Do People Who Commit Suicide Go To Heaven Or Hell?

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Suicide doesn’t have any national boundaries, or generational boundaries, or economic boundaries. It’s a phenomenon that transcends beyond any box we try to put it in. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
121 suicides occur in America each day. That’s 5 lives gone every hour.
For every suicide that is successful, 25 more are attempted unsuccessfully.
Men die of suicide 3 1/2 times more than women.
The highest rate of suicide is middle aged white males.
White males accounted for 7 out of 10 suicides in 2015.

When it comes to faith and eternal life, this is the question that is asked:    

Do people who commit suicide go to heaven or hell?

Suicide is a form of murder. Murder is a sin. Suicide is not an act of faith. It is an act of doubt that God still has good things in store for the individual in the future. It’s an act of disbelief that God loves them.

This is why the church must be a family that balances grace and truth. 

The more gracious people, (which can lead to shallowness), say those who commit suicide go to heaven because these people are full of love and mercy and want every to be in heaven. 

The more truthful people, (which can lean into legalism), say those who commit suicide go to hell because these people see things in black and white, that wrong is wrong and suicide is giving up on God.

If we say all are going to heaven, that might give someone suicidal permission to end their life believing they’ll be with Jesus, just wanting to leave the pain of this world. If we say all go to hell, that might depress a person even more, ushering them toward ending their life. 

In some reading I was doing earlier this year, a psychiatric professional said that there are two classifications of suicide. There is: 

Irrational Suicide
and there is
Considered Suicide

Irrational suicide is the act by someone with a serious, documented mental illness. 

Considered suicide is the act by someone with no mental illness. They’ve considered the act, they’re weighed the consequences and they still go through with the suicide. 

Does someone who kills themselves go to heaven or hell?

Just to give a couple of clarifiers: 

  1. Only people who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior go to heaven at all. 
  2. Only God truly knows who believes in His Son and who doesn’t. It is up to God who receives eternity with Him or eternity in hell.

But you think about an irrational or a considered suicide – someone who loves Jesus most of their life, serves Him and loves others for decades, becomes ill mentally or depressed along the way and in an impulsive or thought-out moment, they harm themselves and end their life  –  

Heaven or hell?

I would try to answer this question with a question: 

Are people saved eternally by faith or by their last action?

Let’s say a guy in need comes up to you on the street and asks if you’ve got any money to give to him. You say “no” but in reality your pockets are full of cash. The guy in need gets angry and shoots you. You lied to him, you’re dead, it wasn’t repented of, but you were a Christian. Heaven or hell? 

If you’re on the edge of a cliff and someone pushes you off, and on your way falling to your death, you curse the person who pushed you to death, and you’re a Christian, heaven or hell? 

If a man lusts after a woman and that excitement causes a heart attack and he dies, and he was a Christian, heaven or hell?

Is someone saved by their faith in Jesus or by their last action?

Romans 10:9 says that, If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

It’s either you believe in Jesus as Lord and believe He is alive today and can save you from your sins (heaven)  OR you don’t believe in Him (hell). The Bible doesn’t speak of the last action. God’s above time. He’s concerned about you being His child. 

Four years ago I got a call from a Christian couple in their 60’s. The husband asked me to come over because their son, at 2:00AM earlier that morning, in his parents front yard, shot himself in the head, committing suicide.

I still remember seeing the red stain of blood on the front lawn as I walked into the house. 

I had no answers. Nothing to offer. I was in the home for 3 hours and there was more silence than there was speech. The mother was a zombie in her mannerisms. The father just kept asking the same things over and over to me: Is he in heaven Zach? Is my son in heaven? 

Their son professed Jesus as Savior and Lord most of his life. He had even won national Bible competitions, had attended Bible college. Over and over the father asked, Is he in heaven, Zach?

It was a considered suicide. Only God knows what happened to his soul. God’s grace has unknown bounds. 

What were the actions daily? What was his faith like in the weeks, months leading up to his final action? Where was his heart, focused on Jesus or focused on disbelief? 

This is why we’ve got to talk with our loved ones about Jesus every day because they are bombarded with mixed messages from their friends/music/co-workers/culture itself/movies/their own temptations. Leaders, parents, teachers and those with influence have got to keep repeating this: 

Those who take a step toward Jesus find wisdom and life, and those who don’t find foolishness and ruin. 

The instinctive response when life is hurtful or confusing is to wave our finger at God and yell at Him, to ask Him where He is or why doesn’t He love us. When you hear your loved ones accuse God because of how their life is going, that is a step toward depressive illness, a step toward hurting themselves. Remind them of God’s love. Show them God’s love. Pray for them to know God’s unconditional love for them. Getting angry at God is a disservice to the full and good life He wants us to live, the life Jesus came to die and rise from death for us to have. 

God says in Proverbs 8:35 that, “Whoever finds Me finds life and receives favor.” 

God is life. As long as someone is still breathing, they can commit their all to Jesus and be freely forgiven. 

Which brings ultimate peace. 

I want everyone to experience and know the peace that comes from believing in Jesus. No more doubt. No more depressive thoughts. No more disbelief that God is against you. No more lies that no one loves you. Just Jesus. And when there is Jesus, there is life. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Understanding Depression

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If you’ve never had a season of depressive illness or you haven’t battled clinical depression yourself, then it’s difficult to know the depths of despair one goes into. It’s difficult to empathize with they feel, how they think, how they view life. 

Maybe you’ve thought when thinking of someone who is depressed, Why can’t they just snap out of it?

350 million people in the world battle depression.
Women are 70% more likely to be depressed.
11% of teenagers will have a depression disorder by the time they leave home.
16 million Americans battle depression.
30% of college students report feeling depressed.
10% of people over 65 years old in our country are depressed.

The United States loses 80 BILLION dollars a year due to those who are depressed and don’t want to work on the productive level they could. 

50% of those who are diagnosed as depressed do not seek professional help and many battling a depressive illness believe the lie that God is against them, or doesn’t love them, or that He doesn’t exist.

Proverbs 18:14 says, A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Meaning, illness in the physical body comes and goes, but depression sticks around and can feel like an unbearable weight.

The medical world does not view depression as a psychological illness or even a mental or emotional illness. Medicine views depression as a physical issue (in the same category as a broken arm, they speak of a broken spirit). Doctors are able to check the fluid in someone’s spinal system and recognize deficiencies they have that affect the rest of the body and this is based out of the limbic system.

The limbic system is the center part of our brain that controls our emotions and our sleep patterns. It’s where our beliefs are cemented and it’s where we store our memories, so think of the movie INSIDE OUT if you’ve seen it, he entire movie was out of Riley’s limbic system. It affects the entire brain. 

If your favorite sports team wins the championship or you succeed at work or you book a vacation, there will be euphoria in your household and in your life, but after a day or two, your limbic system will get things down to normal when it comes to your mood. 

If you go through a tragedy, some kind of loss, and your makeup is healthy and solid, during and after that tragedy you’ll feel sad. You’ll cry. Eventually your limbic system will get your mood back to normal again. 

It’s when your limbic system is broken that can turn someone into a person their loved ones don’t recognize or remember, when the limbic system is broken, here are some symptoms: 

Erratic sleep patterns/Insomnia
Loss of appetite
Dizziness

Apathy
Heart palpitations

Breathing problems
Loss of affection
Anxiety
Irritability
Permanent sadness

Lethargy

Another verse in the book of Proverbs speaks to what these symptoms do to us: 

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down (Proverbs 12:25).

If someone is always worrying or cemented in sadness, and that’s all they do is worry and feel down, it’s like a lead blanket on their body when they wake up in the morning. They can’t move. 

If someone sad and lethargic and pessimistic, the medical world says it’s probably that their limbic system is broken. 

Someone pumped with drugs can have their limbic system broken. Hormones can break it. Viruses in the body can break it down. 

The medical world says that BY FAR the most lethal attack on our limbic system, which controls our moods, our memories and outlook on life, by far the most danger happens when someone is stressed.

It’s in the incorrect handling of stress that breaks us. 

Here are two things I have seen bring peace in my life and they properly handle the stress thrusted upon me and my family:

Being grateful and applying Scripture in our daily lives gives us peace. 

If you continue to be grateful, not just this month of thankfulness, but every day, it’s a healthy step. 

You get to wake up in this wonderful world, you get to be with your loved ones, you get to work, you get to be generous, you get to live in this country, you get to be a part of church, AND EVEN, you get to go through trials because God is molding you into someone more like Jesus – you are grateful, it will distance you from depressive thinking and those around you who battle depression will notice your positive, joy-filled manner and want what you have. 

AND if you are applying Scripture to your daily life, that means you’re reading the Bible, thinking about what you’ve read, talking with others about God’s Word, memorizing parts of it, and letting it affect your words and actions.

In the Christian worldview, we either walk toward Jesus and have wisdom or we walk toward anything else and have ruin.

When we shift our thinking to thanking God, praying to God, asking God to heal and strengthen us and when we apply His Word to our lives, which includes serving and forgiving others, there is peace that He gives as a gift.

I still get sad. I’m exhausted. I can feel beaten down. I get frustrated. I’ve experienced loss. But I know that when I continue to be grateful and read and apply truth I find in the Bible to my days, depression cannot root into my life. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Zach 

3 Ways to Rid Envy

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Pastor Craig Groeschell says that, The fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something else. 

At no other point in history than right now has there ever been so much opportunity to compare ourselves to others. It’s mainly because of this blessing and burden culture calls: social media. 

My ability to compare myself to others is so quick so because of social media. With one login I can see what “amazing” day everyone else is having, compared to how I am feeling at that moment. 

You log-on and see your friends out to lunch and you’re like, “Why wasn’t I invited?” 

You see pictures of people on their 4th vacation this year and you’re like, “I can’t even afford to go on a stay-cation. What are they doing on vacation number 4?”

And then there’s that classic picture of when your friend is on vacation and they’re sitting by the beach and they take a picture of their feet and the book they’re reading and they post it for all to see and you look at the picture and you’re like, “You know what, I hate those feet and I hate that book and I hate that beach.”

Envy: an evil, bitter emotion that easily rises up out of us at any moment. 

A verse in the New Testament says this: 

We’re not putting ourselves in a league with those who boast that they’re our superiors. We wouldn’t dare do that. But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point. (2 Corinthians 10:12)

Meaning, it’s straight up ridiculous for you to compare yourself to others, and then based on that comparison, to decide if you are good enough. 

We cannot faithfully follow Jesus if we’re always comparing ourselves to someone other than Jesus.

We’re fighting for our parents to notice us more than our siblings. We’re begging our friends or the opposite sex to notice us over others. We want our teachers and professors to see how smart and clever we are over other students. We want our boss and our co-workers to notice our our ideas successes. We want those who follow us on social media to see the great life we’re living. 

And it will never make us complete. 

To rid envy of your life, Jesus’ opinion of you has to matter more than anyone else’s. Pleasing Him has to matter more than pleasing anyone else. 

The reason why envy is damaging is when we compare ourselves to someone else, we either feel superior or we feel inferior.

Those aren’t godly emotions. 

Feeling better than someone or feeling worse than someone does not honor God (nor does it satisfy).

We look at someone and they’re not as put together or as seemingly strong and we think they don’t work as hard as we do or they’re not as likable as we are, not as smart. We think God has blessed us, not them. (We don’t say those things, but we feel them.) We feel superior. 

When we feel inferior is when we struggle with envy and jealousy. You look on instagram and someone else’s husband got them flowers or someone else’s kids made them breakfast in bed or someone else has a date or someone else got married or someone else got pregnant, again, or someone else got a promotion, someone else got to travel. We feel less than based on looking at instagram.

We go from instagram to insta-grumpy. 

Pastor Andy Stanley says, Our problem is we just want to live in the Land of “Er”.

We want to be rich-er, fast-er, bett-er, pretti-er, young-er.

And after we lived in the land of ER, we want to live in the land of “est”. Rich-est, prettiest, smartest, retweeted-est.

But neither being in the land of “Er”, or in the last of “Est”, neither feeling superior or inferior can satisfy the deep longing of our soul, nor do they enable us to live the life we were created to live. 

When the green monster of envy starts rising up in me or seeping out of me, there are a few things I do to help me focus on Jesus and stay in my lane. You can do these too.

Choose to Take a Social Media Fast

Every now and then you should take a break from social media. Some of you will go through the shakes, but it’s good to fast.

If one of the first things you do in the morning is look at facebook or instagram, you are setting yourself to have thoughts of, “I don’t have what they have”. 

I would suggest taking 3-5 days off. 40 straight days would be amazing, but at least choose a handful of days where you can recenter and pray and focus on Jesus and what He’s blessed you with.

Start and Keep a Gratitude Journal

Another thing I do is I write down what I am grateful for. 

This is a family practice. Before family dinner at night we talk about what we are grateful for that we experienced in our day. It calms our hearts after a day of being tempted to think we aren’t that good enough of a spouse, parent, child, student, worker when compared to others. We state aloud what we are sincerely grateful for. 

In addition, I have a running journal, and so does each member of my family, where we’ve written down what we am grateful for. When I am feeling envious or less-than, I go back and look through it and pray through thanking God for the things I’ve written down, even the trials. And when someone in my family is feeling envious or less-than, we get our their gratitude journal and look through what God has blessed us with.

It’s very healthy to list all the things God has given you in your life rather than assuming how much God has given everyone else in their lives that you don’t have. 

One more practice that has helped me suffocate envy in my life: 

Genuinely Celebrate the Success of Others

I have found that if I have someone in my life who pushes my buttons easily, aggravates me, or I’m jealous of them for whatever reason – when I choose to celebrate them,  all of those negative feelings toward them go away. Plus, I get to encourage them, which is a godly action. 

These things help me stay in my lane, keeping my focus on Jesus, not on the person to the left or right of me. If we’re going to compare our life to anyone, let’s make it Jesus’ and if we’re going to have an emotion toward anyone, let’s make it love, not envy.  

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Choose a Rhythm of Rest or Ruin Your Life

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God has blessed my wife and I with two very active, young daughters. When it comes time for bedtime or a necessary nap time, they both fight the idea of laying down as if their mom and I were asking them to go swimming with sharks. 

Rest time is abhorred by our children.
They’ve even started to barter with us. 

I’ll do this chore or I’ll play in the playroom nicely or I won’t kick my sister in the stomach – all so they don’t have to lay down. 

If we allow them to skip a nap or if we allow them to act like every night is a slumber party and they don’t have to go to bed at a decent hour, they are going to be nightmares the next day.

The reason they don’t want to rest is because they are afraid at missing out on something. 

And I would venture to say, that when it comes to resting for you, if you don’t rest, then you are going to miss out on something going forward. And that something, is a lasting legacy. If you don’t rest, life will be a blur.   

As I look through the pages of the Bible there are a few reasons that show why inserting rest into our weekly rhythm makes so much sense.

1. A rhythm of rest RENEWS your body.

God has created our bodies in such a way that they work and function best when they are set and committed to a rhythm of rest. 

Physicians inform that 75-90% of doctor’s visits could be avoided if people could just eliminate the weight of stress and anxiety due to the lack of rest in their life. 

The magazine Business Weekly conducted a survey where they asked people in the workplace this simple question: How are you feeling? 

The number one answer in the workplace to, How are you feeling? was by far this answer: I’m tired.

Question: How are you feeling?
Answer #1: I’m tired. 

The 21st century has already been dubbed, The Century of Fatigue.

I was reading about this internal clock humans have in their body referred to as, The Pineal Gland. This pineal gland collects serotonin. Serotonin is released (how God designed this to work) when the sun rises in the morning. When released, this serotonin gives the human body energy and joy and anticipation for what awaits for us for that day.

Is that what happens to you when the sun rises? Is joyful what you feel right when you wake up? 

Not so much. 

When the sun rises, you’re not thinking, Oh what a beautiful mooooorning!
You’re thinking, Snooze alarm clock, and then you think, COFFEE NOW!

But my daughters, they wake up with a smile and with energy ready to go. 

Then in the evening, when the sun sets, the serotonin is converted to melatonin, and that’s what gives us this sense of being tired and pretty soon we’re ready to sleep. It’s why we are out like a light before 9:00PM in the winter time. When the sun is down early, we’re down early. 

A physician named Dr. Archibald says that most Americans ignore this internal clock in their brain. The pineal gland doesn’t know what’s going on so the serotonin and the melatonin are confused on when to be released and we’re up when we should be down but we’re restless and stimulated by TV and tablets and smartphones and then the next day we’re lethargic and easily agitated and slow and depressed-feeling. 

It’s all because we’re violating the way God wants us to function daily and when we continue to be on the run and not rest, our bodies will be weak, and weak bodies lead to terrible sins.

Fatigue will not prepare you to say no to the temptation that is waiting for you. 

Maybe you read a blog like this and think, More rest? Okay. Sign me up. I would love to rest but there are projects around the home I promised would be done last week and the contract needs to be written up or this client needs an email from me on the weekend and the kid’s have all these activities and I don’t want them to fall behind and I would love more rest but it’s all going to fall apart if I establish a simpler schedule.

In the book of Leviticus, God continued to instruct His people to have a life of rhythm where He says, Every 7 years, I want you to give the land a rest. Don’t plant or plow or harvest the field in the 7th year. 

The people say back to God what we would’ve said, Okaaaaaay, God. Sure, we’ll go a year without working. How are we going to eat?

Here’s how God responds,

You might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years.When you plant your fields in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the large crop of the sixth year. In fact, you will still be eating from that large crop when the new crop is harvested in the ninth year. (Leviticus 25:20-22)

God is saying, When you take that 7th year off from farming, do nothing. It won’t make sense on paper. You won’t be able to rationalize it or predict it, but trust Me on this. If you honor Me with your time, if you to put Me at the center of your life you’ll see and experience change. You’ll get so much more from Me by taking time off than you would if you blurred your time together. And by resting your bodies you’ll be ready to go back into the mission I have in store for you.

A rhythm of rest doesn’t just renew your body, but also, 

2. A rhythm of rest REPLENISHES your relationships. 

If we violate this rhythm of rest we will also damage the special relationships God has put in our lives.

MSNBC did a report on a study done by UCLA’s Center For Every Day Lives. UCLA followed around 32 families for 4 years. They recorded each family for the length of 1,600 hours. It was like, The Truman Show. 1,600 hours of videotape over the course of 4 years for each of these 32 families. 

The researchers were stunned at the hectic pace these families were living their lives to and as a result, how distant and cold family members treated each other.

One of the clips from this study was of a man who came home from work late. His young kids were already asleep and his wife was sitting on the edge of the bed. She’s folding laundry and she’s got her bedroom television on. Husband walks into the bedroom and there was no, Hello, from the wife. No smile from her. No, How was your day? No hug, no kiss on either exchange. 

What does happen is the couple picks up mid-sentence an argument they had 15 hours earlier that morning about who left the milk out the night before and now it’s spoiled.

Another clip is of this business woman, dressed in an executive, silk suit. She’s got a forced smile on her face and she’s trying to get her daughter just to look at her. Her daughter refuses to look at her mom until finally the embarrassed nanny in the room, who is putting her daughter’s pajamas on, prompts the girl to acknowledge her mom’s presence. 

Another clip is of this big bear of a man walking into his crammed home-office and his teenage son is playing a video game on the office computer. Dad rubs the hair of his son playfully and the whiney response the son was, I thought you were going to get this monitor fixed?

The researchers found just 1 family out of the 32 families had unstructured, structured time together. 5/32 of the families had no time together. At no point in 4 years through 1600 hours of tape did 5 families spend time altogether in the same room.

We need to live life with a restful, slower, more intentional pace, spending quality time together. When we don’t, our relationships will suffer. We can’t choose be possessions over people. 

Where are the kids who want to go for a walk with their mom just to talk as they leave their phone at home? 

When was the last date night for mom and dad? 

What family would try going without TV for a month?

What household is kissing and hugging the spouse and the kids every single entry and exit of the home?

Do you see what we’re missing by adhering to the frantic pace of culture? 

Thirdly,

3. A rhythm of rest RESTORES your soul. 

More than rest for our body, more than rest for the relationships we love, this rhythm of rest keeps us close and aligned with God. 

“Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

Be still and know God is God. You’re not. He is. You can’t change things. He can. You can’t heal it. He can. You can’t control it. Let Him.

When we refuse to honor God with our time (days without the Bible or prayer, weeks without church, months without making Christian friends, years without leading our family toward Jesus, decades of the same sin) when we refuse to honor God with our time we are saying to Him, God, You can’t do this. I have to do it. I don’t trust You to come through if I rest. 

One of the most healthy things we can do on a daily basis is to step away every single day from things and say and believe, God, You’re God. I’m not. I’m dependent on you. And I not only need You, God, but I’m thankful You’re strong enough, loving enough, more than enough for me, my situation, my family, my fear, my dreams, Thank You for taking the burden to put my life together.

Picture a three year old. If you know three year olds, they want to do everything adults can do. They want coffee. They want to drive. They want to stay up late. They want to watch shows mom and dad watch. They walk around the home in their parents loafers or high heels. 

What every three year old loves to do in the springtime is help mow the yard.

