:

As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:36-39 (NIV)

Till next week.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Timeless Truth Number Three -Share the Truth when the Time is Right

Timeless Truth Number Three - Share the Truth When the Time is Right.

It was 5:50 AM on a warm spring Saturday morning. Of all the places I could be, preferably in bed at home, I was at the pregnancy care center I worked act. A young couple I mentored had finished enjoying their high school prom the night before and I came in early to satisfy a suspecting hunch that this couple was going to be in for a very rough ride before they woke. I hated being right as their morning started with a bang.

"Kurt, she's in there, she's in there! What do I do?" came the call from young Kyle. "I can't believe they did it, that they actually took her there!" was all I could hear being yelled at me on the other end of the phone shortly after I arrived at the center.

"Kyle, calm down. Do you mean to tell me that Stacy's at Planned Parenthood, right now?"

"Yes. We didn't think they'd take her! Oh man, this can't be happening. Not now, what do I do? This can't be happening to us." came Kyle's broken plea.

Four weeks earlier I had met Kyle and Stacy. With just over a month and half of school left Stacy and Kyle came to the pregnancy care center to confirm what they suspected - that Stacy was pregnant. Just weeks away from starting the plans she had for college and the rest of he life, suddenly her life took a dramatic turn.

Being the men's ministry coordinator it came natural for the staff to assign me to work with Kyle. From there somehow (probably providence) both Kyle and Stacy while clients of the center, became my wife's and my very good young friends.

The young couple told us that they wanted to have their child, start a parenting plan and make a go of it as parents to their baby. In spite of not being married, the two were very committed to one another and wanted to step up to the plate and handle this new responsibility they'd created.

Yet there was one small problem.

Stacy's parents were not at all enthusiastic about her having a baby. They had hopes and desires for their daughter and strongly made their opinion known over and over with the young couple. Kyle and Stacy had their hearts determined to become parents, yet, as young people they foolishly tried to side-step the incoming messages from Stacy's parents. They did not take her parents demands for Stacy to have an abortion as seriously as they should have.

Alone at times with Kyle I tried time and time again to get him to see the real and imminent danger to ignoring Stacy's parents. As a young buck, trying to prove himself, the majority of my pleas bounced off of his conscious like bee-bee's being shot at a speeding train.

I discovered early on when it comes to matters of the heart, there is not a single shred of logic, insurmountable evidence or wise counsel that a heart will listen to that will change it's course or direction. Kyle's and Stacy's hearts were set, they were going to their prom, going to enjoy themselves and nothing was going to stand in the way of the doing otherwise with their evening, or their child.

Making several last ditch pleas with them the week leading up to their prom I noticed that they were beginning to tune me out. No matter how much I turned up the volume or intensity of my message - that they better have a plan to handle Stacy's objecting parents - they became more determined to enjoy their prom and deal with the promised appointment by Stacy's parents to visit Planned Parenthood somehow, someway on their own.

"Kurt, I need your help! Stacy's mom and dad have her inside Planned Parenthood right now. How can they do this to us? Please, I need your help man, I'll do anything you tell me." Now, in spite of all of their short-term planning Kyle and Stacy's world turned upside down when her parents, as promised, drove Stacy in for an abortion the morning after prom.

"Kyle, tell me the whole story and get yourself down here to the center as soon as possible. If Stacy does not want to have an abortion, no one can make her do it against her will. Let's get to work." was all I could get him to hear from me in his frantic state. Within minutes, he was at the center. In my van we drove and parked close the the facility. We guided Stacy by cell phone on what her options were for the next hour.

As the cathedral bells down the street began to chime it was 10:00 AM we saw Stacy come out of the clinic beaming as she recognized Kyle across the way. The two embraced and we headed off to reroute the young couple plans as how to best handle the situation with Stacy's parents. It was a glorious morning.

Only wanting the best for their daughter Stacy's parents thought they did what was right. Wanting the best for themselves Kyle and Stacy did what they thought was right and the families collided.

Today, Stacy's parents in spite of their original desires have seen their daughter thrive as a young mother. They've come to know their grandson as a beautiful young boy with glorious blue eyes and can't get enough of the little guy. Most of all Stacy's parents have gone on to see their daughter thrive professionally and continue her education at a premiere university. There is joy - where once there was pain.