It takes a lot of energy for a pre-schooler to reach up, push and walk with a lawnmower while mom and dad are also mowing. After a while of mowing, the child gets exhausted and steps aside and stops pushing the mower.

Each time the parent mows with the child, it’s the child who thinks they’re pushing the mower but when they step aside to rest, the child sees the mower is going even while they aren’t. They sees their parent is the one making it happen.

What if God is thankful we take a break and when we do, He gets more done in our lives while we rest?

You’ve got to figure this out for you. Get some rest. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

What to Consider When Adding One More Thing to Your Schedule

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Growing up my family didn’t have cable television. No ESPN. No MTV. No Nickelodeon. No TV Land. What we did have were three channels and a VCR (if you’re under 25 years old, Google, “VCR”). 

It seemed like whenever my mother held the scepter (the remote) while the television was on, the only two options on TV were: Little House on the Prairie and figure skating. 

I had a long childhood.

With each episode of Little House on the Prairie I watched as a kid, I would hide the tears because Charles Ingalls (“Pa”) would do something to soften my heart. Every single show he got me. 

I started watching Little House on the Prairie with my wife and our two young girls. We went to the library and got the seasons on DVD.  As binging provides, we zoomed through episodes and not long into Season 1 I noticed clearly how much things have changed since the timing of when the Ingalls lived. 

It really wasn’t that long ago when Little House on the Praire‘s pace of living was the norm. Things have sped up quickly and they continue to speed up faster each day. 

Think about how much little time we have to rest/reflect/repent/invest in our relationships? This blog takes five minutes to read and because of a frantic page, most readers who click on it won’t make it to this sentence because they’ve moved on to something else. 

We do well to keep our relationships busy and be around each other but we are poor at having qualitative conversations and making intentional memories. 

We do well to relax by watching TV or are addicted to scrolling through a newsfeed but we are poor at being still and having the spiritual discipline of solitude. There is little rest and pausing and praying in our day. 

I’m watching LHotP and I’m thinking, Nowadays the norm is 50 hour work weeks for dad and mom with a 30 minute commute and it’s home to give the kids drive-thru conversations and leftover energy.  

Most families don’t gather around the table while Pa plays the fiddle as they eat a home cooked meal, laughing together or learning a lesson from each other. The norm now is to eat on the go on your way to practice or eat a heated up meal after getting home late or eat in front of the TV and we make fun of the reality TV stars and that’s what we call “family time.”

We’ve got tee times and workout schedules and the kids and grandkids have so many activities that we dare not allow them to miss because they might get behind on something that won’t matter in 20 years to them and we’re rushing through the present-day life God wants us to live with Him as our calendar metronome gets quicker and quicker. 

The rhythm of our culture is what we’re adhering to and it feels normal to us. Here are some cultural beliefs that you and I have unknowingly, yet foolishly bought into: 

Action is better than rest. (FALSE)

Work is more important than home. (ERR!) 

Possessions are more important than people. (NOPE)

More is always better than less. (LIE) 

How we choose to spend time reflects all of these things.

Who believes with their schedule that rest is better than action, home is more important than work, people are more important than possessions, less is always better than more?

When it comes to adding something to your life – to your daily, weekly, monthly schedule – I would be very careful with that. Impulsively we add new commitments to our calendar and we don’t think how much it will affect what should be important to us.

Let’s say you have 8-9 different things to do during the week and you think, I’ll just add a 10th thing in my life, to my family’s scheudule. It’s just one more thing.

Author Steve Farrar talks about the way we view our time and our schedule with this concept called, The Fibonacci Numbers. The Fibonacci Numbers were named after a 14th century mathematician who came up with this new way of counting where it looks like this:

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It counts like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13,  21, 34, 55, 89, 144

You add the two numbers next to each other and go forward. So 1 and 1 is 2, and 1 and 2 is 3, and 3 and 5 is 8, 8 and 13 is 21, 21 and 34 is 55, 34 and 55 is 89, 55 and 89 is 144 and so on.

Stay with me. 

This way of counting is better to measure the pace and schedule of our lives and our family’s routine because we think in consecutive numbers, Well, I’m just adding a 7th thing to my schedule or to my family’s schedule. We had 6 and now it’s 7 with football or church consistently or gymnastics or a new show. According to the Fibonacci scale, it’s not a 7th thing, it carries the weight of 13 things (7 is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13). It increases dramatically, in weighty, stressful fashion with each thing you add.

If you can think about the 7-8-9 things your allocate your time to – school, work, family, church, hobby, TV, Facebook, sports, shopping, reading. My schedule doesn’t reflect this every day, but if I were to prioritize what is important to me, my current 9 things would be: 

1. Devoted and faithful husband
2. Committed and present father
3. Being a consistent and generous friend
4. Being an eager student and teacher of God’s Word
5. Working bi-vocationally
6. Coaching recreational soccer
7. Taking graduate school courses
8. Exercising daily
9. Writing weekly blog 

That’s nine things easily.

What if I want to add two new things to my schedule? No big deal, right? I’m just going to go +2 to my life routine, and those two added items are: 

10. Swimming lessons for kids
11. Country line-dancing.

I just want to go from 9 things in my week to 11. On the Fibonacci scale, check out the number on the right when adding more to my schedule: 

1. Devoted and faithful husband
1. Committed and present father
2. Being a consistent and generous friend
3. Being an eager student and teacher of God’s Word
5. Working bi-vocationally
8. Coaching recreational soccer
13. Taking graduate school courses
21. Exercising daily
34. Writing weekly blog
55. Swimming lessons for my kids
89. Country line-dancing 

I just added 2 more things but I went from 34 to 89.
That’s a lot more added to our effort and mentality. 

When we keep adding things we’re not just adding to our schedule, we’re adding weight to our well-being. We’re adding he weight of coming through, the weight of not giving up, the weight of anxiety and putting on the good face for everyone. It’s not a 11, it’s an 89 and it’s going to crush us eventually. 

Here’s a true/false quiz (10 questions) to help us figure out whether or not we need more rest in our schedule. I’m trying to keep us honest here.

1. True or False: You’ve cut through a gas station to avoid stopping at a red light.

2. True or False: You don’t like to take vacations where there isn’t always something to do.

3. True or False: You frequently look at your phone or a clock nearby throughout the day.

4. True or False: In conversations you like to get right to the point. You don’t enjoy small talk.

5. True or False: People who talk slowly irritate you.

6. True or False: You become annoyed when the person at the checkout line in front of you chooses to pay by writing a check.

7. True or False: You often find yourself finishing other people’s sentences for them or interrupting people during conversation.

8. True or False: When you go to sleep at night, your mind often rehearses all the things I didn’t get done that day or what I have to do the next day.

9. True or False: When delayed and running late, you are irrationally upset.

10. True or False: You have difficulty finding time for things like a haircut or a physical or an oil change. 

We just live at this frantic pace and as we get older it doesn’t slow down, it only increases in speed. 

Because we’re not prayerful, because we’re arrogant, we think I can handle more. And if we’re not protective of our time and energy for what really matters in this life – God and people – we’ll watch life slip away and miss out on things like legacy, purpose, evangelism and the more we add the more devastating it’s going to be when we ask, How did this happen? Look what I wasted!

Jesus says it this way: 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 / MSG)

God doesn’t get upset when you take a break. God doesn’t get disappointed when you tell someone no, I can’t do that for you right now because I’m needed somewhere else more important. 

If you say as a family, we’re going to eat a family dinner around the kitchen table 4 times a week for the rest of this year, no phone or TV, all intentional conversations, no matter what – most of the world might think that’s bizarre but God will smile on that commitment because you’re saying to God and family: Here’s what’s important to me. 

If you say, As a Christ-follower, I’m going to add attending worship weekly, but that means I need to let go of other things. I’m going to go from attending worship monthly or less to attending weekly, to give weekly, to serve weekly – because I’m showing God and God’s family that’s important to me. 

OR, I’m going to get up 10 minutes earlier to read a chapter in the Bible to start my morning off focused in prayer and reflection for how I want to live.

OR, I’m going to fast from something I lean on daily so I can pray in those moments I want to give in to sin.

As I look through the pages of the Bible there are a handful of instances that show why living this life of God’s rhythm makes so much sense. If you don’t run your schedule your schedule will run you. Be prayerful adding one more thing to your routine. I recommend adding rest and intentionality.  

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Raising Our Standard of Giving

Sticky

One of the highest ways you can love someone is to remove the obstacles in their path to following Jesus.

The highest way I can love you is to remove anything that stands between you and growing in Christ. If sin is in the way, I want to allow God to remove it by sharing truth. If worshipping a human like a child or a lover or a boss is in the way, I want to allow God to remove them in your heart by sharing Scripture. 

And if money is in the way of your spiritual growth, I desire strongly to show you from Scripture, that you will be free when you stop serving money and start serving God with your money. It’s not about using people to make money. It’s about using money to help people. 

Is money in the way between you and following Jesus more obediently?

I met with a newly married guy in the church for over a year. We met every other week when both schedules allowed it. We would catch up and go through the Bible. We met at Panera and were the only males in there every single time.

For the first 6 months, it was great learning Scripture together. The next couple of months we cranked it up a bit and not just held the other accountable to reading the Bible daily, but to also living out the Bible on a daily basis. 

I asked this question each time we got together, Is there sacrifice in your life? 

This is a good, needed, consistent question for the follower of Christ. To be Christ-like is to sacrifice, and if there’s no sacrifice in one’s life, then whatever area that comes to mind that isn’t being sacrificed, that area is still not like Jesus and it’s got to change. 

One time I asked him is, Is there sacrifice in your life – in terms of generosity and giving to God and others and the needy – is there sacrifice? 

After thinking about it and wondering if we were close enough to share some vulnerable things like money and giving, he said, No. Honestly, there’s not. God’s has blessed me and I’ve been putting $20 a month in the offering bag at church. but it’s no sacrifice. I spend more on golf balls than what I do to give back.

He then went home, talked to his wife about their casual, sporadic giving, and when we met again he said, Zach, for the sake of accountability, I want you to know I wrote a check that hurt. Since then he has been open about giving 10% of their income to their church as God continues to provide for them and since then they have chosen to support two sibling children in Haiti, and since then they have been more Christ-like than ever before.

He sent me a text a couple weeks ago that said, Zach, will you hold be accountable to consistent, sacrificial giving? Will you continue to ask me how our giving is going? And will you pray that God continues to provide as we continue to sacrifice? In a later text, he said, Will you pray I fully grasp the gift of sacrificial living? 

And I pray that for him. I pray that for my home. I pray it for you, that we understand the beauty and freedom and responsibility and gift of sacrificial living and giving.

Giving away your money is part of following Jesus. 

Chances are, there are some individuals and family units who give a good percentage of what God has given them, back to church or non-profits or those in need, but it’s not sacrificial. It doesn’t hurt. It’s easy. They barely think about it because it’s not a stretch. 

Maybe it’s time to evaluate and increase the amount and watch your faith grow.

Christian Smith wrote a book entitled, Passing the Plate in 2008. Up to today it’s the most comprehensive, eye-opening work that’s ever been done on Christians who give to the church. It’s a sociological work that set out to answer this question: Why are Christians in the U.S. so stingy? 

Smith shares a stat that says, More than 36% of American Christians give less than 2% of their income in each year.

That’s got me shaking my head.

Over 1/3 of the Christians in this country –people who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and that every word is true, who have made Jesus their Lord and Savior, Christians who agree that they will stand before God and give an account of how they used what He gave them – are giving less than 2% of all God has graciously given to them?  

A Christian’s focus should be on how to raise their standard of giving, not their standard of living. 

I know you can’t send Jesus an angry email, so please feel free to send me one if that really irks your tater. Jesus says this in His Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).

Meaning: The only things you can keep forever are the things you have given away. 

Here are some practical steps you need to take if you call yourself a Christ-follower: 

If you are not tithing consistently, begin today.

To tithe means to give the first 10% of everything you make, to God.

You may be sponsoring needy children and supporting missionaries and non-profits, helping friends in need, good, but God gets the first 10%, and then if you want to be generous to others, it’s out of the 90% you have remaining after giving to God.

I’ll let God be stark about it:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions……Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need (Malachi 3:8, 10).

God says when we don’t give to Him first, we’re stealing from Him. But since this Malachi text says tithe, if we give God our first 10% – it’s a clear statement that we are showing God we truly worship Him. Simple sentence, huge life change. 

Maybe that forces you to have an honest conversation with your spouse or with your children or with God today, where you get out the budget and say, From this point forward, nothing will mean more to us, nothing will get more of our attention than giving back to God.

If you’re not tithing, begin today. Be sure you give to a church that has a godly leadership and is trustworthy.

If you are giving God 10%, move towards sacrificial generosity. 

Tithing is a great place to begin. For some of you, you need to begin at 3%, test drive it a few months, move it up to 7%, see if God still provides, and He will if you are wise. Once you get up to giving 10%, it’s not over. In the Old Testament, 10% was the minimum standard expected, you had to at least give 10% (most families in the Old Testament gave 20-25%). But in the New Testament, the word tithe isn’t mentioned, instead, giving in the early church is referred to as sacrificial generosity. 

The New Testament isn’t satisfied with just 10%. The New Testament is only  satisfied when our giving to God reflects the cross. When it hurts. When it’s generous. When it’s sacrificial. 

Mother Theresa said, We are to give until there is pain in the giving. 

For some, less than 10% hurts, or more than 10% hurts. 

Sacrifice is not measured by how much you give, but by how much you keep for yourself. 

In every area of my life I want to be sacrificial because in every area of my life I want to look like Jesus.

Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.

If Jesus is the most generous Person to ever live, then growth in Christ would mean we would need to be generous, right? 

If you’ve been tithing for a while and it’s been a bit routine, pray about increasing your generous lifestyle until there’s sacrifice. 

Richard Foster writes,  God’s ownership of everything changes the kind of question we ask in giving. Rather than, ‘How much of my money should I give to God?’ we learn to ask, ‘How much of God’s money should I keep for myself?

I have a friend who has been open about giving with me and he’s been tithing since his marriage began. When he lost his job and had to take a new job that was half his previous income, his wife and him have up’ed their giving 4 different times. 

I know a Christian family who gave away a very nice SUV to a single, needy college student who never got a break in her life. I know a family who wants to provide money out of their savings so an infertile couple they know can adopt a beautiful little Chinese girl across the world. 

If we see everything as God’s, that it’s all his, then we’ll freely give it away. It’s those who refuse, those who hoard, those who are stingy, they still see what they hold as theirs. But it’s God’s. 

I hope you have someone close enough to you where you can show them your tax-return or year end giving, what you gave and how you lived, ask them if they see the cross of Christ demonstrated through your spending, saving, and giving.

If you’re not tithing, get there.
If you’ve tithed for a while, move to sacrificial generosity.
One more applicable challenge:

Ask Jesus to expose and eliminate any idols in your life.

An idol is anything, if Jesus said, Give it all to me – leave your job, all your money, I want your children, I want your health – if Jesus asked for it all, whatever you’d be reluctant to give Him – that’s an idol.

C.S. Lewis wrote that, History is the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

Kyle Idleman writes in his book, Not a Fan, Followers are willing to deny themselves and say, ‘I choose Jesus. I choose Jesus over my family. I choose Jesus over money. I choose Jesus over my career. I am his completely. I choose Jesus over alcohol and partying. I choose Jesus over pornography. I choose Jesus over a remodeled house. I choose Jesus over my freedom. I choose Jesus over what people think about me. A follower makes a decision every day to deny himself and choose Jesus, even if it costs everything.”

If there is anything standing between you and Jesus (and it’s probably money) just give it to Jesus in a sacrificial, consistent, cheerful way. You’ll grow your standard of living by increasing your standard of giving.  

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

What Every Parent Should Be Downloading Into Their Child (1,900 words of parenting advice)

Sticky

Back in the day when I was a pre-teen, I used to make mixtapes. Those born in 1990 or later probably don’t know what a mixtape is. A mixtape is a cassette tape (Google it) with favorite songs inserted on it to listen to. It’s an archaic Pandora playlist. It took tremendous patience and focus to make the perfect mixtape.

I would lay on my bedroom floor, next to something called a boombox (a radio that played music through speakers), I’d have my radio playing and I would wait for some of my favorite songs to come on so I could record them onto this tape. 

You had to be coordinated. You had to hit play and record at the same time, and you didn’t want the DJ’s voice on the tape, just the song. 

I had all kinds of mixtapes. I had love song mixtapes I’d give to girls I had a crush on. I’d leave the mixtape in their school locker with a creepy, cheesy note attached. For sports, I had mixtapes that would insert into my Dad’s yellow Sony Walkman to pump me up. On my sports mixtape to get me stoked I had “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, “Jump” by Van Halen, “Momma Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J and anything Michael Jackson.

I know that mixtapes are a thing of the past. With technology today, you can download any song that’s ever been recorded and you can make all kinds of playlists on your smartphone. And whether you like to listen to it while you’re in the car, or while at work or school, or exercising, or just chill’n with friends, it can’t be taken for granted what those who came before endured through in the mixtape years. 

Today my young child can grab my phone, open up my music, download new songs she  likes, delete songs she doesn’t like (my favorite songs) and make a playlist. In seconds she can do it. 

As a parent, I realize that my children are being lied to wherever they go. They are downloading lies other influences are pushing on them, and if unchecked, they will start to believe those lies as truth. One of my roles as a guide for them is to delete the lies that they download each day and replace it with truth. 

Mom, dad, grandparents, aunt, uncle, youth leader, teacher, influencers of young children and grown children, here’s what will happen if we don’t get proactive in deleting the lies this culture is pressing down on our children:  

They will be mugged by the mirror. 

We’re in the selfie generation. The reason everyone is taking selfies is to show others how they look. And maybe each time you look in the mirror, each time you take a picture of yourself, you’re asking the fairy tale question, Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? The more we invest in how we look, the more we believe the lie that we are worth the amount of how beautiful others say we are. 

In her book, I Want to be Her, author Michelle Graham writes this: “There’s nothing quite like a glance at a Victoria’s Secret catalog to invoke a flood of insecurities and feelings of disappointment.”

Graham goes onto say: 

If Barbie were a real human being, her proportions would make her anywhere from 6 feet 10 inches to 7 feet 5 inches tall. In order to achieve her perfect figure, she would need to have two ribs removed along with several major organs. Barbie has no hormonal cycle to affect her complexion and no metabolism to struggle with. This is the image that has been marketed to young girls all over the world as an inspiration to womanhood. And we eat it up. Barbie has become a $1.5 billion dollar a year industry. Don’t worry, I’m not on a Barbie-burning crusade. And I’m certainly no expert on the psychological effects of Barbie on young children. But I do know that at a very young age I bought into the idea that unless my Barbie was physically perfect, she wasn’t as good as the other Barbies on the block. In fact she embarrassed me. As I grew into adulthood, I left my Barbie behind. Unfortunately I struggled with the belief that unless I am physically perfect (a perfection that is unattainable and unrealistic) – I’m somehow not as valuable as everybody else. Barbie moved out, but Victoria moved in.”

A recent study shows that 70% of teenage girls and women feel depressed, sad or guilty when they look through a fashion magazine for more than 3 minutes.

Americans spend 20 billion dollars a year on cosmetics and 74 billion dollars a year on diet foods.

Just flip the remote control and the TV will tell you that outer appearance is what’s most important. It’s why you post more pictures of yourself online than you do Bible verses.

Because I’m a father of girls, I have a passion for all young girls to find their purpose in God and not in what others think of them. Girls, you may not know this, but an average woman in our culture is 5 foot 4 and weighs 170 pounds. An average model on the runway 5 foot 11 and they weigh 108 pounds and their body mass index is borderline malnutrition. 

Because of photoshop and airbrushing, what we look at in magazines and on the big screen is a fake. It’s not real. It’s all a lie. Delete the lie that external beauty is all there is.

Let’s download the truth that God loves you no matter what you look like. God created you the way He wanted to and to get where God wants you to go to love on who God wants you to love on (which includes yourself). You’re beautiful.

If they listen to the wrong voice, not only will they be mugged by the mirror, but: 

They will be pick-pocketed by the past. 

Your child failed the test. They stole what they shouldn’t of. They drank. They smoked. They lied to their parents. They feel responsible for their parent’s broken marriage. They succumb to sex, hurtful language, gossip, back-stabbing, anger etc. Even my own past tries to walk into each present day I have in an attempt to steal the future God has in store. 

But if you download the love of God into your child’s daily life, how much He loves you and them no matter what’s been done against Him and against others, then they’ll come to realize that our past does not define your present or your future.

You are not what you have done. Whatever it is that haunts you, whatever secret things you’ve done that no one else knows, that your close friends, your youth leaders, your parents, your siblings have no idea – and if you’ve been listening to the wrong voice about what you’ve done – then you’ve probably bought into the lie that God couldn’t love you, or God couldn’t forgive you. 

The one true God doesn’t only forgive people, He frees them. I don’t want the joy and energy and faith that my kids have as a child to be pick-pocketed by reminders of their past mistakes. Author Joanna Weaver writes:

“My deepest fear is waking up twenty years from now still the same person I am today. With the same annoying habits and petty attitudes; with the same besetting sins and false beliefs. I can’t imagine anything more terrible than getting to the end of my life only to discover that God had so much more in mind for me – more freedom, more joy, more peace, more true effectiveness. And I had missed it all, simply because I refused to believe it.” 

Don’t be mugged by the mirror and think external looks is all there is.
Don’t be pick-pocketed by the past and lose your joy in Christ. 

A third lie our children and us will download if not exposed to the truth: 

They will be robbed by relationships. 

Relationships are hard work, right? They can wear you out, make you tired. 

As if I didn’t already date myself with all the talk about mixtapes, let me talk about a woman named Louise Ciccone. Maybe you know her as Madonna. She’s sold over 300 million albums of her music worldwide. She’s worth an estimated 500 million dollars. TIME Magazine listed her as one of the 25 most powerful and influential women of the last 100 years. 

When she was a little girl, her mom died. Her dad quickly remarried and she didn’t forgive him for that. She severed all ties with him as her father and ran away. And I think the reason why Madonna, still in her 50’s, has always jumped from one man to the next is because she was robbed of a relationship she didn’t have with her father when she was young. 

After a concert in Detroit, in an interview with Vanity Fair a few years back, Madonna said: I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feelings of inadequacy. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. Again and again I go through this vicious cycle. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.

Life doesn’t have to be that way. 

If the statistics are right, many of our teens are being robbed by a relationship with a parent. Mom and Dad haven’t or aren’t doing something for them that parents are supposed to do. I don’t know what is more tragic than a parent who doesn’t love their kid in a way God loves them, and I don’t want to downplay this possibility,  so if you’re from a broken home, if you’re in a tough home, and maybe there have been hurtful things said back and forth and maybe you’ve been more of a parent than your mom or dad has been to you. And maybe you’re angry over that.

If bitterness is a prison, forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door.

Forgive your mom. Forgive your dad. Forgive your child. Forgive your sibling. Forgive your church. Forgive your friends. Forgive your enemy. Tell them, to their face, or in a hand-written note, that you forgive them. And then trust God going forward when reminders of those painful moments start to resurface. 

All of this to say: I guess before we teach our children about external looks not providing true identity, before we teach our children that in Christ our past mistakes cannot depress us today and before we teach our children that forgiveness is what gives life to relationships and bitterness is what kills them – we have to model it to them. We have to delete the lies of our culture and download the liberating truth of God’s Word. 

Put your heart right. Reach out to God and face the world again. Then all your trouble will fade from your memory, like floods that pass and are remembered no more. Job 11:13 

Thanks for reading. No matter your looks, your past or your status of relationships today, you are loved. 

Z

3 Areas of Your Life To Evaluate in Order to Grow

Sticky

I read a news story about a woman who is raising 8 children. With 8 kids there’s always a lot of activity in her home. One day mom of 8 was coming back to her house after spending time with a neighbor, and as she was walking into her backyard she noticed that her home seemed too quiet. That’s when her instinctive parental trait immediately knew her children were into something they shouldn’t of been into. 

Mom crept up to the back of the house to look through the screen door and she finds five of her children huddled together on the floor around something she couldn’t see. Mom sneaks in the house, looks over the kids’ shoulders and to her shock she sees her children are huddled around a pack of baby skunks.

Mom yells, Quick! Children RUN! And all five kids stand up, they each grabbed a skunk and they run in various directions. 

That’s called missing the point.

And this is what you and I do. We allow our days to be huddled around idols and God, as a Father, sees us dipping our toes in the water of idolatry, He sees us flirting with sin and He yells Quick! Children RUN! And we can’t let go of our addictions as we constantly continue to fill our hands and our time with things that the Bible tells us to leave behind once and for all.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
(1 John 5:21 / ESV)

Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.
(1 John 5:21 / NLT)

Ask yourself this question: Lately, h something or someone besides Jesus taken control of my thoughts, actions, loyalties and delight?

The answer to this question for you specifically could be a very good thing. But if it’s not Jesus, then it’s an idol. If it’s not Jesus then you’ve turned something good into a god and it will leave you empty and in want. 

I’ve got a few suggestions on how to discern the idols in your life so you can kick them off the throne of your heart: 

1. Evaluate your imagination. 

When nothing else is demanding of your time, what is it that occupies your mind? Where do your thoughts naturally flow when you’re not ran by your work schedule, school schedule, family schedule? Who are you thinking about? What are your dreams made of? What excites your mind if you’re bored with something? Because our religion is what we think about in our solitude. 

What’s on your mind first thing in the morning? What’s on your mind when you lay down at night? What are you thinking about while driving? What dreams do you have? What hopes do you have? Where does your imagination go when there’s nothing on your agenda? Oftentimes it will reveal false gods. 

2. Evaluate how you spend money.

We’ve got to understand this principle: our money will always flow toward the affections of our heart. 

This is why the Bible speaks about money more than any other issue. Jesus talked about money 25% of the time in His teachings that are recorded in the Gospel books. That’s like 13 weeks of sermons in a calendar year of worship just focused on money. 

Out of Jesus’ 38 parables, stories – 16 were about money and possessions. The Bible talks about money more than faith, love and hope combined, and it isn’t because God is short on cash. Jesus was direct on this:

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
(Matthew 6:21 / NLT)

So if our money (that’s incorrect, it’s really God’s money) is used firsthand to get affection and pleasure from created things rather than to use it to glorify the Creator, it’s an unhealthy lifestyle. Patterns of spending will reveal false gods. 

3. Evaluate your uncontrollable emotions. 

Emotions are a lot like icing on a cake. If you don’t have enough icing on a cake, the cake can be bland and dry. I love icing, and if there’s not enough on it, I might as well lick a sandbox. Too much icing however makes our stomachs hurt and we get sick and our dentist or diabetes doctor scolds us. 

A rule in cake-making is that the amount of icing needs to be proportionate to the amount of cake. 

The same can be said of what happens to us and how we react to them. Cake can be like our circumstances & icing can be like our emotions. With that analogy in mind:

Are my emotions proportionate to my circumstances? 

Am I over-reacting?
Am I reacting at all?
Am I unreasonably angry?
Am I frozen in anxiety?
Am I complaining?
Am I fighting for justice, for others, for fighting just to be right? 

If we don’t show enough emotion (I’m talking to males here. Ladies, I got your back), it needs to match the circumstance. If we have too much emotion (and I don’t have a clue which gender that would be), we can overreact. 

Before we spew out emotion before thinking, it might be good to pray and ask if the response matches the situation going down.

And uncontrollable emotions – anger, fear, excitement, sorrow, loneliness, depression, hatred – you pull those emotions up out of the soil of your heart and you fill find the idols underneath. 

Take time to evaluate those three areas in order to grow.

Further on idols, let’s say later this weekend you go out on the town and you choose to eat at a nice restaurant. As you walk into the restaurant, you see me having romantic, candlelight dinner with a woman who is not my wife. 

Now, let me be extremely clear here, we are imagining this. This is a fictional illustration. Some of you are going to look me up on social media to bust me. We are imagining here. 

You catch me at this restaurant having a romantic meal with this other woman and you are just disgusted. You can’t keep your distaste for me in, you’re going to confront me and call me on the carpet. As you should. 

You walk up to my table and you say, Z! What’s up? What are you doing? 

And I say, Nothing much, just out on a nice date.

You’re a bit stunned by this and you uneasily dismiss yourself from my presence. You still have this resolve inside to not let me get away with it and so you go into stalk mode online and find my wife and your reach out to her and tell her that her husband was on a date with another woman.

How ridiculous would it be if I walk in the front door later that evening and my wife greets me with a smile and sweetly inquires, Hi honey, how was your date? 

That’s not how she would be because the affection that I’ve promised to give to her, I was giving to someone else. The money I’m spending on someone else, I should be investing in her. The time I’m spending should be her time. The questions and the listening ear and the laughter and the romance and the good food – it should all be hers. 

It would be asinine of my wife to say I’ve thought about it since that I was told what happened, and I’m okay with you going on dates as long as you still make some time for me and call me your favorite. 

That would be absurd. 

You don’t have to know my wife well to know that her response to my actions would be jealous anger. 

I should fear for my life when I walk in that front door. The wife can get easily jealous. Forget a nice restaurant with another woman. I could go to Subway with a guy who’s got long hair and my wife would be waiting for me at home with a baseball bat. She’d be jealous.  

And this emotion is not out of insecurity at all. It’s driven out of holy love. 

God has this kind of righteous jealousy when you and I choose to make the good things in our life the god in our life. And because I love you, I need to say this: 

Idolatry is killing your growth. 

It’s killing your marriage. It’s killing your relationship with your kids. It’s killing your friendships. It’s killing your career. It’s killing your dreams. It’s killing your financial peace. It’s harming your faith in God because it’s killing your spiritual growth. Idolatry is the issue and you are in the middle of this war. Don’t let a day go by without choosing whom you will serve or you’ll naturally serve the idol.

Evaluate your imagination.
Evaluate how you spend money.
Evaluate your uncontrollable emotions. 

Put Jesus back on the throne of your heart. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

3 Things You Would Have More Of If You Believed In Easter

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Just before He is crucified, one of Jesus’ closest friends denies knowing Him at all. This close friend denies knowing Jesus hours after telling Jesus he would die for Jesus. He denies knowing Jesus to strangers. He denies knowing Jesus to children he doesn’t know. He curses and swears on his life he’s never met Jesus before.

This is after knowing Jesus for three and a half years. He traveled with Jesus. Ate with him every single day for 1,200 days. Learned from Jesus. Watched Jesus love.

Peter is his name.

After Jesus is killed, Peter is left with regret for betraying Jesus.

Peter reverts to what he was good at: He goes fishing.

All of us, when we feel like a failure, we revert to what we are decent at so we don’t feel so much like a failure.

Jesus rises from death. He finds Peter. He forgives Peter. Jesus tells Peter how much he is loved. He gives Peter grace. It changes Peter’s life. It gives him true identity. And it led Peter to write these words:

Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy. (1 Peter 2:10, NLT)

Jesus told Peter after the resurrection that Peter wasn’t his past. He wasn’t his failures. And Peter was never the same.

We should not look the same after Jesus’ recieving mercy as we did before it.

Peter uses the word mercy a lot. It’s because he should know what mercy is after denying Jesus three times and being reinstated by Christ.

I could write until I’m blue in the face and all my hair falls out who you are in Christ, but only the Spirit can get a hold of you through the mercy of Jesus. I’m just doing some reminding here.

If there is any regret in our lives, it’s because we choose to not embrace our identity in who God says we are.

A few snapshots of what you would experience if you just embrace who you really are to Jesus:

You would be more secure.

If we try to find our identity in our spouse, in what they think of us, what happens when the marriage fails? There goes our identity.

If our identity is in our job, what happens when we underperform or we’re not recognized, or we lose the job? There goes our identity.

If our identity is in friends, what happens when they backstab us or don’t fulfill us in the way we expect?

If our identity is in money, what happens when we’re still empty inside after spending it?

We are unstoppably secure when we place our identity in Christ. He loves us, even when we fail. He’s saved us. He wants us. And the world can’t touch it.

I want to say that if my kids ran away and my wife left me for someone else and the doctor said I have cancer and I was fired from my job and in my desperation, no one that said they loved me came to love me in my time of need, after all of that I would still be secure in Jesus.

Just think of the worst of the worst that could happen and know it will not change who you are to Jesus. He loves you so much, so let’s stop freaking out and getting angry over the slightest of things. We aren’t insecure people, we’re Christians secure in God’s love.

You would be more confident.

So many Christians comes to God in prayer, in need, and they’re like, Um, God…I mean, yeah, um, Jesus, hey, I’m really struggling, I guess. And I don’t know if this is okay, but I kind of need some help, and I’m not sure if You can do something, maybe, to, well, you know………

Where’s the confidence?

You are God’s son. You are His daughter. You are the apple of His eye. Stop talking to Him like He’s some dictator and you’re some peasant. He’s your Father. Go to Him confidently and tell Him what you need.

You would be more restful. 

How much of our frantic pace is directly related to the fact we ignore who we are in Christ?

We are running around with our heads cut off to prove things to others, to show others we’re there for them, to provide for family and to serve people non-stop. As a result, we are exhausted because we’re trying to make all of that happen on our own strength.

Your crazy schedule is traced back to your reluctance to embrace your true identity in Jesus.

The opposite of security, confidence and rest is emptiness. Insecurity has made me empty. Fear has left me empty. Busyness has left me empty. Jesus has never.

Unless you and I believe Jesus is alive today and that He loves us, we will be empty.

Unless we believe the tomb is empty, our lives will be, empty.

Thanks for reading. Happy Easter. You are loved.

Z

What a Husband Would Know If He Studied His Wife

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What’s been known since the first sun ray was ever felt by Adam and Eve is that women are different than men. Women have an entirely unique, separate, complicated, woven-together way of looking at things, processing events, expressing emotions, responding to circumstances. Men need to study up on it.

What should be studied by men is to read and digest passionately everything the Bible has to say about marriage and everything the Bible has to say about women. One verse is:

Husbands must give honor to your wives. 
Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. 
(1 Peter 3:7)

The King James Version of this verse says husbands should treat their wives, “according to knowledge,”  meaning, any information a husband can get his mind on about his bride, he should do it. He never knows her enough.

From what did she learn in her Bible time to her thoughts about the last episode of, “This Is Us,” to her dreams and goals right now to how her coffee date with a friend went to how’s work going to what her fears are to whatever thought is in her mind. Study her.

Pursue her, woo her, ask her questions you did before you were married. Communicate with her throughout the day. There are few things she would want more than for you to get your PHD in getting to know the most beautiful creature God has created for your fulfillment in this life.

The husband should have notes in his wallet or phone that are, “things she doesn’t like” and “things she loves” and “things not to say” and “things to check in on.” Each husband should be able to write a 20-page term paper on the research they’ve done on their wife.

Here are some things the husband would know if he studied his bride:

What the word “nothing” means. 

Husband: Hey honey, what’s bothering you this evening?

Wife: Nothing. 

Husband: Okay. But you’re kind of washing those dishes in an aggressive manner. What’s wrong?

Wife: Nothing! 

”Nothing” does not mean nothing to her (and all the wives said, amen).

”Nothing” means, “figure it out Sherlock”.

It means, “I’m upset but I can’t put my finger on why right now so let me wash these dishes”.

Sometimes it means, “nothing to do with you”. Sometimes it means, “try harder and I’ll tell you”.

Sometimes when she says “nothing”, she’s saying “how dense are you? Do I have to write it in the sky for you?”

It means everything but nothing. Figure out what it is.

Women are annoyed by things that guys don’t even notice. 

For example, my wife does not like it when my toenails are longer than they should be and I’m cutting her legs while sleeping next to her.

Or, how many times have I gotten dressed in the morning and go in to kiss my wife good-bye and she’ll be like, “What are you wearing? No way. Try again”.

Husband, you are doing something that annoys her, and she loves you dearly, but still, study her, watch the eye rolls and the sighs and the “ewww” and ask what you do that gets on her nerves so you can stop doing it.

Romance is born in preparation and sacrifice, not in convenience. 

Too often men get cheap and/or last minute on romance.

Husband: Hey honey, I was thinking, let’s forget cooking tonight and go out together, just you and me. 

Wife: Really? Okay! Where are we going?!

Husband: I passed this new all-inclusive buffet on my way home that looked decent.

L O S E R.

Bill Hybels, a pastor in Chicago, tells the story of wanting to do something nice on his anniversary. After having a pretty packed day, there in his neighborhood was a guy walking around selling flowers. It was an amazing opportunity, the flowers are right there, just roll your window down and by flowers for your wife. Now he’s on easy street, he’s going to make her day, he walks in the house and his wife asks, “Where’d you get those flowers?”.

Husband: Um.,I bought them through the car window just 1/4 mile away. 

Wife: How much did they cost?

Husband: $4.99 plus tax……… 

Plus tip…….. 

L O S E R.

Your wife wants you to go three towns over and spend that money on her favorite flowers to show her the statement that THESE flowers are what you think about her.

You can’t get a deal on romance. It’s never on sale. There’s not a shortcut to it. It comes from planning and from sacrifice where “I was thinking about you all week. I’ve been waiting to surprise you all week” is seen and felt.

Husband: I set this up last Tuesday for you, sweetie 

Wife: You were thinking of me last Tuesday!!!!!!

Husband: YES. I. WAS. 

Sex should occur on a great day in the marriage, not be the fire escape from a bad day. 

If a husband ignores his wife and has neglected her and has emotionally injured her, a cold hand reaching over the bed at 10:35PM is not going to fix all of that. Let the impulse go. God’s mercies are new every morning. Apologize and try to do better the next day.

Sex is important for intimacy and has a lot to do with trust, but it doesn’t solve much when it comes to an argument or a reoccurring issue in the marriage. Don’t make it an escape out of the conflict.

Genuine compliments are never wasted. 

Baby, you look amazing today,, and, Where did you get that dress, it looks so good on you, and, Wow, you’re hair looks great today! and, Look how hard you work, and I’m amazed at how selfless you are, and, I’m so thankful God brought you into my life. I’d be a mess without you, and, your character inspires me.

Why aren’t the husbands constant with the compliments?

There are those men who have the mindset of: I met her, I wooed her, I wed her, on our wedding day I told her I loved her and when I change my mind I’ll let her know. Until then she should know I love her. 

Some husbands are like, When my wife does something new with the hair or wears new shoes or earrings, I don’t even notice.

Okay……….

And yet you know your favorite sports team’s first loss in 2004 happened on Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions and they went 13-3 that year losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, or something like that, right?

Why do husbands know pointless stats about sports? Because they study it. They pay attention. Your wife only has about 15 outfits. Go stand in her closet for 10 minutes and then when a new one shows up, you’ll know.

A free tip because I want marriages to thrive:-When you notice a new item of clothing on her, this is not a compliment, That’s looks good, how much did it cost? 

Are the husbands complimenting their wives? Are they getting exciting about the outer and inner beauty of their wife or does something else have their excitement? Let’s genuinely compliment the woman God has blessed us with, men.

A little help goes a long way. 

Hey babe, I’ll clean up dinner tonight, you go take a bath or catch up on your reading. You do so awesome with our children, I’ve arranged an evening out with your friends and I’ll be watching the kids, helping them with the homework, getting them ready for bed. 

Or a husband could say: Maybe if you could point me in the general direction of where we keep our vacuum, I’ll sweep the place. Could fold some laundry.?

A little help goes a long way.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.
(Proverbs 3:27)

Study your bride. Do not stop dating her. Do not stop serving her. Do not stop learning about her.

Or, you can take her for granted.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Dealing with Insecurity

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I struggle with insecurity.

That feels so good to admit.

You should try saying it.

I struggle with insecurity and to overcompensate, I become overconfident and try to power up over the massive fears and doubts I have. If that doesn’t work, I then become passive over things and say, If I’m going to be rejected, or if I’m going to fail, then I don’t really care.

But I do care. I’m just insecure.

Here’s a suggested definition of insecurity:

Insecurity: my awareness of the gap between who I am and who I want to be.

We all feel the gap of who we desire to be and who we really are – at work, as a parent, as a friend, as a dreamer.

Here are two forms of insecurity you or your loved ones face every day:

Talent Insecurity

Talent insecurity is when we believe we don’t have what the circumstance requires. We think, I’m not fast enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not creative enough. I’m not spiritual enough. I’m not gifted enough, so therefore I’m not good enough. We allow insecurity to creep into our mindset from who we are in our limited talent compared to who we’d like to be.

Colossians 3:23 says, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

This verse doesn’t say, whatever you do, use your talents. Instead, it’s about dedication. God wants your heart. He wants to see your effort in working hard for Him. It’s not about giftedness to God, it’s about effort. Too many people foolishly want to attribute someone’s success to ability, saying, They’re so gifted, it comes easy to them. They must’ve got a lucky break, right place right time. 

When The Beatles burst onto the scene in the early 1960’s (which, to all Millennials reading, The Beatles were a band of 4 British musicians), they came into fame and celebrity status so quickly. Seemingly they took over the world in 3 years and everyone was like, They are so mega-talented. It wasn’t always like that. Before all the accolades, the band spent 7 days a week in this dirty strip bar in Germany, 4-6 shows a day in front of 10 people for several years. It was their hard work that eventually paid off. They had talent all along, their earnest effort eventually led to the legacy they gained.

We see someone gain immense success and we automatically assume that it was due to mere talent. People have their gifts, God has given them those gifts, but the gift cannot be utilized without effort and to God, effort trumps talent.

All the Lord wants from you is: You. He wants effort. Not talent, just a willingness to obey. And then God is going to move.

The other type of insecurity we face daily is,

Personal Insecurity

Personal Insecurity is a bit deeper and a bit more potentially destructive than thoughts of talent insecurity. It’s thoughts of, I can’t allow myself to forgive myself. I can’t believe God has accepted me. There’s no way God would want to use me because of what I’ve done. It’s when you see yourself as sinful when, after faith and repentance, God sees you as clean.

I’ve let God down more times than I can count. I’ve broken relationships due to my sin and insecurity. He can’t use me.

I have insecurities. In God’s perfect plan, both of my daughters are adopted. We adopted each daughter right out of the womb, met each girl at the hospital they were born in.