As for me I learned the value in presenting the truth to this young couple when the time was right. No matter how hard I tried to push the truth on them of the impending situation, I did not realize or take into account I could have been damaging our relationship by trying to force-feed the truth in spite of their strong will. I could not deliver the truth of what to do - until - Kyle's heart was broken and ready to hear from me that morning.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:17 (NIV)

It wasn't until Kyle was crushed and broken, that his loosely held plans blew up in his face, could he hear me and follow me.

It's the same for all of us, no matter the situations in our life. Our loving savior Jesus is gracious to deliver us the truth when the time is right. Our hardened hearts are not something He's going to come against with our free will. Look closely:

"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah." Matthew 16:13-20 (NIV)

Did you catch that? Jesus delivered the full truth to His disciples when the time was right - and - as an added bonus the verse closes with the fact that He ordered His disciples not to tell anyone He was the Messiah. Why? It's simple, He's going to deliver the truth to others - when the time is right.

Think about it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Timeless Truth Number Two - Meet People Where They're At, Not Where You Want Them To Be

Timeless Truth Number Two - Meet people where they’re at, not where you want them to be.

They were a young and charming married couple. Mark and Amber seemed to great parents to a lovely two-year old daughter. Mark had a steady job at a local oil change company and was on track to becoming the manager, while his wife Amber worked professionally in an office across town. They were tracking upwards, pinching pennies and making the best of their situation to move their lives forward. Then, as they told me, the rug got pulled from underneath them.

Sitting in a restaurant for the first time with this young couple I heard their story of how they were high school sweethearts, after graduation were married and became parents quickly. Both of them told me their history as children, what home life was like how they were raised in and around the church, and how they saw themselves as people whom valued the essence of life. Understanding I worked for a local pregnancy care center they were letting me know without asking or prompting how precious unborn life was to them.

Yet, because of current hardships, in spite of their upbringing and convictions of their heart - they were skeptical of finding a reason to have another child right now and were deeply considering an abortion to their unborn child Amber just learned she was pregnant with. The rug [their dreams of how life should be going for them] got pulled from underneath them.

Confused, after hearing their life’s story, their upbringing and how they viewed life I asked, “What would lead you into thinking you really needed to have an abortion right now?” I was taken back by their follow up response, “We don’t have room in our car for another car seat and we can’t afford another car. This is our only option.”

Mark and Amber were driving a late model Ford F-150 truck. As it turned out Mark drove Amber to work each day and with a car seat between them dropped his little girl off to daycare everyday. With only room for three people in their car, and not enough money to purchase a second car, the young couple felt stretched beyond their means and an abortion would alleviate their stress.

Inside of my head I thought, “Is that it? All you need is a set of wheels and you won’t have an abortion with your second child?” So instead of blurting what the arm of the flesh wanted me to proclaim, [remember how I'd blown it] I rerouted my thinking and as an alternative offered them another set of thoughts.

I asked if they could give me some time to get my thoughts wrapped around what they were facing and that I’d really like to help, but I wanted to make sure I could. “Give me maybe two days max, before you guys decide to do anything, ok?” To which, surprisingly, they agreed.

Back at the center I worked at I asked the executive director John McCastle if I could have the 1993 Mercury Villager van that had been given to the ministry as a donation [to sell later for funds back to the ministry]. I told him how a young couple saw the need to have an abortion of their child because they could not afford a second car. He immediately agreed with one small provision - the van needed serious work.

I remembered that the area center, which referred this young couple to me, had a small and budding church across the parking lot. I had just been introduced to Pastor Bobby Petit of Timber Ridge Community Church the same week. Without hesitation I called him and explained the situation. He told me about guys who worked as auto mechanics in their men’s ministry and he’d ask them to help. He called me within an hour sharing the men wanted to fix the van at their expense.

I called the couple and told them I needed two solid weeks to present them a gift that would change everything for them. Trusting me, they again held off a decision to do anything and on Christmas Eve morning I met them, along with the staff at the local pregnancy center, Pastor Bobby and some of the mechanics who volunteered and we presented Mark & Amber a seven passenger van to meet their needs.