One of my wife’s strong desires is to be pregnant. While there is science and technology which we have tried, I’m the reason why she can’t be pregnant. Her and I together, barring a miracle, have a zero chance to conceive. I have insecurity over that. Even though her and I both know that we couldn’t love anyone more than our daughters, even if a baby came out of my womb. Crosbee Lane and Izzy Cate, our girls, they are us. But I still feel insecurity.

I have other insecurities, and they’re more serious than the big forehead I have.

I work too much. I know many of you work earnestly as well. Working hard sounds good, especially after we talked about God wanting to see our effort alongside our gifts, but my motivation in working too much is laced in insecurity. I work too much because I don’t want anyone to think that I’m lazy. When I forget how God accepts me before I could do anything in terms of effort or success, I want to work to show others how amazing I can be.

I know with my confessions of insecurity people can say, It’s okay. You’re loved,  but the thing about insecurity is that it doesn’t matter what people say. What matters is what’s in your heart.

Too often we have this awareness that we aren’t who we need to be, so how to we fill that awareness with God?

I suggest two practical steps to fighting insecurity:

Accept the flaws and limitations you can’t change.

You have to accept the flaws you can’t change. I’m infertile. I have a past that I can’t change. Accept your current limitations and your past mistakes.

Now, this isn’t saying you should accept that you’re impatient. God can change that. Or that you lust all day, God can change that. Or that you’re greedy, God can change that.

God knows what He’s doing with you. If you were fired from your job or went through a divorce or had an addiction or hurt a loved one, accept it. You’re not a failure, stop worrying, put it to prayer. God knows what He’s doing. You can’t win that game, you can’t get that raise, you can’t find love, you can’t make money, you can’t think like them, you can’t you can’t you can’t. Accept it right now. That means stop the justifications. Own it.

The days of our lives are ordered at no surprise to God. He knows your situation. He knows your upbringing. He knows your past. He knows what you think you can’t do. Your life is in His hands. He’s got the whole world, in His hands. We trust that song as children and then in our pride and anxiety we don’t believe it as adults.

Accept this is how things are. This is the awesome thing about being a Christian. God wants to work through the broken. I can’t get my wife pregnant and yet we have two beautiful daughters.

Romans 8:28 says, We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

When you accept that you can’t change the past, you can’t change the gifts or the limits you have, you can’t change the situation sometimes, and you partner with God, lean on God, wait on God, He will work all things for the good. All of us, if we could go back, we would do the things we did differently, but you can’t go back. Accept His grace and go forward.

In Alcoholics Anonymous they say a prayer, that wasn’t originated by the non-profit, but still effective. It was a prayer originally found in the hallway of a rundown motel in France, inscribed on a wall. The prayer says, God, grant me the serenity (the peace) to accept the things that I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Accept the things you can’t change, change the things you can. Example: Can a husband change that he emotionally hurt his wife in anger last week? Nope. Can he change going forward to not be hurtful toward her? Yep.

Concentrate on God, not the Gap. 

Remember, insecurity is the gap of who I want to be and who I currently am. In order for God to keep growing you, using you, leading you toward the person He has destined you to be, you have to trust Him daily. You cannot veer away from Him. When you veer away from God, you head toward insecurity.

The title of your biography should be I trust the Lord. One chapter is about your childhood and it’s called,  I Trust the Lord. One chapter is about you becoming a follower of Christ and it’s called,  I Trust the Lord. One chapter is about family. One is about work. One is about suffering. One is about moving. One is about disease. One is about dreams. Each chapter is called, I Trust the Lord, I Trust the Lord. And newsflash, if you’re still breathing, God still has chapters to write with you. Relational heartache, job loss, cancer, depression, it could be coming your way. When you are focused on God and not on your insecurity, you can respond to anything headed your way with,  I trust the Lord. 

And that will be a more impartial legacy.

You are loved. Thanks for reading.

Z

Real Housewives, Tim Tebow and Telling Your Kids “No”

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Flipping channels I came across the television show, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. One of the wives on this show, her name is Kyle. Looking it up, she has over 2 million followers on Instagram. Besides her amazing acting skills on reality TV, she’s an author. One of her books has made The New York Times Best Sellers List.

In this best-selling book she writes, “If you cheat on your spouse don’t tell your spouse. Everyone gets one free pass.” – Kyle Richards

This is her advice.

Hmmm.

I’m going to sound like a really, really old man when I say this, but I’m going to say it anyway: 25 years ago, that line of thinking was not normal. And now it’s a best-seller?

Contrast the worldview of Kyle Richards with the convictions of Tim Tebow.

This is a guy committed to guarding his virginity. It’s someone who is raising and giving away millions of dollars to help orphans around the world and special needs children in this country. He smiles when his team loses and gives his teammates credit when he wins.

Tebow is antagonistically asked all the time why he talks so much about his love for Jesus. This is his response, “If you’re married and you have a wife and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife, “I love you!” the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up at every opportunity? That’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ. It is the most important relationship in my life. I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity I can get to let him know that I love him.”

Boom.

This sounds normal to me. It’s foreign thinking to the world.

There’s a high school in America where you can take a class on transgender pornography. It’s an elective. In this same high school the teens are not allowed to pray in the cafeteria. And if you say the name Jesus during a graduation speech they’ll keep your diploma and expel you.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).

Do you know when I feel this cultural drift-effect the most? I feel the pull this world has on me the most when I’m trying to make a good decision for my kids.

I know as my daughters get older, they’re going to see a bunch of really nice stuff their friends have that they don’t own. Christmas lists’ are going to get expensive. Birthdays are going to be big deals. Already I can’t get home from a business trip without my three year old asking what I got her before she hugs me. It starts early.

My wife and I are already thinking about what to do when our daughters start asking for expensive gifts. It’s not that the money isn’t there – and please don’t read into this, I’m not telling you how to parent because I’m very wet behind the ears still – but just because we can afford to buy something that doesn’t mean we need to buy it.

I am convinced our goal as parents is not to get children more and more stuff or plan more and more activities for them. Already we see that doesn’t suffice. It’s all temporary until the next thing they can get or do.

Our goal as parents is to raise children to be more like and to depend on Jesus each day of their lives.

That’s not typical today. The majority of families are all about the stuff and the activities.

Which families, in their daily choices, are all about Jesus?
Which husband prays with his wife, asking how he can pray for her?
Which parent prays when their kids are afraid?
Which kids are asking their parents how can they pray for them?

Where are the families reading their Bible together, attending worship together, loving their neighbors together, forgiving each other, baptizing each other?

My six-year old child knows kids her age with an I-phone. She wants her own I-pad for her birthday. As a family we have one already. She likes the thought of using make-up. When she sees her friends get into this stuff and get these things from their parents, we will teach her to be excited for them and not jealous of them or even angry at her mom and I for not getting her another thing, but to be grateful she has a warm home to sleep in and a full belly and a clothed body and a family that is centered on Jesus and full of laughter and joy.

We will go through seasons of getting things for our girls or not getting things for them, but we both believe it will be good for them to hear us say “no, you can’t have this.”

I’m not a mean father, but every so often my children need to hear “no” from me and here’s why:

I hope that someday my daughters are going to have a relationship with Jesus that is their own. They’ll be introduced to this awesome daily thing called prayer, where they can have a real live conversation with the Creator of the universe at any point during their day. And they’re going to ask God for something they think they need or something they really want and God, who sees the future, protects His children, knows better than they do about what they need, He’s going to say “no” to them at times.

I don’t want my children to be spiritually confused, or so physically spoiled, that they get angry at God for not being the genie they expect Him to be because I, as their earthly dad, didn’t say “no” to them while they were growing up. It’s normal to whine. Who’s living simply, patiently, gratefully?

Let me be even more vulnerable as a parent: When I say “no” to my of our kids, for some reason I feel guilty for not getting that thing or that activity for them.

WHY?

Why do I feel like I should cave in when my girls give me the droopy-lower lip, or the tear down their eye, or when they don’t feel like they fit in with their friends?

It’s this cultural undertow that screams our kids deserve the best and it’s tempting us to forget that gratitude, simplicity, generosity, Jesus and His ways are really what’s best for them. Not the next thing their friends may get or what the commercials show. Deep inside we know what everyone else is doing isn’t working.

The only way to live a better life is to live a different life.
Let’s not be so obsessed with being 
happy. Let’s be holy.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

5 Things Your Church Leader Needs Prayer For

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Do you pray for the leaders of your church? Because they need it. Badly.

Here are five things to pray for when wanting the leaders in your church to be who God has called them to be (Church leader classifies as: Elder, Deacon, Priest, Pastor, Preacher, Minister, Church Staff Member, Bible Teacher, Ministry leader, Bible College Professor):

1. That they would not be Arrogant. 

Arrogance is like bad breath, you’re the only one that doesn’t know you have it.

If your church leader doesn’t have a close, loving relationship in leadership with someone who will hold them accountable, most likely they don’t realize how prideful they are.

Arrogant people think, We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys. We have the answers, they need us. We are critical because they’re the one with the problem. We point out that this person messed up because it enhances the view of others that we never mess up. 

They also say, The Bible is infallible – and so is my interpretation of it.

The Bible is perfect. My interpretation of what it says is not perfect. The Bible is infallible, but your favorite Christian pastor/author/professor isn’t. Inerrancy doesn’t extend to Bible teachers.

When a church leader begins to lead in ministry, the sheep will instinctively put the shepherd on a pedestal. I’ve failed as a church leader if I predominantly hear, Zach said this, Zach said that, I love it when Zach said….

I want it to be the Bible that is on the tongues of the people I get to serve. I’ve got nothing wise or good or helpful to say to them without the Bible being clearly laid out to others.

Church leaders are not supposed to convince people of their interpretation. They are supposed to invite as many as possible to give their sin and life to Jesus, and then invite them to examine the Scriptures together.

The ugliest, lowest moments of church history, were when the people trusted the church leaders to teach them the ways of God without having any desire or ability to check the Bible to make sure what was being taught wasn’t tradition or unbiblical. Churches split because leaders become enthralled with their bad interpretations of Scripture.

Is your church leader arrogant? Do they have close, truthful relationships? Do they take God seriously and themselves lightly or do they take themselves way too seriously and God lightly?

2.  That they would not be Unkind. 

Being a Christian leader is a balance between giving grace to the people and giving truth to the people. Grace comforts. Truth convicts. Both are needed. Jesus was the perfect balance of grace and truth. Your church leader is not Jesus.

Church leaders can have an obsession to be right. They’re like a harsh judge. It’s better to be preoccupied with being loving. Like a compassionate father.

When I digest the Gospel account I see people flocking to Jesus in a way they didn’t run to the Pharisees. They ate and traveled with Jesus in a way they didn’t want to spend their free time with the religious Scribes. It wasn’t primarily because of what Jesus knew, it was because He was loving. He actually cared about people.

Do you believe your church leader cares about you? Is your church leader unkind? Do they judge others or do they offer forgiveness? When someone stumbles do they give too much truth, or do they extend mercy?

3. That they would not be Hypocritical. 

A good way for a church leader to not be duplicitous, is to read Matthew chapter 23 and put their first name in the place where Jesus is raking the Pharisees over the coals for their hypocrisy.

Not only did these religious leaders of the first century have rules outside of the Bible that they forced everyone to adhere to, but they weren’t following them either. It’s what religious people today do.

Do we need any more hypocrisy in the church? It doesn’t help the advancement of the Gospel when church leaders believe one thing and do another. God’s Spirit doesn’t work through hypocritical, unchanging leaders. God’s Spirit works effectively through humble, repentant, forgiven, changed leaders.

A pastor friend of mine and one of his elders were disciplining a church staff member who was caught investing his time unwisely into pornography. They set up counseling. They prayed with this minister. They set up accountability for him. They wanted restoration for him.

It came out later that the elder who was disciplining the church staff member, he himself was having an affair with a married woman in his church. That’s as religious as it gets when it comes to hypocrisy.

Your church leaders has sin. They struggle with temptation. They are blind to it. They hide it. They need prayer that God would humble them to repentance, because if not, He will humiliate them in their hypocrisy.

Is your church leader repenting and trying to grow in the likeness of Christ? Or do they act like they have it all together? Do they ever talk about their shortcomings?

4. That they would have Joy. 

Is leading in the church fun to them or do they see it as a chore? Is it something they get to do or something they have to do?

I don’t know who put the word fun in fundamentalist, but that was foolish. They got the mental part right. How many religious, brow-beating leaders do you know where you think, Man, those are some happy people! 

Zero.

Following Jesus is a blast. Serving in the church is a privilege. Leading others – there’s nothing like it.

If your church leader’s definition of a joyous life is a furrowed brow, complaining lips and a gun loaded with accusations, then they need a hug. These are not happy people. They always share what they’re against. They’re always upset at someone and it’s not the mirror. There’s no joy.

They must’ve been baptized in vinegar.

If I’m the kind of dad that’s like this with my kids, they’re going to want to leave the house as soon as possible and go sin like crazy because at least that looks fun at first. I want to be a joyful dad and a joyful leader in the church but it begins by me living joyfully under the feet of Jesus. Daily. I get it, life is hard. Bad things happen. But the most effective leaders in the church are those who have been broken and ended up being thankful for it because they knew God was doing something to change them for the better and bring them closer to Him. Joy.

How many elders meetings have I been in where the excitement in the room was about what each elder was accomplishing at their job and not about the work that Jesus was accomplishing in them or in the church?

Look at your church leader’s family. Is there joy in their marriage? Do their kids have joy?

Look at how they react when God comes through for them or for others? Is there visible wonder?

Watch how they worship Jesus. Are they visibly grateful for the cross and the empty tomb or do they look robotic and uninterested?

5. That they would not be Power-Hungry.

The church is at her healthiest when we are submitting to one another as Jesus submitted to the Father. Church leaders have no authority except for the authority Jesus has graciously allowed them to borrow responsibly.

To have an unhealthy craving to be in charge, noticed, acknowledged, on top, is to not know the liberating freedom the Gospel brings. And to be power-hungry means it will never be enough.

How many church leaders want to be in leadership to show everyone how great they are instead of showing people how great Jesus is?

They might be meeting a lot. They might appear to be serving (to be noticed). They might be making tough decisions. But what is their motivation? Do they lead in the church humbly? Do they show a desperation for the grace of God? If not, they crave influence more than Christ and it will lead them down an unloving legacy.

Jesus isn’t Arrogant.
He’s humble and He expects us to be full of humility, to cloth our lives with it.

Jesus isn’t Unkind.
He’s compassionate and He expects us to be merciful toward others, even enemies.

Jesus isn’t a Hypocrite.
He’s authentic and He expects us to be genuine.

Jesus isn’t without Joy.
He’s full of joy and not matter your hardship, thank Him for today and have joy.

Jesus isn’t Power Hungry,
He’s lost-hungry. He came to save the lost. He’s power itself and we cannot change our lives or the lives of others with His power from His Spirit.

If you’re being sinful, Jesus forgives. If you’re being religious, knock it off. That should cover everyone reading this blog. If you’re breathing you’re either being filthy or are judging the filthy. I’m not sure how many online articles you’ve read and then took some quiet time to repent afterwards, but it might be a good idea to do that today. And while you are doing that, please pray for your church leaders.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

5 Questions to Ask in the Midst of Suffering

Sticky

What can help  during times of stress and confusion, anger and anxiety, is trying to walk in the path of pain others are going through.

One man who has the credibility to speak to all of us on suffering, is the apostle Paul, a Christ-follower who lived during the first century.

One area Paul dearly loved was the city of Philippi. Philippi was a regional city where Paul preached the gospel to people, primarily to women, who became Christians and were part of the core group that planted the first church there. Paul cared for the Philippian church and they cared for him.

Later on in his life Paul is in prison for being a Christian. He writes a letter to the church in Philippi. At this point she is 11 years of age. It’s been four years since he’s physically been to Philippi. The church in Philippi heard that Paul was suffering in prison. They were concerned about his health, so they generously took up an offering, gave money, and sent it to Paul with a man they trusted named Epaphroditus, a deacon in the church. On his way to be with Paul, Epahphrodites becomes ill, close to death. Not only is Philippi’s founding pastor close to death, now their deacon is, and they church is waiting to see how their leaders will respond to the suffering they are going through.

In his dirty jail cell, Paul responds. He sits down and writes to the Philippians to ease their anxieties. What a privilege that God would preserve this letter centuries later of a man who writes of joy in his suffering. He writes:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

We don’t know exactly what has happened to Paul here. Is he hungry? Is he looking for bugs to eat? Is he freezing? Does he have a blanket or does he shiver all night long? Does he have broken bones? Are his wounds infected? Is he alone?

He goes on to say:

It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.(Philippians 1:13-14)

Paul is suffering. More impactful is that he is showing us that there is a way to suffer in a way that is purposeful, not purposeless.

The old school word for this is: sanctification. Sanctification is: Through suffering/pain/mourning/loss/confusion/silence/strife, the opportunity is there to become more and more fashioned into the character of Jesus Christ.

Like the Philippian church watching Paul, those around you are waiting to see how you will respond to your suffering. Here are five questions to reflect on to see if you allow your suffering to become more like Jesus or not:

#1: Does your suffering compel you to love Jesus more? 

Some of you know what I’m talking about. In your suffering you’ve lost everyone and everything but Jesus and He is the true treasure in your life. Some have learned to love Jesus more because they realize that our God didn’t stay distant, but chose suffering and you love Him so much more because you and I would never choose to suffer for someone else in the way He did. Suffering for the Christian should never compel them to love Jesus less.

#2 Will your suffering purify your motives? 

If we are Christians, we are commanded to do all things for the glory of God. I would confess that everything I do is not for God’s glory, and it’s because my motives are mixed up a lot of the time. Even with the knowledge of Scripture, even with encouraging Christian friends, even with the Holy Spirit’s moral compass inside me, my motives can become selfish, lazy, prideful, idolatrous. In a word: impure.

Paul, beaten and alone in prison has no health, no wealth, no freedom. HE HAS NOTHING TO GAIN, and yet his motives are pure. He suffers for Jesus without complaining to God, doubting Him or accusing Him of being unreasonable.

#3 Will your suffering refocus your priority to follow Jesus daily? 

When suffering comes we can become so easily sidetracked from the mission of God and the message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. All of the sudden we find ourselves not primarily focusing our lives on Jesus and His will for our life (to obey Him) and His mission for our existence (to share Him with others around us in word and action).

Instead of pursuing Jesus we can pursue people, and experiences and possessions and pleasure, sin, instead of Christ. It’s easy to lose sight that in every situation there is an opportunity for Jesus to do a work inside you and for Jesus to do good work through you.

In every circumstance, ESPECIALLY in times of struggle, there is an opportunity for you to know Jesus better, for you to be drawn closer to Jesus, for you to recommit your life back to Jesus and His mission of spreading the Gospel to those around you.

It would be an ideal day that when suffering comes to all of us, when the world and the church sees each one of us suffer, they would also see Jesus in our words and actions and either be drawn to Him in faith for the first time, or be matured in the faith. I want you to show people in suffering a lifestyle that would not be possible a part from Jesus being with you.

The faithful who have gone before are begging us not to waste your times and seasons of suffering. Your tears should not be in vain. Your struggle should not be in vain. It should not be wasted. It should not be neglected or abandoned or ignored. It has purpose. Your suffering should be embraced as a divine opportunity for God to grow us and use us.

#4 Will your example of suffering become an opportunity to speak of Jesus’ suffering? 

If we suffer as an example of how Jesus suffered for us and the world, we suffer well. Paul is an example to this. He is chained, literally, to another person, a soldier, who has to keep watch over Paul. He has no freedom. And in this circumstance, Paul, being focused on the gospel, assumes that it is God’s divine plan that this particular soldier is chained to him for a reason: to be saved. Paul’s mindset is, God wouldn’t chain someone to me unless they were intended to meet Jesus. He praises God for the opportunity to witness to the soldiers that come into his cell and become chained to him.

Some of you feel metaphorically chained to your desk at work, maybe a stay-at-home mom feels chained to the house. Some of you will find yourselves stuck in a hospital bed, chained to chemotherapy or treatment of a sickness. Some of you are chained to living a single life, wanting companionship. Some are chained to a relationship that God will not let you break for a reason, and in any instance of suffering we ask, God, why am I still chained here? 

Paul would say on behalf of God, You aren’t chained to these situations. They are all opportunities for God to bring people into our experiences of suffering and to speak of Him in joy, and to suffer like Him in courage and honesty to make a difference in the world. 

#5 Will people grow closer to Jesus as a result of your suffering? 

We cannot be so simple-minded to think that our suffering has nothing to do with our witness.

My wife and I are unable to conceive a child together. I have a firm faith that the heartache of being in a marriage that is infertile will lead someone else closer to Christ.

Right now for a young girl, who isn’t even close to meeting the love of her life, but she will, eventually. And in time they will get married and enjoy life together and the thrill of being best friends and growing together. And they will have friends who have babies and that will instill a desire in them to start a family one day and when that day comes, and when frustration and confusion and anger surrounds their marriage, when they receive news that they are barren – AT THAT MOMENT, God will usher them into my life, into my wife’s life, and we will lead them to closer to Christ through the suffering we are enduring right now.

Paul says, Not only are the soldiers chained to me experiencing the gospel, they’re telling everyone in his imperial guard (some Bible translations in verse 13 say Praetorium), over 9,000 soldiers. Paul’s suffering has 9,000 skilled, trained, very important men talking about Jesus. Paul is praising God in suffering because God is doing something great in his suffering, and something amazing through his suffering, leading others to Him.

The question is not, Will I suffer? You will suffer.
The question is, Will I suffer faithfully? 

Will your suffering grow you in goodness and faith, or will it kill your spirit and turn you bitter? Will your suffering be heard as complaints and selfish to those around you, or will it be used to inspire your friends and those watching to get closer to Christ?

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

7 Questions for Each Gender to Ask Before Dating Someone

Sticky

Happy Valentine’s Day. For those dating, it can be romantic. For those not dating, it can be lonely. For those married, it can be forced or enjoyable. For the husbands who didn’t know today is V-day, hope the dog makes room for you.

Love is in the air around Valentines’ day and that means stupid is in our hearts. Our emotions and desires can deceive us.

Below are 7 questions every Jesus-loving male needs to ask when looking for a godly woman to marry (questions for women to ask are after these 7):

7 Questions Christian Men Need to Ask Before Dating Her: 

  1. Are you looking past a good woman already in your life?

Examples of good women who are possibly near you: widows, shy women, single mothers, older in age. Sometimes a woman’s character is as refined as gold due to the difficultly she’s had to go through.

  1. Do you you look forward to being around her?

You have to read Ecclesiastes 9:9. With stress at work jobs, expenses, with dealing with your sin and with the pain of the let downs of others, it’s a good wife that will help you enjoy your time on earth. You should like being with her and trust her more than anyone. If she’s hot but she annoys you, move on.

  1. Does she dress modestly?

A woman who dresses in a revealing way may be arousing to look at, but do you really want everyone else lusting after her? Do you really want your future/current daughters to follow her example? A wise man ready to date knows the difference between a good time with a girl and a good life with a girl (see 1 Timothy 2:9). Choose a good legacy over a momentary feeling.

  1. Will she let you lead when needed?

The Bible calls the Christ-following husband to sacrificially lead his family. The wife must agree with his Christian values, she must trust him, and she should respect the way he seeks her advice on decisions. There will be conflict if she does not naturally follow Jesus and you. There will also be conflict if she’s following Jesus and you’re not.

  1. Is her character noble?

Check out Proverbs 31:10-31 and you’ll get what I mean. You want your daughters to emulate her. You want your sons to marry someone like her. Is God approving of her thoughts/speech/actions/love? Does she fill you with joy by the way she prays, worships, serves and even how she responsibly interacts with other men?

  1. Can you provide for the standard of life she expects?

If a woman isn’t satisfied with the income you make, move on to someone who loves you more than money or possessions. Biblically, the man is responsible for the financial and material needs of the family. If you work hard, tithes well in worship, invests wisely, and saves money, then it’s perfectly fine to spend money for memory-making with your spouse (see 1 Timothy 5:8).

  1. Is she like ANY of the ungodly women God cautions against in the book of Proverbs?

Does she nag a lot? Does she embarrass herself in public because she’s loud and want attention? Does she argue a lot? Does she gossip about others? Is she a flirt? When your testosterone has calmed down, exhale and try to objectively evaluate her life. (read Proverbs 27:15, Proverbs 7:11).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _

For the female perspective when seeking to date, below are 7 more questions for her to ask about him. Both of my daughters are going to be trained to ask these questions when they turn 37 years old and are given permission to date the close to alien-form species referred to as the human male:

7 Questions Christian Women Need to Ask Before Dating Him:

  1. Will you support him and join him where he’s headed?

1 Corinthians 11:9 says you are equal to your husband, designed to be his helper. If he’s in the military or in sales, to where he’s gone a lot, and you don’t want that, then he needs another career or you need another suitor. If he’s got dreams where they’ll be a lot of long hours and little pay up front, or, if his plans are perpendicular to what your goals are headed, it could be problematic.

  1. Is he courageous enough to remain strong in tough times?

I’m not sure what year it started but when did males start being born without a spine? He should be tender with you, but tough for you. When financial trouble comes, will he be a steady rock for the family that gets two jobs or cuts the budget or trusts God? Will he be there when you are ill? When there’s a tough pregnancy? When there’s tragic heartache? Too many men cower/hide/give up/freeze under hardship. You want to marry one who won’t. He will need to show his faith to you and his fear to God to be strong.

  1. Will he be responsible for the family?

If he isn’t, he’ll be an awful husband and father. He must ensure that you and his children are close to Jesus, well loved, encouraged, and prepared for adulthood. If you’re the leader of the relationship, you deserve better. Please don’t settle. Trust God, move on and pray for someone who can lead you spiritually and emotionally.

  1. Is he gentle with you and thoughtful toward you?

Any man who doesn’t ask what you think and how you feel about decisions needing to be made is selfish and inconsiderate. It’s a huge red flag if he is abusive in any way. While dating, he’s trying to impress you. If he’s bad now, it will only get worse once married (See 1 Peter 3:7)

  1. Do you believe he’ll be a godly and loving father?

Does he love children? Is he selfless daily? The only way a man can be a good father is if he’s unselfish. Does he take time to pray and read the Bible (that’s what develops selflessness)? What takes up his energy and time: living for others or living for his desires? (See Psalm 127:3-5, Ephesians 6:4)

  1. Does he have the qualities that make him a 1-woman man, committed for life?

The elders at your church must set this standard. The dude you want to date shouldn’t be the porn-guy, or the flirt-guy, or the “has lots of girls as friends”-guy, or the “dates lots of women at once”-guy. Or even the “compares you to other women”-guy. When he loves you alone, you will have his heart, his mind, his eyes, and his wallet. If you question his loyalty, he’s not fit for marriage (see 1 Timothy 3:2).

  1. Because you are precious and valuable, what will he sacrifice to be with you?

A man should fight to be with the woman he loves. Too many women make it too easy to be caught. He should overcome obstacles to be with you so you know he treasures and values you. Jacob had to work for 14 years to be with Rachel (Genesis 29:20).

It’s not my intent to cause any break-ups to happen after asking these questions, but it is my intent for godly dating to occur so healthy marriages raise healthy children who date wisely and in that way God’s kingdom can thrive as we emulate His amazing love toward others.

Thanks for reading. You are so loved.

Z

Three Areas to Fumigate in the Home

Sticky

I have a friend living in northern California who wanted to upgrade in homes after his wife gave birth to their first child. When it came time to put his home on the market to sell, he found out that before any offer on his home can become final the home has to be entirely fumigated. Before you can sell a home, the final step is to get all the people out of the home, all the clothes, all the food, all the furniture, (I recommend leaving the cat inside), then these guys come and put this huge tent over the home for sale and these ghost buster looking fumigation soldiers come in and spray inside the home and all over the property because in California there’s these little tiny termites that get into the wood of the home and if you don’t get rid of these harmful insects, the home will collapse.

Fumigation is a tough but necessary act. It’s vital to get what can be harmful out of the home.

What if God is trying to do some big things in our home but can’t move as effectively as He desires because there are some harmful things affecting our minds and the minds of our kids?

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)

Here’s how I would define what the Bible describes as “worldly” –

Worldly: Anything that alienates you from God

Anything – any worldview, any media or song or movie or TV show or thought or behavior or relationship or addiction – if it doesn’t drive you closer to God, it’s of the world. It’s worldly. We’ve got to fumigate that out of your life.

It’s embedded in our instinct to love the world. It’s in our natural desires. It’s what we’re comfortable. If not watched, it’s what we veer toward unconsciously.

Here are three worldly influences that I see in our homes, (This is for me too. It’s not like I’m going over your home for dinner and I’m excusing myself at the table to go look through all your worldly stuff. My family needs to fumigate as well):

1. What We View.

Movies, videos, websites, posts, all of the websites and videos we’re privately viewing. If we wrote down all the viewing pleasures we have that alienate us from God it would be pages. We’d get a hand cramp.

I wonder if we could fill a post-it note with the things we’re allowing ourselves to view that God approves.

A father informed me that his teenage daughter wanted to go see a movie that he knew was not going to help her spiritually grow closer to God. He told her calmly that she couldn’t go see it. He said to her, It’s not going to usher you closer to God and my responsibility is to love you and the best way to love you is to bring you closer to God.

She was frustrated. Said some hurtful comments. No matter how long she was steamed, we need more Christ-following parents like that who protect what their kids view, and do it not to be mean or restrictive, but because God calls you and the entire family to journey toward Him, not worldliness.

Maybe I’m off on this, but isn’t the Christian parent’s dream to see their kids following Jesus with all of their heart? If your dream as a parent is to make your kid happy in the moment and give them permission to do whatever they want, then sure, you’re not going to observe what they view. I want your dream to be bigger than making them happy. Making them happy with no boundaries could enslave them. I want your dream for them to be following Jesus with all their heart. That will free them.

The world is sewage. If a parent allows this ungodly sewage to be pumped into a child’s mind, then the characteristics of Christ cannot be formed in them. That’s on mom. That’s on dad.

I have two daughters. My primary goal is not to get them to ball practice, or to get their ACT score higher than before, or get them on a fun vacation – on and on and on – good things, just not primary. My primary responsibility is to make sure that when they leave the nest, they are sold out to Jesus, and before that, they are trying to become more like Christ each day.

Geez Zach, you have no clue. You’re so naive. Your oldest child is in Kindergarten. Raising Christian kids is tough with all that is around my child. 

I know it’s tough. I was one of the worst kids. I need moms and dads around my family to parent faithfully so when my daughters fill themselves with sewage and lose sight of Jesus, I can lean on you and see what you did to make sure your kids stayed close to God and close to their Bibles.

Here’s the 2nd area we need to be cautious of:

2. What we listen to. 

This is not me saying that Christians need to throw out all the music in the home except the Point of Grace CD’s from the 90’s, but parents, let’s not think that the music today is the same kind of message and content as the music 20 years ago. Let’s not ignorantly think that our kids like the song because they like the beat but the lyrics aren’t marinating on their developing minds. They are. The pain and lust and confusion and rage and bitterness of the world has been transferred into the sound our families voluntarily choose to listen to.

This is not a rant where I ask who wants to go move into a cave with me so we can all sing kumbaya while we pass around the baked beans until the apocalypse happens. We just need to take the time to decipher what we and our kids are listening to. Some of it is good music, good lyrics, others of what we’re listening is good music, bad lyrics, and some of it is just bad music with harmful lyrics.

Music is powerful. I can start singing half a line from a pop song in a room with teenagers in it and the teens finish the lyrics verbatim, but if I quote a commonly known Bible verse in that same room, can they finish it?

I feel like this post might come across as legalistic. That’s not my intent. That’s not who Jesus is. I just want families to get more serious about allowing their kids to watch and listen to things that bring them closer to the Lord.

Why can’t a parent walk into their kids room and tell them that the music being played isn’t honoring God and that it needs to be gone? Fumigated.

I didn’t get serious about God until I was 20. I played the Christian game for 20 years. The primary reason I was so disobedient, and rebellious, and in trouble, the primary reason I wasn’t sold out to God was because of the music I was listening to was so contrary to the life God wanted me to live. I threw all my awful music into a trash can outside on campus in college and I lit it on fire (I got in trouble for the fire, but it felt good to fumigate).

Your kids may not like the fact that you are going to fumigate the music in your home, this is what godly parenting is all about: Pain now for the long term good.

It’s how God disciplines us: Pain now for the long term good. There’s a balance. Fumigate the bad music, keep the good (and that’s not fumigate the non-Christian music, keep the Christian, there’s a balance). There’s some amazing non-Christian music. In my family, when we listen to lyrics that can be harmful in a song, we press the pause button and try to  redeem the lyrics making sure our children know what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes.

It’s not just the music we hear, it’s the jokes amd language we hear and the gossip we are participating in, so many things we’re hearing keep us from God.

Here’s the third thing that could be keeping us from God:

3. The Public Schools.

Now everyone reading pays closer attention, right?

Let me be very clear that just as there are good things to view in TV and websites, and just as there are good things to hear, as in music, there are good things about the public school. There are also potentially harmful temptations in private and home schooling.

As a leader in the church, I am never going to take a stand on where kids should be sent to school, whether public, private, or home school. Being a leader in the church is not for me to propagand my opinion on schooling, or on politics, or whatever. I only want to help share how to make the family more Christ-like, and FYI, my children will always be attending public schools because my wife and I want to send light into darkness, and that includes sending loving, wise kids into public schools where hope and health are decreasing.

What I am saying is that if you’re sending your kid off to a public school, and you’re not paying attention to the stuff they’re learning, and you’re not paying attention to the friends they’re making and hanging out with and the types of coaches that are influencing them, if you’re just sending them off to the world day by day, having uninterrupted social time, it could be keeping them from God. Athletics is included in this. If sports and practice are keeping your kid from growing closer to God, let’s find a balance.

For you, whether you’re a parent or a kid or an in-between, the kinds of things you watch, the kind of music you hear, and the people you hang around – it is the center bulls eye kind of person you’ll become.

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:12-14)

It’s just having some quality, intentional conversations with our family and having the wisdom and courage to fumigate what tempts us from our purpose.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Bible Contradictions and Super Bowl XLVIII

Sticky

Whenever I’m in a conversation with someone who thinks the Bible isn’t from God, or is outdated, or is a made-up religious book to trick simple-minded people, what happens more often than not is when I ask the skeptic, Can you show me where the Bible contradicts itself?, rarely can they do it on the spot. Later on after our conversation I’ll get an email that has a link to some Google search they did.

Many of the so-called inconsistencies in the Bible assumed by people come up out of what are referred by the church as the Gospels: the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Theses four books give us historical glimpses of Jesus’ life on earth as God and as man.

Four books tell the account of Jesus’ one earthly life over 30-some years. There’s a lot of overlap. Matthew, Mark and Luke have 240 of the same statements and verses.

There are some recordings in these Gospel books that, at face value, first glance, seemingly come across as opposed to the other. One such example of this is in Matthew chapter 20 and in Luke chapter 18, which is recorded as the same account. Matthew says in chapter 20, verse 30:

There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. (Matthew 20:30)  

Note that Matthew says there were two blind men. Here’s what Luke says of this same account, speaking of Jesus, he writes,

As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. (Luke 18:35)

Matthew says there were two blind men. Luke says there was one blind man. Had Matthew been drinking a bit too much and was seeing double? Did Matthew need Lasik surgery? Did someone pass on this account to Luke falsely? Luke was a doctor by vocation, so we’ll assume he could count. Matthew was a tax collector by trade so we know he could count. Somethings got to give here.

Is this a contradiction that allows us to call into question the validity of the Bible as God’s Word?

Two years ago I was in Denver on business. One evening I went to a Colorado Rockies baseball game. Attending the game with me were three other people: me, my daughter Izzy, and two church leader friends: Rick and Brian. Technically I only rode to the game with one other person, Izzy. That’s who I told my wife was at the game, myself and Izzy. I told another friend that I went to the game with Rick but left out that Brian was there too.

Was I lying? Was I contradicting myself? Or was I telling the same account, including and excluding different details?

Since the Super Bowl is this week, let me go at it at this angle:

Being born in Denver and having family there still, I’m a diehard Denver Broncos fan. They won the Super Bowl a few years back. Because of that success, I can now accept and talk about the fact that five years ago, the Broncos got their clocks cleaned by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

In the 2013 Super Bowl, Seattle Quarterback Russell Wilson throws a touchdown pass to a receiver named Doug Baldwin (picture above). I don’t know why I was still watching because the game was already over. This touchdown was salt in my wounds. The touchdown catch had to be reviewed for 10 minutes to be sure it was a touchdown. When the replay was showed, there were four different camera angles. They showed the catch from the end zone, from the crowd, from the players’ perspective and from above the stadium.

Each different view showed the same play, but if you were to have a written record of each camera angle, there would be different details written about it. However, the outcome would be the same: A touchdown pass was thrown and a touchdown pass was caught and a part of myself died that night as a Broncos fan. Those are the basic facts.

The first four books of the New Testament are four writers who write about one Person’s life: Jesus. All four writers tell the same Jesus but all four view details from different angles. But the outcome is the same. Jesus came from heaven. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died in your place. Jesus rose from death to give you hope. Jesus ascended back to heaven and started the church to pass on the hope we have in this life and the next. Those are the facts.

Here’s the conclusion I pass on when I willingly show skeptics what they would call a contradiction in the Bible in Matthew 20 and Luke 18: One person was healed if two people were healed.

This makes both camera angles of Matthew and Luke true. In the same way I can say I went to a baseball game with three people, I can also say I went with one person without contradicting myself. Jesus can heal one blind person and also two blind people at the same time. We can spend so much time trying to figure out how many blind men were healed that we forget JESUS HEALS BLIND PEOPLE!

Another angle when biblical contradiction is brought up is when people talk about Bible translations.

The Bible was written originally in two languages: the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. Since the 1600’s, the Bible has been translated into English with dozens of different translations. A logical question is: Does the Bible, originally written in two languages, when it gets translated into one language, like English, does that create problems of accuracy?

When I was an elementary kid, and it would rain during recess time, instead of going outside to play, our teacher would play games with us indoors. One game we played is the teacher would lean over near a student in the front row and whisper a sentence into their ear. That student would turn to the student next to them and whisper what they thought they heard and so on and so on until the last student in the back row received a whispered message.

Every time the sentence reached the last person, the statement from the teacher had been changed along the way, which changed the message of the teacher. The teacher’s starting line was, The bear is in the cave. By the time it reaches the last student the line has been changed to something like, The burrito’s in the car. 

There’s a common misconception the Bible has been passed down over centuries and that the sentences have changed over time, thus changing the message of the Bible.

This line of thinking is flawed logic and mere opinion. It assumes that the Bible translators have been dependent exclusively on oral history, instead of a documented, dated, written history.

Translators have spent centuries cross-examining the work of historically-dated, original manuscripts, with other scholars, with tremendous accuracy, triple-checking it with other documents from the same era, making sure the grammar and context and syntax and other historical documents surrounding the text matches, so the precision infused into the process leads to a product that when you read the English Bible, it is 99.9% accurate to the original translations.

When there is a discrepancy or a disagreement in the process of Bible translation, there is integrity where there will be placed a small yet noticeable, horizontal line across the page. It appears a few times, and will have a statement like this: The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient writings do not have (and an example is) John 7:53-8:11.

In this particular account, the Greek language stands out differently than the rest of the Greek language in John’s Gospel. Did the account of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus actually happen? Probably. There’s still truth in it to apply to our lives.

Investing into Bible translation should be important to the church – not just because accuracy and integrity are high values in the church – but because there are people groups who don’t even have the Bible in their language and as a result they’ve never heard the name of Jesus.

I could go on and on till the break of dawn talking about this subject of biblical contradiction. I’ll leave you with this declarative statement:

Even if the Bible is not true, since Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true.

Now, before emails start coming my way, I passionately, wholeheartedly believe the Bible is from God. It is true. If the church I get to pastor at ever demanded that I stop preaching the Bible, I would fight or resign. But if forced to pick between the two, the resurrection of Jesus is greater than the Bible.

If Someone rose from the dead, that qualifies that Person who died and rose to life again to be God. If there is a God, then there also must be absolute truth available to us to govern our lives – to give us identity and to guide our behavior.

Based on solid research of people smarter than me by dozens of IQ points, and based on my life experience and the worldview that I have, I believe the Bible is historically accurate, it’s a closed-fist fact that I’ll never let go of. I believe the Bible is from the mouth of God and I also believe it’s extremely pragmatic. Which means, even if you don’t believe what I do about the Bible, if you study it, it works for your life.

Every time I apply what the Bible tells me to apply, my life gets better and my relationships get better. 

So I continue daily to align my life with the content and with the Author of the Bible, even if the content of the Bible and the Author of the Bible are not popular among the masses. The opinion of the masses is not as important as my daily relationships thriving, and the Bible provides that.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Thoughts on Abortion

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Roe Vs. Wade, the January 22nd, 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion throughout pregnancy, turned 45 years old this week.

Abortion has become a politically-charged subject, with lines drawn in the sand.

One political party says, We are pro-life. Another political party says, We are pro-choice. One party protects and fights for the rights of an unborn baby while the other party protects and fights for the rights of the pregnant woman. It’s become an either-or proposition where people are forced to pick a side. The problem for me as a Christian, when culture forces me to pick a side, is that Jesus is both-and.

Jesus is for babies and for women.

The church is messing up her witness because Christians are loudly arguing what they are against instead of gently stating in love what they are for. Christians would do well to stop yelling at what issue they are against and start sharing in love that they are for Jesus. Jesus is for babies and for women.

Surely at some point in his earthly life, Jesus’ birth-mother sat Him down and walked Him through all the pain, fear and humiliation she went through as an unmarried, teenage, pregnant woman. It seemed to have shaped Jesus’ love for children and women on the outskirts of culture.

Since Jesus is pro-baby and pro-women, so am I. Here are some reasons why:

I am for the Sciences.

What the scientific community has discovered is that life begins at conception.