Coated in tears the young couple accepted our gift and with changed hearts and minds agreed to go ahead with the pregnancy of their second child and give their family a fighting chance.

It was no different for Thomas over two thousand years ago with Jesus Himself. Having not seen Jesus risen like the other disciples had done Thomas exclaimed, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. [John 20:25b]” Realizing Thomas needed to see it before he could believe it Jesus met him a week later head-on and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. [John 20:27b]” With that, Thomas was moved beyond his skepticism and believed. Jesus met Thomas where he was at.

I learned to meet Mark and Amber where they were at and as a result - they believed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Timeless Truth Number One - Earn The Right To Be Heard

Timeless Truth Number One - You have to earn the right to be heard by building trusting friendships and relationships.

His name was Tim and I will never, I mean never, forget his name. Desperately he came to the pregnancy care center where I was developing a men’s program looking for help. He and his girlfriend had discovered they were pregnant and for days were aggressively arguing about what to do and physically fighting. Broken in spirit Tim came to me for help - and I blew it big-time.

Just under a years time I had been putting the pieces in place for our pregnancy care center to begin working with men as the men’s ministry coordinator. For twenty-five years this center, as with the lion’s share of American pregnancy care centers strictly worked with women. To no-one’s fault it’s just the way they developed since most centers began in 1973.

In the middle of preparing a PowerPoint presentation for a large church the call came over my phone, “Kurt, your appointment is here. Tim is here to see you.” Not looking away from my computer engrossed in what I was preparing I nonchalantly replied, “Send him on back to my office.” With that the receptionist sent Tim around the corner to where I was working.

Before I looked away from my computer Tim was in my office and I smelled him before I saw him. Turning around to greet him all I can remember was seeing tattoos, piercings, and unkempt hair. Not too mention the most blood shot eyes I think I’d ever seen. Literally inside my head I said, “Why the hell would anyone want to do this to him or herself?” He smelled like an ashtray and began to tell me his non-typical story.

He and his girlfriend had known they were pregnant for more than two weeks and as this particular encounter would have it Tim’s girlfriend - not him - wanted to end the pregnancy through an abortion. Contrary to the building and preparation of our men’s program where more than eighty percent of the women choosing abortion simply wanted support from their boyfriend, here was a young man wanting to step up to the plate, accept responsibility for being a dad and turn his life around.

However being a young buck and spanking new leader of a Christian men’s program at a pregnancy care center I quickly misdiagnosed the situation with Tim. My thought was, “All this kid really needs is Jesus and it’ll all workout”. With two hot movie tickets burning a hole in my wallet I asked him if he wanted to see a movie that night. Problem was the tickets were for The Passion of The Christ and I didn’t know anything about Tim’s leaning one way towards or away from God.

We met at the theater later that night, had refreshments in the lobby and went in to see our movie. Unprepared for what I was about to see myself I neglected telling Tim the emotional roller coaster he was about to ride. I’d heard reviews from our pastors who had already screened it. For nearly the next two hours we sat riveted to our seats, never moved and certainly never spoke. We came out together coated in tears.

In the hallway outside the theater we stood together silently as other people passed us for what seemed the longest time. Tim looked over at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I don’t know whether to tell you I love you or hate you for taking me through this movie with you”. We talked of things I can’t remember of for another minute or two and then went our separate ways to our cars.

That was the last I saw of Tim. He never returned a single one of my cell phone calls. I have no idea of what happened between him and his girlfriend. I can only guess, because I was so green, so eager to be the evangelistic hero what happened between him and his girlfriend, based on what I knew about them.

I violated Timeless Truth Number One - I lost the right to be heard to speak into Tim’s life. By ignoring the need to build a trusting friendship and relationship with him I put us on a path to ruin. Not genuinely listening to his needs, to honor the man, my wants, desires and ideas of what should happen next for Tim overtook the situation. Like countless scores of other people seeking help from para-church ministries Tim got burned and burned so bad to be never heard from again.

If it’s you my friend and no matter the look, smell or feel of the person approaching you, tattoos and all, look through all of it to the underlying needs being expressed, listen and love that person. Build the foundation of your service to God through building trusting friendships and relationships like Jesus did, with sinners and tax collectors coated in desperate needs ready to hear from Him who can genuinely help.

Today’s article is the first of a three-part series.