Let’s say a baby is conceived on January 1st, (which means it must’ve been quite a New Year’s Eve party). Here’s what happens after conception:

JANUARY 1: All 46 chromosomes are present giving the baby a unique genetic make-up that cannot be replaced or reproduced. 

JANUARY 21: The baby’s heart begins to beat. 

FEBRUARY 7: The baby’s eyes, legs, and hands begin to develop.  

FEBRUARY 21: The baby starts kicking and swimming in the womb. 

FEBRUARY 28: Every organ in the baby’s body is in the proper place, bones are taking shape, and fingerprints have begun to form.

Most abortions take place at this stage of development. If that’s not a human being then I am not a human being. This is why ultrasounds are so critical in the process of a woman deciding to abort or give life.

78 percent of all expecting moms wanting an abortion, decide not to have one after seeing the ultrasound of their baby. 

The owner of the largest abortion clinic in the United States testified before Congress and said this:

“Of course human life begins at conception. This isn’t new news; it’s just overlooked information.” – Aileen Klass

50 million babies have been systematically exterminated because of overlooked information?

Even if I didn’t believe a single word in the Bible, I would still be pro-baby and pro-woman because of my intellectual commitment to science.

I am for the Law. 

I am utterly grateful to be living in a country that is legally establishing gender equality. There is a ways to go still, but as a father to two daughters who are growing into women, they will live in a time where women can thrive better than ever before. The law is to thank for that. I pray for our political and judicial leaders. I am for them.

There are some inconsistencies in America’s legal system. If a woman chooses to terminate the development of her baby, it’s considered, by law, a choice. If someone else harms her while she is pregnant, and terminates the baby growing inside of her, it’s a homicide, it’s murder.

In America if you destroy an eagle’s egg you’ll go to jail for two years.

The law says what develops inside of an eagle’s egg is more valuable than who is developing inside of a mother’s stomach. It doesn’t seem to line up with these timeless words written by Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson

Since the inception of these words in the year 1776, America has fought numerous wars in numerous countries. Our country defends everyone’s right, globally, to life. 1.3 million American soldiers have laid their own lives down so that other people in other countries could live.

Why wouldn’t we fail to protect the rights for the unborn to have life?

Maybe you remember a man from history class named Dred Scott. Scott was slave from Missouri. His owner moved him to Illinois where slavery was illegal and Dred Scott took him to court because his owner tried to sell him to a state where it was illegal to have slaves. It was a courageous move.

The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court and the decision sadly ended up being that slaves were property, not people. But the Dred Scott case ignited a nationwide controversy and eventually it led to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, which thankfully led to the 13th Amendment in our constitution stating that all people are people, not property.

And it’s not just race. Husband, remember your wife is not your property. Treat her with kindness. Boyfriend, your girlfriend is not yours. She’s God’s. Parent, your child/children are not your property, they’re God’s children you get to influence for a short time. Employer, treat your employees fair and honor them when they do well. They’re not your property either. Which means an unborn baby is not property

In her book, Who Broke the Baby?, author Jean Garton makes this observation,

“History has proven us wrong about Native Americans. History has proven us wrong about African Americans. We cannot afford to wait for history to prove us wrong about the unborn.” – Jean Staker Garton 

If it’s proven scientifically and medically that unborn babies are people, does it matter if we kill them before they are born or after they are born? Right now the only thing that separates abortion and euthanasia is the law.

There is a greater category than science or law.

I am for the Scriptures. 

The songwriter in Psalm 139 sings this about God,

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! (Psalm 139:13-17)

God has so many great thoughts about life in the womb and not one of them is abortion. Here’s how God begins the book of Jeremiah,

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Before any person is born, God knows them intimately, loves them unconditionally, values them above all creation and has a purposeful, specific plan for their life.

When Mary was pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit, she went to her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant at the same time with John the Baptist. When Elizabeth saw her cousin Mary, she said,

When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. (Luke 1:44)

Not birth matter. Not uterine content. Elizabeth says, the baby jumped for joy. From the very beginning of the Bible and of humanity, God’s message is clear.

God has a heart for the voiceless and the weak. It’s always for the child. The church must echo God’s heart. This is why in the book, Answering the Call, author John Ensor points out a big tragedy in the Christian community. He writes –

“The abortion industry could not survive financially without paying customers drawn from the church.” – John Esnor

No Christian needs to be protesting outside of abortion clinics. They just need to stop going inside them.

Anytime I am listening to someone who has an abortion in their past, whether they chose it, their parents forced it, their boyfriend forced it, or they funded it, I try to communicate this truth:

You are either forgiven or forgivable. 

If you’re a follower of Jesus, and you’ve been shamed over sin in your past, Jesus already has forgiven you of all of that. It’s gone. It’s clean. The evil one will try to remind you of it, but remind him Jesus has forgiven you and that your future is good and his is frightening.

If you’re not a follower of Jesus, and you’ve been shamed by choices you’ve made, you are forgivable. God willingly, overwhelmingly will forgive all of your past. If you’ve had an abortion, Jesus died to forgive that act and He rose from death to free you from being chained by that memory. If you haven’t admitted your past to a friend, reach out and share it bravely to experience liberation and healing.

If you know a woman who is pregnant and scared, the guy isn’t involved, the finances aren’t there, her parents are angry, her future looks bleak, say this to her:

You may have an unwanted pregnancy, but you do not have an unwanted baby. 

Adoption is a great option. Life is always the right option. I’m convinced that each Christian should let Proverbs chapter 31:8 marinate in their membrane over and over:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; (Proverbs 31:8)

I’m pro-baby and I’m pro-woman because of my intellectual commitment to science, because of my moral commitment to the legal system, and also, more importantly, because of my spiritual dedication to Scripture’s truth and wisdom.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Attend Church Like You’re At A JT Concert

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One of the earliest depictions outside of the Bible of the early church was from a guy named Pliny (rhymes with skinny). Pliny was the governor of a Roman province in Turkey. He wrote a letter to his Roman emperor who was asking questions about these people who were following “the Way”. The emperor was asking about Christianity. Before Christians were referred to as, “the church,” they were called, “the Way”.

Describing the church early on in her existence, Pliny wrote this:

They meet at dawn to sing a song of praise to Christ as God. – Pliny the Younger, of Bithynia

From the beginning of the church, God’s people have been a singing people. Paul the Apostle wrote this:

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. (Colossians 3:16)

As Colossians 3:16 says, a person will sing when the message of Christ, the Good News, fills their life. As Pliny wrote, these people were gathering AT DAWN to sing.

Think about the last time you entered into a church to worship. Were there people already singing? Were you a tad late? Is that unfair to ask? It is, isn’t it?

I’m not a prison warden. I don’t want to sound strict and judgmental. I’ve been late to church many times. I don’t want to sound like a marine about it.

But…….

If we’re early to school and early to work and early to sports practices and early to dinner reservations and early to the doctor’s appointment and early to the movie and early to a concert, shouldn’t God’s people singing together trump all of that?

If it’s something the early church did, and it’s something Christians are going to do forever in heaven, I want to get a bit better at being to church early, preparing my heart to sing loudly and joyfully.

Singing is what the people of God are described as in the beginning. And not just since the birth of the church but since the birth of humanity. The first recorded words of human history are Adam singing about his wife Eve. We’ve always been a singing people.

Why have we always sang? Why do we make sure we take time to sing?

Because we are a grateful people.

Singing is not exclusively worship, but it’s a form and an expression of worship. When we sing it’s a spirit to Spirit experience with God. It’s me seeing what Jesus has done for me, in me, and me being grateful for it. So I sing. Singing does move me closer to God, but I primarily choose to sing because I am thankful.

There are some people who don’t like to sing in church. They don’t sing. They just stand. Does that mean they’re ungrateful? Does that mean they don’t care about God? No.

A few years ago my wife and were at a Christian conference where there were worship services in the morning and in the evening. With other Christians gathered we sang and shouted and felt God moving through music all week long. We attended these worship services next to my parents and where my mother sang loudly in praise, every time I looked at my dad, he wasn’t singing.

This is my dad. This is the guy who drove me to elementary school singing Motown songs by The Temptations and Diana Ross. And he would sing soprano, slapping his thigh and snapping his fingers. I knew he liked to sing. He had always been like this.

And my dad was a preacher. My dad had been a Christian for 40 years. Just because he didn’t sing or move his lips during the singing time, does that mean the word of Christ didn’t DWELL within him as the writer of Colossians 3:16 says?

No.

At the time of that conference my father was battling terminal skin cancer. We didn’t know it then, but he was less than three months away from dying. The closer he’d gotten to death, the more serious conversations him and I had. Walking back to the hotel after one of the worship services where he stood, but didn’t join in song, I asked him why he didn’t sing.

He said, Z, I don’t like to sing songs I don’t know in front of other people I don’t know. He said, I sing the songs I know. I like the new songs. We should sing a new song. I just have trouble reading them, learning the rhythm of them at times, so I listen. 

And then he shared something that helped me understand those who don’t sing every song in worship, he said, Just because my lips aren’t moving doesn’t mean I’m not being brought closer to God. I’m still connecting with Him. I’m still praying grateful prayers.

In worship, it’s impossible to be grateful and critical at the same time. 

We can’t worship while being grateful and critical at the same time. The earthly brother of Jesus wrote:

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (James 3:11)

Either you’re grateful and are refreshing or you’re critical and a bit salty.

All over Scripture there are grateful people singing loudly in gratitude to all God has done in their lives.

Do you know what else there is in the Bible? Dancing. People moving their bodies in a glorifying way. I enjoy moving my feet in worship. I enjoy shaking my lack of hips. I bob my head in worship like at a Kanye West concert. I clap my hands. This is worship people. If I’m going to dance at a wedding why wouldn’t I practice dancing on Sundays where we prepare for the final wedding feast in eternity with Jesus?

We’ve always been dancing. We’ve always been musical. We’ve always been singing, and why is that?

Because the word of Christ DWELLS inside of us. Because Jesus has saved us and forgiven us and has given us new life, and we just can’t keep it in. We are grateful, not critical. We’re early, not late. We sing loudly or reflect deeply.

I love watching my young daughters sing and dance. As their father, it is such a gift to see them physically express themselves to music and have a good time.

You might be stiff, you might be insecure, you might be silent, you might not know the songs, the music might be too loud, you might think there shouldn’t even be music, you might be running late, but I’ve got to tell you, God enjoys watching His children sing and dance for Him (and every Worship Pastor out there screams, Amen).

Do you know why some people raise their hands in worship?

When my three year old child is exhausted, when she’s not feeling well, she runs up to me and extends both hands up. She wants to be held and comforted and have a closer feeling of security. When God’s children are tired and exhausted and stressed and not feeling well, we still choose to raise our hands.

When I raise my hands in church it’s because I want to be closer to God. Sometimes I’m a man at the end of his rope and I’m just hanging there about to fall as the enemy comes after me and I just need to reach up for God to pull me up like Jesus pulled Peter out of the Sea of Galilee. It’s okay to raise your hands.

Get to worship early. Commit in your heart as you prepare for worship to be grateful. Sing loud in church. Dance wildly. Clap. Cheer. Put your hands up. Sit down and pray. Reflect on the words and be grateful.

Whatever you do, practice what we’ll be doing forever at the throne of Jesus for those who believe. And I’ve got to think those who believe and still treat worship like it’s a doctor’s appointment have yet to taste how good the Gospel is.

Think of your favorite singer or band. Now picture yourself at their concert, (Are you at a Justin Timberlake concert? I am.). Aren’t you early to the concert? Aren’t you standing and singing loudly? Aren’t you dancing? Aren’t you clapping? Aren’t you cheering? Aren’t your hands in the air? Yes to all of that.

Let’s take those actions combined with our gratitude toward God into worship next time you gather with Christians to sing. Who cares what others think. You worship your heart out and let them be salty.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. So SING!

Z

Changing Our Perspective in Hardship

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Many people right now are being asked by God to endure hardship. There are marriage problems, parenting issues, infertility heartaches, stress at work, addictions, loneliness, there’s financial problems, health issues –all around there is hardship.

Are you being asked by God to endure hardship right now? I hope this perspective helps:

Hardship isn’t punishment from God because He doesn’t love you. Hardship is discipline from God because He does love you. 

I’m going to bypass the endless amount of parenting analogies that apply here.

At times, when my faith is weak, I choose to primarily focus on the hardship and how things are really tough and I cry out to God, I thought You were a good and loving God?! Why are you allowing this to happen to me?!? Check out these verses:

Don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. (Hebrews 12:5-7)

God says, You have hardship BECAUSE I’m a good God. It’s discipline for you to become more like My Son Jesus, if you can endure humbly through it. This is an opportunity to grow your witness and add to your testimony. Rely on Me. There is purpose here. 

The goodness of God is that He will use the sin/pain/trials of life to bring eventual, permanent good. Another reminder verse:

God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God. (Romans 8:28)

With the trial we are asked by God to embrace and grow in, instead of thanking God, instead of trusting God, we ask, Why God? Why them? Why me? Why now? 

Let’s not forget that Jesus never used the word Christian. Jesus used the words follower and disciple.

Follower. Disciple.

In your hardship, will you still follow God? Or you could drop out.

The word disciple comes from the Latin root word discipline, meaning you can’t be a disciple without going through some discipline.

In your hardship, recognizing it’s not God punishing you, it’s God discipline, it’s God bringing love and purpose, will you still be His follower? Or you could drop out.

I am grateful God has allowed hardship and discipline to occur in my life. After hardship and discipline, I am more honest. I’m more hard-working. I’m more grateful. Because I hung onto God and saw His discipline as an act of love toward me.

We don’t automatically enter into this world with wisdom and theology and holiness. We grow up in this world with lots of folly and mess and sin. We choose to go toward death because we fall in love with rebellion. And because of grace and love and kindness, God is a Father who adopts us, makes us His, cleanses and frees us from our past, so that we can move toward true life and peace. After trusting and accepting Him, He will (not, He might. He will), in His perfect timing, allow trials in order to lovingly discipline us, hoping we hold onto Him and if so, become more like Him.

If you sit by an unbeliever at work, and you’re a believer, and both of you get fired, for YOU, it’s God disciplining you to trust Him more. I don’t know what it is for the unbeliever.

If a non-Christian gets cancer and you do as well, for YOU, it’s an opportunity to follow God more closely and not let go of Him. It will hone your character.

When hardship comes, we are asking the wrong question. When difficulty comes in our life, we’re asking, How can I change this? – whatever this is – a better marriage, better health, I want kids, I want to be married, I want more obedient kids, I want to pay the bills, I want to leave my addictions……….

We’re asking the wrong question if we’re primarily concerned with, How can I change this difficulty?

What I see from Hebrews chapter 12, is that we shouldn’t ask during our difficulties, How can I change this?

In every trial, we should be asking, How can this difficulty change me?

No matter how severe, how long, how devastating, how fatiguing the hardship is, for a healthy and biblical perspective, ask God, Lord, what discipline are you allowing me to have so this changes me for the better? 

Maybe it’s not about you fixing your difficulties as much as it is about your difficulties fixing you.

If we can have the faith in God to stop complaining about our hardships and start being thankful for them, then we can have joy. We can praise Him no matter what. We can rejoice. We can sing. We can declare that we are His followers and we will follow toward Him through anything this world throws at us. We will never let go of Jesus. If Jesus left heaven and resisted temptation for 33 years and died the death you deserved, and if there are faithful Christians on the other side of the world being murdered for their faith, then how can you, even as exhausted as you may be, whine about your current hardship?

It’s an honor to suffer. Do you not trust what God is doing by allowing the pain to occur in your life? If we trust God is our afterlife, then we can trust Him with this temporary trial in this life. Do not drop out. Seek His will in the trial. He’s allowing it to happen for a reason. To change you.

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny. – C.S. Lewis

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Dating and Racism

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In each discussion worthy of opinion, debate and persuasion, we should aim to bring as much harmony, history and humility as we can into each conversation; especially if we are Christians. I don’t want to win an argument while fragmenting a relationship doing so. I don’t have to be right if it means being unloving. I can choose maturity and disagree without being disagreeable.

With that foundation laid, I want to jump to the topic of interracial dating and marriage. And remember, we can disagree and I still love you.

God has blessed my wife and I with two daughters we were given via infant adoption. Our eldest is Caucasian, born in Joplin, Missouri. Our youngest is African-American, born in Virginia Beach, Virginia. As a family we purposefully chose racial diversity to be in our household. We want to be a family of unity, not division.

As parents, and as Christians, my wife and I will display a consistency of colorblindness when it comes to relating to the many beautiful people God has placed in our lives. We want to open our home for all kinds of different individuals. When it comes to our daughters choosing friends, dating (after age 35), loving on neighbors, roommates, we want them to try to see everyone as God does. As a family we will continue to recite and believe Galatians 3:28, which says:

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are ALL one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

From cover to cover, the Bible repeatedly shares God’s view of humanity and that view is:

We are all different, but we are all equal.

Even though each one of us are very different, God loves each one of us the same. He commands the church/Christians/people who love Jesus to love all people in the same way He loves them.

Knowing it’s a great possibility one or both of my daughters choose to interracially date or marry, I want them to know most conflict in romantic relationships and in marriage is not due to the color of someone’s skin. Marriage rises and falls based on whether or not we allow the selfishness in us to hang around and expose itself.

Selfish people struggle in marriage while selfless people thrive in marriage. 

If you want your children to have a vibrant, life-giving, joyous marriage when the time comes for them to seriously date and get engaged, it’s got nothing to do with the color of skin on who they date. If the person they date is selfless, the marriage is going to thrive.

If our oldest daughter, a Caucasian, came to me later on in life when, as a family, we agreed she could begin dating (so when she’s 35), and said, Daddy, there are two boys I could seriously date. One boy is Caucasian, and he’s pretty selfish, talks about himself a lot, how great he is. The other boy is Asian. He’s pretty selfless. He talks about Jesus and encourages me a lot. Any advice on what I should do? I hope I say, Honey, we don’t care about race in our family at all. Spiritually, we are a color blind family. After some time in prayer, if the boy who loves Jesus and encourages you is who you say he is, enjoy getting to know him, after he passes the Old Testament quiz I give him. And he also better have a job.

Any boy wanting to date either of my daughters must have the two J’s in his life: Jesus and a Job.

If God were to bring a Caucasian young man, who loves Jesus and has a job, to date our youngest daughter, an African-American, I wouldn’t even think color or interracial. If he’s selfless because of emulating Jesus into his daily life, I would bless and oversee her dating him. I don’t care if he’s white, I care if he’s holy.

Growing up in Cincinnati, a racially-charged city in the 90’s, my best friend for 8 years was Maurice  Bowden. He’s black. I’m white. Who cares. I loved him dearly. I didn’t want to go a day without seeing him. He had an intriguing imagination, a wonderful family and a great knuckle-ball pitch in backyard whiffle ball. If ever I was told I couldn’t be Maurice’s friend because of his skin color, I would’ve looked at you like you were the dumbest person on the planet.

Racism is stupid.

Racism is one of the stupidest things we’ve ever come up with as humans.

Also on that list is the Snuggie.

Racism is stupid. To think that I’m better than someone else, just because of the color of my skin?

That’s like saying, Because I was born in the first week of June, I hate all people who aren’t Geminis. I had no control over what month I was born in and I had no choice in what race I was going to be. If I did, I would’ve probably gone with Samoan.

Three months after adopting our youngest daughter, an African-American, we were at the County Fair with some friends. While eating some ice cream, a woman, with her teenage daughter, both Caucasians, were near our table. They began oohing and aahing over how precious our baby girl was, while also being curious about us adopting her (like asking what country from Africa she was from. I said, The country of Virginia).

The mom then asked, What’s her name? I replied, Israel Cate, and she said, Thank God you didn’t name her one of the crazy names those black people name their kids. 

Thank God? 

Those black people?

Christians just don’t think like that. If they do, that’s not what Christianity is.

Christians look at character, not color. 

Christians view people as God does: valuable, amazing, talented, smart, beautiful. Created in His image.

The church should be a reflection of what heaven is going to be – one day, God will redeem the earth when Jesus returns to take His people home and all languages and races and personalities will gather together in the same place. The church should be that.

Heaven is a place that is completely void of racism. A man named John, who had lived and traveled with Jesus for three years, describes heaven this way:

I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. (Revelation 7:9)

If that is what heaven will be like, that is what the church should strive to look like.

Children and student ministries in every church should have different races.

Adult small groups and classes in the church should have different races.

Church leaderships should have qualified different races.

Our children should date Christians who have character, who have Jesus and a job, and color doesn’t matter.

Our kids should make friends, no matter the race.

Families should pray about the prospect of adopting, no matter the race.

Adults should respect and support bosses, neighbors, family of different races.

Christians should intentionally open up their homes to those different than them to break bread, learning from and loving on each other.

Make that a goal this year: prayerfully seek how you can bring the void of racism in heaven into your home/neighborhood/church/life. You won’t regret it. We are all different from each other but bringing that difference together is called being Christ-like.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

The One Thing I’m Quitting Starting This New Year.

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It’s almost the year 2018? That’s difficult to fathom. Doesn’t that sound like science fiction to you? It wasn’t too long ago when it was Y2K and we were all huddled down in our storm shelters with our water jugs, RME’s, generators, flashlights, canned food, our Kings James Version Bibles and we were afraid our computers were going to shut the world down and send us back to the Dark Ages.

None of that happened and then you blink and it’s 2018.

The more New Year’s Days that go by the more I realize how fast life really gets.

Around this week each year as the ornaments are being put away, the memories of the current year are being put away as well, I have the same cycle that happens: I start evaluating myself: where I’m at and where I want to go, who I want to strive to be. I make a list of goals and initiatives for the upcoming year and this process is referred to as resolutions. Some are tangible goals that are tracked rigorously and some are intangible goals and are sought after through accountability.

A tangible goal: I will exercise 5 days a week in 2018. 

An intangible goal:  I will become more of a patient person in 2018. 

New Year’s resolutions can be divided into two categories. On one side we say, Here are the things I need to start doing: I need to start eating better. I need to start going to the gym. I need to start managing my money wisely. I need to start getting to church consistently. 

In the other category are things that we need to stop doing. I’m going to stop eating dessert. I’m going to stop speeding on the highway. I’m going to stop cussing. I’m going to stop drinking so much. 

We have both categories: things we will start this new year and things we will stop this new year.

Most are aware of the spectacle of the New Year’s Eve celebration on Times Square in NYC, when the ball drops at midnight Eastern Time Zone and you kiss on the lips the person nearest to you.

I’ve attended the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration. While it was fun to be there and meet so many people from around the world, it wasn’t the most enjoyable fun arriving at 4:00PM for a spot, not able to leave for 8 hours, having to urinate in a gatorade bottle in front of thousands of onlookers while it’s freezing outside. And once the ball drops, everyone scatters and runs like a zombie apocalypse started on 42nd Street.

There is a lesser known day that occurs in Times Square of New York City a few days before New Year’s Eve every year. It’s a Latin American-inspired day called: Good Riddance Day (more about this here).

The idea behind, Good Riddance Day is you are to take all of the letdowns of the previous year – the stress and pain and the unmet expectations – and you bring them to Times Square to get rid of them and clean the slate heading into the new year with a fresh mind and a renewed heart.

You show up at Times Square in late December, you receive a black Sharpie market and a piece of paper that has words printed on it saying: I’d like to say good riddance to……..and there’s a blank space after for you to finish the sentence.

You can put a photo there of a former job you no longer have. You can put an old credit card statement there that has been paid off. You can write something in, like, I’d like to say good riddance to rooting for the Cleveland Browns.

Thousands of people attend this Good Riddance Day. They take their year-long, sometimes life-long regret up to a large industrialized paper shredder and they let go of the paper and shred it and the surrounding people cheer and clap. It’s a symbolic way of saying, This is what I’m letting go of, this is what I’m getting rid of before the New Year. 

One New Year’s Eve week I attended Good Riddance Day. It was a fairly new event then and I was very nosy. I kept looking at other people’s paper because I can be rude and intrusive like that, in a curious, insensitive way. One lady next to me was crying so I asked her what she wrote on her paper and she held it up to me in tears and it was the name of a guy.

Damon.

She said, This is the name of an old boyfriend of mine and we broke up two years ago but I can’t fully get over him and I can’t stop thinking about him and I can’t stop looking online at what his new life looks like so I’m going to shred his name today and move forward….. 

Now I’m thinking, You haven’t been able to get over this guy for two years after you broke up, do you really think writing his name down on paper and shredding it is going to be deep enough to heal you? 

I didn’t tell her that. I just hugged her and asked if I could pray with her. She said, No thanks. I’m an atheist. She was very polite about rejecting my offer. She chose the paper shredder instead to help heal her.

As good-intentioned and therapeutic as an exercise like Good Riddance Day can be, I just don’t think it goes deep enough. It doesn’t get to the root of helping what we need to let go of.

I’ve got many tangible goals for this year of things I need to start doing more of. I’m going to run this many miles. I’m going to read this many books. I’m going to go on this many date nights and daddy-daughter dates.

But I’m also going to stop doing something. And it’s just one thing. I’m stopping cold turkey. I’m not going to do it ever again and I’m asking my family and closest friends to hold me accountable.

I’m going to stop complaining. 

Forever.

It’s over. I’m done being a chain-grumbler. The pre-ghost-of-Christmas-yet-to-come Ebenezar Scrooge and the Grinch-like heart I’ve had for far too long is dying at the end of 2017 and a perpetual grateful heart begins in 2018.

Every day I ask my daughters to stop whining without holding myself accountable to the innumerable amount of complaints I commit. From facile complaints like wifi being too slow or food not tasting great to more serious complaints of life not going the way I think it should, I’ve been addicted to grumbling.

If you love Jesus you need to know complaining is a sin. It’s offensive to God.

Do everything without complaining. (Philippians 2:14)

There’s no clarifier or asterisk. It’s not, Do everything without complaining, unless you’re tired. Unless you’re getting a divorce. Unless you’ve lost your job. Unless your metabolism is low. Unless your car breaks down a lot. Unless. Unless. Unless.   

Do E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G without complaining. (Philippians 2:14)

Do you complain?

Of course you do.

I’m not talking about little complaints here and there. I’m talking about trending complaints. What are the things you keep complaining about? If you don’t know, your spouse/closest friend/co-worker is dying to tell you what you always complain about.

Complaints usually rise up out of unmet expectations. The weather is awful. That’s because your expectation is for San Diego weather. The traffic is horrific. That’s because your expectation is to get to where you were going smoothly. The government is wicked. That’s because your expectation is to have a Congress and Oval Office full of the Holy Spirit when in reality they are just full of themselves.

That person used to be my friend. That’s because your expectation is for you to be treated fairly and lovingly 24/7.

Pay attention to those trending complaints – in you and in those under your roof. Complaining is a sin. Get it out of your heart. Get it out of your home. The more you complain, the less you’ll be grateful, the less you’ll trust God and the smaller of a legacy you will have.

Psychology 101 is when you stop doing something you must replace it by starting something. If you want to stop smoking, replace it by starting to exercise. If you want to stop watching so much TV, replace that time by reading or journaling.

We must stop complaining. It leads to no where beneficial and keeps us treading in our negative, self-pity pool of water we choose to waddle in. If we stop complaining, what do we replace our thoughts/attitudes/words with?

Gratitude.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Do everything without complaining and instead be thankful in all circumstances. The verse above says that this is God’s will for you life.

Those who want to make a difference think of extravagant things like starting an orphanage in Africa or a non-profit to help the needy in America or writing a book. They want to make a difference where so many people notice.

How about we make a difference so our God notices? And for that to happen, I’m going cold turkey on not complaining and I’m going to replace it by being thankful.

How radical would it be for me to be thankful for traffic? Then I get to pray or process my day or think about my family. How radical would it be for me to be thankful for slow wifi? Then I get to be thankful for the life God has given me where I get to have wifi in my warm house with my warm clothes on while drinking my warm coffee. I have a great life.

I know friends who are thankful they have cancer because it has forced them to not take any day for granted with their loved ones, to love people more than possessions.

I invite you to join me. No more complaining. Let’s leave our pre-school mindset and venture into spiritual maturity. Be thankful for all you have, the good and the bad. Let’s lovingly hold our family and friends to the standard of no whining as well. We’re better than emulating Mr. Potter (Not Harry, the guy in It’s a Wonderful Life). Let’s emulate Jesus, who said a lot of words that are recorded, not one is a complaint.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year. 2018 is going to rock.

Z

How We Should Talk About Santa

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Santa Claus is discussed in my family the same way we talk about the Muppets. I want to encourage imagination in my children and yet I need to be aware this time of year of my actions and excitement being towards Jesus (who is real) and not toward an exaggerated jolly man (who isn’t real, at least, not how he’s pictured today).

There are historical facts when it comes to Santa Claus. His name was Nicholas of Demre. He lived in the 4th century. There’s an augmented statue of him in the city of Demre, which is on the south coast of Turkey.

Nicholas had wealthy parents who died to an epidemic when he was a teenager. As an orphan he went to live with his uncle, who was a priest.

Nicholas used the great inheritance he was given by his deceased parents and gave it to the needy and the sick. He then dedicated his life to serving people becoming the Bishop of Myrna. In serving others daily and being generous toward them, his legacy grew.

What has been embellished today of Nicholas as Santa Claus is amateur compared to the the real-life leader in the church he really was. He was violently discriminated against because of his faith, put in prison for serving Jesus Christ. Under persecution he served time in jail, but was released in time to travel to what what would be a historical conference event known as the Council of Nicaea (pronounced: nice-sea-uh).

The Council of Nicaea took place 1,700 years ago in the northern part of Turkey. Church scholars across the known world gathered urgently over a disagreement. The main issue discussed at this council was Jesus Christ and His direct relationship with God the Father. Was/is Jesus God or was He someone who was born in Bethlehem/raised in Nazareth/died in Jerusalem? Is He God or just a man? Is He alive or is He dead? 

The conclusive decision they arrived at has shaped the church we find amongst us today.

They confirmed via historical evidence that Jesus is God from God. Light of the world from Light from heaven. True God from true God. They said Jesus is begotten, as the old school King James Version of John 3:16 says. Meaning Jesus was not created or made. He’s begotten. They determined that Jesus Christ was, quote, “of the same substance of the Father.

To get to this decision wasn’t an easy, unified process. It took 60 days. One side said Jesus was just a human the other side argued He is God’s Son, God Himself.

There was a false teacher at this council of Nicaea who was visibly passionate that Jesus was just a man, just a teacher, only human. His name was Arias and he was screaming for two months that Jesus was finite, not eternal; just a good man, not an extraordinary God.

Would you like to guess who, in righteous anger, debated against Arias’s false claim? His name starts with an “S” and ends in “anta.” Nicholas was the first voice and the consistent voice, defending Jesus as God.

In fact, he was so vexed by the false accusation that Jesus was just a man that he got up from the table he was sitting at, walked across the room and he slapped Arias in the face.

Santa. Slapped. Someone. In. The. Face.

Merry Christmas, Arias.

If you’re wondering how serious this was back then, to slap someone at a church conference, attend a worship service and ask any person to role play with you. They’ll be Nicholas and you’ll be Arias and let the slapping begin.

Let me say that if I ever spread word that Jesus was just a man, isn’t/wasn’t God, you have my permission to bring the force of Marshall Eriksen’s hand to my face (that’s a How I Met Your Mother reference, click here).

Defending Jesus’ deity is what Nicholas is factually famous for. We don’t find 12 reindeer or milk and cookies or a red jump suit or a North Pole. We find this infamous slap in stance that Jesus was and is God. And because he did, the church believes it today.

A few years after Nicholas’ death in 343AD, the Santa legend started and his life became exaggerated. Mystics proclaimed that a healing liquid flowed up out of the ground around Nicholas’ grave. They bottled up this so-called healing liquid and since there was no valid medical research then, they claimed that it healed others. The rumor in the streets was, Nicholas was generous in his life, and now he is being generous after death with this healing liquid! 

A thousand years later, in the 1400’s, Vikings on ship ran into land located at the northern most part of the globe. Even though the land was covered in ice, they named it Greenland. They chose to build a cathedral in honor of Nicholas (that’s how we get the North Pole narrative).

When Christopher Columbus kind of found America, he first ran into Haiti and named a port there after Nicholas (that’s how Santa made his way over to the Western Hemisphere).

The modern day picture of Santa Claus gained steam during our America’s Civil War in the mid-1800’s.

A cartoonist named Thomas Nast illustrated a guy with a white beard in a red suit and he used his cartoons to jab at the South saying Santa Claus was Pro-Union, for the North, and he wasn’t going to visit any household in the Confederacy on Christmas Eve.

Santa being involved in political cartoon warfare, added with the poem a few decades earlier in 1824, Twas the night before Christmas, is primarily how we get the modern day mockery of Nicholas.

If we strip all of the holiday fluff away and get to the facts, Nicholas was this amazing, passionate, unapologetic, doctrinally-sound, generous and selfless man. The only reason I want to emulate him with my day is because he emulated Jesus with his life.

When looking at the Santa Claus the world has dreamed up it’s this older man who loves and gives to others and expects good behavior, he brings us happiness and he’s there when you expect him to be, so he’s dependable. And I would suggest that:

The Santa that humanity has created comes out of a hunger for a good father. 

The British call him: Father Christmas.

Every craving, hope, excitement, need and expectation humanity has in what Santa Claus represents comes back to their true need for wanting a good, loving, promise-keeping, gracious father in their life.

It’s all found and satisfied, not in Father Christmas, but in the heavenly Father of Christ.

Keep imagining about Santa but understand all of your spiritual and emotional needs are met beyond your imagination through a God who sent His Son out of undying love for you.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, KJV)

The fake Santa, the real Nicholas and even a healthy, loving earthy father cannot give you everlasting life. Only your heavenly Father can. Get excited about that.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. Merry Christmas.

Z

Waiting on God to Answer Us

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In Genesis chapter 12, God promises barren Abraham and Sarah that they will have a child. The excitement and hope that promise brought must’ve dimmed in belief with each passing year it did not become a reality. In fact, 24 years go by and Abraham and Sarah are still not pregnant when God shows up again in Genesis 17 and promises them a child once more. Abraham and Sarah both doubt and they both laugh. Waiting on God had worn them down.

The problem with Abraham and Sarah is the same problem with you and I:

In each trial we face, we are eager for the answer but are not eager to wait for it. 

It’s not natural/instinctive/easy to wait. For anything.

I don’t like waiting for a webpage to open. I want it opened faster than I can blink. If a webpage takes more than 3 seconds to open, I exhale in frustration because I have to see how my fantasy football team is doing IMMEDIATELY.

People were getting frustrated having to watch 5 commercials go by until the next scene of their TV sitcom or drama came back on, so the DVR was invented. Once we realized fast-forwarding commercials was still too much work to get to our show, Netflix came along to provide streaming with no ads. And our blood circulation speed took a hit.

If I click on a YouTube video that a friend has sent me to watch, and it has an ad at the beginning, I roll my eyes because I have to wait 30 seconds before I see why my friend thinks a cat in a Santa costume is cute.

If you and I are at Target, and we’re both about to check out with our items, I’ll get in line, I’ll push you toward another line, and I’ll compete with you to see who will get out faster. Even though we drove together. I’m not alone on that, am I?

When Blockbuster Video was near its deathbed, it’s last, gasping breath pitch was that they were going to have movies 28 days before Netflix would have them available. Blockbuster was saying to an impatient culture, Why would you wait 28 days to watch a rental movie when you can have it now?

We addictively utilize the social media options of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram because we have to tell the world what restaurant we are eating at that night right away.

Our culture says why wait, have it now? And we can with our phones and online shopping and Google and Amazon and Spotify and Uber and Youtube. We can get it now.

And I’m thinking……

The more culture (via technology) encourages us to have things quickly, the more we will struggle with trials when answers from God don’t come quickly. 

The more serious things are things that we have to wait for.

Some people know the frustration of trying to find the right person to marry. Friends are getting engaged and are getting married, you’ve tried the dating game a few times and got nowhere, and the temptation is to lower the bar and marry anyone because waiting is difficult. A lack of trust in God’s timing with an unwillingness to wait has single people marrying quickly and unwisely.

I don’t want my daughters to settle for a guy who doesn’t love Jesus more than her, who doesn’t serve her, uplift her, who doesn’t have a heart for those in need. If they do, it’s because they were unwilling to trust God and wait. I want them to marry a man who loves Jesus so he can love them like Jesus.

It’s not just love that is a struggle waiting for, it’s a financial issue as well.

Why is there such a large amount of people in our nation who are burdened by debt? People don’t want to financially plan and save up for the house, the car, the children, the clothes, the stuff – that plastic little rectangle and the bank are desperate to loan you whatever you want (standard interest rates apply). That magic card allows you get you whatever you want now.

Others have struggled waiting for the right career, the right job. Some people jump at the quickest available opportunity, others go after the job that pays the most because maybe it will make them content. If someone dreads going to work when they wake up, could it be there was impatience somewhere along the line?

When our health is failing in a certain way, or we see loved ones struggling with an illness, we struggle spiritually. With each doctor’s report given, complications occurring, feeling the pain or seeing our loved ones in pain, we hate the wait we are forced to go through before an answer is given.

We have a misconception when it comes to waiting on God to come through for us.

I’ll try expound on it this way: most likely the days after Christmas later this month you will go back to the stores to return gifts you received that didn’t meet your expectation. The clothes were the wrong size or style, or the gift was just hideous to you, (what was your great Aunt thinking?), so you go to the store to return that gift and you get a number at customer service and you wait in a long line of other people returning what their great aunt got them and you wait and wait and wait and it’s slow, nothing is happening, until it’s your turn at the counter and then the action begins.

This is the misconception we have when it comes to waiting on God to come through for us. We think God is like the person behind customer service, only able to help one person at a time. And if you’re not that person, you think nothing is happening until God calls your number. Here’s what I’d like you to tattoo on your membranes:

Biblically speaking, waiting and inaction is not the same thing. 

Waiting is a step of faith, a step of action. Yet, experiencing it can feel like we’re doing nothing, or not doing enough.

Waiting might feel like nothing is happening, it might feel slow, it might not feel like an action of faith but God is actively working earnestly behind the scenes. God, in His power/providence/perfection is working, and not just for one person but for all of humanity. When you wait, it’s faith in action. Trusting God and waiting on Him might be one of the highest acts of faith. So we choose to not be angry while we wait. We choose to not complain while we wait.

What God does while we wait is He is shapes us into being the type of person who can handle the promise when it comes. It takes trust, and perseverance, and faith, and a community of believers to lean on and an amount of Scripture to lean on and believe.

What God does while we wait for whatever it is we really want (a spouse, a baby, a house, a job, a purpose, a vehicle, a bill paid, healing from sickness, a loved one to know Christ) while we wait for it, God is working earnestly behind the scenes and is transforming us individually to become the type of person who can better handle the promise when it’s revealed.

While you wait, don’t feel like you’re doing nothing or that God is doing nothing. Even if it takes 24 years like in Abraham and Sarah’s case, be at peace that He is in control.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. Merry Christmas,

Z

Choose Your Parents Carefully

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Fa-la-la-la-la, la, la, la lots of extended families are going to reunite and spend time together over the holidays. There will be lots of weight-gaining. Lots of gift-giving. Lots of tradition-keeping. There will also be a lot of people holding their tongue, sweeping annoyances and issues toward loved ones under the Christmas rug.  We would love for the holidays to be a time we look forward to, not just something we have to get through.

One of the things all of us have in common is we were all once children. I was a child. You were a child. We’re all brought into this world through a biological mother and a biological father. If you didn’t come into the world that way, either you were lied to or no doubt NASA would like to talk to you.

One summer on a road trip to visit loved ones I saw a billboard alongside the highway that read this:

Choose Your Parents Carefully. 

It made me COL (Chuckle Out Loud) because the greatest irony in life is we get to pick our friends, pick our interests, pick our college, pick the vehicle we drive, pick our job, pick our sports teams, pick the church we’re involved in, pick the person we want to marry, pick the names of our children, pick the home we live in, but when it comes to the MOST formative relationship we will experience on earth, who raises us in our developmental years, we don’t have a say in the matter whatsoever. No one gets to choose their parent(s) or the people who raise them.

The parent-child relationship is the most influential earthly relationship because it affects how the child’s future adult relationships will look. I’m not sure every parent is asking, Am I raising this child to have adult relationships that are set up for health and success?

In culture today there’s another generation (this isn’t new) rising up that is being wounded by parents who were wounded by their parents. Many parent-child relationships are just surviving and getting by instead of thriving and loving life together. There’s much baggage there to be reminded of and it’s a very uncomfortable place. Holiday get-togethers seem to bring this to the surface.

For the parents who maybe weren’t spiritually-equipped to raise your children and you have this heavy regret that sticks around in your heart, there is so much grace from God for you.

For those of you who grew up in a home where your parents were not adequately, spiritually-equipped to raise you and you’ve got pain and anger and mental struggles, there’s grace from God for you too.

Let me make sure what I hope we all know already: there’s no perfect family. Anywhere. Enjoy your Christmas movies but know you don’t live in Whoville. The family I grew up in was a strong Christian home but there was still pain and drama. Even Jesus’ earthly family had conflict and separation. There are no perfect parents, no perfect children, no perfect outcomes in the home. If you’ve got it rough at home, so does everyone else in some way. We’re not looking for perfect. We should be looking for healthy.

Healthy relationships start in healthy homes led by healthy parents. 

If our children are going to have healthy relationships as they grow older it begins by healthy parents showing them what a healthy home looks like. If we can see how God has made the parent-child relationship as it is supposed to be, it will help all of us see how our adult-adult relationships are supposed to look as well.

God created man and woman to be together – not just sexually, not just in the same home, not just as roommates, not just stuck with each other, not just some good moments – but to love and serve and enjoy each other every day, together.

One theologian put it this way:

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with our weirdness, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

That’s deep. That’s Barry White deep.

When a man and a woman fall into this mutual weirdness called love, God then invites them to participate in what He does best, which is creating life. God created the man and the woman to become one flesh, this mysterious collection of body and soul coming together and what that physical and spiritual union produces is this small, purple wrinkly, cone-shaped head little baby that eats and sleeps and ruins onesies 24/7.

This is when the most important earthly relationship begins. A parent doesn’t just love the infant, they begin to shepherd them towards emotional, relational and spiritual health.

Parenting is the most exhausting thing you’ll continually participate in (and all the parents reading this blog said,  AMEN). Parenting is the most selfless, hardest, most rewarding activity one can do this side of heaven, when it’s done as God intends. There’s selfish parenting. There’s fear-filled parenting. There’s lazy parenting. There’s heart-aching, abusive and absent parenting. That’s not what God intends.

A woman told me that her husband walked out on their family, leaving her to care for their three young kids by herself. She said to me, I’m realizing after serving my husband for years, he never really loved me as God intended him to. 

That’s hard to swallow.

After she factored in some more hindsight she said, I’m seeing it clearly. The reason he didn’t or couldn’t love me is because the love of God wasn’t in him. He’s not a Christ-follower. She had some more revelation and said, The more I think about it, the love of God was not in my husband’s father either. Then she said, And neither was the love of God in his grandfather.

BINGO.

Our values and behavior patterns aren’t only formed in us physically. They have been passed down to us from our parents. This is where we have a choice to make. It’s a choice on whether or not we are going to pass these same values and behavior patterns onto our children and the next generation.

The child in the home is supposed to look at mom and dad and see the clearest picture of God they will see in any of their upbringing relationships. The best picture of church a child can see is not in a church building. It’s at home.

If mom and dad don’t live like God then the children they have will be confused about who God is.

They’ll be confused about how God loves, how God forgives, how good and committed God is, how God serves, how God provides, how God is holy, how God heals.

What also can be said is,

If mom and dad don’t trust God in all things then their children will have issues trusting God.

A baby is wired to be dependent on mom and dad because a baby is completely helpless. If mom and dad don’t provide the physical/emotional/spiritual health every child deserves and needs when they are helpless, that baby will grow to learn to depend and provide for only themselves and eventually they’ll struggle to trust adults. They will struggle to trust God. They will be confused about what God created them for by living independent from (against) God and living independent (isolated) from others around them.

If you haven’t yet put the puzzle pieces together on why you’ve had trust issues in your relationships, why you’ve struggled experiencing contentment no matter the circumstances, why you’ve had difficulty giving and receiving love, the answer can be this simple: Maybe mom and dad didn’t do what God had called them to do. Forgive them. Love them still. Be who they were supposed to be for you going forward. Be right now who you needed when you were younger.

Prove your love to your children by choosing to shepherd them. We agree our kids grow up and leave home in the blink of an eye, so there is no questioning how fast time will go. The question is will parents be ushering their children toward unhealthy adult relationships, or healthy ones?

Set a resilient goal to not have any arguments over the next month when celebrating the birth of the One who came to bring peace.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Should Christians Drink?

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When it comes to a Christian drinking alcohol, where we need to begin in agreement is that drunkenness is a sin.

I realize that what “getting drunk” is defined as can fluctuate to each person’s viewpoint. Anytime someone’s thinking and actions are impaired due to excessive drinking: sin. No how much someone thinks they can handle, getting drunk is always against what God wants. The Bible is crystal clear, there is no wiggle room. Read Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Peter 4:3. God says that getting drunk is wrong.

When it comes to consuming alcohol/wine/beer/liquor there’s little solidified in the Bible that labels social drinking as sinful. If someone is underage, under 21, as that is disobeying the governing law of the United States. God wants Christians to submit to the government He’s placed them under.

There’s the weaker brother argument as well in Romans 14 where it gives the principle that a Christian should not drink alcohol around another Christian needing to remain sober if it might cause the weaker brother to stumble. If my wife and I are out on a date night in public and someone sees us consuming alcohol, they might assume it’s great for them to drink since the pastor is and I just don’t want what might happen to them on my conscience.

In John chapter 2 Jesus is at a wedding. During the reception the party has run out of wine. #howembarrassing. Jesus’ mother Mary is frantic. She feels the potential humiliation of the moment that the wine has run dry. It’s a cultural faux pas. She goes to Jesus and asks Him, What are You going to do?, and Jesus is like, This really isn’t my responsibility, to save this party. In His fashion of thinking of others always, Jesus changes the water at the wedding reception into wine. And people  who love God continue drinking. Plus, I’ve got to assume any wine Jesus made was way better than any manmade wine available.

Over the years the church leaders have said, Well, the wine in Jesus’ day isn’t like the wine we have today. It wasn’t as alcoholic, it wasn’t as fermented. That’s not true. Wine is wine. First Century wine was just as fermented and could get someone just as intoxicated.

Other church leaders have claimed, Well, there are really two Greek words for the word ‘wine’ in the Bible. And what Jesus made, what Jesus drank is the lesser, more watered down wine of the two kinds. That’s not true either. There’s only one word for wine in the Bible and it’s the Greek word oinos.

Paul writes for Timothy to drink a little oinos to help with his stomach ache. He encourages him to drink.  Jesus at the Last Supper invites his friends to drink oinos with Him. So here’s my take on casually drinking alcohol:

Christians shouldn’t make social drinking a dividing issue. 

One side thinks, I’m a better Christian because I don’t drink alcohol. The other side thinks, I’m a better Christian because I consume alcohol, just like Jesus did. 

I don’t like either argument. If you’re a Christian, you do not consider yourself better than anyone else. To even have the thought, I’m a better Christian because……. This only ensues division amongst people the Lord says are His and your family. We aren’t trying to dissect if drinking or not drinking makes one a better follower of Jesus, we are asking if it is sinful or not.

As a pastor I get asked if I drink alcohol or not. Some of it is the curiosity of people. Some of it is looking for permission to drink themselves.

I rarely drink. I don’t drink beer. Maybe 3-4 times a year I’ll have a Jack and Coke. My wife enjoys a glass of wine. We generally do not keep alcohol inside of our home (or buried under it).

I personally try to abstain from drinking alcohol. In my social environment I am around drinking at most get togethers, but I choose not to engage and I want you to see my reasoning. For you, please don’t feel pressure to act a certain way. You know you. You understand what God expects. Hopefully you’ve developed close, loving relationships to hold you accountable if your drinking has become codependent or excessive.

Me, I already have too much temptation toward sin in my day. I’m tempted to sin all the time. So I don’t additionally need anything that weakens my will power. If I don’t sleep enough, I’m weak. If I don’t eat meals when I should, I’m weak. If I won’t read my Bible and pray daily, I’m weak. If I don’t repent when I sin, I’ll sin some more. If I don’t have close, godly friendships who I’ve invited to hold me accountable to the sin I’m tempted to succumb to, I’m in trouble. And if I put something in my system, like alcohol, that is going to weaken my willpower, I know what the end result is going to be.

I also already have too many options in my life to run to when things aren’t going well. I should run to prayer first. I should run to my Christian friends next. Instead, too many times I run to binging on Netflix to ignore how life is going, or I choose exercising, or I choose snacking, or I choose social media. I don’t need to add habitually drinking to my list of things to turn to when things aren’t going great.

Also, I am thankful to God to be given two young daughters to raise responsibly. I have no idea what they’re going to struggle with later on in their lives. Each child has a propensity toward a dominant temptation.

I don’t know what behavior pattern my kids might be easily prone to be addicted to but I do know I don’t want to set them up for failure. I don’t have statistics on this. It’s just firmly inside of me, as a dad, that if I don’t want my kids to drink, not frequently drinking in front of them will help that.

If you choose to have alcohol in the home, I suggest keeping it up high where it can be hidden or is unreachable, or lock it away. Have a bit when the kids are sleeping, have some on a date night, those are shrewd actions to take. If it’s visible and if parents are seen drinking, or if kids find themselves around other adults who are drinking, just be prepared to have conversations about how socially drinking and faith in Jesus intersect.

Most of my closest friends consume alcohol around me. I’m perfectly fine with that. I love them whether they don’t drink, drink a bit, drink a lot, drink too much. Most of them drink and remain in control of their decision making. For me, I just don’t think I’m missing out on anything by not drinking. Choosing not to drink consistently doesn’t make me better than anyone else and the Bible does not say anything against socially drinking.

A barometer on how much a Christian already drinks is whether or not they could decide to go 40 days without drinking at all. If you can’t fast from something for a period of time, that’s a sign it’s an idol already worshipped.

The issue of alcohol is not: WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)? Because Jesus is recorded as drinking. That might not be the answer for you. The issue of alcohol is someone asking: Is drinking going to help me become more like Jesus? Will it help or hurt my willingness to obey God and love others in a godly way? 

Stay thirsty, my friends (for God).

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Taking a Nap May Be the Most Spiritual Thing You Can Do

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The average American each year spends over $3,000 on soda/coffee/energy drinks. That’s $250 a month spent on all things caffeine-related just to stay awake and somewhat alert during the day. 70 million Americans will pop some sort of pill to help them stay asleep throughout the night this year.

In 1967, a group of doctors stood in front of the United States Senate and they gave a report on the well-being and health of American citizens. In this report, 50 years ago, they shared:

“Labor-saving, time-saving technology will change the way Americans work and live. Within 20 years people will be working 32 weeks a year on average, at a rate of 22 hours per week, so they can retire by the age of 40.” 

These doctors went on to predict, “The number one challenge Americans will face with no regard to time is what to do with all their excess time.”

Other than those of us who have won the lottery, has this prediction come true for you?

Business Week Magazine conducted a study to determine the number one response to the question, How are you doing? The top most frequent answers were (Survey says!):

1. I’m tired.
2. I’m busy/I’m stressed.     

We live in a time where there is 1 minute rice, 1 minute peelers, 1 minute abs (on my Christmas list). There’s a 1 minute Bible-reading plan. We’ve got instant coffee, instant oatmeal, instant replay, instant downloads. People are speed-reading, speed-dialing, speed-dating. People are even wearing speed-o’s and probably shouldn’t be doing that. Society has created things called “speed bumps” just to try to slow us down.

How many times during the course of our year do we say to someone, Hey, you know what? We need to get together sometime! Let’s get our families together or let’s grab coffee or let’s watch the game together. Let’s get lunch, (and we put this word on the end) sometime. That sometime never comes.

In his book, Making Room for Life, author Randy Frazee says that when it comes to most American schedules, they engage in what he refers to as Chaos Management.

We would love to believe that our lives are ordered and organized, systematized and structured. We want to have a grasp on our days. We want to be put together deep down inside our desires. Yet the reality of it is most of us are constantly reacting to life. With all of the things we fill our hours and our loved one’s hours with, all the promises we make, all of the impulsive irons we put in the fire, all of the plates we’re spinning by agreeing to everything asked of us, we are ruled by the tyranny of urgency. If the CELL PHONE SOUNDS with a call or a text, we feel like we have to answer.

Even on the weekend or at night with the family, on vacation for goodness sake, people get an email and they feel like they have 30 minutes to respond or they’re going to be incarcerated. I can’t find out who created these new burdensome, unwritten rules that govern social etiquette but they are ruling our lives and are diminishing the quality of what a healthy, thriving, content life could look like. We now are working more hours with added responsibilities that we agree to which have us run into the weekend with longer weeks, longer months, longer years only to have the quality of our lives and relationships cut shorter and shorter.

We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives – Dallas Willard.

There are few things out there that will destroy our spiritual growth and our vitality more than always having the feeling of being rushed.

Honestly, when was the last time you sat still and prayed silently about something uninterrupted?

Do you need to slow down before you burn out and ruin something special? It’s easier said than done or we would have slowed down and attained balanced by now. I want to trade busyness in for balance. I want to let go of feeling rushed and embrace feeling restful.

Maybe the most spiritual thing you can do today is fix a bowl of ice cream and then lay down to catch up on some much needed sleep. 

Think about a sleeping pill. I don’t know how much 1 Tylenol PM pill weighs. I just know they’re very light. I’ll admit, sometimes I feel like I need them and I take them. A study done by the Sullivan Institute reported Americans consume 30 TONS of these pills every single night. Just to get some rest. People looking for rest are consuming 70,000 pounds of sleeping pills.

What’s more powerful and peaceful than a sleeping pill is this:

God doesn’t sleep so that we can. 

God is inviting you to relax. To sit back. Take a deep breath. Pray. Relax. Reflect. Slow down. Enjoy. Be thankful for this incredible life, this incredible world, the great community He’s purposefully put you in.

Maybe the best thing you can do for yourself this weekend or next is to go find somewhere pretty to sit. Drive through the scenery. Go hang out at a park. Maybe take it further and go a week without TV and reflect on the important relationships in your life and how can you make them better. Pick up this thing with printed words on paper called a book. Start a discipline of only checking email in the morning or only looking at Facebook once a day or turn your phone off for an hour a day (not on silent, completely off, Siri will forgive you). Choose to intentionally love someone in a practical way. Sit in your backyard. Get back to reading your Bible daily. Take a second nap. Take a family member on a date. Reach out to a distant friend. Start thinking again about that dream you had back in the day.

Whatever it is that bothers you, whatever you’re anxious about, whatever you’re trying to control, whatever you’re behind on – Would you just take an intentional step to go into a closet, shut the door, sit on the floor, turn your phone off and restfully pray to God about whatever is on your mind. Something like, God, I give you (whatever it is). He would love to take that burden off you so you can rest.

I want to invite you to take one minute after reading this, one minute to sit in silence with your eyes closed to give God whatever is bothering you, whatever you’re worried about, whatever is too much for you right now.

I’ll start us off, God, we’re going to take one minute, to give You whatever is heavy on our heart right now…….(This is your cue: take a minute to pray about what is heavy on your heart or for wisdom to balance your life further).

I’ll close the prayer, God, thank You for listening to us and working on our behalf so we can rest. Continue to ease our burdens. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Now take a nap after devouring that bowl of ice cream. Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

3 Questions Your Church Leader Isn’t Asking You, But Should

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Picture the scenario in your mind: A person in church is struggling with temptation and giving into sin. They reach out to their pastor or ministry leader for counsel and prayer. Some typical questions asked by the pastor intended to help the person when temptation comes might be,

Are you reading your Bible enough?
Have you memorized the proper Scriptures?
Are you praying enough?
Are you fasting?
Do you journal?
Are you leaving your addictions behind?
Have you been baptized?
Are you in worship at church consistently?
Are you serving in the church?
Are you in a small group at church?
Are you giving financially to the church?

More than not, these questions are asked to someone struggling with giving into temptation. These cookie-cutter, habitual coat hangers church leaders hang their hat on. These aren’t the questions that should be asked by the church leader. At least not at first. There’s some merit in asking if someone is spiritually centering their focus on Jesus, with Bible-reading, dedication and prayer; not on money, not on sin. While somewhat helpful, these questions can do more harm by increasing insecurity around the ministry leader for not measuring up to the churchy works expected.

Plus they don’t help that much when it comes to resisting the temptation to sin.
(Whoa! Did I just say that?)

I’m not saying the typical church leader questions aren’t important, because they can be. I’m saying they shouldn’t be asked first. What initially needs to be discovered when it comes to a Christian sinning repeatedly is whether or not they are living a balanced life.

There are three divergent questions pastors and church leaders should start with when meeting with someone who is struggling and these can be asked in love and genuine care, without guilt or spiritual intimidation. They are,

  1. Are you eating healthy meals when you should?
  2. Are you sleeping the appropriate amount of hours each night? 
  3. Are you in vulnerable Christian community?

In a foundational question, How balanced is your life? Please recognize that,

You Will Be Tempted Greatly When You Are Hungry, Alone and Fatigued. 

I see this in the Bible in the book of Luke, chapter 4. Right after Jesus is baptized and before He enters into public ministry, He goes into the desert. He fasts from food for forty days (so He’s hungry), He’s isolated from people (He’s alone), and sleeping on the desert floor for six weeks has made Him exhausted (He’s fatigued). This is when the devil himself shows up to tempt Jesus three different times, when Jesus is hungry, alone and fatigued.

When my dad was alive, he would call me just to ask me a few basic questions. He would ask, Z, are you eating meals? Z, are you sleeping enough? Z, are you in Christian community? 

He wouldn’t ask me if I was praying enough or reading my Bible daily or putting God first in my finances, as important as those are. He knew that if I wasn’t eating right, sleeping well and being vulnerable with others, then I would be prone to sin more frequently in ways Bible-reading and prayer wouldn’t stop. And he was right. I sin mostly and easily when I can hide my true self from others, when I skip meals and when I stay up late at night.

As a church leader who cares about the daily lives of the people around me, let me ask these questions to you: Are you eating when you should? Are you sleeping the amount you should? Are you in good, close, genuine friendships where you can talk about struggles and still be accepted and loved? (Side note: just because someone is in a small group at church or says they have friends who are Christian, it doesn’t mean they are being vulnerable/ugly/confessional in order to be supported and checked in on. I’ve fake my way through small groups to keep up a mirage of holiness and all I really kept was sinning)

I guess I could ask all of those in one question: Is your life balanced? (Answer yes or no)

If your life is crazy busy and there’s too much in the schedule every day, week to week, that most likely means you’re skipping meals or eating junk on the run. It means you won’t rest because you’re trying to squeeze everything in and your brain is frantic with thoughts whenever you do finally lay down. It means you won’t take time to have friends over for a meal or have coffee with them or call them simply to see how they’re doing, or look forward to when it’s time to be around friends from church. I have lost touch with close friendships of people I trust being ugly about myself with because my life was unbalanced.

Is your life balanced? If not, temptation will be more difficult to resist.

There are days where your physical energy levels are low. You’re been working too much, volunteering too much, exhausted from the kids, or you’re on the road a lot, or there’s an illness – days when you’re energy is depleted and you’re not eating when you should, what you should. Be warned, temptation is near when aren’t eating meals.

You’ll get be tempted greatly when you’re isolated. It’s the kid tempted when away from home on a trip with friends, or with the travel team, or it’s the career-worker on a business trip, the person alone at night and online. It’s that feeling of no one is watching you, that false sense of freedom. Be warned, temptation is near when you are alone.

You’ll get hit with temptation when you’re tired. It’s a college student away from home staying up late playing video games, watching movies, missing assignments because they were undisciplined. Be warned, temptation is near when you’re beat.

It’s a young professional who moves to the city for their first job, has their first apartment, no mom or dad, gets to reinvent themselves. And because they don’t eat right, sleep right, choose to make and be transparent with godly friends, they struggle. Instead of living in freedom they enslave themselves by living for the weekend more than for a lasting legacy.

It’s the married person who hits the road for work, hits meetings earnestly, then after work hits the bar, then hits the hotel room with temptation hounding them. If they are healthy, rested and held accountable by friends, they’re more likely to choose what is right over what is easy.

Christianity is not about reading your Bible and checking that box each day.

I’ve sinned greatly on the same day I’ve read my Bible, prayed, journal and fasted.
And I’ve chosen holiness at times where I have gone days without Bible-reading or prayer.

Christianity is about living a loving, obedient life, which is best done by attaining balance daily. 

I’m more likely to be prayerful, loving toward others, obedient under God, hold fast to my integrity, choose what is godly over what is worldly when my life is balanced. And my life is balanced when I can answer “yes” to the three questions church leaders should be asking the people they say they love. We must eat right, sleep well and open up with loved ones about what we struggle with.

Think about Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends in adulthood. On the night of Jesus’ arrest and trials, Peter is near with intended devotion, but temptation and fear overcome him as he chooses to deny to strangers even knowing who Jesus is. He does this three times. He is struggling with temptation. He doesn’t want to be asked by church leaders if he’s been reading his Torah.

Is Peter hungry? He had a Last Supper meal that may or may not have included meat (maybe Jesus was the Lamb to be sacrificed at this Passover meal, maybe there was an actual lamb to eat, let’s not be divided over it). What we do know in John’s writing of Jesus’ arrest and trials has Peter denying Jesus the third time right before the rooster crows. Meaning, the next early morning after he ate dinner the night before, Peter chooses lies and betrayal. Yes, Peter is hungry.

Is he tired? After dinner, after listening to Jesus teach at the table, after singing hymns, after traveling to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus grabs His friends and asks them to pray for Him and to pray that temptation doesn’t overtake them. Jesus goes on to pray Himself intensely and three separate times He finds his friends, Peter included, falling asleep. And as mentioned in the pervious paragraph, Peter is up until sunrise the next day. Yes, Peter is fatigued.

Is Peter alone? After Peter tries to defend Jesus and defend his word at dinner that he would die for Jesus, (instead he cuts someone’s ear off intending to kill them), most of Jesus’ friends flee the scene as their Leader is arrested. Peter tails close behind the chaos to try to keep an eye on Jesus. He denies knowing Jesus and no other close friend of Jesus’ is near to hold Peter accountable to being one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter is isolated.

Be careful. You will be swarmed with temptation when you are hungry, alone and fatigued. Watch your loved ones when they are hungry, tired and spending too much time in isolation.

Take the brave step to invite accountability to someone who will ask you regularly if you are eating when you should, sleeping as much as you need and if you are continuing to open up about the temptations and vices you struggle with. It’s a gift to have those people in your life.

Thanks for reading. Even the longer blogs. You are loved.

Z